Everyone loves a good road trip. An exciting adventure, a good playlist, people you love, and unhealthy snacks. What could go wrong?
Road trips pre-kids were pretty low maintenance. But now that children are joining these journeys, a whole lot of planning, preparations, and prayer must be added to the mix.
Want to not only survive road trips with kids, but actually enjoy them? Here are a few tips that may just get you to where you’re going in one piece with a smile on your face:
- Pack MORE snacks that you’ll ever need. Like, way more. A friend of mine has a motto that I now live by when traveling with kids: No rules, just snacks. Is brother screaming because sister touched him? Throw him a bag of goldfish. Is the baby screaming because she dropped her paci for the 10th time? Give her an applesauce packet. As a first time parent I would have thought this to be excessive. But now? I see the importance of keeping everyone’s blood sugar (including my own) at a nice healthy level in order to keep the peace.
- Plan your schedule strategically. We all know that kids and schedules go together like peanut butter and jelly. These schedules can be hard to maintain when traveling, but this doesn’t mean that you have to throw all routines out the window. Think about your kids and what they need the most. Do they sleep great in their car seats? Consider leaving right before nap time so that they can sleep the first part of your journey. I have lots of friends who start long journeys at 10 PM and drive through the night to allow for lots of rest. Want to make time for a play break in the middle of the journey? Leave early in the morning so that a lunch stop can provide a chance for your kiddos to run and get some energy out. However you decide to schedule your trip, be smart and plan ahead!
- Utilize state visitor centers. You will find visitor centers at every state line that you cross. Most of these are very nice, very clean, and also very informative. You’ll usually find family bathrooms, making potty breaks much easier to manage, as well as picnic tables, grassy areas for kids and pets to run, and an information area full of maps, brochures, and magazines. Visitor centers can be much more helpful than gas stations when available!
- Stock up on goodies from the library. My mom never let me take library books on trips when I was younger because she feared that we would lose them. While I definitely have this same fear, I am a big proponent of using the library’s resources to keep my kids entertained on car rides. There are so many cool things that you can check out, including Playaway books (MP3 books that headphones can be plugged into), Wonderbooks (hard copies of books that read to your kids), DVDs, books on CD, etc. These will be so different from the day-to-day books in your home that your kids will be enthralled and love the novelty of them.
- Break up car activities to avoid boredom. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not saying that you need to have 10 crafts and car games planned and prepped for your kids. You are not the road trip activity director. However, there is some wisdom in staggering activities to keep your kids occupied and not complaining. For example, play a movie for the first hour and a half. Then, distribute library books or audio books for everyone to look at and listen to for the next hour. After that, listen to a favorite soundtrack. By staggering these activities and not letting your kids just stare at a screen for six hours straight, you are setting yourself up for enjoyment and engagement rather than bad moods and boredom.
- Keep your expectations low. It’s really easy to plan a road trip and expect it to be magical and perfect and the best thing you’ve ever done as a family. But reality says that someone will get carsick, siblings will argue, you will want to scream at some point, and everyone will need to pee at different times. Be realistic, keep your expectations low, and prepare to be flexible.
Road trips are great opportunities to make memories with your kids that will last a lifetime. They don’t have to be painful and you don’t have to just endure them. Plan ahead and the journey may actually end up being better than the destination!