Hooray! You’re going on an adventure with the family and it will for sure be a memory to last forever… but let’s just hope its a good memory to last forever and not one of those that haunt you as you sleep for the next 30 years ;) (Imagine multiple kids covered in puke, mosquitoes trapped in the car biting you and that lovely “check engine” light going on when you are literally in the middle of nowhere. Been there!)
While everyone is bound to have one of those kinds of adventures I’d love to help you have the better kind. Ya know, the kind where you remember more good than wild and crazy? As a family we have been on over 18 road trips all lasting longer than 15 hours straight. I have definitely had my share of road trips with kids and after doing it a few times you really start to come up with your own “hacks” and tricks to make hours stuck in the car as bearable as possible. I’m going to lay them all out for you right here. Take what you want from them, adapt them to your own family and be sure to tell me all about your road tripping success after its all done!
A little point of reference for you - In 2012 we had our first son in Orlando, Florida with all of our family (both sides) living in Philadelphia. With not a ton of cash to spend on flights we decided that taking to the road was the best option. I mean, how hard can one baby in the car for 16 STRAIGHT hours really be? Ha! Fast forward a little bit and we now have 3 kids- six, three and under one. We STILL drive 16 hours straight and most of the time we actually prefer it. How you ask? Take a look at a few of our musts when it comes to driving long hours to see how we make it easy and even a little fun!
Choose your hours wisely
No matter if you’re driving three or thirteen hours the timing is always key; especially with kids. We have learned that the best time to drive for us is straight through the night. Yep, you heard me, all. night. long. It may seem a little crazy but think about it just for a minute. Kids generally sleep well in the car. Despite those 5 point harnesses that never seem comfy to me they always seem to fall asleep in the car without a problem. Blame it on the hum of the engine or just the boredom of not being able to run around. Kids sleep well in the car and don’t have as hard of a time getting comfortable with their little legs. If you can set your drive time to be mostly while they sleep you can avoid a lot of fighting, “are we there yet?’s”, whining, potty stops and all of those other things that make you want to pull out your hair on a road trip. Yes, mom and dad will be tired but if you plan it right it might just be worth the low hassle.
My husband and I have a system when it comes to our overnight drives. He starts us off after dinner and can usually drive until about 2am or so. He wakes me up and I take over from there. I don’t last long but I can make it until the sun comes up which is enough to get us to a breakfast stop and wake up a bit.
Another great thing about driving through the night? Less traffic! It’s a much more relaxing drive if you don’t have bumper to bumper traffic and busy roads to get through.
OK, quick warning: PLEASE DO NOT DRIVE IF YOU ARE SLEEPY! Did you get that? If you are not good with keeping awake nudge your other driver and switch. If you both feel like the lines on the road are getting wiggly then STOP! Pulling off for a little bit or staying somewhere for the night is a much better idea than pushing it and running off the road. Everyone got that? Ok, good :)
If you are not driving through the night there are still “right and wrong” hours for driving. Map out your time and be sure that you are not hitting the busiest places during rush hour. When we drive we always make sure we hit DC at the best possible times (like 3am!) Getting caught in traffic can eat away hours of your time and add more stress to you AND your kids. Plan well and avoid high traffic areas at their peak times.
If you’re anything like me you have lists and lists of things to bring. Everything from your basic toothbrush to “just in case” items for the snow storm in the dead of summer that will never happen (but you want to be covered for it just in case). When you’re bringing everything with you in the same “living” spaces (aka the car) you’ll want to be as minimal as possible! If you will be staying at a place with laundry take advantage of it! Bring less clothing and plan to do a load or two during a down time of your trip. Things that can be bought upon arrival are always helpful too. Things like shampoo and soaps; if you want your own stuff and not what your hotel may be providing purchase them after you arrive. They may not seem huge but it all adds up in that suitcase! Speaking of suitcases, take a look at your trunk space. It may be a better option to bring less squared shaped suitcases and instead opt for reusable bags that can be filled with clothes and mushed under seats. Every little bit helps and there is nothing worse than being stuck in a car for hours with a suitcase at your head!
Rent a car
Both of our cars are paid off (woohoo!) so we are holding off on buying a new one as long as we can. With that said our cars are less than new and therefore are starting to fail us in the “reliability” category. If your car likes to surprise you with not-so-pretty lights flashing on and off your dashboard I’d suggest renting a car to avoid the stress of car problems away from home. One of the reasons our boys love driving instead of flying to our many destinations is because we always rent a mini van. It’s bigger than what we normally drive with more cargo space which is super helpful too. Add a place for them to watch movies and they’re living it up in their party bus, haha! Consider renting a bigger/ different kind of vehicle that will be reliable and less stress.
Bring something new
Long hours in the car can get boring for kids. Our kids have iPads that they only are allowed to have on flights or car rides. This really is the ONLY TIME they get them. This means every time we travel it’s like new to them. We almost always purchase or download a new movie for them so that they are excited to see something for the first time. It makes the trip more fun and gives them something to look forward too. Plus, it kills about two hours of time :)
For younger kids who may not have the attention span for a movie or show this idea of something new still can be applied and is super helpful. A new toy, coloring book, magic color pages, etc. are all great helps. I’ve also made some of my own travel toys such as magnetic boards with cars, quiet books and sponge blocks. I created a Pinterest board of some of these items if you’d like some more ideas. You can click HERE to see my board.
Never enough snacks
The snack bag is probably the most passed item in our car! We pack tons and whatever we don’t use on the drive is almost always used up at the hotel. We have tried individual snack containers for each kid but found that ultimately one big ‘ole shared bag was the best way to go. (Just make sure you have even amounts of each snack or someone will be crying when big brother ate all of the cookies ;)
Many times we have gotten behind schedule and in order to get pass high traffic areas at the right times we had to have some later meals than what the kids are used to. Hangry kids are no fun. Keep enough snacks and “heavy snacks” available in case meal time starts to get pushed back.
Some of our favorite snacks to pack: frozen Smucker’s Uncrustables (this one is a life saver! They’re good out of the freezer for 8 hours), peanut butter crackers, granola bars, juice boxes, goldfish, cereal bars, applesauce poucheS, kids’ Cliff Bars, etc.
If you’re going to get the crew out of the car make sure your stop is worth it! I can’t tell you how many times we got off the highway following signs for food that turned out to be places we would never enter, bathrooms that were too gross to even touch the doorknob, etc. Here are some places we’d suggest if you need a stop!
Cracker Barrel: Our favorite place to stop for many reasons. First of all it’s NOT fast food. When you’re in the car for hours there are only so many cheeseburgers and fries I can take before my stomach is pretty unhappy. Here you can get real food, sit down, and enjoy your food with it still being a pretty quick stop. Many times I’m just finishing getting all three kids to the potty/diaper changed and the food has already been brought out. My picky kids get pancakes or mac and cheese every time and I sneak them in a veggie or two. The little country store can be helpful if you’re in need of a new coloring book, movie or snack.
Love’s: You’re not going to get many clean bathrooms and I am super picky in this category. While none of them will be to my insane standard of clean we found that Love’s restrooms are as close as you’re going to get!
Wawa: If you’re from Philly like I am then this is a no-brainer BUT if you’ve never seen or been to a Wawa then trust in that it is a good decision for a stop if you see one. Fill your tank and get some food that is actually really good. The downside is that there is no where to sit so it will be a meal in the car which can get messy (unless you’re in Florida. Florida Wawa’s have outdoor picnic tables).
Don’t forget the…
OK, so even if you planned the best way you can there are always things that could go wrong. Let me give you a few things you may want to have with you and ready… just in case.
Beach towel - I’ve had kids pee themselves, spill chocolate milk, throw up… all over their car seats. Of course, you can’t have a child out of a carseat and you don’t have the time or facility to wash & dry the cover when you’re in the middle of a long commute. What you can do is take the cloth part off your carseats leaving just the plastic base. It is much cleaner than sitting on puked on seats but it does leave a pretty hard seat for little bottoms. Use a beach towel to help make it a little comfier.
Plastic bags - for those gross car seat covers I just mentioned above, sick kids who may need to… you know, trash, peed through clothing of your toilet training toddlers, or to sit on if your seat gets wet from something.
Extra long charger cords - Nothing is worse than the kids quietly watching their movie and the iPad die. If your charger doesn’t reach their device you’d think it was the end of the world! Oh the humanity! Bring a few extra long ones. You can get some HERE on Amazon.
Refillable water bottles - We love our Thermos Funtainer cups that keep drinks cold for hours (when you live in Florida and spend hours outside, you appreciate these things so much more!) We refill at each stop.
Water, wash cloth & bath soap - Multiple uses here again but primarily for pre-bed driving. After dinner we put kids in comfy clothes/pjs but being the germaphobe mama I am I hate the thought of them going to sleep after being in a rest stop bathroom and not being clean. I do a quick wash down of hands and face with some soap and water. They feel more refreshed and ready for sleeping and it makes me feel a little better too! I have also used these things to clean the cloth parts of the car seat after mishaps.
Share your progress
Every time you pass a state line be sure to tell your kids! Let them get excited about what they’re doing and remind them that they are on a big adventure. Show them a map, explain what’s new and different about the place you’re in and where you’re going, talk about what they may see out their window. Point out new bridges as your cross them, underwater tunnels (my kids’ favorite), city skylines and fun billboards. All of this adds to the excitement and makes the trip more worth it to them when they see the bigger picture and the new adventure they’re on!
A successful road trip with kids is key when it is only the start of your vacation. The last thing you want is to reach your destination and already be ready to jump IN to the Grand Canyon instead of view it ;) Like anything else, they tend to get easier each time you do it and with the money you save driving instead of flying it has become one of most common ways to vacation. I’d love to hear about your trips or answer any questions you may have about getting on the road with littles! Success stories, dilemmas, nightmares… let’s hear it!