Determining what to pack in our suitcases depends on your vacation of choice and the length of the trip. Regardless of the destination, there are some items that you’ll all want to have handy in the car. Also, stop and think—what is going to cause a crisis, upset you, or make you frustrated? Last, while it is good to have several entertainment supplies on hand for bored children (and adults), the best way to pass the time is to focus on the journey itself. Observe what’s outside the windows, where you are heading, and the conversation and joint activities inside the car.
First-Aid Supplies: A first aid kit, sunscreen, self-activating ice pack, insect repellent, thermometer, fever-reducing and pain-reducing medication with correct dosage chart based on child’s weight and age.
Extra Clothes: Take extra clothes for every child and two sets for children you know will need them. Keep these clothes in the car. It’s no fun digging through the luggage at the bottom of the trunk to find what you need. Keep a sweater or sweatshirt handy. Children on the sunny side of the car get warm and the children in the shade are often cool from the air conditioner.
Comfort Stuff: Pack blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals. Try to limit one to a child or it can be hard to see out of the back window to drive.
Food and Snacks: Whether you allow food in the car or not, pack a cooler of goodies. Freeze a few of the juice boxes or sports bottles to keep the other beverages cold and toward the end of the trip the frozen ones will be ready to drink, too. Snacks of choice should include crackers and fruits. Vacations are usually a time to loosen food restrictions, but it helps to try to be intentional about junk food. It is easy to slide into junk snacks, French fries, soft drinks, and sweets.
Out-of-the-Car Toys: Pick up some bubbles, small balls, or a Frisbee to play with at rest areas or parks when a break is needed. Children need to run around, and parents can benefit from a stretch, too.
In-the-Car Entertainment: Pack or have each child pack a small bag of hand-held goodies: tape, calculators, pipe cleaners, protected mirrors, small flashlights, crayons, and paper. Buy some new items such as markers, coloring books, crossword puzzles, etc. Make a list of songs to sing or games to play on the road.
Clean-up Supplies: Keep rolls of paper towels, a box of heavy duty wipes, plastic grocery bags for dirty clothes and garbage, fragrance-free disinfectant spray, antiseptic water-free soap, toilet paper, and disinfectant wipes for yucky roadside bathrooms.
The above sounds like a lot of items to take along, but having them at your fingertips can make the ride much more enjoyable. Mother of four, Mia Cronan, suggests these ideas for age-appropriate car toys:
- Any object that’s bright and new!
- Rattles of all sorts
- A few pieces of mega-blocks
- Magnetic stick-together blocks
- Toys of interesting shapes
- Pop-up toys
- Safe plastic mirror
For Older Babies and Toddlers:
- Nested containers
- Sets of things to put into containers
- Items that fit into other things
- Busy Boxes with levers, bells, or moving parts
- Board books
- Small wind-up toys
- A blanket or stuffed animal
- Picture books
- Stickers and activity books, crayons, or felt pens
- Lap-sized wipe-off easels
- Small mirrors
- Finger puppets
- Costume jewelry
- Pop-up books
- Inexpensive sets of plastic figures
- Magnetic letters and a metal tin
For Preschoolers to Grade Two:
- Activity books
- Tattoos that press on with a wet cloth
- Stick-on play sets
- Travel-size Magna-Doodle or Etch-a-Sketch
- Threading sets (pictures with yarn)
- Felt boards
- Travel desk sets
- Small magnetic puzzles
- Small wind-up toys
- Go-Fish cards
- Silly putty
- Yarn for simple knitting
- A “story bag.” You can write phrases on scraps of paper and your child can pull one phrase out of the bag and start a story.
For Older Children:
- Blank paper for playing Hangman and Tic Tac Toe
- Deck of cards
- Travel-size Monopoly, Sorry, Snakes ‘n’ Ladders, Battleship
- Miniature chess
- Small Lego sets (stored in Ziploc bags)
- Hand-held toys or electronic games with the sound turned off
- Small 3D puzzle sets
Dealing with Car Sickness
For those of us who still experience car sickness as adults, we know what an uncomfortable feeling it can be. Here are a few tips on how to help alleviate the feelings of car sickness:
- Avoid reading
- Open a window
- Chew on peppermint candy
- Eat ginger snap cookies
- Use Seabands
- Focus on a spot far away
- Sit close to the front
- Breathe through your mouth
- Stop the car for a quick walk outside
- Drink cold water
- Eat saltine crackers
- Have a cool face cloth or ice pack
Most important, be realistic about your itinerary and allow for flexibility. Traveling with children takes much longer and requires much more patience than traveling alone. Family vacations together are worth the effort. Remember to take loads of pictures and have a great time. By taking it slow, there will be lots of time for relaxation and rest.
Originally published on BrightHorizons.com