When hitting the road for a long drive with my husband and two young boys, ages 4 and almost 6, I’ve learned a few things about what works and what doesn’t!
This will be our family’s third-year vacationing in Myrtle Beach, SC. I remember agonizing over the long drive it would be to get here, and how would we occupy our kids along the way. We are one of ‘those’ families who don’t own iPads or have DVD players in our vehicles, so it’s always a fun challenge for me to find cool new ways to help pass the hours in the car. It ends up being about an 8-hour drive to Myrtle Beach, which includes two or three stops for bathroom breaks, food and just running around.
Over the years I’ve compiled a list of what makes for a great road trip, whether it’s heading out of town for a vacation or to visit family over the holidays.
Books, books and more books!
My boys are at the age where they can either read on their own or at least enjoy looking at picture books. A few days before our vacation I usually raid the library for a stack of fun new books the boys have never seen before. I try to find ones that are easy enough for them to understand on their own, since I get terribly car sick if I read in the car.
I also pack two pencil boxes with crayons and markers for each kid, along with a variety of activity books such as mazes, puzzles, connect-the-dots, color-by-number, hidden pictures, I-Spy, and other coloring books. Mad-Libs are also fun, but need my assistance. I stock up on these when I see them for a good price at places like the grocery store, Five Below, and local toy stores like Franklin's Toys. Sometimes Sam’s Club or Cosco’s have unique ones too.
This was our first year trying a book on CD. Our boys really enjoy C.S. Lewis’ story, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, so when I found the audio version at the library I decided we’d give it a try! My oldest son really enjoyed it, and now when we read the book he giggles thinking about how the commentator would pronounce the words like “Turkish delight” in their British accent. It’s a nice way to break up the long ride.
We also stock up on a few Playaway Views from the library, which are these little hand-held MP3 video players with either educational TV episodes loaded on them, like Sesame Street or The Magic School Bus, or video versions of books. There are lots of different themed ones, and they range in length from either 20 minutes to 2 hours. Headphones can be used with them, or plugged right into the car stereo.
Since we don’t do iPads, checking out the educational tablets from the library for road trips are a real treat for our kids. The library offers these Playaway Launchpads which are touch-screen Android tablets stocked with 10 different educational STEM games and activities. My only suggestion would be make sure you try out the Launchpad at the library before checking it out. I’ve found that some of the touch screens are broken or the charger plug doesn’t work. Once charged, they do usually last for a few hours, and have a USB cord that can plug into our car’s charger outlet if needed.
Over the years we have learned the best places to stop along the way to Myrtle Beach, I even have the locations saved on my phone. We aren’t big fast-food eaters, and usually pack a cooler of snacks for the drive, but for stretching our legs and grabbing a larger meal, our favorites include Chick-Fil-A with their indoor play areas, and a specific Sonic Drive-in that’s about halfway along our trip and hosts a huge outdoor playground that the kids love. There are also a couple different iPhone apps that are handy for finding restaurants with play areas along your route, such as PlayPlaces App or Winnie. Or if we just need to get some energy out, we’ve found a couple Rest Stops along I-95 with playgrounds, but not many. Usually a Google Map search though will help find public parks and playgrounds that are nearby.
I know that as the kids get older our road trips will be quieter as they escape into their phones, but for now I’m enjoying the ride, even the monotonous, “Are we there yet?” comments along the way.
Mandy Watts is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Crownsville with her husband, Justin, who runs their family business, and their two sons, 5-year-old James and 3-year-old Luke.