I previously wrote a post about how to pack for kids for a long-haul flight and also how to entertain kids on a long-haul flight. I also did some Instagram videos about the topic. But this post is focusing those tips on long road trips.
In addition to a few three-hour drives to (and from) the children’s hospital in Dublin this year, we are used to long road trips with the boys (ages 8 and 3 at the moment) when we visit family back in the States. My routine is usually to leave my parents’ house in Maryland at 6am and we drive to North Carolina to see family and friends (we also have done drives to Philadelphia, Delaware, and Virginia). It can be a seven-hour drive with traffic, so driving down at that early hour and driving back at bedtime makes it a lovely five-hour trip with the kids snoozing a bit of the way. From these drives, I compiled my tips and also how I manage resources and activities, which is somewhat similar to how I do it for flights.
I like to talk about expectations with the kids, if they’re old enough to understand that kind of conversation. I discuss how we will be in the car for such-and-such hours and…
- what kinds of things we CAN do, like sing songs, choose the music, watch the iPad, have snacks.
- what kinds of things we CAN MAKE HAPPEN, like stopping for the bathroom.
- what kinds of things are IMPOSSIBLE while traveling, like accessing WiFi or a toy left at home.
Road Trip Tips
- Have healthy non-sticky snacks on-hand that you can vacuum or sweep up later so you’re not spending the whole driving fussing at them to keep things tidy, because they’re kids and its futile.
- Don’t bring activities that cannot be done if one piece falls down into the abyss of the floor of the car (we have a strict rule that seatbelts stay on as long as the car is in gear). Overall tip for all these containers, don’t pack anything that rolls. That goes for round crayons, balls, toy cars, etc… I make my own flat crayons.
- Make a few playlists and download a kids audiobook for variety
- Try to not make empty threats, like the kids are smart enough to know you’re not really going to turn the car around.
Packing the Car
- Have a clean bathroom caddy or basket holding spare activities, treats, or pre-wrapped snacks
- Keep a cooler with water bottles that don’t spill, we like Contigo and Camelback
- If your kids are old enough, put these things within reach of them so they can be self-sufficient.
- For babies, keep the essentials with the passenger who will handle handing over essentials, usually this person sits in the backseat with the infant as baby will be in a rear-facing safety seat making it hard to pass things back given their motor skills.
- Have plastic bags, paper towels, gloves, wipes, change of clothes, and other supplies in case a kid gets sick (this has happened to us)
- Anything you may need while the car is in motion should be in the backseat with the kids or the front seat with you. Spare things and luggage will stay in the trunk of the car for arriving at the destination.
Planning the Route
We try to be aware of rest stops, pull-offs, and highway adjacent playgrounds or parks along our route in case the kids get completely impatient or restless. There are certain regular spots we know are clean and kid-friendly after driving the same route a few times, but thankfully with the power of crowd sourcing information you can Google to learn about your particular route options.
Embrace the Journey
Slow down and try to embrace the time to listen to and spend time as a family. So much of traveling with kids can easily feel like a dire need to get to the destination, but that’s a bit too much of a parallel to raising children to me. We wouldn’t wish our kids to suddenly be 18, so I try to apply that to enjoying the smaller trips along the journey of their childhood.
When I travel with my boys, I try to stay tuned into when they are about to get a little wacky and wild. Depending on their energy, I will then give them a little treat or reward for being so good until then -or- I will play a few of their favorite peppy songs and we will have a singalong and top volume to help them not feel so stifled.