Sometimes road trips can turn into nightmares when children are part of the trip entourage but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can survive a road trip with kids if you prepare correctly. Kids’ minds are always running from the moment they wake up until the moment they pass out in one of those awkward positions that makes your body hurt. We have done road trips with infants, toddlers, and school age children so know that you can survive and possibly even enjoy a road trip if you adjust your expectations and plan ahead for pitfalls. After you’ve made all the plans, cleared the vehicle checklist and packed for every imaginable situation, here are some tips you can use to avoid the common kid related issues on road trips.
“Are we there, yet?”
The dreaded question of parents is, “Are we there, yet?” Single-handedly, it can ruin an entire road trip but it doesn’t have to by any means. Our favorite way of avoiding the entire question is to prepare ahead of time a map for the kids to follow. Google maps are fantastic for this job. Start by entering your starting and departing locations. Then add in stops you know you’re making; hotels, gas, food, sightseeing, etc. If you’re driving for multiple days, make a map for each day you’ll be on the road. Print maps for each child so there will be no arguing over who’s turn it is to hold, read, look, touch or whatever with the map. Place the printed pages in a sheet protector and the child can trace the route with a dry erase marker so they always know where they are and how much more they have ahead of them.
The other dreaded statement of parents. It’s always paired with a huge sigh and sometimes said in an overly whiny voice. Prepare games for the road. License plate themed games are great when you’re traveling cross-country. Nowadays there are tons of portable board games of your classic favorites like checkers, chess, and trouble. You can even print out paper games like tic tac toe, dot game, battleship or any number of printable games. Reuse the game boards by placing the printed games in a sheet protector and use a dry erase marker. If you have an eReader, you can download books for the kids to read or you can get audiobooks and listen to them as a family. Portable electronics like game systems, DVD players and even your cell phone can provide even more fun to your trip. Make sure you have a great case to keep the device safe if a child drops it. Don’t forget to bring a car charger so you don’t run out of juice!
Providing snacks during a long road trip is another key to your sanity. Buy snacks in bulk and divide them into single serving containers to be doled out as needed. We commonly pack a handful of snacks inside the boys’ travel backpack but when they run out, I have more stashed in the back to replenish their stock. Beef jerky, trail mix, snack bars, and dried fruit are perfect for the road because they don’t need refrigeration.
Drinks are the harder part of traveling. They can leave a bigger mess than anyone wants to deal with during a long trip. Skip the problem and pack an insulated water bottle for each person. Using insulated water bottles allows for everyone to have a chilled or heated drink that will cause little to no mess if it finds itself upside down on the floor. Fill a cooler with drinks and ice. Or skip the ice and use a frozen gallon jug of water to keep your drink cool. As the jug thaws, you’ll have cold water to drink!
So how do you put this all together?
The Child Travel Bag
Find a backpack for each child preferably one with multiple pockets and a water bottle holder on the side. This will be their travel bag and they will be responsible for bringing it into any hotels you may encounter on your trip.
This is their space. Their peace of mind. Their stuff.
Create a travel binder (3 ring binder) for each child. This should consist of the map you printed from the “Are We There, Yet?” section, the printable games from the “I’m bored.” section, some coloring pages (printed or an entire coloring book), and blank paper. Don’t forget to add a pencil pouch with pencils, pens, dry erase markers, crayons, washable markers or any other writing device the child prefers. Put this binder in the backpack.
Add a handful of snacks for each backpack. If you don’t have a separate pocket for snacks, place the snacks inside a hard case container at the bottom of the backpack. This will prevent snacks from smashing into other items.
If you have portable games, you can divide them between backpacks or you can pack a separate bag with the games.
The rest of their backpack should be filled with toys, stuffed animals, or anything else the child feels is necessary to take on the road with them. Young children will need help deciding what is important to take and what’s not needed.
The Snack Bag & Cooler
The snack bag can be as simple as a drawstring backpack for shorter trips or a full size backpack for longer trips. Buy in bulk and divide snacks into single serving containers for peace of mind. If you’re road trip lasts for multiple days, you may look into diving snacks into separate containers for each day or restocking at a grocery store at the end of each day.
Don’t forget the cooler of drinks. Short trips may only require a small ice chest. Long trips might require restocking a medium ice chest. Pack enough drinks to keep everyone hydrated but not so many that you have a surplus at the end of the trip. One gallon of frozen water, one gallon of frozen iced tea, and 3-4 other drinks (soda, juice boxes, etc) per person should suffice for a day trip. At the end of your meal at sit down restaurants, ask if they have to go cups for any drinks that you haven’t finished. Same goes for uneaten food that doesn’t require refrigeration.
What tips do you have for surviving a road trip with children?