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Whine-Free Road-Tripping with Kids

Going beyond "are we there yet?"

If you're hitting the open road this summer with your family, plan before you go. Preparing for fun (for the kids) and harmony (for the parents) is easier than you think and can save you a car-load of headaches on the road. Need some help? Try our "whine-free" road trekking tips and spend your time enjoying the trek with your kids - instead of surviving pit stop to pit stop.

Set expectations

planning a road trip: photo by JSNplanning a road trip: photo by JSNBy this I mean your own. Keep realistic expectations in check. Kids get stir crazy in cars, this we know. The younger they are, the harder it is to keep them entertained, unless of course they're sleeping (bless their hearts). And as us parents know all too well, young attention spans tend to be excruciatingly short. Understanding that at some point your kids will more than likely hit their "sitting-still limit," is a healthy expectation.

A hint of routine is a good thing

So you know all that routine and structure that keeps things running smooth at home? Try and keep some of that going when you're travelling. Eating meals and snacks at the same time or bringing along favourite items such as books or toys (the no-brainer items) can help. Plus, those books and toys are perfect for early morning/evening play or quiet time when you get to your destination. Routine equals comfort for kids and hopefully it also equals some peace for parents.

Keep them in the loop

what to do in the car: photo by JSNwhat to do in the car: photo by JSNDid you ever play the "are-we-there-yet" game with your parents just to watch them slowly go insane? Of course you did. Too often we forget about our curious backseat passengers and their needs to be in the loop. Keep them informed by letting them know the plan. We will be stopping here ... eating then... only one more hour, etc. These simple gestures can help ease the anxiety of not following their regular daily routines. As an added bonus, you'll be rewarded with being allowed to keep your sanity.

Talk to them

I'm a huge fan of the onboard DVD system (best invention since the public school system!) but three movies in a row is an unrealistic expectation on your part. Try talking and listening to them instead. This works especially well when you can feel a severe bout of the crazies coming on. It's the ideal time to chitchat about what you have planned once you arrive at your final destination. Or ask them what they are looking forward to most on the trip. Just listening can appease kids as it helps them to feel heard and included. They're part of your team, not just passengers.

Pull out the road games

road trip driving games: photo by JSNroad trip driving games: photo by JSNThe coloring sets have come and gone. Snack time has passed and you still have hours to go. You sense impending doom in the car. It's time for the real entertainment. Hands down the best way to keep their little brains busy is to pull out the games. And herein lays an opportunity and a sneaky parent's hidden agenda for learning. Pick games that include educational elements such as counting. This is a great way to get kids engaged and looking, plus it's super easy. ‘How many red cars have we passed?' ‘Can you spot ten cows?'

There are numerous online resources for road trip games and here are two great sites with additional ideas for entertainment:

Make time for play along the way

how to de-stress: photo by JSNhow to de-stress: photo by JSNIf you've managed to avoid the dreaded ‘Are we there yet?' and ‘How much longer?' questions, kudos to you. If not, perhaps it's time to get out of the car. I know this sounds crazy as most parents aim to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible when travelling with their young families. But by reading (or hearing) your kid's boredom cues and taking some time to play, that last stretch might be a little less insane. 

Make this happen by taking a few minutes to stop at a playground or make a bathroom break last a bit longer by including a game of tag. Packing a picnic lunch (or picking up fast food) and eating it outside at the park is another parent-many places to go and see: photo by JSNmany places to go and see: photo by JSNtested and approved strategy. The fresh air and exercise can do wonders for kids (and parents too) by allowing them to expend some of the excess energy they've spent hours building. Plus, it always makes them happy. And, if the kids are happy, you're happy.

In all reality keeping kids content on a long road trip is an endless challenge. Do your best to bring a little bit of home with you, while at the same time prepping them for the excitement your end destination will offer. Rather than ignore them and hope for the best, engage them. Here's hoping for smooth sailing, er, driving on your next road trip adventure.

Got some road-trip survival strategies to share? Tell us in the comments! Find us on Twitter or Facebook and let's start talking!

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Love this! I grew up in a family that traveled together. My parents took my twin and me on so many road trips to fantastic places, and I'm forever grateful---and we did all of this (the camping gene is good when instilled early)!

My son is older now, but as young as 6 or 7, he enjoyed following along with a children's atlas. He also would collect pamphlets at visitor centers and look at those while we drove.

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