Goose and I are very excited to be taking our first long vacation since we’ve been married to visit my brother in the Carolinas next month. How far exactly is long? One way is about 18 hours on the road! That’s a loooooong time for anyone let alone preschoolers so being the planner that I am, I’ve already begun making plans to this the best experience for our nearly 2 and 4 year old. Yes, we will be traveling with preschoolers!
One: Plan the Trip with Lots of Stops
When traveling with preschoolers, a hour or two seems like a long time so traveling for 8 or 10 hours or even 18 hours for them is like an eternity. Therefore, even if you could potentially make a trip in record time if taken on your own or with another adult, consider frequent and active stops when traveling with preschoolers so that they can get out, run off some energy, and use the restroom. Besides, vacations should be fun so take some time to enjoy the trip!
For us, we we have plans for several small destinations along the way by turning in our two day trip into a three day trip (one way). As such, we will be able to stop about every 4 hours to play on a special playground, visit a zoo, take a hike, eat at a fun restaurant or visit a children’s theater. That, combined with one restroom break in between will help to make the trip more enjoyable for them and hopefully us too since the girls will more likely sleep during the car.
Two: Prepare a Kid-Friendly Road Map
While Peanut does not know exactly how to read maps yet, she can follow a line and follow numbers so I created a road map for her to follow in her travel notebook.
On her map I highlighted the road we were taking and them provided pictures of some of our destinations so she can get excited about what is next. I also placed numbers along the route for activity bag items. Teacup and Peanut will get to take out a new activity out of their Activity Bag (see below) as we pass every number. This will hopefully help avoid some of the “are we there yet?” questions, and help Peanut especially to begin to understand the concept of distance as well as
Three: Put Together a Travel Notebook
With so many fabulous resources out there for creating a kid-friendly travel notebook, there are printables galore available for kids of all ages to have their own travel notebook. Take a look at my Traveling with Kids Pinterest Board and you will see, there is no end to free travel printables across the web. A Travel Notebook is just one way for the child to feel involved in the trip as well as create some fabulous alone and family time.
In addition to Peanut’s kid-friendly map, her travel notebook will also include these free printables found across the web:
- Mom’s Minivan Printables including Car Bingo, Dot Games, Tic Tac Toe Sheets, Battleship boards, Coloring Pages, and more.
- Just Something I Made’s Vintage Battleship Boards
- The Dating Diva’s License Plate Game
- Several mazes from Mr. Printables
- Vehicle graphs from Not Inadequate
- Prepare Not Scared Travel Games (while there if you think behavior might be an issue check out her Car Bucks–totally cute idea!)
- Activity Village Knock Knock Jokes (for mommy to read to her of course)
In addition I provided some blank paper at the back of the notebook for free drawing, tracing, extra paper games, or for playing Squiggles (a game where the child draws a squiggle on the paper and then another child or adult must turn the squiggle into animal).
As far as organizing the notebook I highly recommend using sheet protectors and dry erase markers for repeated enjoyment and durability. And, if you’d like a free cover to go along with all those printables, feel free to use the ones I created for my girls which you can download by clicking the image below.
Four: Prepare a Bag of Activities
I really liked Jen’s idea on Tator Tots and Jello to create some kind of countdown board for activities and/or snacks for the girls to begin to understand the distance of the trip and to keep from asking the “are we there yet?” question all the time. However, I knew that space between our backseat and from car seats are rather narrow so the shoe bag didn’t really work for us.
Instead I added numbers to Peanut’s road map (see above) so that she could see when she will be receiving the next activity. By looking at the map she will know that we will not reach our final destination until we have opened 21 activity bags as well as how many bags she will get to open between each intermediate stop. We will also be storing our activities in the floorboard of our car in our new Thirty-One Family Fun Large Utility Tote.
What exactly might you want to consider including in your activity bags when traveling with preschoolers? Well, here’s our list along with a few others to give you some ideas.
- Brain Quest Question and Answer Cards
- Fruit loops and yarn for making fruit loop necklaces (also serves as a fun snack)
- Lacing Cards
- Card games such as Go Fish or Old Maid
- Wooly Willy
- Matching cards or Memory Cards
- Pipe Cleaners for making fun creations
- Preschool Workbooks such as Encompass Preschool Curriculum, School Zone Workbooks, or Brain Quest Workbooks
- Toys from the Dollar Tree–A few of our favorites include a glow ball, glowing slate, and a foam airplane puzzle.
- Invisible Ink Books
- Picture Books (check out some new books from your local library)
- Search and Find Books
- Read Aloud Books–For this trip we will be bringing along the Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie the Pooh for mommy to read along the way. That should definitely be long enough, don’t you think? 😉
- Blank notepads and pens for drawing time
- A ball and/or frisbee for rest stops
- Usborne Wipe Clean Books
- Finger Puppets
- Coloring Books (again, check the Dollar Tree for these!) with colored pencils and/or Twistables Crayons
- Magnetic Books and games such as MindWare Imaginets or On the Farm Magnetic Story & Play Scene
- Flap Books–We really like Fisher-Price Little People books.
- Sticker Books
- Glow Sticks for night time travel fun (again, check Dollar Tree)
- Stickers and construction paper
- Activity Books
- Toy cars
- Wikki Stix (aka Bendaroos)
- Doll house dolls, plastic animals, army men, or other small characters for imaginative play
- Child camera
- Audiobooks (again, check out your local library)
- A favorite toyand/or blanket
- Flash cards
- Old magazines, paper, scissors and glue for creating collages
- Busy Bags–You can find lots of ideas for these. Some of my favorites can be found here and here).
- I Spy Bottle or Find It Tube
- I Spy Books
- Magnetic Paper Dolls
- Crocodile Dentist
- Nesting Cups
- Preschool Packs (you can find many choices on my Preschool Pinterest Board)
- Download some free kindle books via your kindle fire or kindle app. You can find daily freebies for kids thanks to eReader Girl.
- Popsicle Stick puzzles
- Magnetic Puzzles (with a cookie sheet or magnetic white board)
- Connect Four Travel Size
- Paint with Water Books
- Travel Sized Doodle Boards
- Aluminum Foil for crazy creations
- Where’s Waldo Books
- Cheerios Books and Cheerios
And of course, you could also pull out the big guns like the iPods, iPads, DVDs, and so forth but our hope is that with so many other activities they will be able to enjoy the trip more the longer we can keep Peanut and Teacup from becoming zoned out by technology. After all, it’s vacation!
Five: Gather Some Fun Listening
Create a new playlist. Rent some new music from the local library. Burn a CD of sing-a-long favorites. Get some books-on-CD that would be appropriate for the whole family. There’s lots of choices out there for some new and fun listening. Our car has the convenience of a USB drive input so we created several playlists on there for all of us–country (for Goose), worship (for me), kids favorites, sing-a-long songs, and energy songs (for when we need a pick-me-up).
Some of our favorite sing-a-long songs when traveling with preschoolers
- Old MacDonald Had a Farm
- The Wheels on the Bus
- If You’re Happy and You Know It
- John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt
- Praise Ye the Lord, Hallelujah
- Where is Thumbkin?
- Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes
- You are My Sunshine
- The Muffin Man
By the way, if you want a Sing-a-long CD already created for you, the music teacher in me highly recommend’s Cedarmont Kid’s 100 Sing-Along-Songs for Kids which has a great children’s sound for imitation as well as a wonderful selection of children’s music.
Six: Plan for Some Family Time
No car trip would be complete without some oral travel games and/or a sing-a-long or two. Need some ideas for activities to do in the car without any props? Here’s a few on our list:
- Sing-a-long time (using our playlist from above of course!)
- I Spy–Someone chooses an object (preferably one that can be seen for sometime) and gives a clue to the rest of the players such as “I spy something green and brown.”
- Count the Cows–literally, count the cows…or sheep…or goats…or whatever animal you choose.
- Slug Bug–Look for Volkswagen Beetles. First person to see one calls out “slug bug!”
- Make up a story together.
- Play Taboo–Choose a word that no one can say and then try to get everyone else to say that word before you do.
- Twenty Questions–Think of an object and have other family members ask yes or no questions to try and guess the object.
- Vowel Race–Each player chooses one vowel and then begins the search to find their letter outside the vehicle. First one to find ten of their vowels wins.
- Guessing Game–Have one person ask a question as it relates to your location (i.e. “how many telephone poles will we pass in the next minute?) and everyone give a guess. Then everyone count the telephone poles together to see who was closest.
- A to Z Games–Use the beginning phrase “I went to the store and bought…” or “I went to grandma’s house and took with me a…” add an item beginning with the next alphabet letter.
- License Plate Alphabet–Together see if you can find the alphabet letters in order on passing license plates.
- License Plate Counting–Like License Plate Alphabet only counting in order to 100.
- Rock Paper Scissors–“Rock beats the scissors, scissors beats the paper, the paper beats the rock; if you tie, you die. 1-2-3”
- Pairs–An adult says an object such as “Peanut Butter” and the children are to come up with the pair (i.e. “jelly”).
- Color Game–Pick a color and have everyone find something outside the car that is that color.
Want more ideas? Check out the book Fun on the Run: Travel Games and Songs by Joanna Cole and Stephanie Calmenson for even more fun “on the run” ideas.
Seven: Don’t Forget All That Other Stuff!
For the backseat
- Paper towels
- Wet Wipes
- Plastic Bags (for trash)
- Snacks (think grapes, apples, fruit leather, cheerios, raisin, baby carrots, granola bars, etc.)
- Water bottles
- Snack cups
- Bibs and/or hand towels
- Blanket for impromptu picnics and/or cold feet
- Toll booth change (just in case)
- Maps and/or GPS
- Car charger for cell phone
- Extra diapers and changing pad
- Extra batteries and/or chargers for all those electronic devices
- Consider purchasing car-seat appropriate travel trays. We really liked the look and stability of the Taby Tray but when we realized that it had no give should we get into an accident we opted for the cheaper Star Kids Snack and Play Travel Tray which is supposedly safer thanks to its soft foam reinforcement.
For the Trunk
- First-aid kit
- Roadside emergency kit
- Jumper cables
- Gallon of water
- Extra blanket and/or towels
- Duct tape
- Small sewing kit
- Change of clothes of each child (easily accessible)
- Consider bringing a travel potty
- Consider bringing a blow up toddler bed and/or sleeping bag for the hotels.
- Camera charger
For you and/or the hubs
- Book light
- Mad Libs, Sudokus, Crossword Puzzles, and/or Brain Games
- Family Devotional Book
- Travel pillow
- Your travel notebook with all your maps, destination and parking information, phone numbers, coupons, tickets, brochures, etc.
For even more ideas, you may want to check out this one bag checklist which I found very handy when making my mega-trip packing checklist. And for tips on how to organize your car for the trip, you may want to check out my guide to creating a family friendly and equipped vehicle.
Finally, Enjoy the Moment.
Traveling with preschoolers can be a challenge, but it can also be the making of some of the best memories. Remember that taking that perfect picture or visiting every important spot is not nearly as important to your preschoolers as the joy that comes from spending time together. So yes, put away those cell phones as much as possible and have fun just being together in all you do. It’s what your preschoolers will remember most.