The holidays are fast approaching and that means celebrating with family and friends. However, you can’t celebrate the holidays if you don’t survive the family road trip! And while I’m sure you love your family, the long family car ride is a minefield for potential conflict.
Now if you’re thinking, “What? Minefield? My children are all angels that never fight and spend their time in the car singing worship songs in perfect 4-part harmony…” then this advice is not for you. In fact, congratulations, you’ve apparently already conquered parenting and should start a family band and tour the country. But for the rest of us, we want family car rides to be enjoyable. We don’t expect them to be perfect, but a ride free of bickering, slapping, and “MOOOOOOOMMMM!!!” would be great.
With that in mind, here are three essentials for making your family car ride awesome and stress free.
1. Become a Packing Pro
You don’t need to be a Tetris champion to make your car perfectly packed for your family trip. But taking the right pre-drive steps will alleviate the stress of worrying if you forgot something. Or, more importantly, if one of your kids forgot something. “Mom, I don’t have any underwear… and did you bring my toothbrush?” is not what you want to hear the first night at your destination.
There are two rules for packing that everyone in the family must follow to create your best chance at a smooth departure, journey, and time at your destination.
Rule #1: Two bags per person. One bag to be with you in the car, the other in the trunk. Really try to not have exceptions to this rule! If you find yourself wanting more, stop and reexamine what you really need on this trip. What is the purpose of traveling to see family? To spend and enjoy time with them. Make sure your stuff is not getting in the way of that. Also, are you going somewhere with a washing machine? Then you really don’t need as many clothes as you may think (I’m looking at you teenagers!).
Rule #2: Finish packing your bags the day before. The bag going in the trunk should be completely packed the night before. The smaller bag with you in the car should only need toiletries and other small items added before departure. My parents put this into practice with our family growing up and I still use it no matter how many people are with me on a trip. It eliminates last minute requests for big items and ensures conversations about what to bring have already happened when you’re getting in to the car.
2. Conquer “Hangry” Before it Conquers You
Quick definition- Hungry + Angry = Hangry. Now to use it in a sentence- I didn’t pack enough snacks for my wife and now she is so hangry she is ripping pages out of my favorite book and shouting “YOU NEVER LISTEN!”
A bit of a dramatic example for sure, but we have all been on the giving and receiving end of Hanger. We are not the best versions of ourselves when we are hungry. Combine that with being cooped up in a small space for hours at a time with the same humans, and you’ve got a recipe for conflict. No one is safe from Hanger!
The key to saving your family members from Hanger is to smother it before it rears its ugly head. The tactic you implement for preventing Hanger is customizable. You know your family best. Does everyone love having their own snack bag, color-coded for each kid? Perfect! Would you rather plan your route perfectly so you know where the best pit-stop/restaurants are at all times? That works too. It’s not about the specifics here, as long you have a plan in place before you leave the driveway. Because if you don’t have a plan, you’ll be halfway through your trip and you’ll turn around to see your angelic 4-year-old has turned into a toy-throwing, sibling-slapping monster. Don’t let anyone become Hangry!
3. Turn Fight Time into Story Time
Riding in a car with anyone for hours can be tough. “Free time” in a tight space can quickly turn into “fight time.” Playing music can be fun for about… two songs? Maybe you get through half a song before someone complains? (Unless you’re listening to a great Disney soundtrack or Les Mis, can I get an amen!?). Everyone in the family has different musical tastes that are always evolving and impossible to keep up with. But everyone loves great stories. They draw you in and take the whole family on an imaginative journey that is entertaining and engaging.
My parents used audiobooks to turn a potentially stressful car ride into an educational and joyous trip. We’d ride along with cowboys across the American plains and solve mysteries with Sherlock in the streets of London. Every member of the family enjoyed the adventure and the ensuing conversation that naturally resulted. What was going to happen next? Will our hero make the right choice? And one of the best character building and critical thinking questions of all time – what would you have done in that situation?
While almost any age-appropriate story can draw out good discussion with your family, it’s not always easy to come up with good questions and conversation starters for your kids. It helps when you have Christian audiobooks that specialize in doing just that. The focus is on the characters so it’s great at preventing defensive responses from your kids (or your spouse!). Everyone lets their guard down when they are caught up in a great story.
One of my personal favorites is Adventures in Odyssey. Every story in the series addresses different topics like bullying, patience, obedience, and fear. I love following the escapades of Mr. Whitaker, Connie, Wooten, and others as they learn more about God throughout their adventures. The latest CD discusses friendship, revenge, and reconciliation all wrapped up in engaging stories. Adventures in Odyssey is great for the whole family, but they’ll resonate especially well with 7-12 year olds.
And there you have it. Those are your essentials for a great family car ride! Enjoy visiting family and friends this winter and make sure to implement these practices so you can go from surviving to thriving on your family car ride this holiday season.
Written by David Geeslin, Associate Marketing Manager at Tyndale House Publishers.