With grandparents an hour away and a husband who loves to get in the car and go, we have been driving around with kids since the moment they were born. Somewhere along the way, I learned that long car rides don’t have to be painful and can even be fun for everyone.
The keys to success, regardless of the kids’ ages, are food, exercise and entertainment.
Food: Opt for easy to eat, but healthy. Choose bananas and bagels over candy bars and Cokes. Pack a cooler with plenty of water (which doesn’t leave a sticky mess when it spills, as it inevitably will).
Exercise: You may be able to drive nonstop for hours, but that doesn’t mean your child can sit nonstop for hours. In our family, two hours has been the limit. After that, we look for a place to stop where the kids can work off a little energy. Since we are prone to driving the back roads, that usually means a public park with a swing set and climbing equipment. Along the highway, it might be a McDonald’s with a play area or a rest stop with an expanse of grass big enough to let the kids chase one another around.
Entertainment: This is the biggie. Do it right and the hours will fly by. Do it wrong and every mile will feel like 10. Some people head straight for the DVD player, plug in the kids and go. We prefer to treat car time as family time. When the kids were still in car seats, that sometimes meant one adult sat in the back and entertained them with books or toys while the other parent drove. As they got older, we played car games (the license plate game, the alphabet game, I Spy—you’ll find many ideas online) and listened to books on tape. Now that they are 11 and 13, it’s getting tougher to keep them tuned into family and tuned out of their iPods. I’m hoping the seventh Harry Potter book on tape, read by the incomparable Jim Dale, will do the trick this summer.