Just got back from a 10-day road trip with my wife and 2 boys, aged 10 and 4. Although it was a really fun and enjoyable trip, we had our moments of high stress and anxiety. Thought I’d whip up a post to share our experiences and hopefully provide a little wisdom to help those of you that are thinking about a road trip with your kids.
Everybody knows to take snacks, toys, and entertainment, but these are the things we found especially helpful this time around.
Some of the advice you may have to take with a grain of salt, say, if you have girls, or perhaps kids of different ages. But by & large, I’m hopeful that most of the points will be fairly universal in nature and will make sure your next road trip isn’t the last one your family will ever do!
1. Space out the kids!
Driving a vehicle with multiple rows? If you can, space the kids on separate rows. Now I’m sure this’ll ruffle some feathers of parenting experts, but in our family, the boys get along so well that they manage to annoy each other incessantly. This is probably more important if the kids are not very close in age, and may have more of a tendency to fight if forced to sit in a fixed position for a long period of time.
If you have oodles of children this becomes more of a strategic placement issue – put the peacemakers between the arguers. This will understandably be more of a challenge, but I believe giving kids space in the vehicle will help keep them more well-behaved.
2. Earplugs are your (or the kids’) friend
Yes, I love my boys, but sometimes being in the passenger seat (not the driver’s seat because this would be dangerous), I just want to ratchet my chair back a little and nod off uninterrupted. Earplugs help to alleviate the high-pitched voices that come from the little people in the vehicle.
For kids, if you’ve got a reader, maybe that child wants to use earplugs so they can have a more peaceful environment.
3. Bribery works
With everyone is such close proximity, we suspend traditional no bribery parenting rules. From 1st dibs on the iPod , to whether or not we go out for ice cream later, the fun stuff you want to do (and were already planning to do) easily becomes a reward for good behavior in the car or hotel.
4. Pringles snack-sized container
Let’s face it – kids are smaller than us and thus, their bladders are smaller. So they are going to want to go to the bathroom more frequently. Stopping at a rest area every 30 minutes isn’t the most practical nor is there necessarily one available every time you need one, so what do you do?
We stop the caravan, get the kids out of their seats, and help facilitate a bladder-emptying session in an empty snack-sized Pringles container (in this case) while they remain in the vehicle. This could be whatever you have on-hand, but I’m just tellin’ ya, not a bad idea!
Of course, pull off to the side of the road safely and don’t flaunt what you are doing to traffic that may pass you.
5. Swap out drivers
Of course this will only work if you have at least one other driver in the family. What works best for us is to have each spouse drive equal (or close to equal) increments on the road. Instead of having one spouse do most of the driving, which usually burns them out, we like our drivers fresh and alert.
Try to change maybe every 90 minutes or so. This also lets the non-driving person do something they enjoy that’s a little less intensive, like browse the internet on their phone, read a little, or enjoy a snack.
6. Going to a beach?
Expect to have a sandy car. There’s not really any way around this. Even if you do a thorough job of rinsing off under the shower at the beach, sand grains will somehow find a way in to your vehicle.
Don’t sweat the small stuff – when you get back home just count on a good car wash and vacuum of the interior.
7. It’s NOTHING like a vacation without kids
You could go to the same place, do the same activities, eat the same food, but the experience with kids is a 180 degree difference entirely, especially if your kids are smaller or medium-sized.
This is because they typically need a lot of maintenance and attention, and since they aren’t oriented to new areas yet, may experience anxiety, confusion, or just have a lot of questions to ask.
We have the brainiest 10-year old on Earth (don’t we all?) , and he likes to ask 10,000 questions. Most of the questions we have no idea how to answer, but by golly, we sure try.
Approach your vacation with adjusted expectations.
8. Hotel Pool is a God-send
From the tiny 2 1/2-star Best Western to the 4-star beachfront fancy pants hotel, almost every place has a pool these days. When you’ve been traveling in the car for multiple hours at a time and everybody’s a little frayed around the edges, nothing “chills out” the whole gang like a dip in pool. That super-stressful time between check-in and dinner can be alleviated with some family splash time.
9. DVD Player
I never thought we’d be one of those families that had a DVD player in their vehicle. Time change – roll with the punches. We purposefully don’t use ours during any outing other than vacation time. When we need to concentrate on driving through a new town, or one parents just wants a nap (see point 2), nothing quiets the vehicle quite like a favorite movie. For the record, we’ve played Frozen, The Lego Movie, and Wreck-It Ralph about 2,178 times.
10. Be Flexible
We originally planned on driving from Phoenix to San Diego to San Francisco to Yosemite National Park to Provo and back to Phoenix.
Boy, that was ambitious!
Once we got to Yosemite we decided to revamp our travel plans? Why you ask? Because we were all burning out from road time. After three 6-hour car days, we couldn’t imagine 2 more plus a 11-hour drive home.
From Yosemite we drove back to San Diego, stayed another 2 nights, and were happy campers, literally.
Hope these tips were helpful. What are your best travel tips for road trips with kids? Please leave a comment below!