Last week when I was preparing to leave for a planned five-day ski trip in Vermont I found myself tight on time and debating whether I should make my usual pre-trip run in search of diversion for the children. Our beloved local toy store, long the source of invisible ink puzzle books as well as card games, recently closed and I was busy and didn’t really have the time to go all the way to the mall where I’d have a better selection than at the drug store up the street. I decided to rummage around in the bins in my office where I have stuck half-used amusements from days gone by. A short while later I had arranged an impressive array on the dining room table.
My children are in fact very well trained for this 8-hour drive since we do it three or four times a year. The fact that we all love it in Vermont makes the slog worth it, even for the boys, although of course in the middle of the seemingly interminable New York State Thruway it can be easy to forget that fact. When they were both younger I used to spend several hours carefully choosing new books and activities for them. Every trip was a little bit like Christmas because I’d pack up the car with surprises (keeping a few in front with me to dole out as the day dragged on). The boys would wake so eager to get into the car and find what was in there that often they’d be in place a good 15 minutes before Matt and I were ready to leave.
Things have changed a bit since those earlier days of course: The boys are older and can both read to themselves; Tommy and I both have Kindles and thus carry with us the ability to obtain new reading material without a bookstore; and I gave in to the inevitable use of screens and put apps on both my phone and Matt’s iPad that the boys like to play. But even with these changes, I’d say that the bulk of their time in the car is still spent amusing themselves by doing word puzzles, coloring, playing the license plate game, or listening to music or to me read aloud (we started Heidi on this trip in anticipation of our visit to the Alps in the summer).
But even though I’m an old hand at these car trips, on this one I learned something about what the children actually “need” to be happy in the car – it certainly doesn’t have to be new. The boys were thrilled when they came home from school and found what I had laid out for them. They both eagerly set to work “shopping” from the pile and deciding together what they had room for. By the time they were finished the car organizer looked like this:
So not only did I not have to run out to the store – I didn’t even have to do the packing! I call that a win-win.
It’s funny, but I think that we actually all treasure these drives. I know that I do. It’s time apart from the rest of our lives, time to be together in the purest sense of that word. It’s made even sweeter by the fact that I know that the time is soon coming when each of the boys will want to wear headphones so they can listen to their own music, when they will each have their own devices that I don’t control, when they are texting their friends even as they sit behind me and Matt. I try to remember this when the drive becomes wearying or when I don’t feel like checking every truck to see if it comes from Nebraska. Part of what I treasure about traveling with my kids isn’t just what we do when we get there – it’s the journey itself.
I’ve shared how I keep my kids amused on long car rides, now it’s your turn: What are your road trip tricks?