Being the proud father of a 2-year-old certainly has its high points, but long road trips aren’t one of them. As my rambunctious backseat driver begins to make increasingly more ridiculous demands, I find myself wanting to bash my head into the steering column after the first hour on the road. As parents, we all know what is going to happen if our little “minions” don’t get what they want, and 90% of the time, this correlates to significant screaming, the throwing of various food items, and torrents of tears.
There is no easy way to say it, but children, who are indeed travel-size, are absolutely horrible road trip companions. For as much fun we think a trip to the beach may be, after four hours of incessant wailing, any sane adult is probably going to want throw in the towel and turn around.
But it doesn’t have to be agony for hours on end. Kids are easily distracted and love interactive activities of all kinds. Explaining to older kids how the road trip is going to work is step one. Then, from there, all that’s needed are a few fun car activities, some lengthy rest stop breaks so that little legs can be stretched, and a few small detours along the way for fun sightseeing — that seven-hour peregrination suddenly becomes a vacation.
I also highly recommend setting up a reward system for kids who are old enough to understand this concept. Good behavior can mean ice cream stops along the way, money for strange truck stop souvenirs, and the ability to pick which movie gets watched in the car. Toddlers are usually unable to grasp this notion, so I recommend having a “fun bag” that is full of many of the cheats on this list so that their little attitudes stay safely on the positive side of the scale.
There are a plethora of road trip cheats for kids online, but these are a few of my personal favorites, as they have saved my sanity on more than one occasion.
1. The travel tray
A travel tray is a great way to give kids a “desk” to write and play on. Crafty DIYer can modify cookie sheets into trays like the one found here so that kids can draw on it and use magnets. When they are not using it to eat off, the tray can be turned into a colorful chalk road map so that kids can chart their progress.
When building one of these trays, be sure to add slits to each corner of the cookie sheet and wrap any sharp edges with a few layers of colorful duct tape to protect the kiddies. All that is needed then are some lengths of Velcro to loop through the slits, and once tied down, the tray will remain safely anchored across the child’s lap. And for anyone who would rather buy than build, there are a handful of travel trays out there, like the one pictured here by Star Kids.
2. Cereal necklaces
The name says it all. These low-sugar snacks are guaranteed to keep the kids happy and healthy as they munch away on all-grain goodness. This is an especially useful cheat for younger children who are prone to tossing snacks all over the backseat. For a healthy, low-sugar and dye-free alternative to Fruit Loops, check out TropicO’s by Freedom Foods, which are usually available at Whole Foods.
3. Tablet mount
In today’s modern, tech-filled age, the thought of not turning on YouTube, Hulu, or Netflix for just an hour to pander to the “pampered” person in the backseat is just pure heresy. As parents, we know that sticky sausage fingers on the touch-screen is no bueno, so keeping that iPad out of reach is just as important as keeping the little ones hooked on Sesame Street.
A tablet mount like the Arkon one shown here will help keep that expensive piece of technology out of harm’s way while allowing the infotainment to freely flow. To prevent eating into your data plan, we recommend loading some movies and learning programs onto the tablet before getting in the car so that all that is getting used up is some power. And we highly recommend getting a hanger that has a protective screen shield for older kids who want to play games on the tablet.
4. Fitted sheets on car seats
This cheat is a great one for people wanting to keep their seats in pristine condition when it is time for some ill-advised milkshakes and cheese coneys. Just take a fitted sheet and wrap the lower portion of the seat as needed. Some cars will need to have the seat folded up so that the sheet can grip underneath properly, and we recommend wrapping the upright portion of a seat with another contour sheet for added piece of mind.
Color-matching a sheet set to a car’s interior is an inexpensive option, and in winter, flannel offerings like the ones by L.L. Bean will keep the seat both clean and comfy for the little ones.
5. Upside-down Krazy Straws
Tired of toddlers pulling straws out and flinging them across the car? Just flip a Krazy Straw upside down and they will be impossible to remove! This is one of those cheats that allows kids to have something fun and colorful, and parents don’t have to worry about finding misplaced smoothie straws under a car seat months later. Krazy Straws come in all sorts of shapes and colors; my favorites are of the specialty variety found on this page of the company’s website.
6. DVD coloring case
This is a cheat that makes a lot of sense and is way cheaper than buying a complete art set. Just grab an old DVD case (you know, those plastic things we were forced to use before everything could be streamed), remove the disc and any pamphlets, cut some sheets of paper so they will fit properly, and toss some color pencils into the disc side of the case.
Color pencils will fit perfectly, and the clasps on the paper side will hold the fresh coloring pages in place. For a fun touch, take the time and print up some road-trip related graphics to slide into the outer jacket and get the kids to draw what they see along the way.
7. The Stayhold
Our final cheat of the day is a must for any parent wanting to keep that cooler from flipping over in the storage compartment of the minivan or SUV. This brilliantly simple contraption features a series of strong straps to keep items tethered together and can be firmly attached to almost any trunk space courtesy of the Stayhold’s super-strong Velcro undercarriage.
The Stayhold can be arranged in any configuration necessary, and people who want to keep their cargo space organized are going to love how easily and effectively this product keeps soccer balls and tricycles in check during a bumpy road trip.