Saturday, April 23, 2011

How to Travel Alone with Small Children

As promised, I'm finally getting around to posting some tips for traveling with small children, particularly if you are traveling with small children by yourself.  This is something I do quite frequently given Tim's hours of work and him being gone four nights out of the week.  Over time, I have found a few ways of coping to get through those long drives trapped by myself with two small ones in the backseat.  Here's what I've learned:

1) Bring lots of books.  The one way I have found that will consistently keep my kids entertained is to have them look at books.  Make sure you teach your kids to pass the books back to you when they're done instead of tossing them on the floor, or eventually you will run out of books and only one kid will have gotten to read each of them.  Besides, if the trip is long enough, sometimes you can recycle through them.

2) Bring kids' music or kids' books on CDs.  I know, listening to Max and Ruby or Thomas the Tank Engine for hours on end is enough to drive one bonkers, but if it keeps the screaming me-me's in the back to a dull roar, you must learn to put up with it.  You could also teach them to like the same music you do, but this is both challenging and not as effective at making them be quiet.

3) Bring food.  And by food, I mean anything you think your kids will eat, although preferably things that are healthier.  My kids love apples, so I will try to cut up a couple before we go and have them in a container or a bag ready for me to hand out.  Crackers and raisins also work well, especially because you can put them in individual containers for each kid.  Be prepared to clean up a mess when you get home no matter what kind of food you serve.  Inevitably with kids, food will always end up on the floor and mushed into the seat. 

4) Bring drinks.  Preferably in sippy cups.  I don't care how old your kid is.  It is hard to drink liquid in a moving vehicle. 

5) Be flexible, as in physically, and if possible, grow longer arms.  Seriously.  I'm not kidding about this one.  You must be able to reach the children in the back seat while you are sitting in the front seat.  Find a way to grow longer arms.

6) This goes along with Tip #5.  You must learn how to keep your focus on the road while passing said books, food, or drinks to the children in the back seat.  Believe me, this takes a special kind of brain power.  Harness it.  You are no good to your children if you get killed in a car accident because you were trying to keep them happy while you were driving.  If this is too difficult to master, (or something has fallen that you just can't reach with your super long arms), pull over.

7) Bring the kitchen sink.  No, really.  Bring the kitchen sink.  ...okay, not practical, but bring something that you can use to wipe sticky fingers, as in wet naps, dry napkins, kleenex.  If you are feeding your children, they will get messy.  Also, my kids are notorious for needing me to wipe their noses while we are driving.  (My super long arms will not permit me to pull this off while the vehicle is moving, so they either end up doing it themselves or waiting until a stop light...or I pull over...)

8) Plan for your trip to take an extra half hour to an hour for unplanned stops.  I once took had a trip that should have been two hours actually take three hours, and we had to pull over four times for dropped toys.  It sounds silly, but when you're stuck in a car alone, you really have no choice but to pull over because it's just too insane to try and listen to the screaming that will ensue if you don't stop.

9) Pray your kids sleep in the car.  I will often plan my trips around the kids' nap times in an effort to up my chances that they will sleep.  As they get older, this gets harder and harder, but the drive really is that much easier if they sleep for a good chunk of it.

10) When all else fails, crank up your music really REALLY loud.  This will accomplish one of two things, (or if you're lucky, both things).  First, if the music is loud enough, you won't be able to hear the incessant "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy" coming from the back seat.  Second, if your kids are anything like mine, they'll hate that you've blared the music, and you can use it as a bargaining tool for them to be quiet.  If they're quiet, you turn down the music.  If they start whining again, you can crank it again.  It's surprisingly least for my kids.  Once your kids get to the age where they actually like having the music super loud, this might not work as well.  In that case, make sure you have music on that you can stand listening to at ridiculous volume levels.

11) My last and final tip for traveling with children alone: if at all possible DON'T.  Beg, plead, cajole, pay someone if you have to, TAKE SOMEONE WITH YOU.  I don't think I can stress enough just how much easier your life will be if you have someone in the passenger seat (or you in the passenger seat with someone else driving). 

I could probably come up with some more advice on how to travel with small kids, but these are the most important ones.  There are never any guarantees that the trip will go smoothly, no matter how prepared you are for every possible situation, but I've found that these few coping methods do go a long way to making a long drive easier.


Jen said...

A funny read Marleah because they are all true! I drive longer distances all the time with the kids and have employed every one of these tactics :) Especially the longer arms, lol! And yes blaring the music works for mine too - they are silent in an attempt to get me to turn it down. Works especially well to stop crying children in the middle of a tantrum!! Good post :D

Amy said...

Oh this brings back memories. Our favorite tape stories were Odyssey tapes, Kids classics (classical music with a story - Beethoven Lives Upstairs, Magic Flute, Hallelujah Handel, etc..) and the ulitmate favorite before Harry Potter was the Terrible Trins by Dick King Smith. We knew how many were needed for a trip to Chatham or camping or whatever.

Anonymous said...

It's true that books on tape are enjoyable for everyone, especially when they get older. Didn't we all enjoy "The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwieler." (or whatever her name was). I also think the kids can learn that everyone gets a turn to listen to "their" music. That way they learn to appreciate yours and in the end kind of appreciate their own more too.
Enjoyed the post alot, Marleah. :)

Anonymous said...

Oh the memories your post brought back of long car rides. Amazing how nothing changes in the next generation. The books, toys CD's both music and stories and snacks. Eventually coming to the age where they pack a car travel bag for a long trip, the fun is when they start to share their stuff with their siblings.

The quiet drives will return in time and the you will get to enjoy someone else figuring out how to do what you've done in the past.

Aunt Patty

Anonymous said...

Those of you who were able to listen to 'kids' music while driving with your parents don't realize how lucky you were. Though I probably have more of an appreciation for classical music than many my age.

Of course, this may have more to do with the lack of a tape player (8-track?) in my parents' vehicles. I do remember listening to a lot of 'oldies' music on the road trips. Generally speaking, it's clean, and easy to sing along to. Though I do recall an argument or two resulting from songs like 'Under the Boardwalk' if you anticipate future conversations with your children on the 'cleanliness' of their music, I suggest you change stations when that one comes on ;)
Besides, honestly...who doesn't like oldies?

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