We've visited 15 states in the past three years and we have learned a few things along those thousands of miles. We aren't near perfect, we do lots wrong, and
we our children have thrown our their fair share of fits BUT that's all part of the fun, right? So here's a few tricks of the trade that may help you conquer that three day or three hour road trip that you've been afraid to tackle with littles.
Include kids in setting expectations
Who doesn't want to be a decision maker? No one, that's who. We all like to feel like we have a voice, so we have found that when we include the kids in helping to make decisions we are all much happier. Now - this doesn't mean that THEY make the decisions or dictate our day, it simply means we give them a voice. So a week out from the trip, we let them know our plans and let them choose from some options along the way. We also set some family rules for behavior and they got to pick the rules AND the consequences. (That's key - because the punishment they give themselves is usually much worse than we would). So here are their rules...
Keep them entertained
We let them bring things that make them happy - books, a doll each for the girls, crayons, and 2 movies each. I also put together a packet of activity pages that added an extra bit of fun for their car time that included a coloring page for each state that we would drive through, car bingo, tic tac toe, hangman, I Spy and the license plate game. I used clear sheet protectors that you can get at any office supply store and dry erase markers so that they could reuse sheets. I underestimated how much they would like the coloring pages - next time I will have 3 pages/state filled with different facts for my eager learners.
We packed a cooler and filled it with fruit, sandwich supplies, drinks and snacks. This not only saved us money but precious precious time avoiding the "what do you want to eat" on the looooong stretches of highway. We knew the kids would eat what we packed and we were able to ENJOY the countryside that we otherwise wouldn't see. When you are traveling along major highways and interstates you are going to find awesome rest stops that are a much nicer setting than another McDonald's. And on that long and final stretch home, you'll be glad that you can just throw them a pre-made pbj and keep driving!
Ask the locals
You can do all the research you want, but I have found that locals always give the best recommendations on where to go, what to do and most importantly where to eat! (Trip advisor also served us well!) When we were exploring the Garvan Woodland Gardens in Arkansas (thanks, Holly!), we met a photographer that immediately told us to eat at Westy's when we told her our next stop was Memphis. Locals came to our rescue again when they recommended City Museum for some fun and Bailey's Range for some food. ASK AWAY, my friends!
Expect the unexpected
(and try not to lose your sh** over it)
That second part is where I could use some work. Alas, the unexpected is GOING to happen. A road will be closed, you'll hit traffic, your 5 year old will scrape off her face on the top of a building... you know, the usual. Expect it. Take a deep breath and let it become part of the journey instead of something that ruins the trip.
Let kids be kids
We could hit every single museum, aquarium and "must see" attraction there is to see on these trips - but... would the kids really have fun? Or would they be asking "when are we going to be done?" My goal in taking them all these places is so that they know that there is SO MUCH out there for them to see and discover and explore. I want them to remember that we learned something new, met someone different from us and had tons of fun so that when they are old enough to travel on their own they CHOOSE to do something new, meet someone different and have fun! The Shedd Aquarium would have no doubt been awesome and amazing and incredible ... but so was just watching them play in a park, making new friends, and shrieking over how cold that water was.
Know your planned destinations - our major stop in St. Louis was going to be the zoo - we didn't feel like the kids would have been as excited about that if we did something similar in Chicago. That's the same reason we didn't ride the arch, we had already been to the top of Willis (Sears) Tower... and now they have something to look forward the next time their path leads them back.
Pick a place that works for you - we LOVE Embassy Suites. Big enough for all 5 of us, indoor pools, fun indoor balcony and FREE BREAKFAST.
Happy happy road trippers.
Our motto is to always be grateful for the ride - enjoy the experience and relish all these precious, headache inducing moments. They are but little one time - a split second in eternity. Be grateful for the ride and remember that our job isn't to give them the world, rather to show them that the world is waiting for them to explore every bit of goodness she has to offer.
Safe travels, friends!