We’ve done a lot of car travel with these two munchkins: some short trips (the 2 hours to my mother’s house), some longer (the 4-5 hours to our cabin), and some much longer (the 8-10 hour haul to San Diego and back). On these various outings, there are a few things I’ve learned about car travel with my girls. First, they don’t sleep in the car. Ever. I’ve chatted with several friends about their kids and have come to the conclusion that I have the only children who simply refuse to nap in a moving car. I don’t know why it is that I’ve been graced with this particular issue, but it has finely honed my abilities to entertain carseat-bound kids for extended periods of time.
DVD players work for a short stretch, maybe 45 minutes top, but beyond that and my kids just start taking turns trying to kick the DVD player or start yelling at Wall-E or Woody and Buzz or whoever they’re watching at the time. I love those Color Wonder coloring books and pens, the ones that only color on their own paper. I still have red crayon (washable my ass) on the car’s side panel from a birthday party favor bag I didn’t thoroughly screen before driving home. So, no crayons in the car. One of my favorite solutions is the laundry basket (a small one, from the dollar store) wedged between their car seats. I keep a variety of small toys in there, and swap them out before car trips. Not only does it keep a lot of toys at hand, but when they drop the toys, about half the time it lands back in the basket, reducing the number of times I have to reach behind me to fetch something. This trip the basket was full of dinosaurs, little bendable aliens, a travel magnadoodle, a couple of Christmas books—yes, I know it’s May—toy horses, a Barbie doll, and two hand puppets. Notice the lack of noise-making toys, also key.
I also hit the dollar bin at Target and gather a few new toys for the ride, then stow them up front in a bag. Every hour or so I hand one back to them. They can be anything: silly sunglasses, a cheap kaleidoscope, a fuzzy felt flower. There’s nothing like the arrival of a new, unexpected toy to buy you some happy kid time three hours into a long drive.
Snacks are also important. While my picky eaters won’t sit still for more than thirty seconds for a meal in the house, they seem content to munch away while in the car. I use this time to catch them up on their calories (then use the dog to clear out the mess after we arrive at our destination). Those little snack cups, with handles and a top with an opening just small enough for little kid fingers are good. I like to mix up Cheerios, raisins, and throw in something for protein, either pine nuts, sunflower seeds, or peanut-butter filled pretzels. String cheese is always popular, too. This last trip the mini carrots and sugar snap peas were the biggest hits, but I realize my kids are weird about loving fruits and veggies above all else, so that tip might not help anyone else. Then again, your kids would probably be napping by this point.