10 Tips for Travelling with Kids

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Forty two days in a van with four kids? Camping all the way? What are you crazy?

You’d be surprised how many times I heard those words, when I told people that my husband and I were going on a trip for 42 days all the way to California, with our four children, aged six to 13 at the time……I knew it was not going to be easy, so I was prepared for those moments when I would ultimately hear the words: “I’m so bored.”

One of the best ways to get a child (say, over the age of five) pumped about a trip is to allow him or her to choose something that they really wanted to see or do along the way…..then include these event/activities or attraction in your plans. Here are 10 other tips to help take the stress out of travelling with kids:

1. Goodie Bag: Make sure you have a bag of surprises on hand filled with tiny boredom busters, to get the kids through those fidgety times. Things like little hand held dolls, action figures, puppets, magic tricks, magnetic puzzles, stuffed animals and such. You can always find something for boys and girls of any age to use their imagination and play quietly or with another child.

2. Assorted Books/StoryTime: Search-a word, crossword puzzle books, mazes, math puzzle books, hidden picture, and I Spy picture books are great for easily-bored little minds. Also sticker books or paper doll books, jokes and riddles. And, if your child has a favourite author (or character) with a new book, buy it as a surprise. For those nice quiet times, bring a novel and get everyone to read a chapter out loud. Harry Potter was the big favourite for our trip. A couple of others I would recommend are: How to Eat Fried Worms, and Bubba Begonia for smaller listeners, and Within a Painted Past, Silverwing or City of Ember for older listeners.

3. Stop Signs: Kids getting a little cranky? Don’t forget to stop often for fresh air, a stretch of the legs, a picnic lunch, a walk in a roadside park or rest area, and of course a bathroom break.

4. Check out Mad Libs: For kids who can read and write, Mad Libs allows kids to fill in the blanks of a pre-made paragraph, with random words (it specifies verbs, nouns, adjectives etc) then read the paragraph aloud……they love it! Mad Lib makes no sense but can be quite funny.

5. Colour me “not bored”: You can never go wrong with a new colouring book and crayons.

6. When Pencils Meet Paper: A small journal or notebook is always good for recording special moments and memories, and for playing time-passing games like License Plate Bingo, Hang Man, X’s and O’s. Lists of “what I see” by alphabet… etc…

7. Let the Games Begin: Games such as Sorry, Chess, Checkers, Boggle come in travel sizes and usually with “hard to lose” magnetic pieces. Playing cards and card games are usually a big hit if the kids can sit close together as in the back seat, around the camp fire or on the train.

8. Music/Movie Time: If your child loves music, a small MP3 player is a great idea to pass the time and you won’t have to listen to six hours of Veggie Tales(trust me on this one.)The hand-held DVD player is also a great idea to help pass those long hours on the road, the rails or in-flight.

9. Play Navigator: Print a map chronicling your journey and invite the kids to help navigate. Depending on the age (probably best for older children) allow one child per day to be the supreme navigator. This is a great learning experience and helps build self esteem and map-reading skills.(P.S. Best to keep a watchful eye on your young navigator and his/her directions.)

10. Snap Happy: Don’t forget to purchase a few cheap disposable cameras for your young photographers. The kids will love being able to snap those quirky moments that parents may deem “un-photo-worthy.” You may be surprised at what they choose to capture on film to relive those family memories.

For comfort, it is a must that the favorite blanket, stuffed animal or pillow go along with your child on the trip. They encourage sleep, and allow the child a piece of home to bring along on the journey. Keeping the kids busy, comfortable and amused means never having to hear the words, “Are we there yet?”

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Rosemarie Barnes is a Canada-based mother of four.