Over the river and through the woods

Plan for happy holiday car trips


Katie Holland

Ten tips Every Christmas Eve when I was young, once the presents were unwrapped and we were all stuffed with Christmas cookies and eggnog, we loaded leftovers, presents and kids into the car to head home. As soon as we were all packed in and sliding down the snowy, light-lined streets, my sister and I would start up our favorite car activity. "Mom, tell us a story about when you were little."

We usually requested the old favorites: the time my mom and her cousins put ashes in her brother's stocking, the rescue missions my dad conducted after losing his hamsters behind the stairs and how my mom used to find all of her presents in advance and then fake excitement on Christmas morning.

All of a sudden, car trips that could have turned ugly with holiday stress and peppermint ice cream-induced sugar highs turned into some of my most treasured Christmas memories.

The bottom line-get creative with your kids for car trips. It just might be the thing they remember most.

1 B-I-N-G-O. Make your own version of holiday car Bingo to play with the kids. Create game boards using clip art from your computer and print out a copy for every rider. Include items you'll definitely see along the way (holiday light displays, snowmen or stores advertising holiday sales) as well as some harder to spot ones (a group of carolers, cars decked out for the season or Santas).

2 Pump up the volume. Slip in a favorite Christmas CD or burn your own with songs from various winter holidays. Declare it sing-a-long time and belt out the tunes at the top of your lungs. Have the kids make up hand motions or their own sign language to go along with the music.

3 Reminisce. Think up a list of your favorite childhood holiday memories beforehand and have funny stories ready to go when the family needs a good laugh. Get the kids in on the fun by having them tell you their favorite holiday stories as well. You might be surprised at the details they remember.

4 Settle in. Turn your backseat into a cozy nest where kids can cuddle up for the ride. Bring blankets, pillows and a favorite stuffed animal. It might even be worth investing in suction cup shades for the window to block out glaring sunlight and make naps easier.

5 Enlist help. Lots of libraries put together kits of kids' materials that are car-friendly. The Indian Prairie Public Library in Darien (www.indianprairielibrary.org) checks out multimedia Kreative Krates full of fiction and non-fiction books, DVDs, puppets, puzzles and games in a variety of themes including oceans, animals, castles and dragons, dinosaurs and outer space. The crates are appropriate for kids in fifth grade and younger.

6 Brainstorm. Grab a pad of paper and compile a list of important events that took place this year. Think big and small, national and local. Did one of your kids get a good grade in school or score the winning goal at her soccer game? Was a noteworthy official elected? Did a new building go up in your town? Make your list writing an annual holiday tradition and pull this year's list out next Christmas to see what changed during the year.

7 Declare a stress-free zone. Despite the joy that comes along with the holiday season, the flurry of present purchases, decorating and food preparation often brings in a heavy load of stress. Make a conscious decision to stay relaxed on your car trip. No yelling. No complaining. No worrying. Do your best to sit back and enjoy the ride. Put on headphones and zone out if necessary. Kids will appreciate the low-stress atmosphere before or after a long day.

8 Fuel up. Bring along healthy snacks such as cheese sticks, granola bars or cut up fruit and veggies to munch on in the car as well as water or spill-proof juice boxes. That way, you won't arrive at your destination with hungry, crabby kids. It might be a little longer before they dive into the plate of Grandma's Christmas cookies, too.

9 Have story time. Pop in a book on CD and listen to a few chapters. Try something the whole family can enjoy, like a Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket book. This is also a good solution for kids who get car sick when they read on the road.

10 Dress down. If it's a long trip, consider outfitting the kids in comfy clothes for the ride over. It'll keep your daughter's brand new Christmas dress from collapsing into a wrinkled mess along the way and no one will mind if she scoots into the bathroom to change when you arrive. Pack a bag with PJs, too, and have the kids change into them before heading home. That way, they'll be ready to drift off to dreamland as soon as you get home.

Katie Holland is a Chicago Parent intern, a junior at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and a veteran family car trip warrior.

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