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Traveling with kids: then & now

The paved trail curved around the corner and out of sight amid the thick canopy of birch and the undergrowth of pushki and fern, the mudflats at low tide lying moist and gray and thick just beyond the trees.

Around the corner and out of sight the boys zipped, too, each with one leg kicking now and then to propel their scooters along. It was the beginning of a seven mile jaunt, so, naturally, they out-paced me as I ran behind. Just wait until mile four, I thought. I’ll be in the lead. You could say Mama’s a bit competitive, too. (That tall running boy of ours wasn’t on this trail, or he’d be in the lead, with nobody able to catch him).

We were on vacation, in our destination city, but despite all there was to see and do, we couldn’t leave out the necessity of running. Just how that would happen, with each of us at a different place in our mileage ability, could have been a trick, but thank goodness, we had an ace up our sleeve from a few years back: scooters.

This was the second time I’d purchased them away from home, to use on paved city trails during our stay. It’s a small fee for hours of exercise, fresh air, and sight-seeing, with the bonus of a level playing (running?) field for all. When we’re done, and can’t take them on the flight home, we’ll offer free scooters to the first takers to walk by.

I thought about all this, about travel with kids, and how it looks different now with half-grown ones than it did with toddlers. The one thing that’s remained constant, however, despite the ages of our guys, is our intention to travel with minimal baggage weighing us down, and to have screen-free entertainment in tow.

There were those times when I traveled alone with three toddlers. From gate to gate in airport terminals we’d go, our littlest guy in a simple umbrella stroller (that I could quickly fold and gate-check); our single carry-on, a wheeled backpack with a telescoping handle, was hooked over the handle of the stroller making a wheeled seat of sorts for our middle guy to hop aboard and ride; our oldest keeping pace along side. Within a couple minutes of de-boarding the plane, we’d be off and running.

Now, everybody is able to get himself and his backpack from gate to gate (amazing). Now, I show them our next flight number and tell them to find our gate and I’ll follow. Then I tell them to slow down so I can keep up.

When they were little, I would include a few small things in our carry-on for entertainment, bringing them out in succession throughout the flight, saving the most interesting until last. The trick was, they’d never seen these things before. I quickly learned, too, that if it was something that required their attention to open, close, or operate, all the better. For one son, a tiny tractor with trailer that attached and tiny logs to haul was the thing. He rolled it around and around the open tray-table, content to load and unload logs for a good long while.

For another, a matchbox car driven around the empty seat beside us was all he wanted to do (after our flights were fully boarded, if there were two empty seats together, I’d ask the flight attendant if I could be re-seated to give the lap child and me a bit more room). In lieu of coloring books and crayons that could be cumbersome and easily lost, I’d bring those simple magnetic drawing boards with pens attached. The thrill of adding silly mustaches and hair to a bald man’s head was inexpressible fun. And books. Of course, books. Open-the-flap board books were great for our little guys’ intrinsic curiosity and would keep them engaged for many precious minutes.

travelwithkids

Now, it’s Farkle that’s played over and over on the open tray table. Who knew six standard dice and a simple set of rules, with high scores at stake, could be so fun? The deck of playing cards are handy, too, for seven card stud (to be played using change from the coin pouch in my purse), and for a bit of quiet time, new copies of Tintin. Though I have to say, on this trip, Farkle took the cake.

On road trips, when we were still part of the car-seat set, we would build playground stops into the itinerary. Even a run around the grass at a rest stop helped to get the wiggles out. We’ve taken along aerobies, hackey sacks, footballs, foxtails – anything to help get the move on. If no balls were in sight, tag never failed.

Now, though there’s nary a carseat around, we’ve came prepared for the road trip that’s sandwiched in the middle of this vacation. Simply prepared with a foldable frisbee. Anywhere we might find an open space – on a beach, at a park, on a patch of grass beside the parking lot – there’ll most likely be at least two of us playing catch. Stuff it into the back pocket when we’re done, load up, and head on down the road.

What are your screen-free kid-entertainment tips for travel? I’d love to hear.

Reading Time:

3 minutes

 

 

 

20 Comments

  1. Maryalene

    This is a timely topic for me because right now, as I type, I’m on the tail end of a 10 day trip with my five kids. I’m the only adult, and my brood includes a 5 and 2 year old as well as middle and high school kids. I must confess screens have been my savior on this trip. I loaded up the iPad and the Kindle for the plane and have let the kids watch movies every night. At this point, I’m just grateful we are able to be here together for this vacation but I’d love to reduce our screen time for future travel!

    • Carmella

      Way to go on your ten day, five kid, solo-parent trip!! I confess, along with you, that screens, timely placed, have been the savior more than once in our lives as well! There is a time and place for screens, for sure – even on travel days. It’s been great to find, though, that I don’t have to toss our baseline mantra of self-entertainment first (screen free) just because we happen to be traveling, and it always helps to hear other parents’ inside tips on their travel-with-children-screen-free experience. Safe travels!

  2. Hope Carr

    Our favorite family game on trips that can last for hours begins with a pencil and piece of paper. One person makes the first mark on the page and then passes the paper to the next person who makes the next until an image begins to develop and the paper is completely filled with a fun image.

    • Carmella

      I like this one, Hope! We’ve played a similar game – without the continual back-and-forth of yours until the picture is drawn – good idea!

  3. Christie

    We have a 4 yr old and 6 yr old and have taken several road trips this summer. These are the things that have been a life saver for us on our trips!

    – scooters – totally agree with you – hours of entertainment and exercise
    – boogie boards (LED drawing boards w/ stylus, one button erases picture)
    – Zing Air Hunterz bows and arrows – we have two of them and they are so much fun for kids and adults
    – a blow up beach ball – I make up games at rest stops and my kids love it
    – play the game “I’m thinking of…” We take turns thinking of something and giving clues and everyone else has to try to guess what it is

    Hope this is helpful to other parents with young kids! Interested to see what other say too!

    • Carmella

      Your mix of new technology (boogie boards) and old technology (blow up beach ball) is great!

    • Carmella

      Thanks, Kariane!

  4. Erica

    I appreciate this post and the comments so much. We are preparing to move from the Southwest up to New England and I am brainstorming ways to entertain my toddler son. We are breaking our drive up into shorter increments, trying to leverage his nap times and building in opportunities to run and play so that the sleep is sweet.

    • Carmella

      Best wishes on your relocation! Wow! Reminds me of when we moved with little ones from Alaska to Florida :). I’ve heard friends who’ve had long-haul driving ahead say, when all else fails, drive at night while the kids/babies are sleeping!

  5. Laura

    I have a toddler and a baby. The one thing that is great to play with outside and entertains the toddler for hours is a small soccer ball. We kick it back and forth, and often when I’m wearing the baby. At restaurants, we have a wind-up Thomas the train and also one of those cars that propels forward when you pull back on it. Great for rolling across the table to each other.

  6. Jessica in Canada

    We do a four day each way drive every year. On the second day I give the kids a treat bag I made at home. I splurge a little and buy them each a brand new book and then the rest is consumables — little bags of fruit candy, juice or milk box, crackers, etc. They look forward to the tradition and it keeps them entertained for quite a while.

    I talked to lots of different moms about how to do long road trips. Everyone does them differently. I don’t believe in killing the kids — we stop when they need. For lunch we GPS the nearest school or green space and there is usually a playground there. We stop for a good hour for them to run around. At night we always get a hotel with a swimming pool and they burn off more energy. (Unfortunately we mostly have to book hotels with indoor pools as outdoor pools are only open seasonally — and not the dates you would expect would be common sense!)

    While driving the kids like magnadoodles, etchasketch, listening to music, and listening to stories. I don’t like taking a bunch of little toys as they’re bulky and hard to keep track of. We do allow screen time when the youngest are napping otherwise everyone is too loud and kids without naps especially while traveling is the worst.

  7. Jessica in Canada

    We do a four day each way drive every year. On the second day I give the kids a treat bag I made at home. I splurge a little and buy them each a brand new book and then the rest is consumables — little bags of fruit candy, juice or milk box, crackers, etc. They look forward to the tradition and it keeps them entertained for quite a while.

    I talked to lots of different moms about how to do long road trips. Everyone does them differently. I don’t believe in killing the kids — we stop when they need. For lunch we GPS the nearest school or green space and there is usually a playground there. We stop for a good hour for them to run around. At night we always get a hotel with a swimming pool and they burn off more energy. (Unfortunately we mostly have to book hotels with indoor pools as outdoor pools are only open seasonally — and not the dates you would expect would be common sense!)

    While driving the kids like magnadoodles, etchasketch, sticker books, listening to music, listening to stories on CD, and playing with their cameras. I don’t like taking a lot of little toys as they’re bulky and hard to keep track of. We do allow screen time when the youngest are napping otherwise everyone is too loud and kids without naps especially while traveling is the worst.

    • Jessica in Canada

      Sorry for posting twice! My toddler is screwing up my computer!!!!!!

    • carmen

      Four day drive each way?!

      This may sound like a daft question, but is flying not an option? How does it compare cost wise? I can’t imagine driving four days each way to go somewhere. 26 hours flying to New Zealand (we’re in the UK) is seriously bad enough!

      • Jessica in Canada

        Hey Carmen! 8 days driving is about $800 gas, and 6 hotel nights (3 each way), so around $600. So total travel is $1400.

        If we were to fly, it would be extremely expensive. Air travel in and out of Canada is not cheap. If we could find flights at $1000 return each we would be lucky, I would say they would be $1500 each x the numerous members of our family. If we flew, we would also probably have to rent a vehicle for at least part of the stay, as we stay for quite a while.

        We have rich friends who fly and meet us (and rent a vehicle there) and trust me, it is tempting. We’ve done the math and it wouldn’t work for us. And then if we flew somewhere with cheaper flights, accommodations are more in that area.

        Canada is COLD and we do what we have to do to not lose our minds in the winter! We will do anything to get to the beach! HAha! I know quite a few families that drive to Mexico, California, Florida, or Texas every winter. If you homeschool you can stay a month or more!

  8. melony

    The geo-board was everyone’s favorite. A small square piece of wood with nails hammered in partway in 1inch intervals and a bag of colorful rubber bands. It was like magic the way my middle wiggliest boy could sit for hours upon hours with that thing. I always wondered if security would let it thru whenever we would fly, but they always did. For the car we listen to a lot of radio theatre, we started with FOTF’s Anne of green gables when they were littler, but have since moved onto the Narnia books and BBC’s Lord of The Rings. It keeps us parents sane and awake for long stretches in the car as well!

  9. Megan

    Books on CDs for long car trips are great for both the kids and driver! You can borrow from the library but make sure to get a few as some may be scratched or not work at all. When the kids were little felt boards or magnetic boards. A cookie tin works well for a magnetic board. If you purchase a few new things for the trip wrap them up like presents (fun and kills time too) for desperate moments. Kids also love to play with bubble wrap and masking tape.

  10. Marilyn

    When we went to Europe when our kids were small, each one (ages 6,5, 3 and 2) got their own little tub as a carry on. We didn’t think of backpacks at that time. There were surprises inside that they’d never seen before. We got some travel games, washable marking pens, cards, books, candy etc. On a later road trip, we got small packages of legos for each child, not minding if a few got lost along the way.

  11. Jurga

    We have a lot of experience when traveling with young kids (twins of 5 and a 7 year old, traveling since birth). We also always travel light, especially if traveling by plane. You can read more on my blog on fullsuitcase.com, but if there is one thing that we always carry with us, it’s paper and twistable crayons. Young children are actually easily entertained, but you have to stay involved and point them in the right direction once in a while.
    Our road trip tips involve playing games with kids, telling stories, picnic stops, and ball games.We take a ball if traveling by car, but frisbee sounds like a great idea as it takes less space! Will keep that one in mind!

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