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Top Tips for Car Trips with Grandchildren

17th October 2017

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.

Trips away can be immensely enjoyable affairs, a chance to break away from daily routines and enjoy the wider world. A perfect and rewarding way to do so is by bringing along the grandchildren, helping grandparents to spend some quality time with the little ones in the process.

Of course, before arriving at the destination – either for a day trip or longer stay – one will need to travel there, and this often involves a road trip or two. For long journeys in the car, this might seem like a bit of an ordeal; the question of how to entertain the grandchildren for hours on end, and how to keep one’s sanity, might very well be on a grandparent’s mind. Well, in an attempt at guidance, please find the following helpful tips and advice.

Road trips can be tremendous fun after all, for all involved, and even those that rely on new stairlifts can enjoy what they have to offer.

Plan the trip with the grandchildren

The ultimate destination of a trip can play a big role in the enjoyment of the journey itself, so to keep the children happy along the way it’s important to involve them in the planning of any adventure, long before starting the engine.

This is the top tip of GrownUps New Zealand, a lifestyle website and social club for over 50 year olds. The site puts having fun and involving the children as a priority for any trip:

“Our top tip would be to make it fun, show the kids on a map where you are going (if you are travelling long distances) and let them help to plan stops and breaks in places that might interest them.”

Mommybites, an all-encompassing parental resource, also suggests letting the children have some level of input into road trip plans.

Mommybites columnist Karen L. Rancourt says, “Let the grandchildren have age-appropriate input into the details of the trip. For example, let the kids take turns picking from options the grandparents provide for them in advance: (1) things to do during the trip, (2) restaurants, (3) where to get gifts and keepsakes for their parents and friends.”

By involving the kids in the discussion, and consulting them on where they would like to go, grandparents can help make the journey a more exciting one for the children and not just another boring car ride. And asking them what they would like to bring along, such as toys and magazines, will help all the more.

For more great tips from GrownUps New Zealand, make sure to read their recent article on this very subject.

Leave early

One way to combat energetic grandchildren and constant questions of “are we there yet?” is to set out on the open road nice and early. By being on the road considerably earlier than the children would normally be awake, grandparents can allow the kids to sleep in the back of the car for a considerable portion of the journey, and delay any calls for toilet breaks. It’s a tactic certainly worth considering, especially for extremely long journeys, and still leaves plenty of time for enjoying the drive with the kids later on.

Car games

One of the best ways to keep the kids entertained during a planned road trip is by joining them in playing a host of car games. These are a wonderful way to pass the time, are good fun, and also help encourage children to learn about the world and develop other skills. We all know the classics, games such as ‘I Spy’, but there are many options available. A wonderful choice comes as a suggestion from Kelly Dunning of the popular travel blog Global Goose:

“I actually have a fun car game for kids, it's one that I have played with my 5 year old niece many times. It's called ‘What Animal Am I?’”

“One person,” Kelly explains, “gives three clues about an animal and the other players try to guess what the animal is.

“For example,

‘I live in Africa and Asia’

‘I am bigger than a car’

‘My skin is very wrinkly’

(Elephant)

‘I eat eucalyptus leaves’

‘I sleep most of the day’

‘I live in Australia’

(Koala)

“You can go around the car taking turns being the one giving the clues. The clues can be as difficult or as easy as you want to make them, based on the age of your child. I have also played it with my other 10 year old niece and she can choose more obscure animals and give more complex and challenging clues. It's pretty fun, it requires no equipment and it's educational too!”

Mommybite’s Karen L. Rancourt also has some fantastic suggestions for games to play in the car, suggesting the following games that can involve everyone:

“Play the ‘going on a picnic’ game: First person starts: ‘We’re going on a picnic and in the picnic basket are some apples.’ The next person has the letter B and has to remember what the person before him/her put in the picnic basket. ‘We’re going on a picnic and in the picnic basket are some apples and berries.’ The process is repeated through the entire alphabet.”

Karen also recommends “the ‘I see the letter X alphabet game’: Everyone is looking out the window trying to find something that has the letters of the alphabet in order (looking at signs, license plates). Example: ‘I see an A on the street sign that says Main Street.’ Now everyone is looking for something with the letter B, etc., until all the letters in the alphabet have been cited in order.”

The AA have assembled a great list of games that can be played for those looking for a few more ideas.

Treat the journey as an adventure not a chore

Four, five, six hour car journeys can be tough on all of us, but for a child it can seem like even longer, so it’s important that grandparents help treat and frame the journey as an adventure and not just a task to get from A to B. To avoid making the car trip feel like a chore, make sure to schedule some stops along the way where the kids can get out and stretch their legs, and even find some fun places along the road that they might enjoy spending some time at, helping to prevent any boredom and tantrums that might arise – an approach well worth the consideration.

The above advice is championed by Teresa Kindred, author of several books for mothers and blogger over at NanaHood, a very valuable resource in itself.

“We have five grandchildren age five and under and we stop at rest stops and let them run for 15 minutes” Teresa told us. “We also plan lunch at a fast food restaurant that has a play area and give them 30 minutes there. Yes, it makes the travel time longer but it really helps with their attitude and makes being in the car with them easier!”

Teresa also has some very helpful tips for keeping the kids entertained while inside the car:

“We have DVD players and always get at least one new movie for them. We also pack back packs for them full of colouring books, picture books, etc. to keep them busy. And, of course, we take lots of snacks with a garbage bag to make the clean up faster.”

Sue Slaght, a proud grandparent herself and travel enthusiast over at Travel Tales of Life, is also someone who firmly advises that plenty of stops be made along the way; that is if grandparents would like to keep the kids on their side of things.

“Stop frequently no matter how keen you are to get to your destination. If you want your grandchildren to have fond memories of time spent with Nana and Papa, strapping them in a car seat for four hours at a time decreases the chance they should ever want to come near you and your car ever again. Most of all set off on the adventure with a positive attitude. Have fun and enjoy.”

For grandparents looking for some ideas, TripAdvisor is a great resource for locating such stops, so make sure to note a few down before you depart.

Allow technology but with limits

Kids love their technology, and while some of us might not understand the attraction of some of their favourite gadgets and gizmos, for a lot of children this is an important part of their lives, so allowing them to bring an item or two along will help make life easier. Gretta Schifano of the travel blog Mums do Travel has a tip for grandparents that may become handy in this department:

“If your grandchildren have mobile devices which they’re using on the journey, make sure that they’re charged up before you set off, and that they have charging cables which work in the car.”

Of course, the objective of trips such as these is to spend quality time with the little ones, so it’s more than fair to implement limits on tech usage. This can be achieved by simply talking to them and letting them know that this is a moment to be spending time together, chatting and having fun. Providing alternative sources of entertainment will also help in this regard.

Storytime with the kids

Gretta also suggests that grandparents engage in telling stories with their grandchildren, entertaining them with their own tales and encouraging them to ask questions.

“Most children are fascinated by what childhood was like for older family members. Tell them stories about when you were young, and ask them questions about their lives, such as ‘How do you get to school?’ or ‘What’s your favourite game?’ and then get them to ask you the same question about you at their age.”

Audiobooks/and sing-a-longs 

Another suggestion from Mommybites and Karen is to “Listen together to books on tape through Bluetooth or other technology. Lots of good choices are available, depending on the ages and genders of the grandchildren. (Go to Goodreads for a list.)”

Getting the kids enraptured in a riveting tale for a significant portion of the journey has its obvious benefits, and might provide the adults with some engrossing entertainment too. The website BookPeople also has a fine selection available, including many favourite hits such as Harry Potter and the Roald Dahl collection.

Grandparents might also consider encouraging the kids to participate in sing-a-longs, which is something Sue from Travel Tales of Life advises, along with arming yourself with plenty of snacks and toys:

“Pack your bag of tricks with age appropriate toys, crafts, puppets, snacks and songs. Lots of songs. Singing can get you through a lot of road trip miles.”

There are plenty of karaoke CDs available inspired by kids’ favourite musical films and animations. Not only will this activity encourage the whole car to get involved but it will be a crowd pleaser as well.

Involve the children in making memories

A car trip, such as the one being proposed, is a wonderful way to create lifelong memories for the grandchildren and some fond recollections for their grandparents. So make sure to involve the children in this memory making process, as Karen from Mommybites suggests:

“Make a record of the trip: print out maps of the trip for each grandchild; have him/her use a crayon to follow their travels. Give each grandchild a throw-away camera and a notebook to take notes on what they see and do on the trip (leaving room to affix their photos when they get them developed).”

There are myriad ways to document a trip, and not only does this give the grandkids something to do but it will provide physical evidence of the adventure that can be looked back on with joy in the years to come.