Surviving a long car ride with little kids

A year ago I never would have believed my children would become long car drive champs — it was all we could do to journey the three hours to Fernie without a tantrum or constant whines of “Are we there yet?” But this past summer we took them all the way to Vancouver, stopping mid-way in Salmon Arm, with nary a sniffle. So when we were invited up to Jasper and Marmot Basin ski area in Jasper National Park for a Jasper in January ski weekend, I didn’t blink at the five-hour drive. The secret to our road trip success? A portable DVD player.

A portable DVD player: Don't leave home without it.

While technology is indispensable, I try not to rely on it as a crutch. Instead, I employ many of the same techniques suggested in this pre-Christmas story about getting through holiday family road trips. My tips include:

1. Pack non-messy snacks. Things like apple slices, granola bars and nuts are great. Refrain from bringing items such as apple sauce, but then forgetting a spoon (you can see how this scenario might end badly if your apple sauce-obsessed four-year-old spots the circular tub). Also, try and keep the eats out of their reach, or your kids will be forever pulling food out of the box and eating constantly during the duration of the drive. This could result in a lot of smelly gas.

2. Bring their favourite music CDs. As you listen to the chorus of The Wiggles’ “Hot Potato” yet again, you may curse this suggestion. But on the plus side, you’ll soon be able to sing along with Murray and the gang, and you won’t feel guilty because they’re listening to music while taking in the jagged peaks of the Canadian Rockies and simultaneously spotting moose, instead of rotting their tiny brains with repeat viewings of The Rescuers. I also like the idea of bringing story CDs, a tip from Direct Travel Insurance.

3. Make time for pit stops. While it’s tempting to make your six-year-old squeeze into one of her little brother’s pull-ups and power straight through from Calgary to Jasper, this strategy is ill-advised. There’s something about long periods of sitting confined in a small car with a steady supply of processed snacks (hence the gas) and Barney videos that makes children go a bit wiggy. Try and find a place to use the bathroom, where kids can run around. We spent 30 minutes at the Lake Louise visitor info centre, which is like a small museum complete with a stuffed wolf, bear and caribou; faux rocks to climb on; and a video of grizzly bears. Avery and Bennett spent most of their time running through the dark theatre shrieking, “A monster’s gonna get you!” Better there than in the car.

4. Pack a few surprises. It’s amazing what a new colouring book or stickers can bring you: five minutes of silence during which you can read your People magazine.

5. Don’t forget new media. With still an hour to go on the Icefields Parkway, it’s wonderful to be able to pull out the LeapPad and Leapster Explorer and know you’ll complete the family road trip safely (though I can’t vouch for your sanity). 

Next post: family adventures in Jasper.

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