Sunday, August 27, 2006

Travelling with little ones

Summer's nearly over, but one of the fringe benefits of homeschooling is being able to travel during the off season. We've made many road trips over the years, and consider ourselves seasoned pros, but then in our case we've done it because we've had to and not generally because we were on vacation. We moved from south Georgia to upstate NY with 5, 3, and 1 year olds; from NY to Alabama with 6, 4, and 2 year olds and a 5 month old; from AL to VA... well, you get the picture. And of course any time we've wanted to visit grandparents over the years, we've had to drive anywhere from 2 to 22 hours.

But if you're not used to travelling with little ones it can seem pretty daunting, so I'd like to offer suggestions based on things that have worked for us over the years.

We generally stop every three to four hours.

Probably the first thing you'll want to consider when planning a long trip is how often to stop, so you'll need to be aware of your kids' level of endurance. Are they used to spending an hour or two in the car on occasion? If so, how well do they handle it? If your kids aren't used to travelling you may have to stop every hour and a half to two hours. Do you have a daily quiet rest time at home? What about devotions? If they're used to sitting still for an extended period of time this will help their ability to sit still while travelling.

Because we're not usually "on vacation" when we're on the road, we're almost always pressed for time, so we don't usually stop to eat - that is, we usually eat in the van. This of course, is messy, and not for everyone. When we do have time to stop for a meal, we try to stop at a rest area and eat a picnic lunch, but even then, the kids usually run around the whole time we're stopped and they don't eat much until we get back in the van. If we can't bring a picnic along with us, we try to stop somewhere that has a play area, or at least a bit of grass near the parking lot for the kids to run around on.

Try to combine as many activities as you can into each stop - that is, buying gas and food, and visiting the bathrooms. Every time you stop, make everyone visit the bathroom, even if they say they don't have to go. Unless we're having a picnic, our stops are usually less than a half an hour long, but this frenzied pace may not be conducive to the relaxation you're looking for on vacation. Actually, it doesn't feel frenzied to us, since we're used to it, and the kids know that they only have so much time to visit the bathroom and run around. If you're making a longish stop, take everyone to the bathroom the very first thing after you stop, and the very last thing before you leave. I can't stress enough the importance of properly regulated bathroom breaks. Having to stop every 45 minutes because you have five different bladders filling up on five different schedules will wreck your trip.

Passing the time

My kids have a running game of "Bug" they play every time we're in the car - even little ones can play that. Of course, counting things like horses and cows is fun, or if that's too complicated, keep on the lookout for something special, like a white horse.

Singing. Bring your hymnals along, or if your kids are too young to read, bring one, so Mom can lead hymn-singing.

Stories. Mom can read while Dad's driving and vice versa, or you can get stories on tape to listen to. We usually do this when it's nap time.

Let each child bring a small bag with a few items in it to play with while you're in the car. You can use a diaper bag or backpack or canvas tote, or even a plastic grocery bag or a shoebox. You'll want to limit the amount of small things that they can bring and help them pick out a suitable range of things - like one doll, one book, one notebook and a few crayons, and two matchbox cars.

We don't have a TV in our van, and don't feel the need for one. We bring along music and sermon CDs to listen to on occasion, but I find that I don't like to have anything playing more than a fourth of the time we're travelling. It will limit conversation (the best thing about travelling is getting to sit next to Mike and talk with him for hours on end!), and sometimes just sitting still and being quiet is good for everyone.


If you'll be stopping at a hotel along the way, pack an overnight bag that has pajamas, toothbrushes, and fresh underwear for everyone, so you'll only have one suitcase to take in. I'll bring a fresh blouse for myself and a fresh shirt for Mike, but I'll wear the same skirt and he'll wear the same jeans, and I usually don't pack a change of clothes for the kids in the overnight bag. You just don't get dirty travelling, unless there's an accident. In case there's an accident, you'll want your suitcase with the rest of your clothes in a handy location so you don't have to unpack your whole car to get a clean shirt for a kid who spilled his drink all over himself. Most of our trips are to visit grandparents, and this only requires us to make one overnight stop on the way, but if you're going to be making multiple overnight stops and need to minimize the amount of luggage you carry in to each hotel, check out the Deputy Headmistress's ingenious method.


We always bring a cooler with fresh fruit, already washed, and cheese sticks, and snacky things that we can pass out as needed. We also make sure everyone has a very small cup with a very small amount of water in it. We try to ration the water so we don't have full bladders when it's not time to stop. It's also for this reason that we pack lots of fresh fruit and veggies and only a little cheese, and no crackers at all. You don't want the kids getting thirsty and drinking a large amount and then having to go to the bathroom right away.

We also bring a roll or two of paper towels, some wet wipes, and a couple of boxes of tissue to take care of spills, messy hands, and runny noses. It might be a good idea to bring a few bath towels in case of large spills, and I know at least one family who always brings "travel sickness" supplies - a large trash bag, a gallon of water, plus paper towels and a bath towel, just in case.

Don't give your kids sugar while you're travelling, and this includes fruit juices. At meals we offer them milk or water. Nothing else. The driver and navigator get to drink caffiene if they desire.

The Deputy Headmistress is also a former military wife with seven children, and has even more experience with this than I have. She posted a six part series on this topic back in February, which you can read here: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six.

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