Have you been thinking about taking a road trip with your kids but you’re terrified by the idea?
Have you taken a road trip with kids and it turned out to be a nerve-wrecking ride of terror?
Do you feel like the words “kids” and “road trips” don’t go together very well?
If you’ve answered YES to any of these questions, please keep reading…
We LOVE traveling and adventures of all kinds and take our kids on trips as much as we can. Last year, however, we wanted to try something new and felt like a good old-fashioned ROAD TRIP was the answer. We were thrilled and ready when springtime came but had to postpone a few times, and it was more than obvious that my husband’s work schedule wouldn’t allow for as much time off as we had wanted.
But then it happened!
My husband quit his job and, suddenly, we were free to go!
It was a midsummer Monday afternoon when we decided to go for it and take this trip. And because there was no point in wasting time and to show our commitment, we decided to leave just two days later.
And we did.
We ended up being on the road for almost a month, travelled around 4,500 miles through clear skies, storms, and even some snow, and we had spent over 65 hrs in the car altogether.
It was awesome.
As a matter of fact, we enjoyed it so much that we can’t wait to do it again! We’re keeping our fingers crossed for this year, but work commitments will significantly reduce the length of this trip. Unless…well…no.
The words “family road trip” or “road trip with kids” scare the heck out of many parents.
And I get it! Not only you lose the comfort of your own home, you may have nowhere to run away from your kids. And you can just imagine all the insensitive demands and surprises that kids are going to throw your way. This IS some scary stuff…
Traveling with kids requires a certain level of preparation, lowering your expectations, and doubling (no, tripling) up on patience.
But it CAN be done, and a road trip with kids can be a lot of fun!
These are my tips on how to plan for and manage a road trip with kids without losing your sanity!
⇝ Know where you’re going (Or not…)
You can be a total adventurer and just go wherever the wind takes you. That’s fine, too!
We wanted to have some sense of our destinations since this was our first family road trip, so we used the little time we had and planned out:
- What we wanted to see;
- How many days we wanted to stay at each and every stop (rough estimate);
- How long it would take to get from one point to another.
We also checked out available accommodation and booked some hotels/campsites ahead of time.
Please note that many campgrounds at popular National Parks operate on a first-come, first-serve basis, especially during peak season. It can bite you in the butt unless you arrive at approximately 6 AM or earlier. Even this early, you most definitely won’t be the first person in the line…
If possible, give yourself plenty of time for moving between destinations to allow for random stops and to avoid feeling rushed.
⇝ Kids will be hungry
All. The. Time.
☑ Pack enough food!
I wholeheartedly recommend bringing more food than you think you could possibly need. Why? Because I can almost guarantee that if you don’t bring enough food to feed a small town, your kids will be entering a growth spurt as soon as the garage door closes.
☑ Be practical and proactive!
Have snacks for your kids already divided in separate containers or zip lock bags to avoid unnecessary headaches. The last thing you want is to have the kids fight over a bag of crackers nonstop or spill the whole bag before you even get on the highway. Have multiples of everything and just keep handing food out until your kids get bored and stop asking. (They will, I promise.) Curb mess to a minimum: Apple sauce in a pouch – GOOD. Yogurt tube – BAD. Don’t ever give your children, especially toddlers, a yogurt tube in the car on a road trip. Ever.
☑ Be smart!
Even if you don’t normally watch what you eat, I highly recommend you read labels THIS TIME. Many artificial food dyes, preservatives (particularly sodium benzoate), or MSG (also hidden behind its many aliases) can cause hyperactivity or other behavioral issues in children. Hello!!! Synthetic food/drink additives are playing against you! Unless hyper kids are on your wish list, avoid helping create an unruly ZOO in the back of your car by making the right choices.
- Pack your favorite fruits and vegetables. Cut-up apples, peppers, cucumbers, celery sticks, or carrots are not only refreshing but also some of the least messy options – bring plenty! Fruit/vegetable salads are also great choices – for a break at a rest area (don’t forget to bring forks).
- Add some salty options (crackers, chips, etc.), some sweet ones (cookies and granola bars), and some protein as well (cheese, nuts and seeds and the like). You’ll need to empty your fridge as much as you can since you’ll be gone for a while. Use your imagination!
- Throw some candy in there as well (but remember – choose wisely!) and use in emergencies or to bribe your kids with if necessary.
We knew we were going to spend a decent portion of our trip camping. Knowing how picky we are when it comes to food, we brought enough to get us over the first week or so and refilled our supplies at our preferred store at the next destination. This worked out really well.
You’ll also want to bring plenty of DRINKS to choose from. Pure water is obviously your best bet, but drinking just water on a long car trip can get old pretty fast. So before you buy that pouch, cup, can or bottle, ask yourself: Will this particular drink do me any favor? Ditch drinks containing corn syrup or HFCS, artificial flavors/colors/sweeteners, and those containing large amounts of sugar. Well-chosen juice or iced tea, aloe vera beverage, coconut water, or a home-made fruit smoothie are all healthier (and refreshing) options to bring in addition to water.
⇝ Kids will be bored
In the olden days, parents had a limited supply of distractions for their kids during longer car trips. These days there are creative activities of all kinds plus tablets, DVD players, gaming systems and smart phones, so entertaining kids on the road is now a piece of cake, right?
Kids will be bored eventually.
No matter how well you think you’ve prepared, it’s only a matter of time before you hear, “Are we there yet?” It’s hilarious in movies, sure. When you hear it with your own ears in an enclosed space over and over and over and over and over, it’s enough to make a grown woman cry.
You’ll still want to bring everything you have though. So grab some movies, a few magazines or a book or two, tablets, and some coloring/activity books to help keep kids busy on the road. If you have a toddler, I suggest bringing a few extra zip lock bags of crayons. Not sure why they go missing in the moving car vortex.
When you encounter whining that doesn’t get resolved with snacks or bribery, you have two options:
- Dig deep to find the hidden spare well of patience and ignore the whining as best as you can. (I know…)
- Turn your radio up and pull windows down and keep moving.
These tips are the safer alternatives to leaving your children at the closest gas station or asking the whining perpetrators to exit the car and making them chase you as you pretend to drive away. Though this was encouraged and surprisingly effective when I was the whining child myself. But of course you can make a stop at a rest area as well. That will work, too.
You’re familiar with the general rule to NOT disturb your kids when they’re happily playing at home unless the house is on fire, right? FYI, the exact same rule applies on the road.
⇝ Children have needs
Your kids will probably ask to go to the bathroom within the first 30 minutes of your garage door closing AFTER you had told them to go to the bathroom before you left. Five times. (And they did.) They’ll also ask to go on a regular basis from then on. Expect it. Unfortunately, there is no way around this one.
I’m pretty sure that kids peeing alongside a road is an illegal activity here in the U.S., but explain to the bladder of a small child that the closest rest area or a gas station is only 80,000 miles away and you’ll be there in no time. Kids also seem to have the ability to lose more liquids on car trips as opposed to what their actual liquid intake is. If they have to go now, just pull over as long as it’s safe. Don’t worry about strange looks. They’re a much better outcome than a peed-on car seat. If you’re in the process of potty training your children, give yourself a green light to slap a diaper on them for the duration of the ride.
We’re somewhat used to driving with our kids over long distances (15 hrs+), and what has worked miracles for us is leaving at night and covering long stretches of miles when kids are asleep. Another obvious bonus to traveling at night is less traffic.
More useful tips for a smooth family road trip:
- Mess happens. Bring a roll of paper towels, plenty of tissues, and wet wipes or wet paper towels kept in a zip lock bag. Keep all within reach.
- To curb mess to a minimum, don’t forget to bring empty plastic bags and fill them up as you go.
- If you know you’ll be spending a night at a hotel on the way, it’s a good idea to pack necessary toiletries, sleepwear, and a change of clothes for all in a separate bag.
- Should you decide to take a quick nap in the car at a random gas station at 4 AM, it’s probably a good idea to lock your car. We’re working on it.
- Don’t watch “Wrong Turn”, “Vacancy”, or “The Hills Have Eyes” prior to leaving.
- Do not, unless absolutely necessary, break the cardinal rule of family road trips – stop for gas when your kids are asleep. Crazy things happen. All eyes open as you turn the ignition off, everyone is hungry and thirsty, everybody wants to pee and poop, and they all start asking, “Are we there yet?!?”