Our family road trips a lot. My parents live about 15 hours away and it is WAY to expensive to fly everyone there. Apart from that, we’ve road tripped all over the west. We’ve been to all but 2 states (in the West) and have put thousand of road trip miles on our minivan. All three of our kids have traveled on long road trips their whole life! Since we just got back from a road trip, I thought I would share a little bit of the things I’ve learned about traveling with kids!
A couple of years ago, I came across this blog post with a wonderful packing idea! Basically, you buy some 2-gallon zip lock bags. Then, reinforce the bottom with packaging tape. Punch holes for rings. Finally label each bag with a day.
I made some and I love them! It makes packing easier. It might sound strange, but more clothes fit in the suitcase with this packing method. I can fit clothes for 3 kids for over a week in a medium sized suitcase. The kids always know what they’re supposed to wear on a certain day and I don’t have to fight with them because they want to wear a different outfit. Then, when they’re done wearing the clothes, the dirty clothes go right back into the same bag. Before I used this method, I can’t tell you how hard it was to keep the clean and dirty clothes separated. And, the kids always dug through the suitcase messing up all of the folded clothes along the way. I really can’t tell you how much easier it has made living out of a suitcase for over a week!
2. If they’re little, take toys.
I always let my kids pick 2 toys to take with them. It’s nice for them to have something to play with in the car. And they love having something familiar from home. Books and coloring books don’t count. Neither do pillow pets because we let them take those to use as pillows. There are a couple reasons I limit it to 2 toys. One, we inevitably will buy more (or get more from kids meals). And two, it’s less toys for them to keep track of. It’s easy for each child to remember the two toys they brought. Once I took a whole bag full for them to play with in the hotel room. One of my sons very favorite toys ended up getting lost and he was devastated. From then on, it was only 2 toys per kid.
3. Movies, Movies, Movies!
Back before Redbox existed, I would spend hours recording television shows onto DVDs before our road trips. Did you know they used to sell DVD recorders that worked like VCRs? Crazy how fast things change! Now, we use Redbox. I won’t rent movies for our kids to watch at home for months before the trip, that way everything at the Redbox is new. I love that you can pick up a movie in one city and return it somewhere hundreds of miles away. I love that kids who are too young to tell time have a better idea of tracking time through movies. We tell our kids “We’ll stop for dinner after 2 movies”. They get that and they quit asking “When are we going to be there?”
4. Car Activities
As much as I wish it were true, watching movies won’t hold a child’s attention for a 15 hour drive. So, I plan different activities that they can do while sitting in their seat all day. Here are a few suggestions.
Last year, I made each of my kids a crayon tote. I got the pattern here. You just need to be sure that you don’t leave the tote in the hot car or the crayons will melt. Why, yes…I am speaking from experience. ;)
I also love these Look and Find Books. They have them in several different characters and my kids get hours of entertainment from them in the car.
You don’t even have to plan ahead when it comes to car activities. It’s fun to make up games on the go. One road trip we went on was 17 hours one way and we only had three days to get there and back home. It was a ton of driving! My daughter was getting pretty interested in where we were going. I helped her spell out each upcoming city that we were driving through on a list. Each time we drove through a city, she would cross it off.
You don’t even have to plan ahead when it comes to car activities. It’s fun to make up games on the go. One road trip we went on was 17 hours one way and we only had 3 days to get there and back. It was a ton of driving! My daughter was getting pretty interested in where we were going. I helped her spell out each city on the map. Every time we drove through a city on her list, she would cross it off.
Finally, we don’t have very many electronics in our family. My kids would love their own DS. Maybe one day. But they do each have a Leapster. I know they are a little old school, but you can still get them on Amazon for relatively inexpensive. Plus all of the games are educational and can often be found for cheap. (I just found Up, Toy Story 3, ISPY Treasure Hunt, and Wall-E with a quick Amazon search all for under $10 a game!)
5. Drive at night.
When I say drive at night, I don’t mean that we drive all night. We’ve only ever driven through the night once, and I think it was horrible! We were so tired the next day. When we go on a trip, we normally leave in the late afternoon or evening. We stop in a couple of hours to eat dinner, then tell the kids that they can go to sleep because we’re going to be driving until way after bedtime. It sometimes takes them a while to fall asleep if it’s during the summer, but if they start to get restless, we remind them that it’s rest time. Then, we drive until 1 or 2 in the morning. We try to make it at least half way on the first day. If we can make it farther, that’s wonderful, too! My husband is a rock star of a night driver. He’ll keep going way past when I’ve reached my limit. I love driving at night because after the kids fall asleep, it feel like it’s just the two of us for a while.
6. Bring snacks
I don’t know what it is about bored kids, but mine always think they’re hungry. I always load up on fun snacks before we leave on a road trip. Snacks that they don’t ever get at home. Then, I bribe them to be good with snacks. I realize that bribing your kids with food isn’t always very healthy. But, in my opinion, if we save it for road trips, it makes traveling fun. My only advice on snacks is, try not to give them too many salty things because then they are always thirsty, which leads to more drinks and more bathroom stops.
7. Roll with the punches
When we’re on our trip, not necessarily driving anymore, but actually at our destination for the week, it seems like all schedule and routine are thrown out the window. I’m not normally a strict scheduler at home, but even the normal structure we have is absolutely gone. No naps sometimes equals grumpy kids at home. But, I’ve learned to loosen up quite a bit while on a trip. There is no way my two-year old is going to fall asleep at his normal bedtime when he’s not in his normal bed. So, I roll with it and try to make it work the best way possible. Are my kids sleep deprived? Yes! But even a 15 minute nap in the car on the way to a restaurant can go a really long way.
Kids are resilient and will be just fine. And it takes no time at all for them to jump right back into a routine when you get home. Just make sure your kids are getting enough to eat. Sometimes grumpy kids aren’t tired. They’re just hungry and that’s a pretty quick fix.
8. Take lots and lots of pictures.
This one is probably pretty obvious. Of course you’ll want to take lots of pictures. It’s sometimes easy to get pretty busy and forget, especially if you’re visiting family. Our family has made it a tradition to stop at state signs to get a family picture. Even if it’s windy and the sun is shining too bright, I know I’m going to cherish all of these fun pictures we get.
9. Wear Neon
Okay…maybe that sounds a little strange. Let me explain. On this last trip, we took our kids to an amusement park. Before we left, I realized we all had neon green shirts, so I packed them to be worn on amusement park day. It was great because it was easy to spot our kids and they could easily see us. I bet we had 10 different people comment that day on what a good idea that was. So, if you know you’re going to be in a crowded place and you’re worried about losing your kids, dress the same.
10. Have fun!
It’s easy to feel grumpy when your kids are tired and you haven’t slept on a comfortable bed for days, but remember that you are building memories with your family. Have fun and make it memorable!