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Road-tripping with young children

by James Fouché
Baby Yum Yum - Road-tripping with young children
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I noticed some unavoidable issues that come up with every trip we take. Whether by car or plane, the following five things always find a way to mess with our trip.

Your route has been carefully planned, the kids are strapped in, but something is keeping you from getting into that car. The scene is all too familiar and you know what happens next. You drive away and as you reach the highway, all hell breaks loose and it won’t stop until you stop the car or you reach your destination.

Lisa drops her dummy and burst into tears. Tommy throws his ‘tippee’ at Lisa, spraying milk all over the back seats and windows. Dad gets annoyed and speeds up. Mom searches for the dummy or bottle with no luck. Mary moans for her dolly, which is still lying on the TV stand next to the remote. Tommy pokes Mary. Mary pokes back harder while Lisa cries for her nu-nu, setting off an explosion. Chaos ensues.

“You just left the house, and you already feel like you need a holiday away from your holiday.”

Mom tries to keep everyone calm while Dad tries not to steer the car off a cliff. The rest of the trip involves whining, fighting, crying, loo trips, dirty nappies, tantrums, empty bottles, hunger pangs, screaming, and the one thing all parents dread, BOREDOM! You just left the house and you already feel like you need a holiday away from your holiday.

  1. Loo trips

Do a mandatory nappy check for big pee-pees or poo-poos. If potty-trained, then take them to the loo even if they don’t ask to go. To stimulate them, use the loo yourself. Strange as it sounds, going to the toilet as a family can become a fun exercise.

  1. Hunger

Kids need constant input. This is true of food, as well. Make fun, clever snacks for the road such as mini meatballs, small pancakes, bunny-shaped sandwiches, veggie snack packs, mini rice cakes or other known favourites. Wash three bottles and have them ready with milk, formula, water or juice.

Try not to add too many sweets to the mix. Sugar is pure energy. Energy makes them energetic. Sugar is a last-resort treat and shouldn’t be given it too close to naptime.

  1. Napping

Naptimes are worth their weight in gold. Ideally, a road trip should not dictate nap times. If possible, stick to the routine, or as close as possible to it. We once resorted to doing a lunch stop during naptime, loaded each kid into their own trolley where they slept on a blanket, and took to the road again when they woke up.

  1. Weather

While travelling, you are bound to go from cold morning to afternoon heat. Or warm inland to a coastal rain storm. Whatever the climate shift, plan for any possible extreme. Prepare a small clothing bag within easy reach. Pack in warm and cool clothing for all kids. Better safe than sorry.

  1. Boredom

There is a big debate on the go about the long-term benefits of allowing a child to embrace, and even enjoy, boredom.

However, on a road trip, with everyone trapped in their seats, boredom is not your friend. This is not the time to debate the psychological and sociological development of your child. You want to make sure everyone reaches their destination safely, and sanely. Surprise them with some new games or activities. There are tons of affordable puzzles, playthings or games out there: a toy phone with tiny fish that “swim” at the press of a button; a small Disney puzzle, a lucky packet or a medium-sized fire truck and a colouring book and crayons – all R30 a piece. Frequent China shops for some disposable toy ideas.

  1. The secret weapon

There is a very controversial secret weapon we employ when we really have nothing else. This secret weapon comes in the form of technology. Unlike many other families, we are a pro-tablet family. No, tablets will not instantly turn your kids into zombies. I think someone has done studies on this.

It’s clear that technology has entered the parenting game in a major way. However, as parents, we are still in charge of the technology our kids are exposed to. We have the remote. We own the tablet. We bought the cell phone. The aim is to have disciplined tablet time on a road trip, sometimes as a reward. Sit still until we get to the petrol station, then we can put on a little something. Or rotate tablet time. Each gets to play for 30 minutes. Download a new educational game before the trip for the sake of newness. Any fighting over the tablet results in the tablet being put away. This really works for us.

And that is the extent of road-trip planning. The idea is to create a comfort zone or familiar space for the little ones. Have some familiar things nearby as the car is an extension of their house or room. Avoid a chaotic car environment by always having a small dustbin or bag for rubbish available. Wrappers, boxes, takeaway cups and scraps quickly fill up the small spaces in a car. It’s like visible noise. When talking gets louder, turn down the volume of the tablet or the radio to encourage softer communication.

A peaceful trip is a myth, but you can plan for some inevitable situations.

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