"Are we there yet?"
Like any rite of passage, you know you're a family on the move the second those words have been uttered, and whined, and then....screeched! Those four dreaded words can be the cruelest at times -- if you're a parent you know what I mean.
With summer holidays coming up, many of us will be en route to visit family and friends, and amid all the planning, packing and panicking the last thing we need when we get into the car, on a plane or on the train, is a melt-down. Or even worse, those four words that I dare not repeat.
While my kids can actually watch The Lion King and Kangaroo Jack repeatedly or take to their DS's for hours at a time, something in me just won't allow it (regrettably it's usually my mother's accented voice blaring in my head that it will ruin their eyes forever). And as tempting as it would be to sedate them for the ride -- don't deny that the thought hasn't crossed your mind -- I've managed to come up with some options to help make the journey a little easier and hopefully less screechy.
1. Pack lots'o Snacks
Prepare lots of small-portioned snacks including mini sandwiches and meals. Bring a variety of snacks, and remember, just keep the portions small -- think handful-sized. Avoid anything that is messy, sticky, dippy and always pack the baby wipes.
2. The Value of a Dollar
There are ample choices at the dollar store or grocery clearance table. You'll get your money's worth from these magnetic board games or scratch-a-picture colouring pages.
3. Write-On-Wipe-Off Wonder
Print off a variety of free road-trip activity pages available on the internet, slip them into some plastic page-protectors and allow the kids to write on them with erasable markers. You can purchase a bound book of page protectors at the buck-or-two store that can be filled with various versions of bingo, scavenger hunt, hangman and license plate "eye-spy."
4. Music Soothes the Savage Beast
Tune the radio to the local classical station and have the kids close their eyes, listen for a minute and then start narrating their version of the "story" in the music -- however brief it may be, it could be just enough to give you all a bit of quiet time.
5. Something Boxed, Something New
Consider buying a small toy, especially if dealing with infants and toddlers, for rail and air travel. One for each leg of the ride should be enough. These toys needn't be fancy or expensive, just small, colourful and new. If you keep them in the package the unwrapping part for a small child will be sport in and of itself.
6. Breaking Bad
Be realistic with how long children, and some adults, can actually sit down for. Plan breaks ahead of time if possible and if you are not keen on fast-food joints with play-zones, there are ample parkettes and parks close to many highway exits to picnic at.
7. Give a Time Out to Travel Time
Like most, we too base our road-tripping itinerary on what Google Maps or Mapquest state is the estimated travel time. But as we learned long ago, trying to stick to that timing can create undue stress (especially if you expect to get somewhere by "dinner-time"). Add an extra half hour for every three to four hours to account for rush hour traffic, pit stops and inclement weather. Sometimes it's about the journey, not just the destination, so enjoy the ride!
In-between all this, I would still negotiate a little window time to take in the sights as they whiz by. After all, we had to do it in our day, and look how much smarter and well-adjusted we all turned out to be!