Traveling with kids can be a lot of fun, but also challenging at times. Long car rides are not exactly something children look forward to, but the memories made far outweighs the stress of traveling. My family travels often; my husband’s job is a big reason but also we just love seeing new places! This means lots of hours in the car for my 5 and 2 year old, and I have learned to be creative with keeping them occupied and entertained. It also means I spend a lot of time being creative with my workouts and finding ways to sneak in some training while on the road. Here are some of the ways that help both ensure a smooth ride (for the most part) and keeping up with my fitness routine.
1.Food. Personally when I am bored, I get hungry. When my kids get bored, they turn into savages! Food for us is definitely first on the list. I have my snacks very organized even at home, which makes packing for trips really easy. Everything is pre-sorted in snack sized bags so I can just grab and go. I make sure to pack two of everything. If you have more than one child, I’m sure this is a no-brainer. Even if your child never eats something, when the other child has it in the car they will want it. I pack a big variety of both dry and cold snacks, and keep the two separate in large storage sized plastic bags. Then everything goes in a soft cooler that we use at the beach too. Along with food, I usually just buy a gallon of water to use for refills in all of our water bottles and sippy cups.
Some of these snacks are for me as well, I am a way more patient mommy when my belly is full. As for meals, we stop and eat…usually at a restaurant over a rest area but making the time to eat a full meal rather than just snacks all day can really help too.
2. NEW activities. Sure, your kids have lots of coloring books, stickers, and other small toys perfect for a trip already. But having new things is exciting, and doesn’t have to be expensive. This time of year I am constantly hitting the dollar section of Target and the dollar stores finding things I can hide away and surprise them with in the car. Some of my personal favorites are stickers and paper, window clings, activity books with those wonderful clear markers, scratch books, and even bubbles. If you are down with electronics, both of my kids have kindles and we download a new movie or two and some new educational games on them right before the really long rides. Just remember the charger! Here are some examples of things I have found…even if we aren’t planning a trip I stock up on these types of items to have for restaurants and sometimes even just for the jogging stroller!
3. Games. For the bigger kids, there are tons of scavenger hunt type games you can play…it’s super easy to cut and paste pictures and hand them a clipboard and pencil for this. Some things my daughter will hunt for are road signs, different color cars, words that start with certain letters, or just keep it simple like trees, tractors, airplanes, whatever! She is just starting to be able to read, so the pictures right on the page or the letters make this easy. Then she just crosses off the items as she sees them…maybe even for a prize.
4. Cleaning and organizing supplies. I prefer to use the bathroom hand towels as napkins in the car. They are nicely kept in the box, and easy for the kids to pull out one when they need it. However, for any big cleanups have a roll of paper towels handy too. Hand wipes or baby wipes also come in handy for sticky hands and faces. Bring a few extra plastic shopping bags to use for garbage, and do a sweep anytime you stop. Up until this past summer, we were lucky that our kids do not get car sick. Then we found out the hard way that my daughter cannot color in the car. Lesson learned, pack one extra outfit for each child in a large plastic storage bag and keep them somewhere accessible. We were on the side of the highway, pulling out suitcases searching for new clothes for her. The storage bag will come in handy for the soiled clothes after they change. Along with that, a plastic bucket from the dollar store isn’t a bad idea either. Pack a container of disinfecting wipes for car seats, and also to wipe down all those things kids love to touch and put in their mouths at the hotels (think TV remotes…not at home but without fail in hotels…what’s up with that?).
5. Plan to stop. Take your time getting to your destination if you can. Before having kids I would set the GPS, look to see what time it was estimated I would arrive at a destination and think, challenge accepted…I can beat that by an hour! Now I set it (the Waze app is my personal favorite these days) and laugh knowing it will take us way longer. Medically I am not supposed to go more than 2 hours without stopping due to the risk of blood clots, so that is one reason we need to stop. But I have found along with that the kids really benefit from getting out for a few minutes and moving. Some fresh air is good from time to time. If we are really taking our time, we look and see if there are any parks or trails we can stop at and get in a quick run too. Just be ready, as soon as you get back on the highway, you’ll hear the word “potty”, or smell that it is time for a diaper change.
6. Emergency candy stash. For me, this is everything. Once in a while they are just done. And this usually happens about 30 seconds after you pass the last rest area for 150 miles. At this point, you do what you have to do. Having a secret bag of non-messy candy can be a life-saver for me. Usually it’s pez dispensers, smarties, dum dum lollipops (I take all the clear colored flavors) and mints. Keep these handy for restaurants on the trip too…a lot of times we eat pretty late at night and these can help keep them happy when off schedule…along with some of the stickers and books from above.
I try to use either plastic tubs or tote bags to keep everything organized. The more you plan ahead, the smoother things will go. Let the kids help with this.If they feel involved, it can be an easier process. I allow my kids to pack one small bag each with whatever they would like to bring. Toys, books, blankets usually make the cut. If it fits in the bag, it can go. Helps make the hotel feel a little more like home too.
As for working out, I find that if I work out before we start I will be a lot more patient on the ride. I will wake up super early and get in a few miles because I know for me, it will make the trip a lot smoother.
Once on the road, I know that keeping up on my workouts keeps me less stressed and with more energy during the trip. I am not typically a morning workout person, but waking up before everyone else helps with making sure the time during the day is spent making memories.
Before every trip, I do my research. I check the hotel website and know ahead of time what the exercise room has, or if the hotel does not have one on site. If they do not have some sort of universal weight machine or free weights, I pack my kettle bell. In fact, I had bought it primarily for this reason. I have a 20 lb bell and it takes up hardly any room in the car, but is so versatile and there are so many simple exercises I can do with it. An added bonus is it’s easy to use in the hotel room! Many times my husband leaves early on these trips but I can get in a workout in the room with the kids. The long hotel lobbies are great for lunges too! My kids never mind running up and back either.
The other thing I research before every trip are parks, trails, and other areas around our hotel where I can run. I always pack the double running stroller for family runs, and we find this to be a great way to explore a new place. Last summer we were in Pittsburgh and each morning would get up before things got busy and just run. We would take note of some places to visit later that day and had a better understanding of where things were. It made it easy to find the stadium for the Pirates game that night and we found cute parks and ran along the water with the kids. Of course we make stops along the way. We have done this in almost every city we travel to…some examples just in the past year are DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Greenville NC, and more. I have ran so many beautiful trails and parks that I would probably otherwise never saw. It’s a fantastic way to see new places!
I think for me, though, these vacations are about spending time with my family, seeing new places, exploring cities, and the memories we make. Over the years,I have realized this is what is important and although I do my best to make the time to keep up with my fitness and training while away, it has to be secondary to what this time is really about.