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Children / Family Travel / fatherhood / Mama Drama / Motherhood

Mama Drama: Preventing Travel Trauma

Dear Mama Drama:

We are traveling by plane and car this summer and need some ideas for keeping the kids entertained and having a smooth ride.

~ Traveling Mama

(photo credit)

Dear Traveling:

Planning ahead is a great idea as parents and kids can feel stressed and anxious when hunger and boredom set in on the road.

Have snacks handy. Kids generally need frequent snacks and a hungry traveler is usually a recipe for disaster. Pack easy to eat snacks like crackers, nuts (if you don’t have allergies), dried fruit, and popcorn. When driving you can add in fresh fruit, baby carrots, and sandwiches that can be stored in a cooler.

Stay hydrated, but skip the sugar. Keep kids sipping on water throughout your travels. Headaches and crankiness are often symptoms of dehydration. It’s easy when traveling to go for fruit juices and sodas. Keep them to a minimum to avoid sugar crashes and other negative side effects.

Go to the bathroom, often. The speaker at my niece’s graduation this spring quoted his father in sharing a bit of wisdom, “Never pass up a meal or chance to go to the bathroom.” Great advice for kids heading to college, but the bathroom part really caught my attention for traveling with children. Kids will often say they don’t need to go to the bathroom when the opportunity is present, but then need to go five minutes after you’ve left the rest stop or gas station. Have them go in and try at every chance, especially before boarding a plane or when you see that sign reading “Next rest stop 75 miles.” Make a game of it to see who can go the most times if you need to find a way to motivate them.

Keep their brains busy. While walking through the airport or driving down the highway, I Spy is an easy go to favorite that the whole family can enjoy. My sons also love playing “the truck game” during highway drives. They pick a brand or two of semi-trucks and keep count of them as they pass. Sometimes this gets competitive and others times is just for fun. One summer they made graphs and had the trucks compete to win. My husband’s favorite way to pass the time in airports is “celebrity look-a-like.” We scan the crowd for people who look like famous people. It’s tons of fun!

Bring books and magazines. As long as they don’t get nausea reading, like me, make sure you bring lots of reading material. Reading is a great way to pass the time, support literacy skills, and escape into a whole new adventure.

Keep their hands busy. Activity books are also a great way to keep kids occupied. Depending on their ages, pick up coloring books, drawing paper, crossword puzzles, mad libs, sudoko, and word searches. Another fun option is the art box with a clipboard on top and a place to store crayons and pencils underneath. String games such as cat’s cradle and books that teach them other fun tricks are engaging as well. Stress balls to squeeze and fidgets to stretch are also good ideas.

Find ways to move. At each stop when driving, encourage your kids to run, jump, and burn off some energy. In airports have them stretch, run in place, do jumping jacks, or practice standing yoga balance poses such as tree or eagle.

Take care of yourself. Now that you’ve done all this planning for the kids, make sure you plan ways to take care of yourself. Think ahead about ways to be relaxed and calm as you travel. Leave plenty of time to get where you’re going so you don’t feel rushed. Get up a few minutes early to stretch, meditate, or go for a short walk. Eat well and stay hydrated. Taking care of yourself will go a long way is setting an example for your children to follow.

Now you the rest of you seasoned family travelers share your tricks and tips for a smooth ride.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.

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  1. Perfect timing! Might road trip in two months and the thought terrifies me!

  2. I am ~so~ glad you advised parents to care for themselves while traveling, too. We’ve driven to CA with our gang twice. It’s easy to become preoccupied with making sure everyone is happy, fed, and bladders are relatively empty. More than once, I’ve realized I haven’t done any of the above for myself.

    One trick we always trot out is the local playground. Even the smallest of towns seems to have at least one playground. We find it. We have playground radar. In fact, the kids’ all-time favorite playground, the one they talk about and dream about, is in Elko, Nevada.

  3. We just got back from California (driving for two days with a 6 and 5 year old) and played a lot of Go Fish and Crazy 8’s. Also, what worked for us what allowing them to play with the camera on my cell phone. I can delete the pictures and movies they took if I want and keep the ones that I like. Coloring, reading, movies, and video games. In our car Leapster is huge and so educational. My two kept themselves entertained the whole time.

  4. Great tips with the phone, cards, Leapster, and the playgrounds! We just returned from a week of traveling and our smart Grandma brought along a portable movie player. We saved it for the times when nothing else was working and it was great.
    Gretchen, with the varying needs of your family I can see how it would be easy to forget to take care of yourself. Whew!
    Holly, think positively, it’ll be a great time!!!

  5. We are big on books on tape. They are great for reading comprehension and my kids get excited about what will happen next. My kiddos are nine and many of the books are 8 to 16hrs long, get enough to cover the trip. There are lots of good ones for younger kids just not as long. Check out the library.

  6. Great one, Cheryl! I totally forgot about those. We used books on tape when we took a two week road trip a couple of years ago. They are a fabulous way to pass the time and bond over a good tale.

  7. Good advice, Lisa! I’ll be using it later this summer.

    Like Gretchen, I appreciate the point about taking care of ourselves as well.

  8. One thing we did when my son was young was to take a medium size cookie sheet and make puzzles and games out out the magnetic sheet that you can buy at craft stores. The cookie sheet can then be used as a tray for coloring or snacks. Just had the idea of maybe making the magnetic puzzles with photos of sights you might be seeing when you get to your destination. Or maybe of family that your little one hasn’t seen in a while. When my son was older we made letter/word games and that was fun. And it can be self entertaining for awhile.

  9. I love that idea, Trudy, especially that it can have multiple functions and store easily. Thanks so much for sharing!

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