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Car trips with children

Take LOTS of different kids' music.

We listened to kids' tapes nearly the whole time [on a recent 2-week car trip], so it was great to have some that were especially enjoyable by all (my husband generally dislikes kids' songs).

Our favorite tapes:

Raffi, Singable Songs for the Very Young: The song Willoughby Wallaby helped us out tremendously when we were hiking out of Canyon de Chelly and my 4-year-old didn't want to hike any more; we sang Willoughby-Wallaby-everything all the way up! Spider On the Floor entertained my 2-year-old in restaurants; he even sang it himself, looking at the floor as if there WERE a spider :-).

Kids' Songs, and Kids' Song Jubilee, sung by Nancy Cassidy: Her style isn't my favorite, but these tapes have some charming songs (like, I Wanna Be a Dog, and Mama's Soup Surprise) that even adults find hilarious.

Disney Children's Favorites, Vol 1-4: We've had these for a while. I like the singer's voice and the song selection is great. We've heard them about a hundred times, but fortunately we still enjoy them.

We had several others, but these were our favorites. I specifically DON'T care for the Wee Sing tapes we have.

We also had a few tapes of adult-type music, which was barely tolerated by the kids (don't ask me how they can tell the difference, especially with Joan Baez or Linda Ronstadt, but the kids knew that these were not songs they wanted to hear). Ben did enjoy hearing Jean-Michel Jarre's "Rendezvous" while he napped, though. :-)

Here are more suggestions from WikiAnswers contributors:

  • Travel late at night or very early in the morning while they are still SLEEPING. Pray that your child will sleep.
  • Bring lots of SNACKS to keep them eating - this usually keeps them quiet. Be careful that your child does not choke as it is pretty difficult to stop the car and get them out of the car seat quickly. Try and bring along non-messy snacks (e.g. juice boxes, Gold Fish, rice cakes, cheerios, cheese, cut up fruit, Teddy Grahams, pretzel sticks, sliced grapes, raisins). Be sure to cut any food into small pieces to avoid choking hazards, particularly grapes.
  • Spread a large towel over the entire back seat to catch thrown cookies/crackers/bottles.
  • Bring TOYS that your child has not seen before - something that will catch their eye. One person had great success with a mini photo album of various family shots. Another person suggested wrapping them up in pretty paper and letting the child tear the paper off. Avoid toys that make noise that would irritate the poor driver, e.g. nothing with batteries or flashing lights.
  • Another toy suggestion is a role of clear tape. Apparently they love to tape themselves the seat, you, etc. Also, a ball made of sticky tape.
  • A Magna Doodle.
  • A paper cup from McDonalds with a plastic lid and straw - apparently hours of entertainment 8-)
  • Stop for a BREAK every 1.5 to 2 hours and let your child burn some steam running around. Stop at rest areas where there will be room for your child to run around - restaurants may not allow for this (unless it's a McDonald's with a play area). One parent suggested avoiding stops because of the difficulty of getting the child back in the car seat! Blow some bubbles at the rest stop.
  • If the trip is very long, (i.e. more than 6 hours) stop and stay the night somewhere - maybe in a hotel with a swimming pool and playground that your child would enjoy.
  • If possible, sit beside your child in the vehicle.
  • Change diapers often because sitting on a wet diaper for long periods increases the chance of a diaper rash. Use a good barrier cream.
  • Point out passing vehicles (e.g. big trucks) or bridges to keep them focused on something.
  • Sing songs. Finger play songs are a big hit with some (e.g. Itsy Bitsy Spider).
  • Books! Small, easy to handle. New ones that they haven't seen before.
  • Stuffed animals and puppets. One parent has success playing with hand puppets from the front seat.
  • Use car shades to keep the sun out of their eyes. Sun glasses work too if your child will wear them. Take sun screen and a hat.
  • Pack Tylenol for yourself :)
  • If your car has a cassette or CD player, bring along familiar music.
  • Bring your good humour and lots of energy. Try to smile.
  • Don't go - stay home instead. :)
  • Avoid traveling during rush hour so you don't get stuck in traffic.
  • Give them a little Benedryl to help them relax!
  • For an older child, take a potty just in case.
  • Buy a van.

I would add Books on Tape or CD found at your local library. These can appeal to children and adults.

We took a few trips from Central California to Vancouver B.C. in a pick-up truck where we all sat in the front seat. Our boys were 4 years old and 6 the first time - but our favorite way to pass the time was a game called "Grandpa's Cat". It was alphabetical. Each person took a turn naming this cat and giving a word about said cat's disposition. Example, Grandpa's cat was named Alex and he was and angry cat; or Grandpa's cat was named Ben and he was a boring cat ... and so on. It may sound boring, but when each person tries to top the previous answer, and the and the names and dispositions of the cats became more outrageous - we laughed for most of the trip. I think it was the boys' favorite pastime because they were able to use their imagination and competitive spirit.
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14y ago
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8y ago
Flying with ChildrenHere is advice from the community for air travel with kids:
  • Fly on red-eyes for long trips. Your child should sleep. Be sure there is someone else to care for him/her when s/he wakes the next day, because you will be beat.
  • Use car seats on planes. Safety aside, children are used to sitting still or sleeping in them, so that they will put up with the confinement better.
  • Board the plane at the last possible moment. You may choose to pre-board one person with the gear, but put the child on the plane at the last possible moment.
  • Bring lots of finger foods.
  • Have babies nurse/drink a bottle for takeoff and landing. Feed dry foods during the flight, so the child will be thirsty upon landing.
  • Bring one or two new toys for long flights.
  • Get the bulkhead. The extra leg room can be used for the child to play on the floor or sleep (infants only). The disadvantages come in that you don't have a tray--and if the child is on the floor, you have to curl your feet up in your lap or lean them against the wall in front of you. But by-and-large I have always preferred the bulkhead to seats further back.
  • Preboard. A lot of people will advise against this, because it means you are on the plane longer. However, on a busy flight, without preboarding you may not be able to put your baggage in the overhead directly above you, in which case getting at the diaper bag, etc., is much more difficult.
  • If possible, get a layover on long cross country flights. Two 2-hour flights with lots of time to run around and play in the airport (and, of course, buy a new toy for the next leg of the trip) are far easier than one 4-hour flight. You must balance this with the possibility of ear discomfort caused by ascent and descent, as discussed below.
  • Don't feed your child pickles for lunch before a flight (;-)
  • A lot of the fussiness and crying that children display on airplanes is the result of boredom, but some of it can be from the pain and discomfort from air pressure changes. Go to your pharmacy and get some children's earplugs and Sudafed (and Dramamine). I like to use Ear-planes when I travel, and it is available in a children's size. These are made just for preventing ear pain when flying, and I think they are a God-send. The Sudafed is used to thin and reduce mucus, and it can thus help your child's ears adjust faster; the Dramamine will not only prevent air sickness, but it also puts the child to sleep :). If you can manage it with you child (depending on age, activity level, time of flights. etc.), take a long flight rather than many short ones. The fewer times they go up and down, the easier on the ears. Balance this with the advantage of having the child run around between flights.
More Tips for Long Plane Trips with Infant:
  • Buy a ticket for your baby, and bring a car seat on board. Not only is does a car seat enhance safety (especially during rough turbulence), but it's almost impossible to deal with a squirming baby for long trips. Our trip was 13 hours flight time, and it wouldn't have been manageable without a car seat.
  • Put the car seat in the window position, so that you can use the other two seats to change diapers (assuming both parents are traveling together). This made things so much easier than trying to figure out how to change a dirty diaper in the cramped lavatory space.
  • Order special meals for each leg of the journey, in flights that provide meals. Not only will you get something of usually higher quality than most, but you will get your food first! That is a real plus when you have a hungry child on your hands.
  • Bring a bag full of new or seldom-seen toys or books for entertainment. We wrapped each toy and book so that there would be at least a few seconds of entertainment in unwrapping the toy. We doled out a new toy or book whenever Dylan seemed to get really restless.
  • Bring a thermometer and a full bottle of infant Tylenol (or whatever you use to reduce temperature) that has *not* expired. We found out the hard way that the bottle we normally keep in our diaper bag had already expired.
More advice:We have traveled by plane with our son at ages six, nine, and 20 months. He did great on all three trips! The deal with babies on planes is that they are free under age two as long as you hold them in your lap. You have to pay for a seat that you want reserved for the car seat.

So here's what you do: When you make your reservation tell them that you are traveling with an infant. The bulkhead seats (up front in economy, behind the first class section) that babies usually wind up in are not assigned until the day of check-in on most airlines, but if you tell them early they will have it in their record on the computer. Bulkheads are really not necessary for an infant; they become important when your child gets to the age where smacking the head of the person in the seat ahead of them would be amusing. On the other hand, there is a little more floor space in that row and you can use it for a changing area. The other way to do a change is to flip up the arms on the seats--you will get more than enough room for an infant.

If you make your reservations directly with the airline, call them at off-peak hours. They will be under less pressure and will be able to spend lots of time answering your questions. They are usually staffed 24 hours a day.

Request a flight that has low traffic--don't get on a flight out of Cleveland at 5pm on a Friday; it will be packed. The reason to stay off a heavy flight will become apparent below.

If there are two adults and one child traveling, request a window seat and an aisle seat in the same row with an empty seat in between. Most airlines will do this for you. That middle seat will be about the last one to be filled, because nobody wants to sit next to a potentially screaming baby in a packed row.

Get to the airport good and early (an hour or so before takeoff), and ask the ticket agent how heavily the plane is loaded, and find out if anyone was placed in the middle seat. If the flight is lightly booked and no one is sitting in the middle seat, you should have no trouble wandering onto the plane and using your car seat. If someone does show up to claim the seat, you can pop the car seat in the overhead bin and hang on to junior.

I fly in and out of Boston a lot. The ticket counter people are always taking a lot of guff from the customers. If you approach them pleasantly and politely, and you present your requests with an attitude of being happy with whatever you get, they will generally do their best to help you out--you could be the best customer that they will see all day.

If breastfeeding, when you get on (preboard) have a stewardess get you a blanket. My wife nursed our son on the plane with a blanket over him and no one was the wiser. It might help at takeoff and landing.

Be friendly with the people sitting around you. Introduce yourself and introduce your child; most people like babies, but some just don't know it. If your child starts to cry and they have seen you to be a pleasant individual, they will tend to be sympathetic rather than annoyed.

Advice from a flight attendant:The worst possible thing you could ever do is bring a "lap child" on an airplane. If you can't afford the extra seat for the car seat, don't fly. If you still choose to do so, bring your car seat along--we will always rearrange passengers if there is an extra seat on the airplane to accommodate (we cringe every time we see a child in a parent's lap).

Knowing what I know about lap children and air travel is absolutely maddening. They have ZERO chance of survival in even the most minor incident. It should be illegal!

As far as the car seat--it is Federal law that the car seat be placed in the window seat (so don't get angry when we tell you to do so). If we have to evacuate passengers, the seat must not block anyone's access or slow down the process. It also must not be placed in the emergency exit row, or in the rows forward or behind it.

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17y ago

I really like Amtrak. I like the trains, and I like the staff. I like the idea of going on long trips without strapping down an active kid for unnaturally long periods. One of the best things about the train is that kids can move around. But they WILL move around, so don't expect to be able to sit and read the whole time. The Western long-haul trains are all double-deckers, will spiffy observation cars and everything. Coach seating is almost all on the second level, while compartments are all on the bottom level. Only "deluxe bedrooms" and "special bedrooms" have toilets. Eastern trains are single-level, with a very different set of sleeping compartments to choose from. Compartments are expensive. In the one trip where I compared prices, a family bedroom would have doubled the ticket price. We traveled coach. (I didn't sleep well on the trip up, did much better on the trip back, and would probably sleep soundly if I did it again.) Coach has incredible amounts of legroom (at least on Superliner coaches). Even if the train is "full," there are lots of seats in the observation car and the snack bar, allowing you to move around freely on a full train. There are lots of kids on the long-haul trains, and they are tolerated very well by the other travelers. Make full use of the dining car, even though the prices are unappealing, because the snack bar fare is questionable. (Microwave Pizza is the best kid food in the snack bar. The snack bar pastries are terrible.) Call Amtrak at 1-800-USA-RAIL. I've found the people at the other end to be very helpful. Ask them to send you a copy of AMTRAK'S AMERICA, which describes all their routes and services.

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Q: What is advice for train trips with children?
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