a peek inside the fishbowl

22 Aug, 2008

Long car trip with kids: a sort of how-to

Posted by andrea tomkins in: parenting|travel talk

During this last holiday, the longest stretch of time we spent in the car in one go was about 8 hours. Knowing I usually max out after two, I knew it was going to be loooong.

I truly believe it’s possible to teach kids to be well-behaved in the confines of a car. They can learn to accept long drives, just like we did when we were kids. As a parent, you just have to want to do it, be a good planner, and tolerate some inevitable fussing when they’re young.

We’ve been driving with the kids since they were born. They are 9 and 7 now, and I’ve learned what great little travellers they have become. Don’t get me wrong, they didn’t just stare out the window the whole time, we had a plan. And it worked.

– We stopped often, to let them get out and stretch their legs. And I mean stretch. The rest stops in Quebec and parts of Nova Scotia were the best – big stretches of grass, park benches, some even had swings. The trick is to stop BEFORE they have a meltdown. If they’re having a meltdown and you’re looking for a stop, it’s too late.

– We had a stack of books, specifically, comic books. And pillows. And some small toys. A roll of toilet paper. And wet hand wipes. Those wipes saved us more times than I care to remember.

– We had bubblegum. They entertained themselves tirelessly with bubble-blowing contests. We also received some large gobstoppers before we left. We had a contest to see who can suck them down the fastest. I won. :)  I tell ya, the only thing we heard from the back seat was the sound of slurping.

– We bought each kid a back seat organizer. Their pads, papers, pencils, waterbottles, and small toys fit in there like a dream. Sarah surprised me and spent a lot of time sketching.

– We had a few games of 20 questions. No paper or pens required, just our brains. I stumped everyone with “telephone pole” and Mark got us with “electrical wire.” Damn him.

– And then there were snacks. Apples worked better than bananas because they didn’t bruise so easily. Frozen juiceboxes took time to melt.

– Mark made us a music CD. Little did I know that “Dragostea din tei“, (the girls actually LEARNED THE WORDS) and “Kung-Fu Fighting” would become the theme songs of our trip.

– Before we left I discovered collection of downloadable audiobooks at the Ottawa library website. Some titles can be burned to CD. I chose Book 1 of The Dark Hills Divide, Land of Elyon Series by Patrick Carman. This was a good call on my part. Not only is it a great way to pass 5 hours and 35 minutes, but it was a great story that was superbly narrated. We were all on the edge of our seats as we listened… a wonderful shared experience. And you know what, listening to the story gave my brain a workout that it doesn’t normally get when I watch TV. It’s much less passive, if you know what I mean.

– we also had a game of “how well do you know your daughter” which involved me writing down a few questions in a notebook and passing them back for the girls to answer – silently. Then I asked Mark to guess the answers. Emma and Sarah each answered questions about their favourite colour, what they would do with $100, and if they could be any animal which would it be. I think the answers surprised all of us. :)

– the girls also spent a lot of time signalling to truckers – as we drove – asking them to honk their horns. And many did.

– And yes, we all stared out the window, taking in each small town we passed through, people coming from weddings and funerals, trees and plants of all kinds, wide expanses of farms and fields, oceans and lakes and streams and everything in between, cattle and horses and circling crows, rainbows and all shades of clouds … we rested our eyes and our busy minds as we watched the scenery roll by outside our windows.

Anyway, those are just a few things we did to bide the time.

They did so well, we all did, and I would definitely do it again.

9 Responses to "Long car trip with kids: a sort of how-to"

1 | porter

August 22nd, 2008 at 9:26 am


I am thinking about a post I hope to write over the next couple of days about expectations…this topic fits perfectly into that.

My kids were horrible travellers from the get go, both cried on their car rides home from the hospital. Both hated their car seats and never slept in the car or stroller. They continue to get better as they get older.

One other point, I think the one big difference between car rides when we were little and now is that kids are restrained in carseats now. My Dad used to put a board across the back seat (where one normally has their legs and feet) and we used to play in the back seat, sprawl out etc.

2 | Caroline

August 22nd, 2008 at 9:57 am


Memories of traveling with four kids in a station wagon many years ago still makes all of us laugh. I used to pack brown paper bags with dollar store treats inside. After an hour of driving, Garry would pull over, everyone would rotate seats (we had a back seat and a back back seat) and they would open the bags with much excitement. This would go on every hour for a four or five hour trip. The best treat ever were ugly doll heads. They made the heads talk to each other and to passing cars, and they sat with us at the picnic table when we stopepd for lunch. We still have one of the heads in a glass cabinet in the kitchen!

p.s. thanks for the noma noma song – my inspiration tune!!

3 | Alina

August 22nd, 2008 at 5:33 pm


Hi Andrea,

I have been reading your blog for over a year now (and I enjoy it a lot), but I decided to add a comment after you mentioned the O-Zone song, since it is so close to my heart and since I like the band. “Dragostea din tei” is a song sang in Romanian, the band is from Moldova (country that used to belong to Romania, then was taken by Russia and now it is an independent little country).
Romania is a country located in the Eastern of Europe. I had to mention that because I come from Romania (now I live in Canada) and many people don’t know where it is – which might be understandable (some asked me if it is in Transylvania or in the Czech Republic).
Going back to the band… it broke up several years ago and Dan Balan, one of the band members, has a blossoming solo career. You might want to check his new songs. I find them jumpy and happy.
Anytime you want more information about Romania… just ask :).

4 | andrea

August 22nd, 2008 at 9:49 pm


Porter – you’re right on about the seatbelt point. I used to lie on the floor in the back seat … which I always had all to myself!

Caroline – you are Garry are so creative. I LOVE that idea!

Alina, thank you for the clarification. I know what it’s like to be from a country which few people really know… my own background is Czech.

I just found the translation of it … ah, this is why I love the Internets.

And I will definitely check out some other tunes by Dan Balan!

5 | Ginger

August 23rd, 2008 at 11:39 am


I am so glad you wrote this post. Nathan and I have had several heated discussions about whether or not to get DVD players in the car. I am vehemently against them. My brother and I survived just fine without TV-like stimulation in the car. I am not a huge fan of car trips because we tend to just get in and drive until we get to our destination, but I want to take vacation car trips with the boys one day similar to the one you took with your girls. I want our car time to be part family time and part down time.

By the way…I won the whole DVD in the car debate. We aren’t getting them! :)

6 | Cath

August 23rd, 2008 at 11:55 am


This post gave me hope that we’ll survive car trips eventually … we just did an 18 hour drive back from PEI, with B almost 2 and me 7 months pregnant, and it was not pleaant, even though she did very well all things considered … I had a bag of toys that she hadn’t played with for a while and a few new things – the best thing for us was a Melissa and Doug magnetized chalk board that had letter and number magnets to go with it. In the end, we survived it (with B commenting ‘trouble on road, trouble on road’ continously on the last part; and hitting replay on her current favourite 26 second song through much of New Brunswick) but I love the idea that in only a few years we’ll be able to actually enjoy the trip down!

7 | Leah

August 25th, 2008 at 11:12 am


You have some great ideas Andrea. My additional challenge is that Simon (age 4) gets extemely car sick, so he can’t do anything that involves reading or looking at things (including spotting things out the window). So far, playing kids podcasts has been our #1 activity, but we also stay away from any car trip over two hours. Sigh.

8 | Alison in Ottawa

August 27th, 2008 at 12:29 pm


What no photo of the backseat organizers ;) ? Where did the backseat organizers come from? I want to get some.

9 | andrea

August 31st, 2008 at 3:07 pm


Alison, the organizers really weren’t worth a photo. :)
We picked two of them up at Canadian Tire. (They’re pictured here.) Not pretty, but they did the trick!

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