As I gear up to travel to Seattle for what is seemingly the 100th time, I’m reminded of my childhood. Growing up in Spokane, WA, I was only a five-hour drive from the Emerald City. Thus, I was only seven years old when my mom decided to take me to the “big city” to see the Space Needle for the first time. I had never been on a five- hour road trip before, however, and I did not take well to being confined for what seemed an infinite amount of time. By the time we had actually made it to Seattle, I had cried, whined, and screamed my mom into a nearly comatose state. It’s been 16 years, and she still brings up how much of a pain in the neck I was during that road trip. It was especially challenging because she didn’t have access to resources like this article on rookie road trip mistakes. Even if she had, I probably still would have been a headache. Hopefully, these tips will help you avoid the transformation from adorable child to horrendous ghoul that kids (and sometimes adults) tend to make on long road trips.
Most of the time, when a child acts out, it is not coming from a place of malice. When an eight-year-old punches a classmate, it’s more likely that they’re bored or hungry than angry. I mean, how many children do you see that actively want to cause bodily harm? Wait, no, let me rephrase. How many full and busy children do you see that actively want to cause bodily harm? As an adult, I’m still embarrassingly susceptible to acting out because I’m feeling “hangry.” If we start acting ruder as fully grown adults just because we’re hungry, how can we expect kids to do better?
Since we want the kiddos behaving well, one of the most important things you can pack is a large variety of foods. Double and triple check to make sure your cooler is loaded up with all kinds of snacks and meals. Make sure everyone (including you!) has had a healthy, full breakfast before you head out for your road trip, and you’ll find that spirits are soaring. Note: having unhealthy snacks can be useful as motivators for younger kids, but be careful. Too many sugary snacks and you’ll find the kiddos bouncing off the car walls and singing the entirety of “1,000 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”
Okay, now that we’ve addressed hunger, let’s take a look at the second most common road trip complaint. The words every parent hates to hear: “When are we getting there? I’m boooored.” Boredom leads to acting out for attention, so you’ll find your road trip hits fewer speed bumps when the youngsters are entertained throughout. Here are a few suggestions of things to take along: a deck of cards, portable video game systems, something to read, brain teasers, a book of riddles/jokes, and small versions of your favorite board games. Remember to take something to keep yourself sane as well. My personal favorites are a few CDs and an exciting audiobook.
Now, entertainment and food are good options for delaying kids’ sudden transition from happy camper to wailing gremlin, but they’re just that: delays. To keep the kids from freaking out indefinitely, you’re gonna have to let them burn some energy. That stiffness we feel when getting out of a car after a long time? It’s much worse for kids, who naturally have the potential energy of an exploding supernova. You should plan on stopping for running-around breaks every time you’ve been on the road for about as long as the run time of The Lion King. Even just five minutes of running around can get kids’ endorphins flowing and prevent a meltdown for another couple of hours. The same is true for adults, by the way. Do a few pushups and jumping jacks, and you just might be surprised by how much your body wakes up. Onward ho!
But what about teenagers? The majority of these tips and tricks are pretty clearly intended for kids aged 5-11, but what do we do to keep the angsty, hormonal kids happy? Most teenagers think their parents are lame, and car trips are lame, and everything’s just really, really lame. No matter what you pick, it will be the wrong choice. To avoid this, try bringing your teenager in on the decision-making process for your road trip. A little autonomy goes a long way. Now maybe they’re not ready to decide where to stay in Seattle, but you could let them pick out the restaurant where the family will eat when you arrive in the Emerald City.
A common mistake parents make when they see their child becoming naturally more distant with age is to try to force them into social bonding settings. Your teenager will not be more likely to engage you in meaningful conversation just because you make them sit up front with you for five hours straight. You’re better off providing them with what they actually want: a fully charged phone and a nice pair of headphones. Once they’re done binging on whatever hip new show they’ve latched onto, they might actually engage you in meaningful conversation! There’s no way to guarantee this, of course, but providing space is an infinitely better technique than intentionally putting yourself in between your teen and their phone.
Finally, remember to take care of yourself. You need rest breaks, and sometimes you need to get away from your kids just as much as they need to get away from you. Respect everyone’s space and you might just end up closer than ever.
About Dani Gurrie
Dani Gurrie is the founder of Tots2Tweens, a wife to Ashley and mom to Cooper and Brodie. She spends most of her days trying to find the ultimate kids-related thing that mom's will love...just to share it with her world.