After 13 years of being a mother and six kids, I kind of feel like I have a handle on the whole road trip thing. We have family in Southern California and drive down there at least once a year, and usually twice and I have learned a thing or two about making a ten hour drive. (If we're lucky. . .)
A few years ago I decided to go frugal/green. Which for us meant reusable sandwich boxes, Tupperware instead of sandwich bags, etc. And I thought it would be a good idea to carry this over into road trips. It wasn't. It is a pain and a half to find all the sandwich boxes upon arrival and make sure they get washed so the leftover crusts don't become a giant mess of white fuzz. Or make sure that everyone who had milk in their washable cold cups dumps out any leftovers so I don't get any curdled surprises. We still totally do reuseable stuff for school lunches, but NOT the car. Especially finger foods.
Have you seen this super popular idea floating around Pinterest? Don't do it. Sure, it's cute and clever but how often is cute and clever really practical? Let me put it like this: imagine you are a couple hours into your ten hour road trip. Everything seems fine. Your four year old asks for a snack, so you hand her this giant, meticulously divided box of every snack she could dream of. She's thrilled. She can't contain her excitement. Excitement that manifests itself in bouncing legs exaggerated hand gestures. She is in possession of this box approximately two minutes when you hear a sound that makes your heart drop faster than the entire Lego bin being dumped on the floor: the box is upside down on the floor of your car, and all your work, not to mention all the snacks that were supposed to keep her happy for the next 8 hours, are in a colorful cascade down the car seats and floor. This, my friends, is why individual snack sized baggies are the way to go.
There are in my experience exactly three exceptions to the disposable rule:
1. Sippy cups for baby/toddler. When there's only that to deal with, not impossible.
2. These ingenious snack cups for baby. Seriously, whoever invented these needs some kind of reward.
3. Water bottles. Everyone has their own water bottles and they only ever have water in them.
We do sack breakfasts and lunches. Brown paper bags, everything in baggies that can be thrown away when we stop for gas. And we do. Husband fills up the car while I rally the troops to find all garbage that can be thrown away. It keeps things slightly neater.
I'm sure you've seen the dollar store present idea. You know, buy a bunch of stuff and wrap it and then every so often give your kids a present. Great idea, right?? Couple of problems with this one. First, wrapping paper. The last thing you need on a road trip is more garbage in your car. Second problem is expense. If you have one kid, no big deal. If you have six, you can see where I'm going with this, right? My solution: if you have advanced notice, I'm talking months, that you will be taking a trip, gather up a few toys around your house. Some books, a few hot wheels, anything small that is conducive to playing while sitting strapped in a car. Put them all in a box and pull them back out before the trip. For kids eight and younger this works like a charm. If you have a DVD player, you can do this with movies too. It's practically as good as getting something new, but it's totally free. And when you're spending that much on gas, free is good.
What I do is make all the older kids a travel binder and refill as needed each trip we take. There are so many road trip printables out there that I never run out. License plate bingo has been incredibly popular with my kids. Plus, I can tailor it to each kid. My little boys get lots of Pokemon coloring pages, easy word searches and dot to dots. The older girls get crosswords, Sudoku and Would you Rather? questions. And everyone gets lots of blank paper to write or draw on.
Don't Rule Anything Out!!!
Never say never. It's the one constant in parenting. Never say never. You will, I guarantee, eat your words. DVD players for the car are a bit of a hot topic. You want to be the good parent who has meaningful conversations with your kids. The parent that plays I SPY and trivia games. And that is wonderful. That is admirable. But, somewhere around hour seven (or sooner), you might just need to rest your voice. And you might just REALLY need your kids to rest their voices. Sometimes an audio book will do it. And sometimes it takes the big guns. Keep an open mind when it comes to road trip entertainment. We love Brain Quest. We love the alphabet game, and license plate bingo but we would not have survived the many, many trips that we have made to Southern California without our travel DVD players.
As soon as my kids are old enough to walk and talk and open their own drawers, they help with the packing. Do you know how long it would take me to pack for six kids by myself? Everyone gets a list of things that they need, they pack and then I have final approval. That way I only spend my time double checking to make sure that the four pairs of shorts that they chose will actually match the four shirts, and that the underwear they threw in there is clean.
Everyone has seen the packing outfits in ziploc bags, and while this might be a great idea for kids maybe four and under, once they get a little bigger, so do their clothes and trying to fit one outfit in a ziploc is way more trouble than it's worth. Not to mention, this method requires one of everything for each day, and we simply don't have enough room to pack a full change of clothing for every single day that we will be gone. Laundry gets done halfway through our vacation. But, by having kids pick their own clothes, you know that they will wear what the chose. No kid is going to go for style over comfort.