Road TRIP! Are those words music to your ears or do you cringe? Love them or hate them, a family road trip at some point in your parenting career is probably inevitable! And for some of us that love traveling, they’re not only inevitable but frequent! In fact, I’m sitting in a hotel room right now– a few hours from home and we’ll be hitting the road first thing in the morning for a weekend adventure! Road trips certainly can be a fun way to see many sites and an economical way to travel, especially as a family with kids compared to shelling out the cost of 4, 5, 6 or more plane tickets! BUT…we are know that kids trapped in one location for hours and hours and hours on end can end up not being as fun! So, I’m sharing some of our best tips for a successful trip! A “family road trip survival guide” of sorts…With 3 boys (age 9, 6, and just barely turned 4 at the time of writing this), we’ve done our fair share of road trips with young kids – babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary-aged kiddos! It not only can be done, but it can be pretty fun! So, here are our 10 best tips for a successful family road trip! (Some affiliate links are included).
Road Trips with Kids – A Survival Guide:
1. Safety First! Be sure to have the car checked over (fluids, tire pressure, etc), before hitting the road. No one wants to deal with tire blow-outs or overheating cars with little ones in tow if you can help it! In addition, make sure the kids have car seats that are safe and properly installed (Big Brother there on the right in this old photo is NOT the best example of this in a borrowed car seat that doesn’t fit him as well as it should…and his chest strap is not in the proper placement when this was snapped). You can read up on car seat safety in our post here –> Child Passenger Safety Facts!
2. Proper planning – There was a time that I loved a spontaneous, impromptu trips! Not so much the case after having kid! I like making a checklist with all the “to-dos” and “to-pack” ahead of time, so we don’t forget anything. In addition to those safety checks from #1, you want to make sure you have your route planned out including having the GPS or printed maps/directions all ready to go! Plus, you might need to do a little shopping trip to make sure you have all the kid necessities on hand (like diapers, wipes, snacks, etc. etc):
3. Prep the kids ahead of time – This is another reason I find spontaneous trips to be impossible now. Our kids seem to do better if they know about a trip in advance (once they’re old enough, you can even help involve them in the trip planning)! Even our youngest little travelers (when they were just wee little toddlers and preschoolers) do better with some advance notice. So, talk to the kids ahead of time about where you’re going and all the fun things you’re going to see/do. This is also a great time to talk about your expectations for their behavior!
4. Plan to breakup the trip! – With kids, you HAVE to take more breaks than you do on adults-only trips! It’s just a must. There will be the inevitable need for many potty breaks (especially so with newly potty-trained kiddos), so plan in some short stops for that. But also consider getting strategic for your travel. If you can afford it, see if you can go shorter distances and do some inexpensive hotel stays. For 5-6 hours drives, we frequently will leave late the night before and go about half-way (and stay at a rather inexpensive/ mid-range hotel). Not only does it get us to our destination earlier on what would have been our travel day, but breaking it up REALLY saves sanity for everyone (that’s why I’m in a hotel room tonight typing this up! 😉 )
5. Pack Smart Extras (on hand!!!) – When traveling with kids, you never know when some sort of “disaster” might strike – especially with little ones. So, I like to make sure that we have we’ve got a change of clothes (for the baby, toddler, and newly potty-trained preschooler) EASILY accessible. That also includes things like extra diapers/pull-ups, wipes, etc. No one wants to have to stop at the rest area and unpack the entire back of the car to reach a new onesie or change of clothes from an accident!
6. Make a “car accidents” kit – A MUST! And not for a car accident..but for a kid accident inside the car!! The likelihood of a food or drink spill at some point is high. But then there’s the other not so pleasant “spills” – you never know when stomach bugs, car sickness, or a potty accident might strike. And if you make it through your parenting years without cleaning vomit or a poop diaper blowout out of a carseat, I am very VERY jealous! 😉 If you’ve never cleaned had that privilege, I assure you, it is absolutely as bad as it sounds!. So, make it slightly more tolerable by planning ahead! I usually have a grocery bag in the car filled with more plastic grocery bags, large ziploc baggies, paper towels, disinfectant wipes, and a bottle of water. JUST IN CASE!
You could also use a cute wet bag to hold some items in! Here’s some of our “car accidents” must-haves:
7. Have plenty of snacks – The car boredom munchies seem to always strike! Well probably not the best habit, snack time usually helps to quiet the “are we there yets”. Having snacks packed can also help avoid multiple gas station/fast food stops! So, make sure there are plenty of kid-friendly snacks on hand.
8. Bring a variety of activities – Technology is obviously great here. You can pack the LeapPads (<–a favorite for our kids), ipad(s), audiobooks, and/or portable DVD player. We definitely make use of movies & technology on trips, but I don’t want it to be the only thing the kids are doing. Pack a car fun bag filled with some favorite toys, coloring books, or even flashcards! Our travel activity boards work GREAT for this! Playing some car games like “I spy” or the “license plate game” are great options too! And atlas or book about where you’re headed are also fabulous to have on hand! Here’s a few of our favorite items:
9. Make a family playlist – I like to have a “Family-Favorites Playlist” with all kinds of our favorite songs! A little car dance session or family sing-a-long can definitely make things fun for a while!! We also keep a good number of favorite CD’s handy! Here are some of our favorite albums to sing along with:
10. Pack your patience and go with the flow! – Easier said than done sometimes! Believe me, I know! Wwith kids things do not always go according to plan. You may have to make extra stops; there might be “car accidents”; you may not make the journey as quickly as expected. Crabby, stressed-out parents, can quickly make for whiny, crabby, irritable kids! So, take deep breaths, take it slow, and enjoy! Have fun making family memories!
What are YOUR best tips for road trips with kids?