Traveling with children presents all kinds of problems and opportunities. In general, I hate flying, adding children makes it even more of a headache. The alternative is, of course, the road trip. I personally love road trips. I do not mind the long hours driving, I like to see the country and when I do plan a road trip I like to plan little interesting stops along the way. However, when you add children to the mix many considerations change.
This coming weekend my wife and I have a road trip we have to drive 10 hours into America’s heartland for a wedding. The nice thing is, the kids are not coming with us. However, in another month we have a road trip for which the children will be coming with us. This got me thinking about what we need to bring on a road trip to keep the kids occupied. The longest road trip we have done to date with both children has not been more than two hours, and we are able to time those to coincide with naptime. Unfortunately the upcoming road trip will be about five hours so unless we do it in the middle the night we cannot rely on the fact that the children will sleep through it.
Currently in my car, we have a variety of entertainment choices for the children. For the younger child we have toys that hang on her car seat. They jingle and make noise, she can chew on them and that keeps her occupied. For the older child we have a magna-doodle, which works very, very well. Until she starts dropping the drawing implements and then wants them picked up while on the highway. In addition, we have a magnetic picture board. Ours is a zoo that comes with animals she can play with. Again, this works well, again lots of small parts that she can drop. She is not old enough to read yet, but picture books can work.
One of the main considerations in looking for “self-occupying” toys is the danger they might present to the smaller one. Anything that can be thrown or swung is out. You have to look at things as a potential weapon and understand the danger might represent. One activity that I have found that works well for keeping the older child occupied is a game of” I spy”. Looking for a red car, a white car, blue house, birds, or horse. It keeps her engaged looking out the window, not bothering her sister and most importantly, it does not cost anything. There is no equipment for her to drop, there are no toys to throw, nothing to break or be forgotten. The drawback to this game is that the parent has to fully engage. Sometimes when you are driving that is not possible. If you have two parents present its great, but at some point, she will become bored. A new solution we have been looking at is the in car DVD. Our vehicle did not come with the equipped overhead DVD system so we looking at the headrest mounted movable DVD. I like this because it is out of reach, and can eat up large chunks of time during the drive. When the younger one is old enough to have an opinion choosing the movie might be a fight, but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.
The in car DVD has a lot of benefits, but also a few concerns. Just like the normal amount of TV watching that your kids have, you want to limit it. When you are looking at a road trip, your minutes turn in hours very quickly. The primary benefit of the in car DVD movie experience is that the kids are fully occupied, the parents do not need to be part of it, and you can pay attention to driving/navigating/whatever you need to. Just like at home one of the main drawbacks of having TV in the car is that you end up watching Tinkerbell’s Great Fairy Rescue or Brave seventeen times in a row.