Growing up, we took a bunch of epic road trips with my dad (to Florida, out west, etc.) but so far we’ve been hesitant to take long car rides with the boys. I’ve always been nervous that they’ll get restless and cranky. But, this weekend, we bit the bullet and planned a six-hour drive to visit friends in Vermont. Here are eight things we tried out, including the most important: snacks…
1. You can never have too many snacks. I love how food writer and mom-of-two Jenny Rosenstrach describes family journeys as a “strategic roll-out of food.” She actually wraps treats in aluminum foil so they feel like a surprise. Our go-to snacks have always been from NatureBox, the snack subscription service. They send you five bags of delicious, high-quality snacks every month, and you choose the snacks you want (they have over 100 different kinds). On the Vermont drive, we devoured their Big Island Pineapple, Spicy Sriracha Roasted Cashews and Mini Belgian Waffles.
2. Drive during sleep times. We timed our drive so that the boys’ naps would land squarely in the middle: We’d drive for two hours, they’d nap for two hours, we’d drive for two more hours. It didn’t work out exactly as planned (does it ever?), but it helped keep them roughly on schedule. I also know night-owl parents who recommend leaving just before bedtime, so the kids will sleep throughout.
3. Make the car cozy. We brought along wipes and changes of clothes (we always end up needing one), and stashed books in the back pocket of the front seats, so they were easy for the boys to access. Another tip we’ve heard is to use a cookie sheet as a lap table for coloring and games. The outer rim helps keep crayons and puzzle pieces from falling onto the floor.
4. Bring new-to-them books. Before long flights, we try to go to the library and get a stack of fun books, and we tried this for the car, too. Next time, I’d be curious to see if they’d get into kids’ audio books, like Where the Wild Things Are and Peter Pan. (Have you had any luck with them?)
5. Play visual games. Games based around looking out the window seem to help kids get into the journey. Meaning: We’ve played I Spy one million times. Three-year-old Anton doesn’t quite get it, and will say “I spy something green — THE TREES!!!!!!!” which makes me laugh. (Auto Bingo also looks fun and old-school.)
6. Tell stories. On our drive, as soon as it got dark, we made up ghost stories. I told tales about seeing a ghost in my bedroom on Halloween night (spoiler alert: it was my brother) and getting spooked as a teenage babysitter (always a scary premise). This was my favorite part of the trip by far, and the boys were totally gripped. For music, we let them switch off choosing songs from Alex’s playlists.
7. Limit electronics (if possible!). I used to assume that an iPad would make our boys zone out and stay quiet, but screens actually wind them up. So, now we wait until the very end of a trip — after we’ve tried snacks, songs and just about everything else — before handing over electronic devices.
8. Stop and RUN. “Are we there yet?” is the most frequent (and crazy-making) question asked on family road trips, so to break things up, we stopped every couple hours to explore and stretch our legs. We’d encourage the boys to run as far as they could. We figured that the more they moved, the more they’d relax in the car.
Anton and Toby’s favorite part of the ride was, as always, the snacks. NatureBox has over 100 kinds to choose from. They’re made without artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners, and we enjoy them as much as the boys do. You can find all their snacks here. (I’d also recommend the Tart & Tangy Fruit Medley, Salt & Vinegar Veggie Chips and Whole Wheat Raspberry Figgy Bars.)
Bonus for all readers: Today, NatureBox is offering Cup of Jo readers two free snacks. Go here to order. And choose whatever sounds good; NatureBox will replace any snack for free if you decide you don’t like it.
What are your tips for road trips? I’d love to hear…