Having planned and driven many miles with my kids (not to mention going on many family road trips as a child myself) there are a few tips I recommend to help eliminate or lessen some common troubles. I love driving and exploring the open roads and not every trip goes as planned, but by giving ample consideration in the planning stage you can eliminate some of the guaranteed difficulties faced when traveling with kids. Spend as much time planning and prepping as you can muster. It's worth it.
How to Plan a Road Trip with Kids
How much time do you have available to travel? Days? Weeks?
Road Trip Considerations:
- Freeways versus winding two-lane roads (drive speed will be different)
- Will you be driving through a major city during rush hour (add extra time)
- Do you want to sightsee along the way? Stop for lunch?
- How many stretch breaks?
- How will the weather be during your drive? Is there road construction planned?
My advice: Don't rush your drive to get to the destination. Driving and sightseeing are part of the adventure and should be enjoyed. Fun; remember that thing you used to do when you were younger? Plan to stop along the way and take in the sights. Factor in extra time to accommodate planned and unplanned stops along the way. Occasional stretch breaks, every few hours at least, are good for your mind, body, and soul. Also, if you plan extra time you won't feel hurried when you unexpectedly come across a quirky road side attraction and decide to stop.
I like to stop and spend time outdoors where we can stretch our legs and take a walk, feel the breeze and enjoy natural elements. Playgrounds work well for young kids. I usually search the web for parks along the way and sometimes stop at visitor centers for suggestions.
Road Trip Areas of Interest:
- Local parks, county parks, state parks, and national parks
- Community fountains or splash pads
- Historical monuments
- Quirky road side attractions
- Nature / Scenic vistas
How to Entertain Kids on a Road Trip
Before our 10 day trip to Oregon I created custom book bags for the girls with their names on it. Inside I put in some new books, pens and paper, snacks, a few little toys, and their favorite stuffed animal from home.
Suggested Road Trip Entertainment:
- Audio books
- Travel games
- DVD player (hey, if you are sitting in the car for 8 hours a movie is not going to kill the kids. Just make sure you give them headphones too to give yourself a little peace.)
- Free printables: many websites have links for downloadable car games and activities
Healthy Road Trip Snacks for Kids
Food is a necessity and kids love to snack, especially when confined to car-like spaces. My favorite snacks are anything not terribly messy or crumbly, and I only do water in the car.
- Apple slices
- Celery and carrots
- Mini sandwiches
Pack strategically: Use bins for easy access and neatness. If you are driving a long distance make sure to pack a cooler with prepped snacks and picnic food. Easy access is a must. You might want to pack a small cooler to keep near you in the front seat.
Buy and prep as much food as possible ahead of time then plan to stop along the way and pick up fresh fruits, vegetables, and perishables or stop and eat out.
How to Keep Road Trips with Kids Safe and Clean
This is the boring stuff, but oh so important.
- Make sure you are prepared for roadside emergencies (the last thing you need is a screaming baby while you are stuck in the middle of nowhere).
- Keep extra plastic bags in the car for trash and for those with queasy stomachs.
- Buy some baby wipes or wet ones for simple cleanup, even if you don't have babies.
The point of all this hard work and planning is to keep the drive as fun and enjoyable as possible. If you can keep yourself from becoming frustrated the kids will have a better time and vice versa.
How to Keep Your Sanity on a Road Trip with Kids
- Keep calm: Give yourself a pep-talk ahead of time to not lose your cool as your child melts down in the back seat. Instead take a pit-stop and let everyone get some fresh air and take a short walk. The mood will change fairly quickly.
- Surprise the kids: Don't tell them about your stops ahead of time. I do this for several reasons: if the attraction is not open or not even there anymore the kids won't be disappointed and you won't have to listen to how disappointed they are. Secondly, you can make a game out of it. Give them clues to guess where you're stopping next or teach them about what they will learn soon, etc.
- Be spontaneous: Do things you regularly wouldn't do such as buying the kids an ice cream at the gas station while pumping gas or pulling over when your child sees a majestic tree to climb. It's these little things that take a prolonged drive and turn it into a journey they'll never forget.
Traveling as a family by car is a fantastic way to see the country and create memorable bonding experiences. With careful planning and preparation much of the worry can be eliminated so you can have an adventure everyone will remember for a lifetime.
Do you road trip with kids? What has been your most memorable journey?