Ultimate Survival Guide For A Road Trip With Kids
A road trip with kids is an age-old way of vacationing. Most families go through one or two if not several seasons when you pack everything into the car and then hit the road. It’s surviving the road trip with kids, however, that we are all interested in though. Is it actually possible? And how can you actually make it to the end of the road trip with kids and your sanity all intact!
So if you are sick and tired of hearing “Are we there yet?” for the hundredth time? Especially when it’s before you’ve even reached the freeway? Well, we’ve got your next road trip with kids all covered! Our top twenty tips to help you survive your next road trip with the family this summer is sure to save you. Check out these handy hacks to help you stay sane and maybe even enjoy the ride.
1. Planning, Planning and More Planning
The success of any vacation lives and breathes off the back of proper planning. So whatever you do, make sure you’ve covered your bases and done due diligence for your road trip with kids too. The number of miles per day, things to see and do along the way, and where you’re stopping each night are all apparent. It’s also planning a route that is interesting to look at rather than bland and boring is also essential. Showing your kids a map and pictures of what you’ll all be seeing on your road trip is also a great idea to build excitement into the planning too.
If your kids are old enough to do some research, then have them do some. Their input will make a difference in their care factor. Plus, you’ll be surprised by what they come up with that you may have missed. Things like the biggest ball of strings, or the worlds longest covered bridge are all those little extras to look forward too. Having them take ownership of various parts of the road trip will get them excited about what’s coming up.
2. Packed To The Max
There is no point in packing every pair of shoes that you own – just in case, especially on a road trip. And especially on a road trip with kids! Space is a luxury in a car that rapidly declines when you have multiple people bringing all their “must-haves.” So be ruthless. Only put in the car what is necessary. Make a list of what each person needs and remember you can actually do laundry along the way. So no, you don’t need to pack fourteen pairs of underwear for your two-week vacation. Yes, you don’t want to be at a laundromat for your entire holiday but be reasonable.
Also, packing every soft toy your toddler owns is not appropriate too. Explaining to them that taking one or two special ones is sufficient is the way to go. Plus, tell them to think of all the stories they’ll be able to share with their other toys when they return is a way of breaking it gently to them too.
3. Keep Them Full
The second worst phrase that a parent dreads hearing as they hit the holiday road is “I’m hungry!”. This is even more frustrating when you’ve only just had lunch. For most kids, the thought of sitting in the car for an extended period seems to bring often unexplainable, yet inevitable hunger pangs.
So we recommend that before you go, get your kids involved. Have them help in the preparation by having them create their snack packs. It doesn’t matter if you use a jar or a plastic bag, as long as it’s resealable. Have them choose a mixture of fun and healthy things to fill up their snack pack with so that every mouthful is different. Alternatively, if they prefer to keep things separated, they can make multiple packets. Save one for the start of the trip and another for after a pit-stop and so on. Using a jar or resealable container and making personalized ‘pick n’ mix’ snacks will provide handfuls of satisfaction. With any luck, it’ll keep them quiet till the first rest-stop.
4. Try a supermarket stop
A stop at a gas station doesn’t usually have the most cost-effective or nutritious options. The one thing you don’t want to do on a road trip is to fill your kids up with sugar too! All that energy has to go somewhere, and when the only option is a car seat, it’s not a great scenario for a happy trip. It’s only going to end with tears – probably yours too. So, if you’re on a multi-day road trip, then instead opt to go to a supermarket for your lunch. You can get great options such as fresh salads, a cooked chicken, some even have pay-by-weight already made food. Plus many have a Starbucks attached, so you’ll be set for your coffee break too.
Also, if you need to pick up a few on the road treats it’ll be a lot cheaper at a supermarket. Plus you can even make it a scavenger hunt with your older children. Get them to burn off some energy as they find you a packet of Goldfish and box of tissues. It gives them something to do, and you can sit back and sip on your coffee with those few kid-free moments.
5. Breakfast On The Go
To get on the road early, pick up some milk and cereal, then find a stop for breakfast along the way. Kids love those little packets of breakfast cereal, so get them to choose their own, and that will add to the fun. This is good especially if the hotel you’d stayed in the night before didn’t supply any good breakfast options. We also recommend a banana hotdog too! What’s that you say? Well, it’s simply a slice of bread with a banana on it, and you eat it like a hotdog! Ingenious! Trust us, the kids will think it’s a little crazy, and they’ll giggle about it for the rest of the morning. But you’ll be happy that it’s a fairly filling and nutritious way of enjoying a quick and pretty mess-free breakfast.
6. Make A Playlist Of Their Favorite Tunes And Hand Over The Headphones
Sick of listening to the Wiggles sing the ‘Big Red Car’ for the millionth time? Nursery rhymes or kids songs, in general, can get pretty tired especially if you’re on a long road trip with kids. So have the kids pick a list of their favorite songs and make a playlist or two along your travels. While they’ve picked the songs, you choose the playlist order so that you can keep a balance between the zany and the zen. Don’t forget to create a ‘sleepy time’ playlist to help the struggler who is still fussing in the back, to settle down for a snooze. With the kid’s music out of your ears, you’re free to enjoy your own road trip playlist. Perfect!
7. Keep’em Busier Than A Bee In Summer
Don’t be tempted to hand over the iPad or tablet and get the movies rolling as soon as you get in the car. You’re better off leaving them stowed away for a little while longer. Using the ‘movie-option’ as a privilege to be earned, can go a long way if the behavior starts going south. Instead, pick up a metal lunch box that the kids can use to bring their crayons, small toys and even magnetic letters and numbers.
While the latter is more relevant for younger kids, even bigger kids can pack things like card games, fidget spinners, etc. If you can’t find a metal lunch box, a cookie sheet or a tray with a lip on it. It works great for keeping things from rolling onto the floor. As a bonus, you’ve got a tray table that’s ready to go for your snacks or on the road meal.
8. Keep Them Comfy
Kids are famous for making messes and spilling food and drink on themselves. Nothing is more uncomfortable than having to sit in smelly, wet or dirty clothes, for any length of time. This can make for a seriously grumpy child and in-turn, a grumpy parent. Make sure that you’ve kept a spare change of clothes, wipes, toilet paper, and pajamas handy. If you’ve hit unexpected traffic that causes your travel time to blow over into bedtime, to have the pj’s will be a lifesaver. It will keep them cozy and comfortable as they settle in for the rest of the ride.
9. It’s Movie Time!
The kids will enjoy making the movie line-up for the trip. So have them plan the session times and movie choices ahead of time with you. It really helps when you’re on a road trip with kids! Also, by having them agree on both the movie and the ‘session time’ in advance, you’ll prevent a potential disagreement about whose turn it is to pick the movie. If you’ve got a planner in the family, then you’re already a few steps ahead. Let them take the reigns and run it by you for the final say. Planners like to plan, so use that kid’s skills like a boss!
10. First Aid Kit
A first aid kit is a simple thing to have on hand too for all those unexpected situations that might crop up along the way. You never know what might happen at a rest stop and being prepared is always better. A grazed knee from a miss-step along a sidewalk can easily be treated with care when you’re fully equipped to do so. Some Advil or the like might be advisable to pack too – in case you parents get a headache if all goes south!
11. Sick Kit
One thing you don’t want when you’re on a road trip is unnecessary stops due to motion sickness. Kids between the age of 2 – 12 can be susceptible to motion sickness, and it can affect individuals at varying levels of intensity too. Taking regular stops will assist in preventing the build-up of it. Fresh air, something cool on their neck, ginger or peppermint snacks and applying light but firm pressure on the inside of the wrist can be helpful. Distractions from the road such as reading books, watching movies or coloring in, can be your worst enemy in combating motion sickness.
So instead, we recommend playing road games and especially listening to the child’s favorite music is said to be the best help. But whatever you do, make sure that you’ve prepared for to worst case scenario. A plastic container with a lid that can easily contain vomit and then washed out is a must! Having disposable gloves, plenty of wet wipes and water on hand to drink and clean the car or child down will be advantageous too. A spare change of clothes with plastic bags for the “wet” ones, is also a great idea in case of an absolute disaster. Air freshener is also a great option too. Just make sure you don’t go overboard with it otherwise it might set them off again.
12. Stop at Playgrounds
Having a rest stop at a gas station isn’t exactly full of excitement for your kids. Yes, they may enjoy washing their window – if they can reach it. However, a wiper has nothing on a playground! So make sure you’ve planned ahead and scheduled in some stops along to way for them to burn some energy. Climbing, swinging, chasing and getting fresh air is nothing to be dismissed. If your kids can run a while, even if it’s after a ball or frisbee that you had on hand will be worth it. You can use the stop as something for them to look forward too along the way. But also, they’ll be content in the knowledge that you’re also taking their needs into account. The give and take factor in road trips is key to a successful days journey.
13. Stop to cool off
While on a road trip with kids, it’s a good idea to consider stopping at a water park along the journey too. Most cities have public pools or waterparks for you to enjoy. So schedule these into your itinerary to help make the road trip not so arduous. If you’re out in nature then having a play in a stream, swim in a river or lake or paddle along a shoreline is also a fabulous idea too. Everyone gets a chance to have fun, cool down and relax. Again, the kids will be thankful for the moments away from the car. And then when it’s time to hit the road, they’ll be satisfied with having had some fun.
14. America the Beautiful
With more than 2,000 federal recreation sites on offer – the ‘America the Beautiful’ annual pass is well worth getting. This pass allows entry into all the national parks and national wildlife refuges across the US. There are even passes if your a Military family, or if this is your lucky year and you’ve got a Fourth Grader in your family. So take advantage of these and enjoy the wonder of this incredible country.
The kids can also spend some time in each of the parks learning and exploring as they become Junior Rangers. It’s an excellent program that will keep them busy not only while in the park but also afterward. They receive either papers or notebook to fill in, with tasks to complete. Then once they’ve been checked and sworn into the program by an official ranger they’ll receive a badge commemorating this great occasion. So if you’re traveling across the country, plan and schedule these moments. They really are precious memories.
15. Game Time
Now, game time often relates itself to screen time these days. Which in the case of a road trip with kids that may be handy. This can also work well if you’ve got consoles that each of them can connect to and play against each other. For example, racing each other in Mario Cart on a Nintendo DS is always fun.
Why not take it back ‘old school’ a bit and play some other type of games. It will give you a chance to tell the kids stories about “when I was child we…” but it also gives them a chance to unplug. Eye-Spy and the Name Game are great. Memory games like “I’m going on a picnic, and I’m taking…” are also good too. Then counting the number of animals on your trip or number plates from different states are always a favorite as they go throughout a trip. Whatever you choose, remember it’s about variety. So mix things up, and you’ll have much better reception when you suggest it.
16. Book series
We all know the virtues of reading to our kids. It proves to be incredibly helpful for expanding their concentration and vocabulary. So either listen to audiobooks or have the “non-driving” parent read a chapter at a time. It gets the kids quiet as they have to use their ears not their mouth. It also can be an excellent time for them using their imagination, especially if the scenery is a little less than impressive. For cross-country road trips we suggest choosing a book series. This way if you finish the book there’s always another one to follow on. You will probably find too that your kids won’t be the only ones interested in what’s coming next, so will you! If your book is particularly exciting then using the next installment as a reward or distraction, will also help to pass the time.
17. Doing the Math
Sitting still in a seat for hours on end can seem like such a brain drain. So get the kids doing some simple math problems will get the juices flowing. This can be working out how many hours per day you’ve driven. Or a countdown of minutes until the next stop. Or add up miles driven so far on the trip as a whole. You can even have some timetable races if your children are at an age where this is appropriate. They might not be terribly interested at the start, but if you make a game or competition out of it then they’re sure to get involved.
18. Keep Travel Journal
If your children are school aged, then encourage them to keep a diary of your trip. This doesn’t need to be a chore, but a fun and interesting record for them to take note of what has stuck out to them. It’s incredible to look back on these in the years to come. Each of you has your own angle on what’s going on in the car. So it’s interesting to hear everyone’s stories. Plus, it’s an educational tool for them to use if their teacher asks what they did on their vacation. They’ll have a quick reminder and won’t have to struggle to recall something of interest.
You may want to do this as a verbal recording for younger children too. Most phones these days will take voice recordings or even video recordings. So ask a few simple questions like “What was the best thing you saw today?”, “What did you like eating today?” and “What are you looking forward to seeing tomorrow?” The options are endless and so simple. This is a very cool way of making memories stay alive in the future.
19. Take Photos
We all know about taking photos of the important events and sightseeing expeditions throughout our lives. However, giving your child the responsibility of taking photos with a phone or even a disposable camera is a great idea. Not only when you stop, but also from the vantage point of their car seat. Kids seem to discover things to take photos of that us adults don’t normally think to. This can be a good thing. Or sometimes bad. But usually, it’s so much fun to look back on. It usually ends in lots of laughs too. Kids have a great way of catching parents at weird angles, and that can keep them occupied for hours also. So that will make for a more pleasant road trip – which after all, is the goal.
20. Actually talk
With life being so incredibly busy these days there seems to be less and less time spent in real communication. Communication that goes beyond, did you do wash your hands? Or did you do your homework yet? Yes, it’s important to know if your kids have washed their hands and done their homework. However, it’s also so incredibly important to know what is actually going on in their life. What their hopes and dreams are. And, what they want to do when they grow up. It doesn’t matter how old your children are, toddlers or teens or anything in between. Just ask them questions. Find out the answers, and you may like to reminisce with them regarding what their responses used to be. That’s always fun.
But also, let them ask you questions. Kids are inherently inquisitive by nature. So there really is no better time to converse than on a road trip. You will have a captured audience and so will they. It’s not like any of you can walk away if it gets a little awkward. So take the time a really discuss things.
In conclusion, there are plenty of great hacks here on how to survive a road trip with kids. Hopefully, you’ve picked up a new idea or two that will take some of the dread out of a long journey. Don’t forget to pay it forward if you have! Go on, share away. You might just become the next ‘traveling with kids guru’ and in doing so, make someone else’s road trip a more enjoyable one!