For the Whole Family
As a family who travels extensively locally and internationally, we have had our fair share of long car rides. And I do not foresee that ending anytime soon. I remember hearing from parents, before I became a parent myself, that road trips were the worst. I saw on television that families dread being in a car together for too long. It really made me nervous the first several times we had long car rides.
Seeing that car rides were not going to end anytime soon, I made it my mission to find ways to enjoy them. Not only was I going to choose to be happy, but I also wanted to give my entire family a good experience. I wanted to take advantage of the precious time I would have with my children in close proximity. Over the years, car rides have continued to get easier for us, and I wanted to pass along some of the things we have done to come to enjoy road trips.
- Set a rhythm
When we first started traveling with children, we definitely did not have a rhythm. Honestly, it is harder with infants just because you really do not need it yet. The rhythm is simply their eating and diaper changing schedule, which is already set. However, eventually the children start getting restless after sitting for long periods of time. Do not let this scare you! A rhythm is having several activities the children (any age, even you) enjoy doing in the car and putting them into a rotation during the drive. Below I will list several options for rhythms. The thing to remember about a rhythm is that you do not have to stick hard and fast to it. Rotate activity when the children are getting restless, but if they are good with continuing what they are doing don’t change what is working.
Rhythm Option 1 – 20-minute Rotation:
20 minutes audio book, 20 minutes activity bag, 20 minutes tablet time
This is the rhythm we use the most. My children love audio books, and we love listening with them! For the activity bag, they pack a small bag with books they pick out, colors and paper, stickers, magnetiles, dry erase board and markers, or any other smaller activity they may want to put in there. We like this rhythm because it is one hour total.
Rhythm Option 2 – Screen Free:
30 minutes audio book and quiet activity, 15 minutes family time (discussion or game), 15 minutes individual time/activity bag
This is a rhythm that promotes family interaction and no screen time. We have loved this rhythm when we have a really interesting audio book. One that leads naturally into family discussion. My children are preschool and early elementary, and we are still able to do this rhythm. The book prompts questions they may have or leads to good questions for us to ask them. Things like, “If you were that character, what would you have done?” or “Why do you think that character did that?” It is also good to have individual time for the introverts in your family or if you need time for naps.
Rhythm Option 3 – Movie Day:
1 movie or show, 20 minutes discussion/family time, 20 minutes activity bag.
We usually only do this rotation one way to our destination. If there is a movie the children are particularly loving or a new movie for them to see, this is a great option. We have never had a car with built in DVD players, but these days there are so many devices that work for this most people have some way to watch a movie. Even if it is a movie they have seen a lot, bringing in family discussion time right afterwards helps them get out the words they have been holding in during the movie. My children love talking about new details they saw or really whatever comes to mind. My children cannot just do movie after movie, nor would I want them to, so we always need to break it up with other things to do.
Rhythm Option 4 – Siblings Unite:
20 minute sibling game/activity, 20 minute family time/discussion, 20 minute activity bag/individual time
My children love playing games together, whether they are competing against each other or working together. You can find so many car games on Pinterest or even come up with your own. Doing something where they take turns to complete a task or compete against each other is another way to build on that natural family time a car presents. Breaking it up and giving them individual time helps for morale. As with most siblings, competition can lead to arguments and so can working together. My children can now go a little longer than 20 minutes, but that took practice and lots of coaching from us parents. However, putting that time into helping them understand each other is worth it!
I wanted to include this worksheet so that you can make a travel rhythm that fits your family!
- Have activities set
If you do decide to have a rhythm to have during the drive, or if you do not, having activities set helps you be prepared if the children get particularly restless. I have been about three hours into a drive, and the children stopped liking all activities they were doing and started complaining. Let’s be honest, we can fully understand being ready to be out of the car. That is one of the benefits to having a rhythm, because then the children know what to expect. However, having extras or surprises helps also. We like to pack extra snacks or rent a new audio book and let those little things to be something the kids can look forward to.
I would also recommend having activities that promote family communication. Car rides are a great time to have word games or questions that bring about good discussion. These recommendations are for all ages as long as you keep everything age appropriate. If you have many different ages, you may be able to have the children rotate what they are doing. Sometimes having some children with earphones on and other without allows you special time with each child.
- Give expectations
I think you probably saw this from the first two points. Having clear expectations allows the children to know what is going on. All of us can understand fear of the unknown. When you are young enough that you do not understand time, an extended car ride can seem daunting. Likewise, if you are a teenager, you would want to be in the loop with how the trip is going to go. A teenager would feel put down if not included in on the timing. Simple communication can fix both of these circumstances.
For younger ages, set a timer. We set a timer for when to switch activities in our rhythm. When I set the timer, they let me know when it is going off. It helps them feel a little more in control. There have been times where they switched up which activity we would do next. Rhythms are flexible and easy to work with. If you have little ones that need naps in the car you can plan a quiet activity to land during their naptime.
With older children and teenagers, you may want to ask them to help you plan a rhythm. Having them be an active part of the decisions will help them not get as frustrated on the trip because they had input. With this age group you may also want to include “individual time” and “family time” into your rhythm. That way they have expectations from you on when you want them to participate or be listening and when they can have their own time.
- Have fun
Having fun may seem like a far-fetched term for a car ride, but I have had been in many extended car rides that were fun. My husband and I are big proponents that you choose to be happy. We do not want minor issues to cause stress or complaining. We have to be diligent in modeling this to the children. Even when I start to get down (I am the pessimist in the relationship), my husband is quick to remind me that it is my choice to be down. I have come to see that as an opportunity to show my children how to turn their feelings around by choice. I am not saying we do not let our children be sad, but we try to find the root of that frustration and see if we can make a better choice to be happy despite our circumstance.
I hope these four tips help you with your next car ride! The rhythm options I mentioned are not exhaustive. I would love to hear what you come up with that works for your family! If you post on Facebook or Instagram about your car rides or rhythms you came up with, make sure to add #carriderhythms.