14 Tips to Help You Survive a Road Trip with Kids
Just think about it… just your beautiful children, your husband, and yourself. All of you together for hours on end, finally getting some family time. Perfect, right?
You all happen to be cooped up in an SUV, and right now you are trying to get the kids to share the snacks without spilling them and grinding them into the floor or seats. You are stopping only when potty breaks are needed and even then, it is at dirty gas stations where you are required to wait in line just to get the key to a nasty bathroom, all while trying to convince your toddler that they can hold it a few more minutes. You do all of this while trying to stay sane. Good luck.
Ahh, the family road trip. What a fantastic way to spend a vacation!
Here is a quick look at some of the ways that you can turn nightmare road trips with your kids into family vacations that can be enjoyed by all.
Understand While You are Planning the Trip that not Everyone Will be Happy 100% of the Time
Yes, I just contradicted myself, but this is critical. Your trip can go well overall, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be moments when you just want to stick your fingers inn your ears before you curl up into a fetal position.
There will be times when you are all starving, but the only options are fast food restaurants, and despite your aversion to that sort of unhealthy food, that is what you will eat, because if you don’t, one of your family members might end up being thrown from a window pretty soon.
This is fine. Just remember that all road trips will have their own challenges.
You might not be the world champion at letting challenges just roll off of you but knowing that some of the trip will be difficult can make things a bit easier to handle.
Agree on the Pace of the Driving
It can also be a bit of a challenge if you and your significant other have varying ideas when it comes to the speed at which you want to get to your destination and the stops you will need to make on your trip. Most people tend to have different ideas about making stops. Some might just want to swing through a drive-through and eat on the road, while others want to sit down and have a quality meal and time to relax a bit.
What you can do is have a conversation about it and make new decisions each day as to where, when, and how long you will stop. You try to give a little, your partner should try to give a little, and it will generally work well enough to try to attack the trip as friends as opposed to frenemies.
Be sure that each of the children has somewhere they can lay their head for naps and maybe even for night driving. Kids who are still in high backed car seats can go in the middle seats, while those not in a car seat can go by the windows, where they can put a pillow on to lean.
If you happen to have a toddler or infant, it can be helpful to make sure that an older child is within reach. They can help by giving them fallen toys, putting a pacifier in their mouth, or just keeping them entertained and happy.
Traveling with Very Young Children
If you have a baby, you might want to schedule your stops around feeding times. You don’t even need to look for rest areas, restaurants, etc. to do this, but even if it is just a safe spot on the road, it can give everyone a break.
You can change your child’s diapers right on the front seat of your vehicle to keep from having to go into nasty bathrooms. It isn’t the most fun thing in the world, but hey, it works.
If the baby is the only child, they might cry at times because they think they are alone. You can deal with this by putting a mirror on a headrest right in from of them so that they will be able to see themselves. You might also want to hang a colorful toy alongside it for them to look at as well as strapping one right to the car seat for them to gnaw on or hold.
These can be great – if you get the right kind. The ones that are just a story being read can be pretty dull, but there is a brand called Graphic Audio that features characters being read by different voice actors, and even sound effects. There tagline is “A Movie in Your Mind”, and they are more than a bit entertaining. They can be truly a godsend especially when you don’t want the kids glued to screens for the entire trip.
You might want to ensure that you have a few already downloaded before you leave the house. You might also get a few kids’ books on audio. They are also easy to find. You don’t want to wait until you are on the road before you download these. That being said, if you still have a CD player in your vehicle, you can get CDs with audio books on them at most truck stops.
Move as Much as You Can When You Can
Each time you stop the car, make sure that you and your family get out to stretch a bit and get the blood flowing again. You might even do a few jumping jacks or other simple exercises.
Everyone in the car will feel a bit better after they get out and move around a little bit, even if it is just for a few minutes. Remembering to stay just as active as you can while on a road trip can be critical, not just to get the wiggles out of the kids and to feel better, but also to prevent muscles from getting sore or tension headaches from being at the wheel for hours on end.
Stop for Fun Things
For example, when traveling from Tennessee to south Alabama when my children were small, I would stop at a train museum because the kids loved trains. They would get to stretch their legs and ride a working train, and this made it easier for them to enjoy the drive better.
Even though there might be truly amazing sights to see on your trip, take time to enjoy the smaller ones too. Eat at restaurants that look cool, pull over for pictures in scenic spots, visit small attractions you might come across. Things like this can add to the sense of adventure and help your family to enjoy the entire trip, as opposed to just the destination.
Find a balance with Entertainment for the Kids
On shorter trips, you might not want to do a lot of screens or movies. In fact, you might not want to offer any screen time at all. On trips that are longer, you might want the time to seem to pass a bit more quickly for the kids. Don’t feel bad about preloading some movies on the tablets. It can keep them entertained and not fighting with each other – which can lower your stress levels too. Just make sure that you have enough charging cords and ports for everyone’s devices.
For those times when you aren’t allowing screens, you might want to let each child pack a backpack with their own forms of entertainment. This might be Legos, figurines, stuffed animals, pencils or crayons and a notebook or coloring book, etc. Yes, there will still be times when the kids get a bit bored, especially when you aren’t allowing screens, but if you stick to the plan and encourage them to use their imaginations and come up with their own activities, they will get better at doing that, which is a skill that they can use throughout their entire lives.
You might also buy a few candied chunks of ginger from any health food store. The kids might like these. Also, any brand of ginger tablets will also work. Opening a window to let the fresh air in can also help, as can keeping screens and books away from those who are prone to the malady.
If you don’t normally allow your kids to have gum, a road trip might be a good time for it. Try to find one of the sugar free ones, but if you have a dog in the car with you, try to avoid those with xylitol as a sweetener as this is poisonous to dogs.
It would more than likely be pointless to recommend that you keep your distance from things like coffee and other stimulants on long drives. But, just realize that these aren’t the only way to remain alert. Other things that can be helpful are:
- Playing a lot of audiobooks, music, or podcasts to engage your mind
- Pulling over at rest areas to stretch, walk, do a few jumping jacks, etc.
- Opening the window for a bit of fresh air
- Eating a good bit of protein
- Green smoothies
- Coconut water
You might also keep a travel pillow in the front seat and attempt to take a nap at least once a day – if you aren’t the only driver. Most people don’t sleep well in cars, but if you are tired enough, you will be able to get 40 winks. Remember that any amount of sleep is better than none at all.
The most critical thing to remember is to not push yourself while driving if you are feeling tired. Stop and let the other driver have a turn, or if you are the only driver, pull over, stretch a bit, get some coffee, or even just call it a day and find a hotel. This is always much better than driving tired (and safer), especially when your kids are in the car.
Start the Day at a Grocery Store
Before your trip, you might want to visit a Sam’s Club or Costco and stock up on things like snap peas, carrot sticks, breakfast bars, beef jerky, crackers, trail mix, nuts, and granola bars. It is great to begin with healthy snacks because you will be able to drive longer if you don’t have to stop and eat every 4 hours.
That is great for the trip to your destination, but what about the trip home?
For the trip home, you might want to begin each day with a quick trip to a grocery store. You can get things like trail mix, healthy granola bars, corn chips, hummus, baby carrots, mandarin oranges, grapes, etc. Also, if you find a grocery store next to a Starbucks, that is a no-lose situation. You might even find one with a deli and bakery which will allow you to get the ingredients for sandwiches for the day.
Pillows and Blankets for the Kids
Even pillows that are small can be a big help for kids. Kids tend to enjoy being cozy and they might even want to use those blankets and pillows to build ‘forts’. This can also help get them to sleep when you are driving in the very early or very late hours.
Use Your GPS
Most phones now have a GPS or map system in them. This can be crucial on long trips. Get a phone holder for the dash if you will be using the device’s GPS. This can even affectionately be called a marriage saver. It will keep arguments about directions to a minimum.
Never Pre-Book Hotels
If you happen to be driving for days on end and will have to sleep on the way to your destination, it is better to leave this to where you will be than to make reservations and be under pressure to make a certain distance every day.
Just start looking for spots with hotels after about 7 or whenever you begin to get tired. Whoever isn’t doing the driving can use their phone to find a place to stay for the night while the other adult drives.
Also, booking your stay at the last minute can sometimes get you better rates. If you have a large family, don’t forget to check the hotel policy regarding children. Most will allow kids under 16 to stay for free, as long as they don’t need to find you extra beds for the rooms.
You might also want to pack sleeping bags for the kids to make it seem to be more of an adventure to them.
If you have a 4-legged friend with you, be sure to check their policy about pets too.
Be sure to do all of your planning before your trip and everything will be just fine. Expect there to be hiccups, but don’t let them stress you too badly.
- YouTube, How to Survive a Family Road Trip
- Fun Cheap or Free, Tips and Tricks for Traveling with Kids
- The Survival Mom, Survive the Family Road Trip with These 13 Tips