How to Survive a Road Trip with Little Kids
How people picture road trips: Your hair blowing in the wind while your feet hang casually out the open window, the sound of Rascal Flatts singing “Life is a Highway” tickling your ear as you bask in the freedom of the open road with your love by your side.
How road trips usually go: Your numb bottom is aching while you and the love-by-your-side are arguing over how to work the GPS, the feeling of oily hair on top of your head, and you obsessively watch the minutes left until you reach your destination.
Now throw some little kids in the mix, and the second scenario looks like a dream. For most young families, road trips are both terrifying yet necessary when the cost of plane tickets is prohibitive and out of reach. We’ve been fortunate enough to avoid road trips for most of our traveling adventures because we both just really prefer flying.
Some families love road trips, and if you are one of those my hat goes off to you. It’s not my favorite mode of travel transportation, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. We had one of those unavoidable situations arise this summer.
Unexpected Road Trip
We flew out to Nashville in July to visit my parents in Clarksville. Our trip fell just a couple of short weeks after our major hailstorm disaster, and we hadn’t been able to find a replacement yet for our ’05 Odyssey that was demolished by the storm.
We ended up finding a great deal on a 2012 Odyssey just outside of Nashville that we decided to buy. Aaron was planning on making the 17-hour drive home on his own while I would fly back with the kids.
A couple of days before we were supposed to leave, Aaron & I decided that we would rather make the drive home together as a family. We learned a lot on that road trip home.
So without further adieu, here is how to survive a road trip with little kids.
Bring Lots of In-Car Entertainment
Before you leave on your trip, make sure your car is stocked with fun things for the kids to do. Our van came with a DVD player in it, so we borrowed some movies from my parents and stopped at Red Box to rent 3 movies they had been dying to see.
We also made sure to have a few new small toys for them to play with, books, and my favorite mess-free Crayola Color Wonder coloring pages and markers. This helped bust some of the boredom of sitting in a car for so long. Our kids also got a HUGE kick out of trying to get semi truck drivers to honk.
Load Up on Allllll the Snacks
Just like flying with kids, it is vital to have your car packed with tons of snacks and food for your kids. Not only will you save money by not buying gas station snacks, but you can pack healthier snacks and some special treats to bust out when irritation levels start to rise.
We’d recommend packing a cooler too so you can keep drinks and other things cold. We just bought a cheap styrofoam cooler and some ice the night before, and it worked out perfectly. They were even able to have their much-loved yogurt with their breakfast.
Don’t Try to Make It All in One Day
If you have more than 8-10 hours to drive (and 10 is pushing it), don’t try to make it all in one day. We made that mistake. We decided to leave at 3 in the morning with the expectation that our kids would sleep several hours in the car and then wake up for breakfast in St. Louis, Missouri a few hours later.
Our plan was to drive 17 hours straight (plus extra for potty-and-food breaks), thinking we would be home around 8/9 pm Denver time. Not. Smart. No matter how desperate you are to get home, no matter how badly you don’t like road trips, if you have little kids do.not.try.to.drive.straight.through. Because…
Your Kids Will Not Sleep Like You Think They Will
Don’t plan on or expect your kids to sleep well in the car, because chances are high that they won’t, especially if they’re over-tired from waking up early. It’s one of Murphy’s Laws; kids won’t sleep when you need/want them to.
None of our kids went back to sleep after we left my parents at 3 am. They stayed awake for hours. And hours. In fact, Isaac and Kaiya only slept a mere 30 minutes or so that entire day.
Gracie was sick with a very painful sore throat and a fever, and even though we kept on top of Motrin and Tylenol for her, she still would only sleep for 30-45 minutes at a time when she would finally fall asleep. She probably took 2, maybe 3 of those mini naps the whole day.
Take a Fun Pit Stop or Two
Make sure it’s somewhere your kids can run around and play, either a playground somewhere or a fast food play place. Our fun pit stop was out of necessity when our new-to-us van decided to throw a check engine light an hour outside of Kansas City.
While the unexpected car trouble was awful, there was a McDonalds nearby, so we had lunch and the kids were able to run around and play for almost 2 hours. That was so key to their sanity and our own.
Don’t Wait Too Long to Book a Hotel
If you wait too long, you’ll end up compulsively picking the hotel closest to the restaurant you’re eating dinner at, because you’re too exhausted to look for anything else. And then you’ll be sleeping in a hotel room that smells musty with permanently damp carpet, and you’ll be too exhausted to switch hotels by that point.
Yes, this is pure experience talking and exactly what happened when we finally decided to stop in Colby, Kansas. If you’re ever driving through Kansas (not recommended) and decide to stop for the night in Colby, avoid the Days Inn hotel.
Thankfully this has never been an issue for us, but I know a lot of kids (and adults!) struggle with getting carsick. A long road trip for someone who suffers from that could end up being miserable for everyone, so taking preventative steps would be super helpful.
There are some medicines (Dramamine and Benadryl being the most common) that can help prevent car sickness, but they tend to cause drowsiness as well. Some other helpful ideas include candies that have ginger or peppermint, cracking open the window and focusing the eyes straight through the windshield as opposed to out of the side windows. You’ll want to have some sick bags on hand just in case, as well as some wipes to help clean up.
Some More Great Ideas
If you’re taking a road trip as your vacation, instead of as a means to get to (or from) your vacation, tripsaavy.com has compiled some awesome tricks to make it go smoother. Some of my personal favorites on the list that I’ll definitely use if we ever brave the open road again include using suction cup shower organizers to hold your kids' art supplies, the cereal container trash can, and the cookie tray lap desks.
Taking a road trip with littles doesn’t have to be miserable. Being prepared will go a long way in ensuring everyone has an enjoyable time, and you get to your final destination happy and ready to go, instead of exhausted and grumpy.
Traveling with kids is such a joy, and creates amazing memories for the whole family, so don’t let the fear of tantrums and stress hold you back from getting out there and exploring the beautiful world God created. You will be so happy you did, especially when you arrive at your destination.
What’s your favorite way to travel with your family? Flying or driving? Have any other tips and advice for road tripping with kids? We’d love to hear from you!! Let us know in the comments, and tag us on Instagram @thefloralwreathblog or Twitter @wreath_the with your funniest travel stories and pictures and favorite road trip hacks!
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