When I was younger, I loved road trips. There’s something so liberating and fun about them. Unlike some people, I actually love long car trips.
Then we had kids.
What was once one of my favorite ways to spend a week or two became an ordeal that was, on a good day, an ordeal.
Having a trip with one kid in the car isn’t awful. But when you have two, that’s when the real “fun” begins. Maybe you’re one of the lucky parents with the rare duo who get along like angels, but my two definitely weren’t!
Here are my tips and advice for surviving a long road trip… with kids.
7 Essentials to surviving family road trips
1. Plan ahead
Before we had kids, we’d head out on a trip and figure out where we’d stay along the way. Sometimes we got nice deals on motels (or hotels), but it’s a pretty huge gamble when you have kids along with you. It’s so much easier to have things planned out before you even step foot in the car.
I’m a huge fan of Airbnb. A lot of the time you can find better deals than you’d get at a hotel, plus the places are so much nicer, because they’re private homes.
You could also figure out where you’re going to stop to eat and stretch your legs. If there are any hokey attractions you’re interested in, it’s time to figure out when and where they are along your route.
Don’t forget to pack everything you’ll need, including ample changes of diapers, towels, extra and appropriate clothing (especially if you’ll be heading somewhere warm), toys, games, and food. I’ll get into those more later.
2. Safety: It’s always first
First and foremost, before you leave, it’s important to make sure any car seats are safe and properly installed. If you’re not sure, most fire departments will check that they’re properly installed, free of charge. It’s something I’d recommend just to be sure.
Don’t think your child needs a car seat? All states have different laws, and you very well might end up driving through one that requires your child to be in a car seat! You can see the car seat laws for all 50 states on the official government website.
Also, bring along a first aid kit with the essentials, along with lots of water and snacks, and always have a working flashlight in case you have to deal with a late-night car breakdown.
Don’t forget a car charger for your cell phones, and get lots of sleep before you leave!
If your child is in a rear-facing car seat, do yourself a favor and get a backseat mirror. They install so that you can keep an eye on them in your rear-view mirror, giving a lot of peace of mind. Trust me.
3. Don’t forget the entertainment
Pack a special bag for each of your children, full of their favorite distractions — coloring books, toys, video games, stickers, travel board games, or anything you feel is appropriate!
Pro tip: Avoid things that make a lot of noise. That can get a little, shall we say, annoying over the course of a 12 hour road trip.
Something I really like to do is to pack a few wrapped up surprises that they won’t expect. Nothing changes a kid’s mood like a little surprise present! Just be sure to space them out over your trip and not give them all out at once.
4. McDonalds playareas: Your secret weapon
While I don’t personally endorse feeding your kids McNuggets, the fact is that McDonalds playareas are a really great way of letting your bored little passengers burn off some of that extra energy they’ve built up by sitting in the car all day. Instead of slapping each other and fighting, they can jump around in the ball pit for 15-minutes and get rid of all that energy.
If the weather is nice, you could even stop at a park along the way for a picnic and playtime! It’s also a lot cheaper. Bonus. Plus, it’s the perfect opportunity for you to burn off some energy and stretch those legs. It really helps.
5. How To handle food
Your kids aren’t (hopefully) used to living on fast food, and feeding that to them all day is a recipe for disaster. I don’t know about you, but if I eat more than one meal of fast food during a day, I feel pretty awful, especially if I’m sitting in a car. The last thing you want is to end up being the family who has to stop as a gas station rest room to relieve their upset stomachs!
Packing your own healthy food and snacks is definitely the way to go. Everyone is going to feel a lot better with good, healthy stuff in their tummies… including you.
If you can fit a cooler in the trunk, even better! You can load up with cold stuff, or even stop at grocery stores along the way for things.
6. Travel around sleep schedules
This may or may not work for you. Some people prefer to travel when their kids are asleep, during the night, usually. Of course, that obviously means that you’re going to have to drive all night, but if the idea of driving all day with kids brings fear to your heart, this is an idea.
If you don’t want to go to this extreme, you could do something as simple as leaving in the morning, so that by the time lunch rolls around, they can eat in the car to keep them occupied and drive the irritability away.
Then, after that, they’ll probably fall asleep, and you’ll have free reign to drive in peace!
7. Just have fun!
Above everything else, just aim to have fun! That’s what road trips should be, and there’s no reason why yours won’t be if you plan ahead. Try to laugh and just enjoy the trip. Stop, take pictures of things along the way, sing songs and play games, and just make it as lighthearted as possible.
If you have any other tips for surviving road trips, we’d love to hear them!
This post was contributed by guest writer, Jennifer Taylor. When she’s not writing for her blog, MomTricks, she can usually be found chasing after her own two wonderful kiddos. And, when time permits, trying to figure out where her lovable pug, Max, is hiding.
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