5 Tips for surviving a road trip with kids – 5 road trip tips to make your road trip a success, even with kids!
We have traveled with my son since he was a baby. When he was a newborn we lived over 3 hours from family, so we constantly made the drive to see them on weekends. When he was 2 we drove from Iowa to Colorado. When he was 3 we drove to Arkansas. When he was 4 we drove from Iowa to Florida. Now that we live in Colorado we have driven back to Wisconsin a couple times, to Arizona, Utah, and may other trips. Not to mention we drove from the southern most part to the northern most part (and everywhere in between) of New Zealand last year. Road trips are part of our life, and always have been.
My husband and I both grew up going on road trips. It is a cheap way to travel. And we love to travel. We want to share the world with our son and not just stay home because it is more work with him. He is almost 11 now, and loves to travel. He loves flying to an exotic location to explore, or just driving to grandmas in Wisconsin. And it doesn’t have to be that hard!!
Here are my top 5 road trip tips for surviving a road trip with kids
1. Plan ahead
To me this means knowing where things are along your route. Use an old school map ahead of time to plot your course, involve the kids, show them where you are going. Then dig in and make sure you know approximately where some gas stations and food are along your route. We have been on some interstates where you have to go 60 miles before the next exit. Planning bathroom stops, lunch, and gas stations can be important, depending on where you are going.
Estimate how far you want to make it the first day. For us, that means as far as we can go. One really long day is better than 2 short days in my opinion. I just want to get to my destination. If you need a hotel along the way, make a reservation. Nothing is worse that pulling into a town and finding out they have some small event going on, and all of the rooms are booked.
If you want to make stops along the way, see what there is. Is there a state park, or a monument worth stopping to see? Plan ahead, so you know to stop, how long it will take, and if you can still make it to your destination or hotel that night.
Every parent knows that snacks are important when dealing with kids. A road trip is no exception. You just need more of them, and have to plan for keeping them cool or making sure they don’t melt. For us a road trip is meant to be fun. So this is when I break out the fun snacks that we don’t have every day. Gummy worms and Pringles are just fine on a road trip. But also pack some stuff that will keep them full, but not make a huge mess of the car. Granola bars, grapes or other berries they can eat whole, cheese sticks, nuts or even beef jerky. Stuff you can easily pass to them, they can eat and not make a huge mess or have peels and lots of garbage to deal with. Having an empty plastic bag to use for garbage is a good tip as well.
I know plenty of people say that kids don’t need snacks, they can eat at meal times and be fine. And yes they can. But isn’t part of what you remember or look forward to about road trips is the freedom, and having things you don’t normally have? Make it fun!
Keeping kids occupied is probably the hardest part of a road tip. But I also don’t think they need to be entertained every second of the drive either. Looking out the window, listening to music, and just talking as a family should be things you do as well as games and other activities. When my son was a toddler I always had my “bag of tricks” I kept in the front seat with me. I would fill the bag with little toys, games, and fun things that were new to him. I would usually go spend $10-20 to fill the bag for our trip. Everything from a new toy (Cars were his favorite), stickers, coloring activities, puzzles, travel games, bubbles, and anything else I could think of. If he would get crabby, I could break out something from the bag. It would usually satisfy him for a couple hours.
Movies and screen time. I personally think a road trip is not the time to enforce these rules. Normally we have a 1 hour a day of screen time rule. On road trip day, no rules. If he wants to watch 3 movies in a row. Fine. At some point I will cut him off and say why don’t we do something else. I think the max he has watched at a time is 2. But if we are in the car for 15 hours (has happened multiple times), there is only so much for them to do!
The key is knowing your kids, and packing things they like. These days my son will read for hours on end. I haven’t had to pack the DVD player for a long time. If your child likes to draw or color, those lap desks are perfect. We have used those to do mini lego sets on before. Get creative and surprise your kid, it goes a long way!
I have always been the mom that had a pretty strict schedule with my son. Meal times were pretty set, nap time was always at the same time, and everyone knew when bed time was. It made things run really smoothly at our house. And on a road trip I continued that. If we were in the car over nap time, we would read a couple books together, and then he would put his head down for nap, just like at home. Making it something they know, makes them more comfortable. Same thing for driving past bed time. If possible, depending on timing, stops etc, I would get my son in his pajamas. Then we would read just like bed time, and then would have “lights out”. Bringing their favorite stuffed animal or blanket made it seem more like home. Now, he didn’t always fall to sleep right away, but eventually he would. I think all parents know that having a child that has had enough sleep, makes everyone happier. Trying your best to stay on that schedule makes the road trip better for everyone!
5. Be Prepared
Messes happen on a road trip. Having plenty of napkins, kleenex, wet wipes, and a place for garbage makes things a little less stressful. Even when you plan everything ahead of time, and know where you are going to stop, the unexpected can happen. Having a map, car phone charger, phone numbers for some hotels (because you don’t always have internet service in the middle of no where), extra snacks, water, as well as jumper cables, knowing if you have a spare tire etc. can make things go smoother. You never know what is going to happen, so if you have some of the basics to cover things, you won’t be caught empty handed.
I think bathroom stops are probably the worst with kids. You stop for gas, they kind of use the bathroom, and then 30 minutes down the road the have to go again. For us, when we stop going to the bathroom is not negotiable. I don’t care if we stopped 30 minutes ago, you will go (or at least try). I see too many parents that ask their child if they have to go, the child says no, and then they complain when they have to stop later. And for us, on road trips, drinks are at a minimum. It is the one time that water bottles are not allowed, and you are limited to what you drink (both adults and kids). Normally, we all drink water all day long, but not on a road trip!
Traveling with your kids doesn’t have to be hard. Make it fun for everyone, and explore the world! So those are my top road trip tips that have worked for us over the years. What are your tips?
**I worked with Toyota on a recent spring break trip to Arizona. They let me use a Toyota Camry for the week. I was not asked to write a post, or share in any way. I was not compensated for this post.