Thursday, June 18, 2009

Vacation Hints or How not to kill each other in the car.

Summertime is upon us, which mean some of us will be risking a family vacation that includes traveling in a small confined space for several hours. Normal human beings try to avoid this at all cost, however once a year we gird our loins, strap yelping toddlers into a car seat, set ipods on teen aged ears, plug in the in-car DVD and pray for the best. If you have ever attempted this ritual, then you know why mothers in the wild sometimes eat their young.

The other morning I gave some "tips" to another blogger via an e-mail. She suggested I write a book. You know me, I'll do the easy thing and just rewrite the letter here.

Current resolve is to pop in one Pixar movie after another until your children have gone into a coma, or become as Alec Balwin says: "...their brains become all mushy mushy." Back in the day we didn't have dvd players in our cars and, in a way, it forced us to provide other means, (dare I say better means?) at arriving at the preferred destination with all family members still intact and liking each other, somewhat. And ready for bed as opposed to the sweet release of death.

I have been known (near and far) for my love of Ziploc bags. LOVE my Ziploc bags!!! I am also a fan of organization. So you are going to need to get yourself a lot of 2 gallon, 1 gallon, sandwich, and snack sized bags; and prepare. Trust me, forget store shopping bags, get the Ziplocs...they're uniform in size, they lock, they resist water, they're 'see through', and it will be worth the investment.

The 2 gallon bags are perfect for storing a day's worth of kid's clothing and coincidentally storing the soiled clothes as well. So pack each day's clothes in a bag, socks, unders... everything. Label the bag with a permanent marker with the child's name -and if you are totally anal or a control freak (looking in the mirror with admiration and misty eyes), the date that bag should be used. (be still my heart! Think about it: Day one at Disneyland and everyone can wear the family tee shirt colour or favourite character shirt...whatever, there won't be any arguing about what is appropriate or crying because they can't find this or that. If you want, ask the kids to help you pick out and pack their own bags! Wahoo! 'never can begin too soon to train your kid to be little organized people!) At night when the kid is in the bath, grab a bag of clothes, set the clothes out on the counter and put the dirty clothes back in the bag. If you take the time to fold the clothes the bag will take up less room...just a hint. Take a different coloured permanent marker and put a large 'blue' dot near the label so you know it when you see it, those are dirty clothes!

Most shoes will also fit into a 2 gallon bag...this helps keep them from rolling under a seat or leaving one on the ground as you drive away from the gas station. (trust me on this one) So if you have extra shoes traveling with you (that won't be packed in the day bag) pack them in a Ziploc as well.

Pack their clothes bags in a back pack. Each kid is responsible for their own back pack.

Keep their tooth brush and other toiletries in the front pocket. (It's a good idea to just purchase new toiletries for the road and a fresh tooth brush as well. Pack the old tooth brush and get the new one in the cabinet ready for when you get home. When the trip is over you can just keep the toiletries tucked away for next time! And the new fresh toothbrush is kind of an after vacation treat. That's a stretch, but it is nice to have a fresh brush!)

Convince the kids to wear a night shirt so that you can pack just one shirt in the front pocket digging to prepare for bed. Every night you should take the soiled clothes (pretreat them with the tide pen, shout wipes, or otherwise if they need it) and place that bag at the bottom of the back pack, so the fresh clothes are always on top. You can do this chore while they are in the tub... unless of course the kids are old enough to be responsible to do this themselves. Then pat yourself on the back for training them well!

Pack your snacks the same way. Last day on the bottom, first day on the top, in the cooler, ready to go. Add fresh ice each morning as you head out for the day.

Blankies can be stored, folded, and sat upon in a car seat or rolled up and secured with a head band elastic as a neck roll pillow. Out of the way, but accessible when necessary.

Have brown lunch sacks handy for trash or car sickness bags. Store these in the side pocket of the front seat doors.

Store travel wipes and potty seat covers in there as well. (Some states are just stingy when it comes to potty seat covers! And beaches? Heck you want to make money while on vacation? Go to the beach and sell potty seat covers outside the beach restrooms! At 25c per seat you'll be a millionaire in a week.)

If you are traveling and expect to swim, bring the 2 gallon bags! Pack each suit in the bag along with sun glasses, floaties, or whatever else each child needs for the water. When you're done, put the wet suit in the bag along with sandy shoes. Rinse out in the shower when you get to the hotel or home.

Take clothes pins for hanging clothes, but also for clips...for clothes that stretch, food bags, you'd be surprised what you can do with a clothes pin when you see the need.

Bring a tide pen, and or other pre treatment for stains.

Bring a roll of t.p., an extra bag of baby wipes, a gallon of water, a bottle of Febreeze or Citrus Magic (my favourite), and a roll of duct tape. - just in case.

Bring a first aid kit. Keep it out of the way, but not hidden.

Pack the car with the idea of being really exhausted that first night and having to carry just what you need for bed inside. Pack your bags the same way. Night things on top so you don't have to dig.

Bring SMALL toys without a lot of little parts.

Frisbees double as toys and also as paper plate holders, "steering wheels" for car sick kids to steer with, and also as a hard surface to draw on.

You can place one toy in a paper sack or gift bag to be opened at certain pre planned destinations. Give the kids a simple map that shows them how far it is time-wise between points. You can add a small "gift" icon on those places where the bag can be opened and played with.

Wrap small items (stickers, a lolly pop, tootsie roll treat, a tiny toy) as "surprises" to be opened when events happen. When you get to the first gas stop, the second lunch, whatever you decide. (hearing Janet Jackson's "Control" in my head--- this is no time to be the nice mom...controlling the car means peace and harmony Grasshopper! How's that for mixed metaphors?)

Divide the toys and games by date into the large 2 gallon sized bags. Resist temptation to get into a new bag. The idea is that they need something to look forward to. If they play all the games the first day, they'll get bored on the second day. Keep the suspense! Pack the 2 gallon bags in a separate bag, like a canvas or cloth grocery bag, close, but not accessible to the kids.

Jump ropes (can be used as holding ropes in museums or unfamiliar places or for actual jumping!), nerf balls, small (softer) balls.

Make a "lookie lu" for each kid by filling an empty water bottle 1/2 way with rice and a bunch of small items, 1 each: a button, a cheerio, a bead, a penny, a sticker, a rubber band, whatever you can find that will fit into the bottle. Place a drop of 'super glue' on the threads of the cap and screw shut tightly. On the trip ask the kids to search for the items by shaking, twisting, rolling, and turning the bottle to find the items in the rice.

Make a simple map showing specific things that the kids can mark with a sticker when you come to them... or a bingo card that they can mark if they see a 'red moving van', a tall cactus, a purple mountain, gas station with a green sign...etc. Or both!

Make licorice necklaces with shoe string licorice and fruit loops.

Make edible play dough (similar to sugar cookie dough), ask them to make shapes you see out the window or just be creative.

Make a puzzle from wooden cubes (6 sides...) paint each side a different colour, or glue a simple photo to the cubes to make a puzzle of something familiar. Check this idea!

You can also make funny family cards. Put a photo of family members (standing photos work best) on card stock. Cut the card into three sections, head, body, legs...they can mix and match the photos to make silly family photos.

The Attribute Game! Find a bunch of tiny items, ask the kids to find two items that have the same attributes.

Make a personalized "I Spy" game by taking photo of the kids toys or other items. Put the photo in a 'book' with each page asking the kids to look for ____ or ____ using a photo for that specific item.

Make your own 'memory game' by taking two of the same photos (either real photo or from a magazine) and glue them onto paper squares.

Make a magnetic picture board.

Make a music cd with sing along music that won't drive everyone nuts. Try to include action songs or make up actions to some of 'your' music so the kids can sing and move while it's playing.

Pre-plan your snacks. We used to take apples, frozen grapes, oranges, granola, cheese cubes or string, etc. You can cut rings of salami or ring baloney to fit a ritz cracker, add a slice of cheese, and you have a great little travel sandwich. Choose whatever you think best, but keep in mind things that give the kiddies protein, sweet, crunch, and help to quench thirst without drinking. You can pre-pack individual portions into snack or sandwich bags and label them by day or kid if you want. Keep them in a cooler that you can reach easily and pass the snacks out as needed. Try not to pack things that will need cutting later or spill, stick, or otherwise make a huge mess. Again use the bags for any trash that comes along.

Excersize and getting the wiggles out:
Plan on stopping at least every 2 hours. Seriously. If you are driving 8 hours this plan will add one more hour to the day's trip, but you'll all be alive upon arrival. You're going to stop every 2 hours, find a wide spot in the road, a rest stop, a field, whatever- and stop for 15 minutes only. During that 15 minutes your goal is to RUN the kids as hard as possible for as much of that 15 minutes as you can.

Crab walk races, jump ropes, use any small toys-balls- frisbees-etc, as markers for obstacle racing, relay race to a certain tree or rock or dad if you have to. Tag team race. Jumping jacks, wheel barrow race, screaming contests (scream as loud as you can from this rock to that tree as you run, then jump three times and then yell like Tarzan on the way back), yelling contests, shouting loudest contests. Have them roll around on the ground or down a small hill and then run back up. Get it out of them for 15 minutes. Get them thirsty and tired. At the end of the 15 minutes hit the bathroom and grab a juice box and get back into the car.

Truth and Consequences:
The key is planning ahead and preparing the kids for the trip also. Let them know what is expected of them in the car and elsewhere and what their rewards and consequences will be.

Be consistent! If you aren't consistent they won't know what to expect and become confused and that's when the trouble begins!

Find a battery operated clock that the kids can see from the back seat so they can tell "when will we be there?" Mark the clock with stickers to let them know when "it's time!"

Make a behaviour chart for the visor - a sleeve made of card stock that slides over, and uses tiny stickers. Add stickers for good road side manners, playing sweetly, inside car voice, etc... when they kids get to the end of the day add up the stickers..reward them for each sticker earned. Hugs, kisses, a family dog pile and/or wrestling session, or extra nice story; nothing expensive- just creative- like watching daddy hula dance or mommy do her famous Kermit the Frog impression.

Be sure to let the kids know how well they behaved in the car each time you stop. Tell them all the things they do correctly as they are doing them and try to avoid telling them the wrong things... "Wow! you guys are working together really well! We should drive like this all the time!" If they start teasing each other: "Hey babe, (talking to the hubby) Wasn't it great how the kids were playing a minute ago? I want to share that with gramma as soon as we get there. Hey guys? Wanna tell gramma how well you play in the car?" "Please use your inside the car voice! Wow, you are so good at that."

You can implement a plan similar to this by explaining to the kids a day or two before you leave and practice it... let them know that every time they need to be told to behave or be nice, you'll need to take away 5 minutes or whatever you decide during the trip. If you misbehave they can ask a favour of you...

Exit Strategies:
The old adage: "After three days, fish and visitors stink." rings true. Plan your trip so that you aren't staying anywhere longer than three days without some sort of change.

When you get home you can turn all those Ziploc bags used for clothing inside out, wash if need be, dry, and when they have aired out well enough pack them all away for the next trip- fold them all and put them in one of the larger bags, add a dryer sheet to keep them scented nice in storage and you'll have them all ready for the next trip! Do the same with the back packs, or luggage...a dryer sheet for storage. You'll be happier when you need them next time and they smell like fluffy laundry instead of the bottom floor of the summer boat house.

If you visit with anyone over the age of 30 be sure to make (force?) your kids to write a thank you note to your hosts. The old "Bees with Honey" idea. Be nice.

O.k. That list is fairly exhausted, but please feel free to add any more suggestions or strategies that have worked for your family!

add to sk*rt


Yolanda said...

I, too, am a HUGE fan of ZIPLOCS!! Especially since they come in those GIGANTIC sizes...Everything has a place when you use ziplocs!

LOVED all your other I just need to plan a road trip!

S'mee said...

10pts to Yo for being the first t get through the marathon post! : ) Congratulations on your "smarty pants!" that's awesome!

and yes, ziplocs ROCK!

Robyn said...

I can vouch for s'mee on the ziploc bags! No longer with my clothing be rifled through by an airport inspections crew! Everything neatly in a bag does wonders!

Lisa M. said...

I loved this entry! Holy crump, some really big ideas!