Tips for Road Tripping with Kids (#1)

Keep 'em on their toes, keep 'em busy, and take what they give you

As a magazine editor and photographer, I travel a lot for photo shoots. Sometimes I’m gone two weeks of the month, sometimes three. At first, it was cool flying around the country and staying in fancy hotels. But it really boiled down to eating overpriced hamburgers at the Marriott bar, watching a college basketball game that I cared nothing about, and having the same conversation with the bartender in Oregon that I had last month with the bartender in Akron. Not only was this excruciatingly boring for me, but it was tough on my wife, who was outnumbered at home by our two kids, Tommy (age 6) and Lilly (age 1-1/2). Because travel is part of the landscape in the magazine world, we came up with ways to embrace it rather than dread it.

Nowadays, if the shoot is within a thousand miles, we pack up the minivan and head out on an educational adventure: using indigenous food, music, architecture, and climate we teach the kids about American cultural and natural history. When you hear the Dixieland, taste the etouffee, and feel the humidity, the history makes a lot more sense. And how the Mississippi River works is a lot more interesting when taken in the context of steamboats and flood-plain farmers. I'm still shooting photos all day, but I get to sleep with my wife at night, have tickle fights with Tommy and change Lilly's diappers before Tinsley gets up in the morning. We've logged over 16,000 miles in the past four years with kids in the car (and often our 120 lb. Great Dane/German Shepard mix, the late, great Wookie).

1. Start ‘em young: travel early and often
The main challenges to traveling with kids are puke and boredom. First, the puke (see the below tips for combatting boredom). My defining moment as a Dad came on a road trip to Maine. Out of the darkness of the back seat came the words "My tummy's spinning..." We were able to get off the highway and into a parking lot, but the ralph started rolling before we could get poor Tommy to the bathroom. All we could do was reach into the backseat to let Tommy puke into our cupped hands. We'd throw the puke out the window and reach back for more. Let me repeat that last sentence, we'd throw the puke out the window and reach back for more (!). Sounds pretty bad, but at the time, it was the thing to do. Needless to say, now whenever I get on a plane I collect all of the barf bags within reach.

Too often parents to turn to drugs to solve their problems. Let me re-phrase that: it's common for parents to give their kids some sort of over-the-counter medication to solve the ailments of their children. For motion sickness, the drug of choice is often a sedative such as Dramamine. You don’t need to give your kids sedatives; it may help you in the short run, but it will hurt you and them in the long run. At least if you expect to take many road trips with them. Building immunity is a more permanent solution. Although it can be a little messy at first...

The puking will only last for a few trips; now Tommy can actually read, write and study road atlases while we drive. While you're weathering the puke storm, carry the aforementioned barf bags, and place them in the seat pocket in front of the potential puker. Extra large paper cups work well too (Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, Jumbo Coke cups...). Car sickness advice form the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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