On the Road with Kids

Planning a road trip with the family? Here are 12 tips you need to follow

The Great Philippine Country Roads

In a road trip article I wrote, one of the tips I gave drew a sharp rebuke from the wife. “Bring lots of chips and candies” was my advice to keep the kids preoccupied and their spirits — and sugar levels — high. “You should have suggested something healthy like fruit and veggie snacks,” she said. In hindsight, she was right. Now, I’m the last person anyone would seek advice about healthy food, so I’d rather skip that part — there’s always Google — and stick to road trip tips I’d be confident enough to impart. Here are a few of those tips, with kids in mind:

Ice cream after Apo Island

1. Get plenty of rest before the trip

For longer road trips, especially at night, expect your kids to doze off. The driver, however, can’t afford such a luxury. One way to keep awake and stay alert — and many adults take this for granted — is to get sufficient rest prior to the trip. And just before the long drive, treat yourselves to a hearty meal to keep your energy levels up. And don’t forget the healthy snacks.

Road trips to beautiufl beaches like this in Aloguinsan, Cebu are always worth the long drive.

2. When in doubt, visit your doctor

Again, I’m not qualified to dish out advice on specific health issues, which is why it makes sense for you to visit your doctor for that purpose, just to make sure. You’re expected to have your car checked up for the road trip, so why not you, the driver and your co-driver? Remember, road trips can get draining and mentally taxing — especially when the kids are on beast mode — so the driver’s fitness must never be compromised. Besides, you should take long drives only when you’re fit because your family’s safety and yours are at stake.

Tinuy-an Falls in Bislig, Surigao del Sur

3. Prepare re-usable water bottles for everyone

“Keep rehydrated” is one advice many take for granted. But whether it’s summer or not, the heat can get unbearable, putting you and the kids at risk of dehydration (ask your doctor). So, stock up on water and drink those fluids especially off the road to keep your road trip crew rehydrated. The last thing you’d want is to get dehydrated during your vacation. To avoid peeing a lot, avoid sodas and caffeinated drinks. Even then, there’ll always be that random gas station or restaurant in the middle of nowhere to do number one and even number two.

Hanging coffins of Sagada

4. Get creative on the road

I read from a blogger mom about coming up with games for kids while roadtripping. Riddles, puns and similar brain games will keep them entertained while you deal with hundreds of kilometers of road, some of which will cut through desolate forests or mindnumbing monotonous flatlands. During our return trip from Sagada in 2013, Arwen decided to preoccupy herself by counting Iglesia Ni Cristo churches — the distinct architecture must have caught her fancy — starting in Nueva Ecija. With an overnight stop in Manila, she counted roughly 40 churches by the time we reached Matnog in Sorsogon, Luzon’s southern tip.

5. Don’t forget your checklists and playlists

Each child should have his or her own checklist, including for toiletries, personal effects, meds and vitamins. Make sure to double check the contents of your emergency and first aid kits. And here’s one list that would keep your spirits high on the road: playlists. Our eldest Amber definitely had one. If each kid gets to contribute a road trip playlist, make sure all of them get their fair share of “airplay.”

Sugar cane selfie stick in Bais City

6. Keep those gadgets and power banks handy

Some parents opt to leave gadgets behind so that their kids may truly experience rural living and commune with nature to the max. Fine, except that when you’re riding a car, you have barely anything to do other than sleep. So, even if you’re driving fast, time at times could still crawl achingly slow, and chances are, the kids would tire of the brain games and get restless. In that case, your trusty gadgets loaded with game apps, with power banks at hand, can keep them preoccupied. This worked for our toddler Cyan. Of course, you can always limit the use of gadgets as you see fit.

7. Make money matter

Don’t keep your money in one place. Make sure to stash some backup cash. And even though the most remote of areas have ATM machines, don’t count on it, as these could run out of cash or become unavailable. Give older kids some emergency cash and brief them about when to use it (definitely not on candy).

Sunset in Samboan, Cebu

8. Have a Plan B for your Plan B

So you’ve made a checklist and itinerary and run through them a number of times. That means this should be the most perfect road trip ever, right? Wrong. Don’t expect everything to go smoothly, so it pays to have a backup plan to your backup plan. Here are things to consider: the unpredictable weather, vehicle breakdowns, heavy traffic, even ailments, among many others. Also, assess your kids needs, abilities and limits and draft your plans around these.

Sipalay Island, Negros Occidental

9. Don’t sweat the small stuff

While you can plan all the way to Plan E, don’t make the mistake of going obsessive compulsive with the details. Instead, keep each plan simple and sensible, like keeping a short list of accommodations should you get left behind by the ro-ro vessel. Don’t discuss worst-case scenarios with your kids. The last thing you’d want as passengers are children who have freaked out and all of you aren’t even there yet.

Epic bibingka in Asturias

10. Don’t let yourselves go hungry

I won’t talk about what constitutes healthy food, but I definitely will touch on eating while road tripping. Long road trips are a good time to introduce your kids to different cuisines in the country, and for us, the best food is street food, which includes the neighborhood carenderia. But not everyone can handle street food, so if you need full meals, there are always restaurants in most town centers in the country, and most probably a fastfood place named after that ubiquitous bee.

Somewhere in Negros Island

11. If you feel drowsy, stop

If you feel drowsy while driving and no one else can take over the wheel, pull over the side of the road and get a power nap. A 15-minute nap can significantly restore your energy levels. It doesn’t matter if you have 10 or a hundred kilometers to go, just stop driving. If you feel drowsy again after 50 or a hundred kilometers of road, take another nap. Repeat until you get to your destination safely. If this happens at night, try looking for a police or file station, if not, a well-lit area where you can park and doze off. After 15 minutes, you’d be good to go.

Bilar, Bohol

12. Have a nice trip!

And that’s no lip service. To make the road trip really enjoyable, make the kids look forward to the destination. When their spirits seem low, tell them about the beautiful beach that awaits them or what adventures the foggy mountains have in store. Become a child yourself and share their excitement. Now go.

Danjugan Island, Negros Occidental

(A version of this article was published on SunStar Cebu in March 2015)