Happy Trails


We were off again last week, this time headed up north, to visit with some friends in the Wisconsin Dells, with a stop along the way to see my in laws in a neighboring state. Not exactly a kid free trip to NYC, but it was sure to be interesting, nonetheless.

One reason it was certain to be interesting is that His Majesty despises being confined in any capacity, but more so than any other form, he loathes being in the car. He literally has come to associate car trips of any length with mindlessly stuffing his face full of food, preferably in form of empty carbs. As in, we eat breakfast and immediately get in the car for a 10 minute drive to a friend’s house, and he starts squawking for “something else” (food) before I even have his car seat buckled. This makes road trips not only messy, but inherently annoying, as we collectively try to shovel food in his direction while he repeatedly barks orders at us (“I want TWO crackers!”), lest we move too slowly and he morph into a cranky tantrum-laden troll. Oh, and did I mention that he stubbornly refuses to nap in the car– that he refused such a challenge, even as a newborn baby– despite our best efforts, bribes, and begging?

Sounds like a blast, no?

At this point, we are both used to his travel challenges, and ridiculously sick of them. We travel a lot, and I wanted to read a book in the car or nap or daydream uninterrupted. Enter THIS idea, courtesy of Crazy Domestic, for travel trays.

I was pretty much willing to try anything at this point, so some chalk spray paint and dollar store cookie sheets seemed like a small investment to make in the “Travel in Peace and Quiet” fund. I found the chalkboard spray paint at Hobby Lobby, and the cookie sheets, stickers, magnetic chip clips, pencil boxes and twist crayons (hoping they won’t melt as quickly as regular crayons) at the dollar store. The chalk and magnetic letters we already had handy, and I printed some free coloring sheets. We also liberated some matchbox cars from Christopher’s room. Everything for the project cost less than $15. The chalk paint was the costliest item, but I used a 40% off coupon, saving a few bucks.

I sprayed the trays during nap time. I did 4 thin coats, letting each coat dry for about 20 minutes in between. Per the paint instructions, it is recommended that you not write on your new chalkboard for 24 hours, so leave yourself adequate time before your trip so you aren’t disappointed.

On one tray, I used chip magnets to hold coloring sheets. Unlike Crazy Domestic, I decided not to glue the pencil case onto the surface of the tray, since the cases I’d purchased would take up too much play space on the trays.

Instead, I used magnets so that they would adhere to the front of the tray, and also serve to contain everything into as compact and portable of a package as possible for transport. I used the other pouch (not shown) to carry the matchbox cars.

I filled the case with the stickers, magnets, crayons, and chalk.

On the second tray, I stuck the magnetic letters, and more magnetic clips.

The third tray, I reserved until we arrived at our cabin.  It was my “ace in the hole”, the card to play at that immiment moment when His Majesty was just about to lose it.  Like my inspiration, I drew a little road on the tray in chalk, and let my little guy drive some of Christopher’s cars around the tray.

I would like to tell you that these simple trays revolutionized our road trip, and that we drove in blissful silence the entire drive, each of us enjoying the sound of the other’s breathing, but as great as they are, we still had plenty of noisy carb loading from our resident toddler, who kept a pretty constant running commentary of nearly every item we passed on the road. He is two-years-old, after all. However, the truth is that he thoroughly enjoyed the trays, loudly squealing in delight whenever I whipped them out.  They bought us far more quiet time than we have enjoyed on any other road trip since His Majesty arrived on the scene in 2010, which is a certain return in the time and money invested in this simple project.

And, as it turns out, our chalk board trays served an additional purpose.

Our friends used one of them to leave us us a good-bye note before heading back to their own home in the wee hours of the morning, after having spent a few days with us.

When I woke up to this on the counter, it was my turn to squeal with delight.  Gotta love handwritten notes! (The pterodactyl reference is an inside joke.  Hahaha, you just had to be there.)

What are your travel tricks and tidbits?  Do you have a masterful way of packing a suitcase, or stuffing an unbelievable amount of luggage into a vehicle?  Is there something that you or your family MUST travel with?  Tricks for occupying kids on trips, long or short? Share the love, share your travel tips!


2 responses »

    • We’ve tried this with my oldest son. It presents logistical challenges of its own, aside from the mere fact of driving while exhausted. Most of the resorts we stay at don’t have the rooms turned around until at least early afternoon, unless you get really lucky, so we’d arrive tired, cranky, and unable to unpack. Plus, he didn’t sleep well anyway. So, we won’t try it with the little one. Even when we’re in the car until 10pm on a day trip, he won’t sleep. It’s unreal!

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