Monday, June 27, 2011

Summer travel with the kids? Bring these things

Last weekend, I tucked my youngest two kids in the car for a mini road-trip to visit family a few states away. The ride down was easy—we left crazy-early in the morning, encountered no traffic, and got there in record time. The way back, though? That was a different story.

Some people are perfectly comfortable on long car rides; others, like me, need to have contingency plans in place before they hit the road. Here are a few things that make a road-trip go more smoothy, no matter how many kids you have in the car.

  • Plenty of snacks. Pack individual lunchboxes for each child (a full meal plus a snack or two and an extra drink). It seems like a lot of extra work, but the moment one of your kids says she's hungry and then gets herself a snack without disturbing you or anyone else, it'll be worthwhile. Don’t forget the ice packs, and keep some treats hidden for doling out as bribes or rewards. (I know, there's plenty of food options on the road, but I'm one of those drivers who is reluctant to stray from the route, hates to stop, and, with a family full of food allergies to consider, I'm not a huge fan of fast food.)
  • An emergency potty. One Step Ahead offers a foldable, portable potty, but you can make your own in a pinch. It took me until my fifth kid to realize that a standard beach pail is about the same circumference as a toddler's backside; line a plastic pail with a plastic bag, place an extra diaper at the bottom, and stash it in the back of the minivan for the inevitable moment when your child announces that nature is calling and you're 28+ miles from the nearest rest stop.
  • A portable DVD player and a bunch of DVDs. Not everyone will agree with me on this, and my parents certainly didn't hook up the Videodisc player in the car when we drove from New Jersey to Canada, but I let my kids watch videos on long car trips. My Big Red Van didn't come with build-in DVD players; I picked up a portable set at Target. The screens strap to the backs of the front seats, and they’re connected to each other so that two kids can watch the same movie. Important detail: Each screen has its own headphone jack, which meant that on a trip to Washington, D.C., a few years ago, my preschoolers could watch “The Wiggles” while my nearly 16-year-old listened to her iPod behind them without going crazy. Be prepared, though: Your kids may want to watch their favorites over and over again instead of being interested in something new.
  • A power inverter. This handy contraption plugs into your car’s power source (formerly known as the cigarette lighter) and allows you to plug anything else into it using a regular plug. So you you can recharge your cell phone or laptop easily, work (if you're a hardcore telecommuter), or use those gadgets for which you don't have a car adapter. Note: Test out all of your electronics before you leave. It seems obvious, doesn't it? So much so that, on our last major road trip—to Florida, from Massachusetts—I didn't do it, and discovered we had an empty iPod on our hands instead of an excellent music selection.
  • Non-electronic entertainment. Even with a power inverter, there’s only so much battery-powered entertainment you want to deal with. Stash a few new (or new-to-you) age-appropriate books for your kids in the car, and pull them out when the whining starts. Almost anything you would use to keep your kids occupied in a restaurant works well on a long car ride; my favorites include paint-with-water books, hole punches, blank notebooks, dry-erase books, and wax-coated Wikki Stix or Bendaroos.
  • A roadside safety net. When most people think of roadside assistance, they're thinking of a program like AAA, where you pay an annual fee for certain services (and additional fees for others, like towing over an extended distance). That works well for people who use their membership often, or who take advantage of the travel-related perks that come it, but if you rarely need a tow but like the idea of having help available, Allstate offers an alternative: Good Hands Roadside Assistance. It's a pay-as-you-use-it program with set fees for certain services—$50 for jump starts, retrieving keys that have been locked in the car, tire changes, and fuel delivery (up to three gallons) and $75 for basic towing (up to 10 miles, $3 per additional mile). You can sign up in advance (it works in all 50 states, but not in Puerto Rico) and you don't pay anything unless you need their help. You can find out more or register for the program by clicking this widget:

This post was commissioned by Allstate; all opinions/reviews presented in it are my own.

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