Back to articles Navigating Holiday Travel Plans with Kids

Categories: Parenting

"...are we there yet?" Like any right of passage, you know you're a family on the move the second those words have been uttered, and uttered, and--screeched! Those four dreaded words can be the cruelest at times -- if you're a parent you know what I mean.

With the holidays coming up many of us will be en route to visit family and friends, and amid all the planning, packing and panicking the last thing we need when we get into the car, on the plane or on the train, is a meltdown. Or even worse, those four words that I dare not repeat.

While my kids can actually watch The Lion King and Kangaroo Jack repeatedly or take to their DSs for hours at a time, something in me just won't allow it (regrettably its usually my mother's accented voice in my head telling me they will ruin their eyes forever or be saddled with neck pain for the rest of their lives). And as tempting as it would be to sedate them for the ride -- don't deny that the thought hasn't crossed your mind -- I've managed to come up with some options to help make the journey a little easier and hopefully less screechy.

1. Pack lots 'o Snacks - I make sure we have lots, and I mean lots, of small-portioned snacks for the kids to eat including small sized sandwiches and meals. Bringing a variety of snacks in zip-locks, eco-friendly baggies or containers, or pre-packaged portions keeps the kids busy and offers up something 'new' for them to do. Some of our usual suspects include grapes, apples, mandarin orange sections, pretzels, yogurt raisins, Pringles, mini crackers or cookies, carrots, cucumber, peppers and popcorn. Remember just keep the portions small, more of a hand-full size. Additionally I will get small versions of meat-pies, Mediterranean spinach pies or wraps that they can eat with one hand. I try to avoid anything that is messy, sticky, dippy or is a clothing magnet to my stained-clothing prone kids but regardless don't forget the baby wipes.

2. The value of a dollar - I don't know about you but about 2-3 hours into the ride, when either the first video runs out or my parental instincts take over and tell me to provide my kids with the all-important window-viewing educational experience that lasts all of five minutes, I will pull out a new small toy, game or book that they've never seen before. Usually there are ample choices at the dollar store or grocery clearance table. I don't expect much from these magnetic board games or scratch-a-picture colouring pages (which can take an hour to uncover), but let me tell you I get my money's worth every time.

3. Write-On-Wipe-Off Wonder - The magical allure of a wipe off marker was the added bonus to my epiphany of sorts when I came upon the idea to slide all those handy activity pages that I found on the internet into some plastic page-protectors and allow the kids to write on them with erasable markers. I actually found a bound book of page protectors at the buck or two store that I was able to fill with various versions of bingo, scavenger hunt, hangman and license plates eye-spy. These became a welcome distraction for all. I made four copies and the kids and whoever wasn't driving could compete or team up to find the items. When we got bored of one game we could switch to another and through the magic of a tissue we would reuse the pages throughout the years and share with our friends. A good website to check out is Free

4. Music soothes the savage beast - Now I will be the first to admit that this is one of those 'games' that you can play for only a short period of time depending on your child's temperament and age. BUT what this can offer is a few minutes of down time for those kids that need some quiet time or are not great with transitions. We'll tune the radio to the local classical station and have the kids close their eyes, listen for a minute and then start narrating their version of the 'story' in the music -- be in a horse race, a cat and mouse, a princess, knights fighting, a Pokemon battle or even star wars --you get the picture. It lets their imaginations run loose and hopefully brings a new air of calm to the ride - however brief it may be.

5. Something new - If your travels take you on a plane or train where you know there will be others around then you may want to consider buying a small toy, especially if dealing with infants and toddlers. I would buy a new set of blocks or rings or noise-free toy (to avoid annoying those around us) and bring them out just before the brink of disaster. One for each leg of the ride seemed to be enough. These toys neednt be fancy or expensive, just small, colourful and new. If you keep them in the package the unwrapping part for a small child will be sport in and of itself.

6. Breaking Bad - Be realistic with how long children, and some adults, can actually sit down for. Plan breaks ahead of time if possible and if you are planning long-distance travel but are not one for fast-food joints with play-zones, then find a small park close to a highway exit. These were surprisingly easy to find and usually had a small bathroom facility for a rest break. The kids can get a few minutes to run and stretch which can mean a world of difference in the overall experience of your family travels.

In between all this I would still negotiate a little window time to take in the sights as they whiz by. After all, we had to do it in our day and look how much smarter and well adjusted we all turned out!

Article by: Rania Walker for, Canada's trusted source for camps and schools.

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