Remember those good old days of summer road trips?
You know…those spontaneous drives when all you and your husband had to worry about was packing a few duffel bags, a sweet mix cd, and some snacks?
There was talking…and listening…and an overall serenity could be felt as you enjoyed each other’s company and watched the countryside whip past.
These days, though, your road trip goals look a bit different:
- Fit 4 suitcases, 2 pack n’ plays, 1 high chair, 1 bounce seat, 1 booster seat, 2 fans, and a whole slew of diapers and wipes into the trunk.
- Entertain a toddler and preschooler from your post in the front seat.
- Keep your cool when both kids start crying inconsolably for no apparent reason.
- Manage a patient response when asked, “Are we there yet?” for the 347th time.
- Make it to your end destination on the same day you set out.
Let’s be honest. Regardless of the number of kids you’re strapping into your minivan, family road trips can be stressful. There are just more variables to consider and less flexible little people to work with.
But don’t worry; I have good news!
Road trips can still be awesome.
That’s right. You don’t have to dread their arrival or enter survival mode for their duration. You can actually still enjoy a road trip, kids and all. (And this coming from someone who once survived 20 straight hours in a car with a 3-year-old, a 2-year-old, and a 3-month old.)
Sure, you may have to prepare a little more in advance and stop a few more times along the way, but road trips are supposed to be fun and I’m on a mission to keep them that way.
So, as you think about that upcoming summer drive next month, I’ve compiled some of my best tips to ensure your day in the car will run much more smoothly.
Family Road Trip Tip #1:
Think About Logistics
There is so much planning that goes into taking a trip with small kids, but sometimes it’s so easy to focus on what you’ll need when you get to the final destination that you forget to think about what you’ll need on the way there.
So, as you’re making your packing lists and vacation itineraries, don’t forget to think about how to make the actual car trip go smoothly
Think About Your Kids’ Needs
- Does your baby nap consistently at the same time every day?
- What kinds of car-related things might trigger a toddler temper tantrum?
- What always puts your preschooler in a good mood?
The more you can anticipate the needs of your individual children, the better you can solve potential problems while you’re actually on the road.
- Let your two older kids watch a movie on your portable DVD player, so they stay quiet during the baby’s morning nap.
- Invest in some sun shades if you know bright sun to the eyes might send your toddler into a meltdown.
- Make sure the Trolls soundtrack is downloaded and ready to be played at any moment of need.
Plan Stops (Frequently)
Now, of course you can’t always plan in advance when you’re going to need to stop, but you can set a basic plan. As you think ahead, figure out what kinds of places you want to stop at (i.e. restaurant vs. rest stop) and whether or not your kids will need some space to run around before getting back into the car. Then, utilize your resources:
- A website like Roadtrippers can help you plot out all kinds of activities along your route.
- This website will show you every Interstate rest area available to you, but your phone’s map feature could prove just as effective (as well as show you things like parks, restaurants, or ice cream shops along the way).
Pack Like a Smarty Pants
The last thing you want to do when your baby blows out his second diaper of the day is to unpack the entire trunk just to get to a single change of clothes.
When you’re making your packing lists, think about what you’ll need to be able to access quickly from the front seat, and you’ll streamline all those stops even more. This free baby road trip packing list will help you remember everything.
As you’re packing the car, think about how to make activities or snacks accessible to your kids. If you can organize books and activities into a seat organizer like this, you’ll make it possible for your kids to access many of the things they need without your help. #Score
Family Road Trip Tip #2:
Make a Food Plan
Ain’t nobody got time for a hangry toddler during that day trip to grandma’s. The better your food plan is in advance, well, the happier your kids will be. Think through this in two categories: snacks and meals.
Family Road Trip Snack Tips
To maintain your own personal sanity as well as the general cleanliness of your car (of course spills are going to happen), here are two things to ask yourself when thinking about snacks:
- Will this keep my child full or is it just going to send him into a sugar high?
- If this spills in the backseat (an incredibly likely possibility), will it be a nightmare to clean up or is it something my super handy hand vacuum could clean up quickly?
Take it from me, things like Go-Gurts or applesauce pouches sound travel-friendly, but in the hands of a toddler, they can quickly turn into window art for passing cars to enjoy.
Instead, here are some snack ideas that are easy to pre-package and won’t be a complete nightmare when they spill all over the back seat.
- Bananas or pre-sliced apples (Keep them from browning with a little lemon juice.)
- Sliced carrots, cucumbers, or bell peppers
- Dried Fruit
- Granola bars
- Trail Mix
- String cheese or cheese sticks
- Dry cereal (choose something like this if you want some more protein)
For snacks like trail mix or dry cereal, containers like these work well for little hands, but personally, I prefer to just use Ziploc bags. That way, I can pre-package more individual snacks and clean up less.
Also, don’t forget to pack a spill-proof water bottle for your kids, but keep in mind that the more they drink, the more your potty-trained kids will have to stop to use the bathroom.
Family Road Trip Meal Tips
Restaurants or fast food are certainly an easy option when it comes to road trips, but they aren’t usually your best bet when it comes to cost or health.
Here are some easy meal options that you can prepare in advance or quickly once you arrive at the rest stop. You’ll just need to make sure you have a cooler on hand to keep necessary things cold.
- Sandwiches: A loaf of bread can go a long way. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches can be prepared in advance or a tub of chicken salad can whip together a few sandwiches in no time.
- Wraps: We love the Kitchn’s turkey wrap recipe, but really any combination of meat and cheese is easy to make ahead and pack!
- Yogurt: This is where your Go-Gurts might actually have a place in your road trip. You know, outside of a moving vehicle.
- Fruit: Applesauce containers or fruit cups make for easy lunch options.
- Vegetables: Throw in a few of your pre-sliced bags of veggies, and you’re all set!
You don’t have to throw nutrition out the window when you set off down the road. If you take some time to pre-package and prepare, everyone will be much happier travelers.
Of course, don’t forget the nostalgic treats! For me, nothing says “Road Trip” like a giant container of Twizzlers.
Family Road Trip Tip #3:
Plan Enough Activities
You have a plan, and you have food. Now, you just have to figure out how to keep all your little people occupied for the duration of your trip.
Of course you’ll have your staples: Books and movies are our go-tos. (Special shout out here to our local library for all the free DVDs we’ve checked out and our portable DVD player for making every road trip possible.)
But it’s also good to pull out some new car-approved activities to break up the screen time and stay on top of your kids’ attention spans. Similar to snacks, think about potential spills and messes. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Travel Tray: Not an activity itself, but this will give your toddlers and preschoolers a space to house their activities (and even their drinks!).
- AquaDoodle: Kids can draw pictures with their water pen and then start all over again once it dries.
- Puffy Sticker Play Set: Kids just flat-out love stickers, and they’ll especially love creating an animal scene with this set. Bonus: you can also find this one in a three pack.
- Travel Marker Set: This set will keep all their markers and paper in place while the car moves.
- Wikki Sticks: Your tactile learners will love to create things with these molding sticks.
- Scratch Art: Kids can create beautiful designs with just a wooden stick!
- Tape Activity Book: Can you go wrong with any Melissa & Doug activity book? (Answer: No!)
Now that you have a few super fun activities to whip out at a moment’s notice, here are a few other tips to keep in mind:
- Don’t underestimate the power of a blank notebook and 1,000 stickers.
- A cookie sheet covered with these great magnets might help keep your toddler’s little hands occupied.
- Don’t forget about the baby! She’s bound to get bored without some activities, too.
- Remember those old mix cds you used to make? Utilize Amazon Prime Music or Hoopla (you just need a library card) to have some kid-friendly music on hand.
- Throw in some of these great road-trip games if your kids start complaining.
- Build in some out-of the-car play time for your high-energy kids. Each time you stop, let them run around and play before you expect them to sit still for another stretch.
- Grab a stack of 3×5 note cards and make a single line on each of them. Let the kids figure out the “rest”of the picture!
- Use one of the Taylor family’s unique family road trip games. (You can’t go wrong with a game called, Zit!)
Now you have well-fed and well-entertained kids. You’re on the road to awesomeness.
Road Trip Tip #4:
Have Realistic Expectations
I’m going to tell you a little secret, so lean in close.
This is my most important tip.
- Should your trip take about 8 hours? Expect it to take longer.
- Do you have a newly potty-trained child? Expect more stops.
- Does your baby struggle to fall asleep in the car? Expect some crying.
- Do you have children traveling with you? Expect the unexpected.
Even better: Embrace it.
Your attitude will set the tone for your family’s road trip whether you like it or not. If you’re rushing kids at stops or rolling your eyes when your four-year-old asks you for the 348th time if you’re there yet, your family day is going to be far from awesome for anyone.
Instead, if you embrace the experience and make a joyful adventure out of all the ups and downs of your family road trip, your kids will latch onto the spirit and start to form some cherished memories for years to come.
And that’s pretty awesome, if you ask me.
Let’s Get This Show on the Road
It really all comes down to planning ahead, doesn’t it?
- Plan your logistics.
- Plan your food.
- Plan your activities.
- Plan for an adventure.
Sure, it isn’t the leisurely road trip you once took with your husband, but it can be just as meaningful.
You’re making memories with your family, and that’s something special.
So, go ahead. Dust off that old mix CD. You’ve got a road trip to plan for, and there’s no reason you can’t enjoy some good old music while you’re at it.
Have You Read These Yet?
4 Unique Road Trip Games That Will Distract Your Worst Complainers
Use these unique games to keep your car complainers from realizing just how long this trip is.
How Mater & McQueen Can Help Your Baby Nap in the Car
Ka-Chow! Let’s get that baby sleeping all the way to Grandma’s!
How to Build an Emergency Baby Car Kit in 3 Easy Steps
It’s crazy how often this comes in handy. Trust me, you need to do this.
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Molly is the mom of three kids under the age of four and the wife of a busy (and extremely handsome) resident doctor. Mostly though, she’s a particularly average person just trying to live each day well. She spends most of her days perfecting the messy bun, drinking all the coffee, and observing every piece of beauty she can find in the mundane. Read more about Molly in her full bio here.