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Mom to Mom: Road trip survival kit

Mary Parra Mary Parra is an Ahwatukee mom and has four kids.  

July is prime time for many folks to leave the heat of the Valley and take a road trip somewhere. Since the birth of our first child, we have always had to travel to visit family and friends. Our kids were brought up going on road trips, so to speak. In the past 10 years, we have made annual visits to family in Sacramento and south Texas. We have also driven to Denver, Steamboat and Breckenridge, Colo., as well as Wisconsin and Michigan.

Since our kids are used to long trips in the car, we feel like we have it pretty well down. We can take four kids under the age of 10 from Phoenix to Sacramento in 11 hours. But then there are times when things don’t always go as planned. One time, it took us five hours to simply get our crew from Phoenix to Flagstaff! 

Whether you’re well-seasoned or taking your first trip, here are a few ideas that have helped us get through car sickness, boredom, and yes, even bickering.

If you have babies or smaller children, it’s fun to blow bubbles. There is something about bubbles that soothes yet entertains the kids. It puts a crying baby into a new mood instantly. They are soon laughing, trying to pop the bubbles, or simply watching them. This has helped get us through many meltdowns. I buy a big batch of the small sized bottles of bubbles. That way, if it spills it’s less of a cleanup. Plus, I still have plenty for the kids to play with once we reach our destination – and some for the trip home!

Here’s a great idea for older kids: take an old plastic jar (peanut butter or the like) and clean it out (running it through the dishwasher works well). Fill it ¾ full with uncooked brown rice and lots of little things you find around the house – such as mini pom poms, small googly eyes, tiny safety pins, small buttons, feathers, etc. Screw the lid on tightly and shake it to mix everything up. Make a code key of everything you included. Have the kids find what you’ve hidden by turning the jar around and around.

Through the years, I have kept all of my old diaper bags (the ones I got in the hospital) and I use them as travel bags for the older kids. It’s easy to wipe down the inside, and the outside pockets are perfect for drinks. I try to fill the bags with surprises or something new to keep them entertained, such as dot-to-dot books, Silly Putty, crafts, books to read, and lots of paper so they can play tic-tac-toe or hangman. Because we travel so much, I am always on the lookout for clearance items that would be cheap to include. A trip to the thrift store has also been beneficial to include inexpensive yet “new” toys. The kids also enjoy doing a scavenger’s hunt or keeping track of the license plates we see along the way.

I also have several clipboards that open. The clipboard is on the outside and you can fill the inside with pens, pencils, crayons and markers. This makes it easy for the kids to grab something to write with, plus the clipboard and hard surface make it easy to write on.

Snacks are a must. We travel with a cooler that we fill with string cheese, drinkable yogurt and other snacks. I like to make my own granola bars. I've included the recipe below.

When the kids have really hit a wall, I pull out a book of knock-knock jokes to read to them, or we all participate in Mad Libs. They love hearing the funny stories they help create! These definitely change moods and liven things up.

Regardless of how long you’ll be in the car or where you are going, I hope these few suggestions help make it a smooth ride.

Traveling Granola Bars

  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons honey or corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup flour (white or whole wheat or half cup of each)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ cups oats
  • 2 cups crisp rice cereal
  • 1 cup chopped nuts or sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup chopped dried fruit or baking chips

In a large mixing bowl, combine the oil, brown sugar, honey or corn syrup, vanilla and eggs. Add flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. Mix well. With a large spoon, stir in oats, cereal, and nuts, fruit or baking chips. Spray treat a glass 9”X13” pan. Press the mixture evenly into the bottom of the pan. For chewy bars, bake at 350 for 25 minutes. For crunchy bars, bake at 300 until the surface is golden brown all over, about 40-50 minutes. Cut into bars by slicing through the middle lengthwise, then crosswise seven times. Put in snack-sized zip top bags. Can be made ahead of time and frozen.

Mom to Mom is a column written by Mary Parra, an Ahwatukee mother of four and a local journalist.


Cardon Children's Medical Center
1400 S. Dobson Road
Mesa, AZ 85202
(480) 412-KIDS (5437)
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