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Road Trip Tips Part II: Entertainment

Welcome back! Now that you are prepared for the physical mayhem that could occur on a road trip, you can learn how to avoid the horrors of boredom. You know, the whining, complaining, muttering, bickering, screaming, crying, regression, and eventual total reversion to basic Neanderthal behavior. And that’s just from the driver. Truthfully, in an otherwise healthy family, there are few things more stressful than unhappy children confined in a car. There. Is. No. Escape.

Fortunately, with a little legwork and less than $10 per kid, you can have a (relatively) peaceful and happy trip arriving at your destination with most, or even all, of your hair still attached to your scalp.

All purchases can be made in one trip at Target, Walmart, Dollar Store, and the like. Here are suggestions for toddlers to teens.

For each child:

1) A lidded container, somewhere between 8x11 inches and 15x12 inches and 3-6 inches deep. Bigger is too bulky and smaller is not useful as a lap desk. This doesn’t need to be Rubbermaid’s finest, it just needs a flat lid that clicks on and off easily. In each container you put #2-7 below.

2) Any combo of a NEW activity book, coloring book, doodle pad, construction paper, lined notebook, book

3) Stickers, with which to decorate their own personal travel bins
4) Pencils and colored pencils (and/or markers if you trust your kids not to draw all over the car) Note: Crayons will melt in a hot car, and overly sharp pencils break easily.

5) A small toy or surprise (no noise-makers or make-shift swords!) This could be a small stuffed animal, plastic doo-dad, or better yet an easy craft with felt or origami paper. For something from home, take an old clean sock and a marker for your kid to make into a puppet.

6) A couple napkins, a wet wipe, a ziplock sandwich bag (for easy to seal garbage)

7) 2 or 3 healthy and not-so-healthy treats. I like life savers, granola bars, a small box of raisins, a stick or two of gum, fruit snacks. Pez dispensers can be a big hit, too. Note: Chocolate will melt! Nothing messy/sticky or that poses a big choking hazard (gumballs, popcorn, etc.)

Okay, this is the good part. If done correctly, you will get major fun parent points for hitting the HAPPY KID TRIFECTA: surprise, cool stuff, and control.

Surprise: Ideally, the kids know nothing about these bins until they find them in their seats in the car. Think like Santa and put them in the car the night before.

Cool stuff: New items geared to the interests and age level of each child are in the bin and ready to use. What’s not to like?

Control: Remember the snacks in each bin? It is COMPLETELY up to each child to decide when and how much to eat. They love being in control of when they can eat! Just explain that when it's gone for one leg of the trip, it's gone. (Have replacements in your suitcase for the trip home.) Yes, this can potentially lead to tears and begging when one kid sucks up his treats like a vacuum in the first 90 seconds, and another kid uses his notebook to calculate that he can consume one gummy bear every 30 minutes in order to last the length of the trip AND maximize his brother’s annoyance. It can also be a terrific learning experience about self-control and/or bartering with a sibling. Whether they are wisely pacing themselves or lamenting their gluttony, they still have plenty of other interesting items with which to occupy themselves.

Hint: don’t let the kids simply have all these items when the trip is over. Other than food, you can keep everything in the bins exclusively for travel. This way, you only need to replace a few things for each trip. The kids associate these items with car travel and may even come across something they drew during last summer’s beach trip (“Hey, I remember this! We pulled over in the pouring rain so Daddy could fix the tire! Remember when Suzie offered him a raisin, and he told her to shut the window, so she threw it in the mud? I drew a picture of him! Here’s the vein in the middle of his forehead!”)

Let the good times roll!