The holidays are fast-approaching, and this could possibly mean more travel time with your preschooler or toddler.
Here is a process that we’ve used for a 5-hour trip that has consistently worked with our almost 4-year-old to keep her busy and as happy as can be expected on a long car ride.
First, we separate the trip into (roughly) hour increments and plan an activity for each hour. We also plan on stopping about every hour-and-a-half. One of those stops involves a longer activity than, say, a quick bathroom break. It might be a 20-minute playground stop, a visit with friends or family before our final destination, or a ferry ride.
We bring with us toys, coloring/activity books, books on CD, snacks, and a movie. We always save the movie for the last hour-and-a-half of the trip.
So, this is what our journey looks like. You may need to switch activities earlier based on ages and different attention spans, but you can also repeat activities if needed or add your own to this list:
Hour 1 – Conversation & Road Trip Games
We like to chat for the first part of the trip and tell funny stories about things we did as kids. Our daughter loves hearing about funny things she did as a baby, too. We might talk about the weather, what we’ll do on our vacation, etc.
We also play road trip games like, “I Spy.” This can be simplified for younger children by having them “spy” a big tree, a small car, or a big truck. We play “Guess The Number I’m Thinking Of,” and we sing songs. We ask her to tell us all about her day, from beginning to end, and ask questions like, “What was the funniest thing that happened today?” We get a kick out of the things that she finds funny too.
Hour 2 – Snack/Story Time
Time for a snack, and we have her read or listen to a book on CD, through the car stereo. This may only last about a half-hour, and this is usually when we plan our first break, long or short.
- Break – We stretch our legs, take a potty break, and get some fresh air.
Hour 3 – Play Time
We let our daughter fill a small bag with toys to bring, and we allow almost any type of toy, so even a small set of Legos, stuffed animals, figurines, dolls. If your child seems to get bored after a short time with their toys, try interacting as much as you can through conversation. You may want to allow some time to use an electronic device too. We tend to hold off on the electronics as long as possible, just because they work really well to get us through the most difficult parts of the trip, typically the last 2 hours.
Hour 4 – Activity Books
We start our 4th hour with activity/coloring books or some type of new activity. Integrating music with these 3rd- and 4th-hour activities really seems to help her attention span too. Children’s music works best, as long as it doesn’t affect your road-trip sanity. Halfway through Hour 4, it’ll be time to take a break again.
- Break – If this is going to be your long break, let your child get out and play a bit. You may want to bring a Frisbee or soccer ball in warmer months. In colder months, a short walk or stop at a gas station for a hot cocoa will work just as well.
Hour 5 – Movie Time!
This is a great time to put on a movie for your child or allow some tablet time. It’s usually when we’re all the most antsy. My husband and I can visit, while our daughter is preoccupied, and we’re all happier travelers.
Other tips for making these trips easier: remember napkin/wet-wipes, plan to be late and be OK with making more-frequent longer stops if needed. Have a few tricks up your sleeve in case of meltdowns. Some ideas: chocolate/sweet treat, a new toy or activity book, or new app on your device. Mix and match activities from the above to suit the needs of your child, and try to enjoy your little family adventure!