Traveling with kids on long car rides can be a nightmare. We all remember doing it to our own parents… “He’s touching me.” “I am not!” “Are we there, yet?” These things can get annoying very fast, but there are ways to keep the kids busy (and we only use technology as a last resort … but one you should definitely resort to if necessary) and make the trip fun for everyone. Here are some other tips to get the most from your family road trip.
Speeding down the road getting Point A to Point B in the least possible time may be your old style, however, driving slower ensures the safety of that precious cargo on-board and building in plenty of rest stops without a strict scheduled arrival time will allow plenty of time to stretch the legs, go potty (even though they went 30 miles ago!) and see some sites you might normally zip right past. Try to plan your trip to take advantage of your child’s normal routine, i.e. schedule the longest portion of your drive when the child usually naps, making sure you are near a town at normal meal times, etc.
Plan out many breaks along the way, to break up the trip and plan on making some unexpected trips as well. Sitting with the kids and planning out the trip (and stops) together, helps them understand the geography of the areas through which you are traveling, and will help them have patience with the length of the drive, as they know what to look forward to at the next stop.
Fast food restaurants make good stops if they have playgrounds, or Google “parks” in each city and plan to stop for a kid break. Remember, kids don’t stick to schedules as well as adults, so be prepared to stop at places longer than planned, or stop at extra places just to alleviate a long, tedious section of the drive.
Also, remember to have kids use the bathroom at every stop, even if they don’t feel like they have to. If you have a child that is potty training, or recently trained, you may want to carry a portable potty and toilet paper for emergencies.
Pack a backpack for each child … or, better yet with your supervision, let each child pack their own backpack filled with toys and games to entertain them along the way. By asking them to pack the bag, they get a sense of responsibility and buy-in to the trip. Having you oversee the packing also allows that you ensure their items are small and quiet, which helps parents keep a bit of sanity. Here are some top choices:
Coloring Books/Activity Books – kids especially like doodling and mazes, so try to find ones that suit each child’s tastes and abilities.
Small cars and planes.
Dolls or mini-pet playhouses with characters.
Travel-Size board games – many are magnetic.
Books describing the destination.
Travel books with games and information about different regions through which you’re traveling. Also, this might tie in with your children’s classroom. Ask your child’s teacher about getting credit for sending the class pictures and travel journals from the road, or create a trip book as extra credit. It will lighten their makeup work and helps the class learn about a new destination along with your child!
Maps! It’s fun for kids to track your progress. It is a learning experience for them concerning navigation and it helps eliminate the “are we there, yet” syndrome.
As a last resort … Technology! Use it as a last resort; better to have the kids engaged in the scenery whizzing past the windows than the scenery on the screen in front of them. Having them spend a portion of the trip watching a movie or playing video games does make the miles fly past.
Long road trips will, of course, involve food. Whether that means meals eaten at rest stops along the way or snacks munched on the road, a full child is much happier than a hungry one. Always try to pack a variety of healthy snacks (carrot sticks, string cheese, fruit, cucumber slices, …) as well a few treats, like chips or sugary sweetness, for when the healthy stuff just ‘aint cutting it.
Mealtime can be a challenge with fast-food restaurants offering the main cuisine over and over again. If you want to avoid the fast-food trap, pack a picnic before you leave home and schedule a scenic overlook or park as one of your mealtime stops. Otherwise, you could peruse family websites or Google for the city/town you will be in at mealtime to peruse restaurant recommendations.
Some kids fall asleep as soon as the car starts moving, which can work for you or against you. Miles peel away with a peacefully sleeping child on board. However, if the peacefully-sleeping child oversleeps, getting them back on schedule in your destination can be quite a challenge.
Some parents lean the other way and try to keep their child awake on the long car ride, arriving in time for bed, but that can backfire as an over-tired child may have a hard time falling asleep. Better to meet somewhere in the middle, even with school-aged children. Try to encourage some rest periods on a long drive. Older kids will realize how much faster the drive goes when they sleep, so they actually try to go to sleep for an hour here and there.
To avoid oversleep, plan plenty of breaks to stimulate the child and break up naps. Plan plenty of games to engage your child in the car so they will not get so drowsy. To avoid not sleep, bring a favorite blankie or stuffed animal from home, hang a blanket or jacket to darken the window, and be sure to bring a pacifier for the little ones if still using them.
It’s easy to plug the kids into a movie, turn up the tunes and feel like you are back on the old college road trip, but this is a family trip after all, so try to spend time bonding as a family. I know it sounds silly to “schedule” family time on a road trip, but sometimes, in our efforts to keep the kids happy and quiet, we forget to play the fun old-fashioned games we played as kids, and actually get to know each other during the process.
There are plenty of family activity kits out there specifically geared for road trips, with games to play over the road, as well as games to help you reconnect. When in doubt, the classics never fail!
In My Suitcase I Packed – Name the things you packed from A to Z, with each person listing something and repeating all the items before them, i.e. An apple, a bear, a cat, ...
License Plate Game – Each person picks a couple of states and gets points for each license plate they see from that state, or writing down each unique state one sees as the cars pass by.
Slug Bug – Points are earned for each Volkswagen Bug you see. Can be expanded to include buses, trains, tractors, ...
Some children can get carsick at the drop of a hat, while others, not at all. If your child is prone to motion sickness, have them sit in the center seat in the back, so they have a clear view of the road. If they start to feel sick, open the windows for some fresh air and direct them to look straight ahead at the horizon (or as far ahead on the road as the landscape will allow).
Your family doctor or pediatrician should be consulted for their recommendations before you begin your adventure. Do NOT try to make them take a nap, as closing your eyes makes motion sickness worse. If your doctor recommends an over-the-counter remedy, then remember that you need to take this kind of medication a half hour before you start to feel sick. Also, it can make kids very drowsy, which may make for a hyper child when you arrive at your destination.
Some home remedies include ginger candy and chewing gum, which can help prevent upset stomachs.
If traveling by car makes you queasy, there’s good news: Not only can you take steps to stop motion sickness before it starts, you may actually be able to conquer it for good.
Motion sickness is caused by incongruence in our body’s sensory systems. For instance, your eyes are telling your brain one thing and your body is feeling something entirely different. This lack of synchronicity confuses the brain and causes a variety of symptoms, including dizziness, headache, nausea, salivation, sweating, belching, acute awareness of the stomach, vomiting, and hyperventilation (in extreme cases).
You certainly can take medications to help relieve these symptoms. But, if you’d like to try overcoming motion sickness for good, here are some techniques.
Not being in the driver’s seat can contribute to motion sickness when you’re traveling by car. The driver of a car is less prone to motion sickness than a passenger, presumably because the driver’s brain is using its motor commands to control the car and can predict the motion. Putting yourself behind the wheel will keep the queasiness at bay. If you must ride as a passenger, try sitting in the front seat, which confers a sense of greater control than riding in the back. If you get stuck in the back seat, try conversation and distraction to alleviate the anxiety of not being in control of the situation. Open a vent or source of fresh air if possible, and avoid reading.
Watch your consumption of foods, drinks and alcohol before and during travel. Avoid excessive alcohol, smoking, and foods or liquids that “do not agree with you” or make you feel unusually full. Foods with strong odors, heavy, spicy, or fat-rich foods may worsen symptoms of nausea or motion sickness in some people.
Try to choose a seat where you will experience the least motion. Hearing others talk about motion sickness or seeing others becoming ill can sometimes make you feel ill yourself.
In a car, sit in a front-facing seat so your eyes relay the same movement cues as the vestibules of your inner ear. Also, it can sometimes help to keep your gaze fixed on the horizon or on a fixed point. The more you enhance sensory congruence, the less likely you are to get queasy.
You actually can talk yourself out of motion sickness. A study found that “verbal placebos” – simply telling sailors they won’t get seasick – have been effective in preventing seasickness. Set your own expectations before traveling by saying aloud, “I’m not going to get carsick this time,” or using other affirmative self-talk. Learning breathing techniques by using biofeedback can help in this endeavor.
Desensitization therapy works for minimizing or even curing motion sickness. Expose yourself to short bursts of activities that cause symptoms, and then work up to longer periods. If reading a book in a moving vehicle makes you feel nauseated, try reading for five minutes and then putting the book down. Repeat the five-minute interval over several sessions, then increase to ten minutes. Over time, you’ll find your body accommodates the activity.
Some studies support using ginger as an effective preventive measure for motion sickness. At the very least, it can’t hurt. Take one to two grams of ginger half an hour before traveling for best results. Those on prescription blood thinners should consult their doctor before supplementing with ginger.
There’s conflicting evidence regarding the effectiveness of acupressure for motion sickness, but it’s worth a try – even if it’s just for the placebo effect. As mentioned above, simply convincing yourself you can get through a trip without motion sickness can help you avoid it. If wearing pressure point devices (such as wristbands with plastic bumps on them) helps convince your brain you’re not going to get sick, it’s worth a shot. On the other hand, don’t waste your money on magnets. There’s no evidence magnetic devices marketing for motion sickness relief do any good.
Seasickness clears up on its own after about three days. Why? The human body possesses an enormous ability to accommodate situations like incongruence between the sensory systems. Again, in the “think it away” category, you may rid yourself of symptoms if you understand and believe they’re going to clear up sooner rather than later.
If your children experience motion sickness, be sure to let them know the condition usually starts going away after age 12. Sharing this medical fact may help your kids avoid feeling doomed to motion sickness for the rest of their lives.
If you experience severe motion sickness, go ahead and take over-the-counter medications such as Dramamine or Meclizine for it. These are most effective 30 to 60 minutes prior to when you think you’ll be sick, and can be sedating. If you’re a healthy adult with severe symptoms, you can talk to your health care provider about a scopolamine patch to cope with prolonged episodes of motion sickness. Be forewarned that it can cause drowsiness, dry mouth, and other side effects.
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Onemedical.com – 10 Tips to Overcome Motion Sickness, by Eleni Xenos, MD
Official Dramamine website