Friday, October 17, 2014

Disney Planning: Road Trips with Kids

By: Melissa

As awesome as being at Disney is, you have to get there somehow. And that part can be…less than awesome. Especially if you have a long road trip and little people who are usually only still (and quiet) when they’re asleep. But you can make the trip and keep your sanity, too. Here’s how we do it!

Road Trip Title

We make several long road trips each year, so my kids are road trip champs and we usually make pretty good time. But we have lots of trips under our belt and I’ve learned (the hard way) that good road trips don’t just happen. The way to make a road trip successful is in three phases: planning, preparation, and execution.

Planning

1. Map out your trip and determine some good places to stop. Depending on the ages of your kids, decide how often you need to stop. On a long trip, we typically stop every 2-3 hours to stretch our legs and use the potty.

2. Plan your stops strategically. Our kids don’t sleep well in the car, so our rule is that if we stop, we gas up. That way, if the kids do happen to fall asleep, we won’t be low on gas and have to stop and wake them up. Decide beforehand which stops you’re going to just stop at a gas station for a potty/fuel break, and which stops you’ll eat somewhere or stop a little longer. And if you’re going to eat, decide if you’re going to go in or drive-thru and eat on the road. We typically try to keep a quick/longer/quick pattern with our breaks.

Our favorite places to stop are big gas stations/truck stops, Starbucks, and Chick-fil-A. At a big gas station/truck stop, you’re more likely to have clean facilities and they’re typically well-lit and well-staffed. And if you need something random, they probably have it. Starbucks usually has clean bathrooms that are easier to manage with kids (and coffee and cake pops, of course). And Chick-fil-A…I probably don’t even need to explain that one. We’ve been known to let the kids play while we eat, then take their food to go. On a route we’re familiar with, we will occasionally stop at rest stops/state welcome centers. They’re not always our first choice, but they do usually provide a place for the kids to work the kinks out of their legs.

3. Use your time wisely. Double-up whenever you can. And what I mean by that is, on a quick stop while Dad fuels the car, Mom can take the kids to potty and do 15 jumping jacks. Dad can then run in for his potty break while Mom gets everyone settled and ready to go again.

On a longer stop, Dad can drop everyone off at the restaurant and go fuel the car while Mom and the kids order. The kids can play on the Chick-fil-A playground while Mom & Dad eat, then everybody goes potty and loads up. The kids can eat in the car after they’ve had time to play and get their wiggles out.

Don’t…wander around at the gas station or waste time. Because you prepared your car (next up!), you don’t need that stuff! Don’t…decide on a whim to stop at a sit-down restaurant. The kids are likely to be wiggly and your restaurant experience is not likely to be the best – and it’s a major time killer.

Preparation

1. Know what your kids like to do/what might keep them happy, and start stocking up on road trip surprises early. I love the $1 Spot at Target for these. I keep a road trip bag with hidden surprises to give out while we’re driving. I’m very strategic with these – Grab and Go PlayPacks (quiet activity), a new movie (lasts about an hour and a half – more when they want to watch it again!), and occasionally a special snack. (More on how to use these later.) I don’t spend a ton, but you’d be surprised how much mileage you can get out of an older movie from the $5 bin and several items from the $1 Spot. Keep your return trip in mind and don’t give away everything on the trip down!

Our trip to Disney was a little special – I did a few extra things I wouldn’t for a normal road trip. First, they each had a new “friend” that greeted them when they got in the car. Honor got a small plush Stuffy the Dragon, and Caedmon got a small plush Mike Wazowski. I also bought a Play Set from the Disney Store for each of them, and gave the figures out one at a time during the trip. Honor got Mickey Mouse characters, and Caedmon got Planes.

2. Let your kids choose some things from home. My kids have baskets between their seats that contain our “regular” car stuff – toys, etc. that they haul into the car to play with while we’re running errands. Before a road trip, we bring those in the house and clean them out. Then, I let the kids choose some different toys to take on the trip with them. Popular things for these baskets are action figures (or princess dolls), travel size Magna Doodles, books, and sunglasses. My kids also like to have their special blanket/sleeping buddy on road trips, so we make plans to include those. I also let them choose some DVDs to watch on the trip. They usually surprise me with some of their choices!

3. Consider audio books. My kids have fallen in love with audio books. We even listen to them while driving around town. Our library has a great selection, but you can also download them from places like Amazon or Audible.com. We’ve listened to classics like Little House on the Prairie, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and Charlotte’s Web, and newer things like the How to Train Your Dragon series.

4. Buy snacks. I don’t like to appease my kids with food any more than the next Mom, but let’s face it. Sometimes, a good snack will go a long way to making an otherwise fussy kid happy. I allow certain snacks in the car that we don’t normally buy. My kids love fruit pouches, but they’re not a regular item at our house. They know they’re going to get them on road trips, and they love them. I also pack gummy snacks, cheese/peanut butter crackers, trail mix, granola bars, cereal bars, and anything else I can think of that the kids might eat (and that aren’t full of sugar or make a GIANT mess). I will occasionally buy pre-packaged individual portions for trips, but most of the time, I just use snack baggies and portion my own. I also keep some small bowls with lids in my car, preferably ones that fit into cup holders. Our snack box is a large supply box – like a pencil box, but bigger. It keeps things from getting smashed and can be easily stacked and handed back and forth as needed.

Execution

1. Clean your car out before you pack it. I know, you’re just going to get it all messy again with cracker crumbs and the paper from fast food straws (Don’t act like I don’t know!). But starting out with a clean car will make everyone feel better about the trip and you’ll have the chance to get rid of a bunch of stuff you won’t need. You might also find a missing toy. Or shoe. Not that I would know about that.

2. Pack your stuff before you load it in the car. I know that sounds kind of like a “duh” thing, but what I mean by that is to find a way to pack the stuff you need to get your hands on so that you can actually get your hands on it and it won’t roll around the floor. Make sense? I actually use a collapsible organizer to hold audio book cases, DVDs, our snack box, a couple of grocery sacks for trash, and any paperwork we might need. That way, all that stuff can sit in the floor and not get stepped on, tossed around, and otherwise mangled by getting in and out of the car. Also, consolidate things where you can. I use an old multi-disc case that holds 10 DVDs instead of trying to pack 10 individual cases.

3. Make sure your kids will be able to reach the things you need them to reach…and can’t reach the things you don’t want them to have. I make sure my kids can reach their toys, blanket, pillow, sleeping friend, and DVD controller/headphones.

4. Stick to the plan. Well, as much as you can. Hand out snacks as you need to, but keep your stop schedule in mind. Wait until things get almost desperate (or maybe just after you’ve gotten back in the car after a stop) to hand out a surprise. Don’t be afraid to declare a “quiet time” while you listen to an audio book or watch a movie. And make sure everyone grabs their trash every time you get out of the car.

And remember…you’re on your way to somewhere FUN!

I hope these tips help you have a better trip. What are your favorite road trip strategies?

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