Living far away from family can be very challenging during the holidays. Our kids have never spent a Christmas Eve or Day in their own home. Whether it’s a four hour drive or a twelve it’s never stress free. Christmas seems to be additionally stressful, remembering to bring presents for everyone, packing strategically to allow for trunk space devoted to all the goodies we will return with and of course watching the weather to ensure travel occurs on the safest days. I’ve discovered over the years that a little time preparing for the car ride ahead of time can set the tone for an enjoyable time.
Here are my Top 10 Tips to keep your sanity while traveling in the car for the holidays.
1. Check out the dollar store. Usually a day or two before we travel I’ll bring our boys (ages 10.5 and 9) to the dollar store for a few goodies. Whether it’s a new deck of cards, a fresh set of crayons or stickers or even a new Lego kit, I’ve learned over the years that my boys are actually pretty good at picking things that will keep them busy. I usually spend less than $8 total.
2. Car bingo. Pinterest is your best resource for fun car games these days. Several years ago a family member purchased a packet of car bingo cards and it never fails us on a long trip. Another version would be to hunt down license plates to see who can find the most states. Have kids mark them on a map of the USA for practice locating states as well. (Check out these FREE printables I found via Pinterest on Money Saving Mom)
3. Head to the library! Audio books, play kits, books and DVDs are all available for free at our local library. We can renew online if needed for an extended trip. Now that our boys both have kindle fires the Overdrive system has been great for borrowing new books at any point.
4. Redbox. We always charge up the laptops the night before ensuring enough battery time for two movies. The Redbox app will not only allow you to see where machines are located, but you can reserve DVDs prior to arrival to ensure you get a movie the kids will love.
5. Snacks. This might be a given, but I’ve learned that my husband doesn’t think to bring snacks along, even though he’s happy to snack along with us. We’ve stopped along our trip routes at grocery stores instead of fast food establishments when in a pinch for something to snack on. The deli sections have pre-cut fruit and veggies which not only saves on calories, but eliminates the need for a cooler. This neat trick has helped my kids eat their snacks much more slowly these days and cut down on spills.
6. Headphones. There are plenty of warnings about the risks of head phones and I don’t discount them. At the same time, over the ear head phones used with volumes set reasonably can be a gift from above when my boys don’t seem to be able to figure out how to give each other a break. Even if they are listening to the same worship music or audio book, head phones create zones that are lacking in back seats alone.
7. Back up batteries. These aren’t just for cell phones! When Radio Shack went out of business last year we got portable back up batteries for $3 each. If you have toys that require AA batteries I promise you they will fail on a long road trip. Stash extra batteries along with a mini screw driver in the glove compartment.
8. Magnetic game boards. My kids love to play chess, and I love that they love to play chess. So, for less than $9 on Amazon I purchased a set for the car.
9. Map it out. For long trips I’ll print out our route on a few pages of paper. Each stop or any time the boys ask “How much longer” we mark where we are on the map. The visual of seeing approximately when the next stop is cuts down on the impatience. Now that the boys are older we trace the route on the map of roads in the giant road book. This gives the boys practice in learning to read a map and cuts down on the whining.
10. Take your time. Taking an extra 10 minutes to walk around at a rest stop or when getting gas may seem like it adds needless time to an already stressful trip. In my experience, giving our boys a few minutes to move around, whether it’s browsing a shop or racing at a rest area is incredibly helpful in them keeping their hands off each other in the car.