Avoid Motoring Meltdowns over the Holidays

Now that Halloween is over, we are officially entering the Busy Time for holiday traveling—that busy time being Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve. And while we still have a few weeks before we feast on turkey and mashed potatoes (or Tofurky, if you don’t eat meat, or turducken, if you’re like my foodie friends in Idaho, or quail, if you’re like my friend’s in-laws in Texas), it’s always a good idea to think ahead, especially if you’ll be in the car with little ones for any car ride longer than 30 minutes. The following are some tips to keep the family sane during the drive:

• If possible, leave very early in the morning or very late at night. When my husband and I go to Green Bay to visit friends, we try to leave at either 8 p.m. so that our boys, ages 4 and 17 months, sleep the whole way, or we leave at the crack of dawn, so that our kids are less likely to get restless (if we’re lucky, they might even sleep until 7 a.m.).

• It doesn’t seem like you need to plan for an emergency when you’re going “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house” for a holiday celebration, but it’s best to be prepared. Pack a first-aid kit so that you don’t have to try to find a drug store if Junior gets sick. It’s always a good idea to keep paper towels and at least one garbage bag in the car as well … just in case. Packing tips and what, exactly, to pack in the mini first-aid kit can be found here.

It’s probably not a good idea to give your
toddler messy chocolate on road trips.

•  Let your older kids pack a snack bag for long rides. That way, they (hopefully) won’t bother you every five minutes with “I’m hungry. I’m thirsty. I’m bored.”

• Pass the time with games. One car game I remember playing when I was little is 20 questions (Who knows? Maybe that game planted the early seeds of inspiration for becoming a journalist.). One person thinks of something that might stump the group, but doesn’t tell anyone else in the car what they’re thinking. The first question is “Is it an animal, mineral, or vegetable?” then players take turns asking a total of 20 yes-or-no questions in an effort to figure out the correct answer. There’s an electronic version, too, where you try to stump the toy. I stumped it once by trying to get it to guess itself. Another fun game is the license plate game, where you try to find license plates from different states (hopefully you find more than just Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa, or that would be a very short-lived game.) And any kid who knows the alphabet will like playing the alphabet game, when you start with A and try to find that letter in a billboard or on a store sign before moving on to B, C, D, etc. 

•  If you, as the parent in the front seat, don’t want to go crazy listening to hour after hour of Raffi (or Laurie Berkner, or Kidz Bop)—invest in a Walkman and let your kids choose music or books on tape at your local library. The younger kids will probably think the headphones are pretty cool, too. If you need some new music ideas, check out this MetroKid’s list.

• If you have a portable DVD player, buy a new DVD before the trip. 

• Bring a “toy box” filled with board books, sticker books, stuffed animals, puppets, or toys that are good for pretending (like a play phone).

• A great resource for travel is Disney’s family.com, with advice on backseat distractions, healthy snacks, the most effective way to handle tantrums, and how to keep the inside of your car from resembling a mini trash can. 

No matter how many hours you plan on logging in the car over the busy holiday season, remember: It could always be worse. You could be trying to entertain your little one on an airplane instead. 

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