Travel of any sort with kids in the mix has its challenges, but for many people, the thought of the whole family being trapped in the car for a day or more together sounds horrifying. I’m happy to fly with my kids, but there are times when it’s not the best option. I’ve made several 12+ hour road trips with my kids, one of whom is a toddler, in the past year. It might seem a little overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be stressful!
One of the first things you can do is plan and decide which travel style will work best for your family. We prefer to power through to our destination, when we can, and not stop or sightsee along the way. That won’t work for everyone. My kids can generally make it 3-4 hours without having to stop. So I’ll plot out roughly what cities we will stop in for gas, bathroom breaks, and food. We try to make sure that we do all three in the same stop, so we minimize how many times we’re getting off the interstate. If we can’t make it in a day, I choose a hotel and make a reservation ahead of time to guarantee our location and room type. If you’re the sightseeing type of family, be sure to plot those stops out and allow yourself plenty of time.
If you stay overnight at a hotel along the way, pack one bag with toiletries, pajamas, and clean clothes for the whole family. It makes for quick and easy unpacking. You won’t have to open every single suitcase in the hotel. If you’ve got a full car, make sure that you put that bag in last, so you aren’t emptying the whole car to get to it.
Snacks, snacks, snacks, and more snacks! I give each kid a water bottle and then fill a basket full of grab and go snacks to place between them. Some of our favorites are applesauce or shelf-stable yogurt pouches, clementines, apples, and Goldfish packs. Keep a trash bag, and lots of napkins and baby wipes on hand. If you’re traveling with toddlers, throw a snack cup into the basket to fill for them. We also splurge on the juices with the character toppers (a huge bonus that they don’t spill in the car).
Blankets and a stuffed animal or pillow for each kid are helpful. Everyone rests at some point, so make sure they have something cuddle up with to help them get comfortable. Once they fall asleep, DON’T STOP if you don’t have to. Unless your gas tank is on empty, keep going and take advantage of the quiet to turn on your own music and put some miles behind you.
Many new activities will distract kids from the dreaded “Are we there yet?” and “How much longer?” questions. This doesn’t have to cost a lot. I love to swing by the Dollar Tree to stock up on new coloring or sticker books, little craft kits, and even new books. I remind my kids to download new games on their tablets or favorite tv show episodes and albums. For multi-day trips, I have been known to purchase a new activity or toy for each hour of the trip and a roll of wrapping paper. The kids can pick a “present” out of the bag each hour to unwrap.
Make sure to grab extra batteries and chargers for all your electronics. Put those fuel rods to good use! Make sure everything has a full charge the day before departing, and don’t forget to put tablets and other devices back in the kids’ backpacks before you go to sleep. We once realized halfway to the airport (with a domestic flight, an international flight, and a six-hour road trip ahead of us) that my daughter had removed her tablet from her backpack and hadn’t replaced it. Cue the tears! Also, check and double-check that each kid has a set of headphones. No one wants to listen to endless hours of game music on repeat!
Use mobile ordering to order ahead for food stops! Look ahead on your phone to see what’s in the area when getting close to the time for a stop. Lots of restaurants now offer ordering via an app. It saves a lot of time if we can take a quick potty break, stretch our legs, and grab our prepared food and get back on the road. A few that I’ve used are Starbucks, Jimmy Johns, McDonald’s, and Chick-fil-A.
Get organized! Each of our kids has a backpack and a folding lap desk with storage that they can pack up for the road. All of their books, activities, crayons, tables, and headphones, and any other little things they insist that they “need” have to fit into these. They enjoy getting to pick out items.
Above all, be flexible and try not to stress about the little things! Nothing ever goes exactly according to plan when kids are involved. As your kids get older, get them more involved in the planning for trips.
If you have any questions or you’d like help planning for an exciting destination as an end to your road trip, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.