Preparations are underway for our epic family road trip out East. We will be putting many miles on the car as we travel to see family in Vermont and spend a few days just us exploring the Maine coast. And while I'm so excited to hug family, see new places, and eat my fair share of lobster when we arrive, we have to get there first. The thought of putting that many hours in the car with two small children (including one spicy toddler) makes most people squirm, but I'm sort of giddy about the road trip part itself. Even though my family didn't travel far when I was growing up, I distinctly remember that feeling of loading up the car, getting cozy in my seat, and being so excited about getting to spend uninterrupted time with the people I loved most. We played the car game, each taking a color and keeping tally marks of their frequency on the road, listened to music on our headphones, and anxiously awaited the few surprise stops along the way to get a treat, peruse some state spoons and shot glasses, and take a picture by a state sign.
And now as the kids get older, especially Cruz, I can see this same anticipation in him and I love getting to experience it all over again. Whenever I tell the kids to grab their favorite blanket before a car ride, it's a signal to them that we're going farther than across town. Cruz gets immediately excited about this, settling into his seat a little bit more, a look of curious contentment on his face. He's always been one of the best car riders, tackling 40-plus hours in the car three summers ago to Georgia, but has gotten even more fun since then. He's been asking about this vacation nearly every morning for weeks and I have loved planning out some creative ways to pass the time and not depend solely on our ipads and DVD headrests to keep them busy.
Mila on the otherhand, she's our wild card. Largely because of her, we have little expectations for our drive, and plan to stop a lot along the way to stretch our legs, burn off some energy, and hopefully see some fun things along the way. This to me is one of the best parts of a road trip. Unlike flying, we have control. We want to make good time, but we also want to stop when we feel called to. I'm packing a picnic lunch and hoping for a pretty park, we're planning a short detour to Niagara Falls, and have even talked about finding a water park or zoo on the way home to tire out the kids and break up definitely-not-as-fun trip home.
On our road trip to Savannah, I learned that the key to keeping toddlers happy for an extended amount of time in the car is keeping things new and busy. And planned. :) For weeks, I have been collecting little treasures they can have along the way that are new, quiet, and hopefully time-consuming. Just like our last trip, I wrapped them up, cut out numbers from a map, and will spread them out every 100 miles as we count down the hours and state signs.
These are small enough to fit in a shopping bag and will sit toward the back of the seats where we can grab them. For times when they're sleeping and (hopefully) miss the mile marker, I'll just save those packages for the way home. Since I have two littles instead of one this year, I tied some of the packages with pink ribbon and some with blue to designate who the recipient is.
Here are a few of my discoveries this time around. Target's dollar bins, the aisles by the checkout at Michaels, and the Dollar Store had so many great ideas, and I splurged on a few things on Amazon after searching "road trip for toddlers" in the search bar.
I saw this hack on Pinterest and loved it for my Lego-obsessed boy. I hot glued the lego land pieces on the insides and the top to provide ample opportunities for building. One set for the way there and one set for the ride home. This will take care of at least a couple hours... :)
I also invested in folding lap desks for both of them this year. Last time, I relied on baking sheets as a lap desk for Cruz, but he didn't like having to balance it on his legs in the car. These are long enough to fit over the sides of their car seats and even have a storage compartment to hold some paper and crayons. And I love that they fold up and can be stored under their seats when we aren't using them.
Other favorite purchases on Amazon included this Find It game (I think this will keep even the adults entertained), this I Spy card game (all four of us enjoy playing I Spy at restaurants and on the road), and Road Trip Mad Libs for a few laughs when we need them!
I'm reusing a few road trip games I created last time - a road trip bingo game I laminated for dry erase markers, and a road trip scavenger hunt we can do together as an incentive for stops and treats. There are lots of these on Pinterest to download as free printables if you're tackling a road trip of your own.
I'm hoping to pass down my love of travel journaling and note-taking to Cruz and ordered him these hard-cover blank books to keep as a travel journal for him to record his memories on the road. He designed the cover and is excited to draw pictures of some of his favorite sights along the way. When we return, it will be fun to print a few pictures and attach some other souvenirs in here for him.
I've been looking forward to painting some story stones with the kids this summer and thought these might be a fun little thing to take along for our ride, too. Aunt Becky also happened to be in town last Sunday, so we put her artistic talents to good use.
We all painted five or six (including Cruz), and have an assortment of thirty or so rocks with an array of unique pictures. I found a canvas bag to store them in and will stick them in the car. To play, you start with a story starter such as "Once upon a time," then pull out one stone at a time to string together a silly story using the pictures on each stone. I'm hoping this is something we can pass around in the car and practice our story-telling skills.
I've also been collecting lots of good road trip snacks and plan to use the same tackle box technique to hand the kids and avoid having to open bags and settle arguments over who wants what. We made two big bags of our favorite chex mix, I have yarn, fruit loops and gummy life savors for the kids to construct road trip necklaces, and have some bags of microwave popcorn to pop at a gas station for a late night movie in the car. I also found some plastic shower caddies in the dollar bins at Target to store snacks, sippy cups, and a container of wet wipes for sticky fingers.
Other tried and true tips I love when traveling with kids? Gallon zip-lock bags to store each day's clothes, socks, undies, and all. The clothes stay so nice and so do the suitcases - no more rummaging through piles of clothes looking for that little pair of underwear! Now if only they made ziplocks big enough for adult clothes! I also have a canvas tote that fits perfectly between my seat and the kids' seats. In here goes all the essential things we'll use often and not want to fiddle through bags to find. Things like wet wipes, crayons and pens, small garbage bags, movies, etc.
Wish us luck and say some prayers. I'm sure I'll have lots of stories (and hopefully advice) upon our return! But in the meantime, I've got a car to get packed. :)