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Pit stops on a monster road trip: How bad could it be?

It’s 4:30 a.m., and I scan the house for any missed essentials before heading to the garage, where my husband, a.k.a. Mr. Adventure, has the car warmed up, full of our sleeping children, son age 4, daughter age 2, and son age 6 months. If we’re lucky, we’ll hit the Kansas border before they wake up.

Why did we do this crazy-long road trip, through three states, staying in three different places, with a preschooler, a potty-training pre-preschooler and an infant? Well, when you are blessed enough to have a grandmother turning 90, you don’t miss the party! We have known, barring a sad turn of events, that we would be heading to the big birthday party and family reunion for over a year. We had two options: the ridiculous cost of gasoline for the 953-mile drive, or the insanely ridiculous cost of airplane tickets, plus rental car and its gas.

How bad could it be?

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.