Looking for suggestions to keep us sane during long roadtrip with kids
October 20, 2020 9:14 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I are going on a 15 hour road trip for Christmas, from Florida to Ohio. We are driving instead of flying to avoid any additional exposure since the family we are going to visit are older and have some health issues; so limiting risky exposure is super important to us.

We have a 9 year old boy and a 3 year old little girl.

Looking for suggestions on ways to not drive each other absolutely insane during the trip.

Some things we have already thought of:
Tablets and electronics (though our little one could care less about them).
Leaving just before bed time in hopes that they will sleep for several hours.
Conversation prompting cards (would help with our son but little one doesn't really conversate yet.)
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
1. License plate game - Print a list of all the states and as the old child sees a plate from that state, tick it off the list.

2. Alphabetical Sign game -- My mother and I would play this on roadtrips when I was a kid on our trips from DC to western PA. The idea is you find place names on road signs and you have to find them in order. It was a challenge to be ready for Z by the time we got to Zelienople, Pennsylvania.

My wife is Sarah_NOT_Sara ;)
posted by terrapin at 9:20 AM on October 20, 2020

When our kids were around that age, we did a Chicago-Disney road trip. We had fun with Mad Libs, auto bingo, and those invisible ink quiz games. And we got a ton of mileage (mileage? get it?) out of post-it notes, tape, and band-aids. A supply of each for each of the kids. They taped up their face Pee-Wee Herman style, stuck band-aids around all of their fingers and toes, and made little drawings and mosaics on the window with post-its. It was cheap, creative, easy-to-clean fun.

(We used to frequently do the "feed the kids, get them in their PJs, and then count on them sleeping through the drive" move until it spectacularly backfired one trip when our toddler stayed up and complained for most of the night and was then irritable for the first several days of the family visit.)
posted by AgentRocket at 9:29 AM on October 20, 2020

If possible drive at night time or leave very early. I.e. 3 AM start time can mean that 6 hours is already gone when kids wake-up. Obviously this requires co-pilots to ensure that everyone is awake and driving safely.
posted by zeikka at 9:33 AM on October 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

If it were me, depending on the vehicle, if it were a mini van, I would have one adult sit very near the 3 year old. If it is just her and her brother in the back seat, things will devolve after a few hours.

I would also consider bribing the 9 yo to be nice to his sister the whole trip and he gets something, a toy, a dessert treat, etc for his efforts. Whenever he starts getting fidgety and messing with his sister for fun, remind him of the deal.

Agree with zeikka in that we used to leave at 3 am. Roads relatively empty and plenty of sleep time. We also had kids books on tape. Stories about train travel and a boy and a girl I remember but I cannot remember the name of it. My kids loved those tapes.
posted by AugustWest at 9:37 AM on October 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

We have had great success with books on CD - my very energetic kid was completely absorbed while listening to the Ramona books, to the point that I didn't need to pull out any of the emergency diversions I'd packed. We always drive during the day and aim to stop every hour and a half to two hours, everyone gets out of the car to move around. Makes the drive take a little longer but is less miserable overall.
posted by SeedStitch at 9:45 AM on October 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

When I was a child, our family took many road trips....this was way before electronics and we managed to have quite a bit of fun in the car, here are some things I remember:

Songs--if you don't already have a repertoire, get one! Even a 3 year old can clap along or join in the chorus....there are millions of them.....since it is the season, holiday songs are a good option.

Word games: I spy, 20 questions, the ministers cat.

Challenges--can the older kid count to, say a hundred, before the next exit sign or whatever. Quiet contest, staring contests.

Story telling--I remember my mom re-telling us the story "the necklace" by de Maupassant, among others. If you are imaginative enough, make up your own story and have the kids participate--for example, have them name the characters or decide what pet the character has.. and since you are visiting your family, are there any family stories that you could talk about?

Crossing state lines was celebrated with some horn beeping and cheering.

Lastly, I remember we would freeze plastic bottles filled with water and checking it and drinking it as it melted was quite exciting, believe it or not.
Have fun,
posted by rhonzo at 9:45 AM on October 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

Teach them the trucker horn arm pump! But, yes, I think leaving very early in the AM will help a lot.
posted by quince at 9:53 AM on October 20, 2020

Are you open to throwing money at this problem? On one very long car trip, I think my parents had a laundry basket of games/toys/books/etc. (some new, some borrowed, some stuff of our own that we hadn't used in a long time) that they wrapped up, and we got to pick one and open it at regular periods if we were behaving.
posted by punchtothehead at 10:10 AM on October 20, 2020 [4 favorites]

Audio books. Also a few albums the kids love that you will only play once a day, otherwise you will rapidly become sick of them. Our kids were a little older when we did our first cross-country drive, but "Snacktime!" still brings back fond memories. But that's because it only got played once per day.
posted by GuyZero at 10:25 AM on October 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

The 3 year old is gonna be tough! But doable, especially if you can do a significant portion of the journey while they sleep. Can you start driving at their bedtime and drive through the night, do you think? Swapping as necessary with your husband? I've done 5-6 hour car trips with a toddler and a 5 yr old by departing at 3 am.

I highly recommend episodic audio plays/sitcoms like Cabin Pressure (but of course something geared more towards your younger child). The episodes are 30 minutes long, so we switch between those episodes and road games like "yellow car" (exactly what it sounds like - you spot a yellow car, you say "yellow car") and music and bickering/whining and "blessed silence" (as mommy likes to call the mandatory quiet times she imposes).
posted by MiraK at 10:27 AM on October 20, 2020

My relatives used to head out in the evening and drive all night, their kids sleeping through most of it. Might not be worth the additional risk, though.

You might want to also figure out a portable toilet solution, because public restrooms aren't safe places to be right now.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:29 AM on October 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

I did a road trip in a rented minivan from Toronto to Texas when my kids were maybe 6 and 4? In addition to the electronics we got them tone/tongue drums so they could play some music and it wouldn't annoy the adults in the car. My older kid is almost 9 now and she'd likely be happy reading the whole time, provided it didn't make her carsick and her younger sibling let her.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:37 AM on October 20, 2020

N-thing audio player. Back in the day, our 4 hour drives to Grandma's house at Thanksgiving got a lot easier after I bought each kid a cheap cassette player and they could zone out on tunes. They were in elementary school.

Alphabet game protip: look for Quaker State Motor Oil signs. (That's from when I was a kid in the 1950s.)

The last resort with a cranky child is singing. The wheels on the bus.....
posted by SemiSalt at 11:50 AM on October 20, 2020

Alright, I asked some coworkers about this and they mostly repeated the above, except for one completely out-of-left-field trick that Ms. X swears worked on her as a kid:

...give them a DAIRY creamer (like from McD or something, as long as it's real cream) and have them shake it until it turns into butter. This is apparently possible, and you apparently can tell from the way it shakes, but it takes a really long time and evidently can mesmerize certain insane children who grow up to be tech employees.
posted by aramaic at 12:08 PM on October 20, 2020 [6 favorites]

We drove RI-MN, and then back -- with a 300-miles-each-way side trip in the middle -- a few summers ago. I think our youngest was four or five, with three older kids up to age 13.

We took three days getting there and four coming home, with a stop in Niagara Falls and also at a hotel with a water park. Once we arrived at our destination, the kids now knew how bad the drive home would be. So, we bribed them with shorter road days and cool stops. *shrug* It worked, we're not proud.

Audio books for everyone to listen to worked one day, allowing anyone to opt out with headphones. (Note: buy non-crummy headphones for everyone! Those nine-dollar ones from target with princesses or Yuh-Gi-Oh characters or whatever will break, and then everyone will suffer.)

At stops, the boys would throw around a frisbee or football for five minutes just to blow off steam. You could substitute twenty-five jumping jacks or something.

Playing words game sucks, because kids don't know as much. (Sorry, kids.) Like the game "Detroit to Tokyo," where you take turns naming places, and the last letter of the previous answer is the first letter of the next one (e.g., the "T" in the name of the game): little kids just don't know as much, and they get bored with losing.

As a corollary to the previous point, stick to games where everyone is on an equal footing, like the Sign Alphabet game. (Don't do this if your driver is competitive, because they will get distracted from driving!)

Some new, cheap toys were a fun surprise partway through the trip.

We also took along a device called a travel router: it throws a local wifi network that everyone's device can connect to, and they stream movies & music & ebooks that are stored on a thumb drive that I had filled up before we left (which plugs into the device). No real Internet connection, but that's way less important when there's a bunch of movies. I used a different one from the manuafcturer Hootoo, but here's their current offering: https://www.hootoo.com/p/filehub

Alphabet game protip: look for Quaker State Motor Oil signs..
New Hampshire has signs at the cut-throughs that state troopers use which contain like a third of the damn alphabet -- they start "Authorized use only" and I think go from R to Z!
posted by wenestvedt at 12:27 PM on October 20, 2020

Save threats of singing as a punishment. As in, "You guys know any show tunes?"
posted by wenestvedt at 12:32 PM on October 20, 2020

I want to say that my wife announced five minutes of silence every hour.

Also: if you see cows, everyone MOOOOOs.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:33 PM on October 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

We just did 10 hours with a 3 and 7 year old. The little one was pretty entertained by a magnadoodle and flash cards and copious amounts of snacks. The older one played Pokémon Go for like the entire trip. On the way down we stopped several times to eat and run around at rest stops. It rained for most of our return trip and they were much more antsy, but I busted out some new toys and we made it back without too much crying.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 2:14 PM on October 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Quiet Game works for this age group on any trip.

Create This Year’s Family Jukebox, pull up songs and sing along. Not all kids music is terrible, and most music parents listen to can be enjoyed by their kids. The list of songs will mark a point in time for the family, and will evolve with subsequent road trips.

Audio books that might include the youngest, Dear Mr. Henshaw, The Pushcart War, and Roald Dahl’s The Witches (which entertained my oldest who was 4-5 at the time).

Graphic novels from the kid’s section of the library, like The Lunch Lady series.

A few copies of Muse, Cobblestone, Popular Science and Smithsonian for browsing

Fidget toys, which can be a Rubiks Cube when you’re 3.
posted by childofTethys at 2:17 PM on October 20, 2020

Warning tale about the snacks: on our first road trip with a youngster, it began to rain and rain and RAIN. I was fine driving but my wife started getting nervous about the logging trucks and the white-out and all that. She gave our then-18-month old cheddar goldfish and goldfish and GOLDFISH until the poor child hurled.

Cleaning up cheddar goldfish barf from the crevices of a car seat in a Corolla in car wash rain was reallllly something else.
posted by wenestvedt at 3:02 PM on October 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

We have had incredible luck with no electronics, but the saving grace has always been a "Music Together" CD someone just gave us to entice us to join the local class. He said the rhythms always put his kids in a trance. And it's true! No matter how nuts they are, we put on the CD and they calm down. There are a bunch of varieties on Amazon--don't think it matters which one you get.
posted by luckdragon at 3:59 PM on October 20, 2020

If you see a sign for a very mild local attraction like an historical plaque, an old tree, a rest area, a scenic view, a waterfall, an historic bridge, etc, pull over and have a look. You might see something interesting, and you can get out and stretch your legs and take a photo, or go for a socially distanced pee behind a tree.
posted by slightlybewildered at 11:07 PM on October 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

« Older Buying a house is stressful and I hate it but I...   |   Syncing Work Gmail and Outlook Calendars Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.