I am between trips at the moment, having just returned from a whirlwind 6-day trip to and from Southern California with my two oldest, and preparing to leave on a 10-day mission trip (2 days’ driving each way) to British Columbia with vanloads of high schoolers.
My boys have been road trippers since their car seat days, so we learned many tricks to keep them entertained. Unfortunately, everything changed when they hit middle school. They were never reluctant to go, but the dynamics in the car were altered due to the addition of a passenger called ADOLESCENCE. Dealing with their unpredictable moods was tricky enough at home, but in the small space of a passenger van it could become a real challenge.
If you’re traveling with teens, the two most important things you can buy are car charger adapters for their electronics, and an inverter, which is a box with regular outlets which plugs into your car’s lighter.
Then don’t worry too much if all they do in the car is listen to music, text, watch videos, and play video games. We made a simple rule: when Mom called out, “Scenery!” everyone was expected to look up and make appropriate oohing and aahing noises. Because our youngest could play his GameBoy for hours, we did designate half-hour breaks, giving him fair warning that they were coming up: “Ten more minutes. . .five more minutes. . .shutdown time!” He often went to sleep when forced to turn off the game.
Stops for gas were also stops for snacks. Dad would hand over the credit card, and Mom and boys would traipse inside the store, where each boy could pick one drink (in a recloseable bottle, preferably) and one snack. Nothing keeps teens happy like food and sugar!
And when they DID get moody, I employed the usual trick of pretending not to notice. Unless they began sniping at each other, and then I’d step in and try to impose a Cone of Silence. They always staked out their favorite spots in the van, but sometimes I’d trade with someone and let him sit up front for awhile. A change of scenery can do wonders, and the view from the back seats gets pretty monotonous.
Getting everybody to agree on a fast food place wasn’t always easy. If someone was unhappy about the choice and decided to sulk, we’d just let him. Everyone knows you can’t cheer up a sulky teen (you DO know that, right?). He could eat or not eat – no skin off our backs (and we’d save money if he grumpily ordered just a milkshake!).
When I head out this weekend with 50+ teenagers, I will provide Activity Baskets for each van. In each basket (dishtub, actually) the teens will find coloring books and crayons, crossword puzzle and sudoku books, pens and pencils, decks of cards, and a small handheld game (Yahtzee, Solitaire, etc.). At first they will ignore the baskets, but as the second day of 10 hours of driving begins, they will be thankful for the new diversions.
On this last trip with my two oldest, now 20 and 22, they slept, helped drive, texted, took charge of the music, and read – one Hamlet and the other Prince Caspian. How cool is that?