No, we're not there yet! I've done my fair share of long car trips with my two kids and we're gearing up for several more this summer. The "freedom of the road" I used to feel before kids has been replaced with backseat bickering, frequent potty breaks and, worst of all, cries (and sometimes tears) of "I'm bored!" If that's not how you want to start or end a vacation, here are some tips for making the car ride less of a buzzkill.
Time Your Ride
If you have young kids, try to time your departure near their naps so a chunk of the drive is spent asleep. Some people prefer to drive at night so the kids are asleep the whole trip and there's little traffic.
If ever there were a time to use screens to entertain your kids - this is it. I don't start a trip with screens, but I have a phone and tablet charged and ready to go with games or videos once the boredom starts to set in. I usually download a few new games before a long drive as a treat and also load up on new tv shows or a movie. (Last trip we watched many episodes of Tinga Tinga Tales.)
Being read to is a real pleasure and if your kids are old enough to listen and follow along (I find usually around the age of 2-3), a good audio book can make the time pass quickly. Download audio books for free from your public library, for purchase on iTunes or Amazon or, get an Audible.com membership. (A favorite: Charlotte's Web read by E.B. White and George Plimpton.)
Yeah, listening to music is a no-brainer, but finding music everyone can enjoy is the trick. If there is some musical common ground - awesome, embrace that. If not, build a playlist ahead of time and let everyone in the family contribute songs. Not everyone will like everything, but it's better than all Raffi all the time (nothing against Raffi!).
Before we had kids, my husband and I tried to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, stopping only for quick meals and bath breaks. "Scenic Overlook"? Keep driving. But with two kids, asking them to sit in a car seat for hours and hours without stretching their legs is a tall order. Plot out a stop or two along the way - a playground (or even McDonald's PlayPlace) if you can swing it so they can burn off some energy. (If you're headed into Vermont from the south I heartily recommend a stop at the Welcome Center.)
I fully admit that I use a road trip as an excuse to pig out and I make sure to cover the main Road Trip Food Groups: salty, sweet, and chocolate. I'm not recommending this, but I will say that a treat (whatever that means in your family) can really uplift the mood in the car.
This is my husband's least favorite car activity, but when the going gets tough, the tough get singing! What do we sing? Mostly camp songs I've known forever and am teaching my kids. Don't have a deep repertoire of camp songs? Try a book like Rise Up Singing with lyrics (and guitar chords) to hundreds of folk, Broadway, gospel tunes and more.
We have purchased a few official "car games" (like Road Trip Bingo) but usually get more, ahem, mileage out of ones we make up ourselves. Our 2-year-old is too young, but our 6-year old enjoys games like: 1. (what we call) "The Food Game" where you name a food ("avocado") and the next person names a food starting with the last letter of the previous ("oatmeal" then "lychee", etc.). We also play this game naming animals. 2. "Who can find 10 red cars first?" and variations of this 3. the license plate game where you write down the states you see on license plates and see who can find the most 4."Who Am I?" where we give three clues about someone we all know and everyone has to guess who it is.
Books & Car Toys
I give each of my kids a small bag for anything they want to bring in the car as entertainment. My 6-year-old choses his Minecraft reference library, activity books (mazes, word scrambles), binoculars and his stuffed dog. My 2-year-old choses board books, little cars, her teddy bear and several Water Wow Coloring Books.
These are my best tips for a more enjoyable car trip with kids - I'd love to hear yours!