When I became pregnant for the first time, I swore I wouldn’t give up traveling or going to restaurants after my son was born. To my own surprise, I managed to keep that pledge. We went to Las Vegas, New York, Cape Hatteras, and many other places with one agreeable traveler in tow. We even discovered that we loved having a stroller in airports since we used it to carry our luggage.
Then my daughter, Ava, was born and we found that not only is traveling with two children more complicated, but also it’s the child’s personality that determines if traveling is worth the effort. My daughter came installed with a high-pitched screech. She put it to very effective use--clearing restaurants of patrons, making airline passengers beg for headsets, and inspiring my husband and me to take turns hiding in the bathroom until we could get home. No longer smug at our ability to carry on our modern lifestyles, we were humbled by a package no bigger than a Boston terrier (though much cuter).
Remarkably, we still didn’t give up. My daughter is now four and I have earned the equivalent of a college degree in traveling with uncooperative children. It’s true that I took a sabbatical from leaving the house after a few hair-raising experiences, but then one day I had an epiphany. It was when Ava was learning to get a spoon to her mouth. I read a tip in a parenting magazine (while trying to ignore the mess): "Feed the kids before you go to a restaurant. When you order, get them each the biggest ice cream on the menu and insist it arrives just as your food does."
That small piece of wisdom bought my husband and I thirty minutes of complete and happy silence. It was then that I realized I could do this. This child might be every bit as forceful as I am, but—for a while anyway—I’m more educated and I have a bank account. I set out to discover every trick I could use to keep her and her brother happy while we traveled and ate out.
Fun on the Run
Now that both my children are old enough to enjoy books on tape, I subscribe to an online service and download children’s books to my tiny Otis MP3 player (which came free with a 12-month subscription). It’s so small I always have it in my purse. I can play a story for one of them through kid’s soft headphones or use the included tape adapter to play the story through the car’s stereo. We also check out audio books from the library and keep a cheap tape player in the car in case the kids can’t agree on a story. Traveling down the highway and chatting with my husband with no sound save the occasional gasp or laugh from the backseat is delightful.
When the story is over, out comes the LeapPad by LeapFrog. This interactive electronic book system is entertaining and educational. My daughter is particularly fond of “LeapStart Pre-Reading Book: Disney Princess Stories.” The breathless princess commentary can be too much for an adult, so we pull the headphones off of the Otis and plug them into the LeapPad. Since Ava is happy, busy, and quiet, this works well in restaurants and airplanes. I even used it once to have a business meeting.
Cole, now six, uses the same LeapPad but chooses longer books that have the occasional word he needs help with. Otherwise, his head is buried in the latest adventures of Captain Underpants. Filled with potty humor, jokes, and irreverent school scenarios, these books are just right for any boy who can read. (There are pictures or comic strips on every page, which Cole tells me is important.) My husband reads them when my son is through so there is obviously no age limit!
I also keep a plastic bin—one for each child—in the car with crayons, coloring books, picture books and, most importantly, small building toys. My son loves K’Nex, and Ava will happily make funny creatures and jewelry for herself with Ello for hours. As a bonus, the two systems work together.
A small cookie sheet makes a great "table" for kids to use when coloring, and if the sheet has a lip, kids can do small puzzles on them too.
Parents may also want to invest in a few magnetic or peg-board games. There are plenty of travel games on the market, just pick what interests your kids the most!