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Hubs and I love road trips. When we had kids we took a break from long car rides because I didn’t want to put myself through the torture that can come with traveling with kids. I mean, why put myself through something I didn’t have too??? But when our youngest turned one, we kind of just jumped right into our road trip adventures as a family. We’ve started slowly, not going more than 5-6 hours away from home. Lucky for us, we live in Des Moines, Iowa which means that there’s some awesome cities and things to do with in that driving range.
In the two years that we’ve been road tripping and have many trips under our belt, we’ve learned a few things. Here are some tips that may (or may not–maybe you’re a more seasoned road tripper than I, which means that I would love to hear your road trip tips) come in handy for this summer’s road trip(s) with the kids:
1. Bring extra clothes, a few towels, clean supplies (we have a container to Clorox wipes that stay in our minivan at all time) and baby wipes.
Speaking from experience, you never know when someone might get car sick. You DON’T want to rush to the nearest rest area only to go through all of your luggage to find an extra set of clothes only to realize that you have no way to clean up the car seat (a shout out to our fellow road trippers, a trucker, and my quick thinking husband for being able to give Harrison’s car seat a good scrubbing when the above scenario happened to us).
2. Add at least an extra hour or two to your drive time (example: 6 hour road trip, plan for 7 to 8 hours).
Plan on numerous potty breaks, snacks, diaper changes, issues with the DVD player, a fight over the Kindle, getting out to stretch legs/run around. The list goes on and on. On our recent trip to the Wisconsin Dells, our 5 hour trip took 7 hours because of energetic children. Thankfully we had numerous park playing options along the way.
3. Speaking of Kindle (or an Ipad), don’t bring it.
In our experience, it either causes fights amongst the kids (we have one that they share) or there’s some kind of issue that we need to pull over for, adding more time in the car. The last few trips we’ve left it at home and things actually went much more smoothly.
4. Lay out the car rules beforehand.
Ours include: no raising your voice (we call this light voices), hands to yourself, keep your stuff to yourself, Mom chooses the movies that are watched (way less fighting), stay in your seats and buckled at all times, know that if you need something your needs may not be met right away because we’re all buckled into our seat belts. These simple rules have made car rides much more bearable.
5. Pick a time that’s good for the kids to leave for a trip, not when it’s convenient for you.
The best time for us to leave for a trip is early to late evening. Just in time for a snack, one last potty break, and then bedtimes. The kids don’t fall asleep especially easily in the car, but once it’s dark out, we put on a movie without sound and let them fall asleep while Hubs and I drown ourselves with coffee. We’ve tried leaving at different points in the day, but this has been our most successful time. If we leave in the morning the kids are too energetic. If we leave mid-morning or lunch time, we usually get a couple of easy hours in the car thanks to nap time, but then have to deal with re-energized kids who need to get out A LOT to stretch their legs (aka-terrorize rest area playgrounds).
6. The portable DVD is a lifesaver.
After too many fights and issues with bringing our Kindle along on trips, we’ve relied heavily on the DVD and have found success. I typically don’t let my kids binge watch TV but I have my rules when we’re on a trip: one educational movie or show (they tend to lean towards a Leap Frog DVD), one Disney movie, and one “real life, action movie.” Gives them a great variety and I don’t feel incredibly guilty for playing movies our entire ride.
7. Have things for them to do.
Some of our go-tos: Magna Doodles or Doodle Pros, Water Wow, and Melissa and Doug Travel games. The license plate game is great for older kids or we simplify it for the younger kids and play “Find all of the red cars.”
8. Bring blankets and pillows.
My kids love to ride in comfy clothes (pj’s or gym clothes), no shoes, covered in blankets, and pillows to hold. We’ve also found this helps with the hotel stay and falling asleep at night and feeling comforted. A favorite blanket (or three if you’re my kids) and a bed pillow are a must for us.
9. Bring a cooler and snacks.
Having drinks and snacks readily available reduces the amount of stops you’ll have to make (or money you’d spend). I like to pack a cooler full of water bottles and small bottles of milks for the kids. For snacks, I always pack bananas, crackers, one treat (usually fruit snacks), string cheese, apples, and carrot sticks. That seems to get us through both the drive to vacation and back home, plus some snacks for the hotel room.
10. Read books.
I keep a bag full of children’s books up front with me. When the kids start to get restless or too loud, I read the books to the kids. Sure my neck and back hurt afterwards from contorting my body, but if it keeps the kids from screaming at each other then it is well worth it.
11. Map out your preferred stopping locations before you leave.
On our recent trip to the Wisconsin Dells, we had to do most of our drive on highways, which meant less stopping points. We also knew where all of the parks and rest areas are on our routes because you never know when someone might shout out “I have to pee really bad!” ten minutes after you’ve left a gas station.
12. Bringing our at home pharmacy is a must for us.
Tylenol, Motrin (both kids and adults), band aids, Benadryl (or any other allergy meds), etc. have come in handy several times while we’ve been out of town. It’s much more convenient to open up my bag of medicines than having to locate the nearest Target.
Good luck and safe and happy travels! If all of these things fail, at least you’ll have interesting stories that I’m sure we’ll be funny some day.
This post was originally featured on Ashlen’s blog, The Kidsperts.