Tips for Road Trip Survival With Kids
Vacationing with children is kinda like childbirth. Your brain erases the pain so you’re dumb enough to do it again! For the most part our kids are great travelers, but no one really enjoys being trapped and strapped in a vehicle for an entire day, do they? We try to make the best of the hours on the road with a activities, snacks, and special treats to help pass the time.
Here Are My Top Tips for Road Trip Survival With Kids:
Check out a giant stack of library books. Store about 3-5 of them behind each seat. Have them look for a while, and then trade with someone sitting close to them. Replenish with a fresh choices during stops.
Bring a portable potty for roadside emergencies and a container for the motion sickness prone.
Borrow DVDs from friends or the library that your kids have never watched. Having something new seems to capture their attention best.
Load up a clipboard with coloring pages and white drawing paper, along with a small box of crayons.
Plan for sleep patterns and normal nap schedules to be disrupted. (Sometimes just having realistic expectations and a positive attitude when the crankiness strikes is a huge deterrent for backseat meltdowns.)
Try audiobooks – sometimes the quiet listening lures them to sleep!
Window markers are great for inserting some creativity to an otherwise boring day.
Bring flashlights or glow in the dark sticks for night travel.
Take exercise breaks at rest stops. Run around the van 5 times, do 20 jumping jacks, hop on one foot, shake out your arms, etc. It gets some wiggles and sillies out before they have to be strapped back into their seats.
Cheer like crazy people when you reach a new state. It’s an accomplishment to be celebrated!
Buy a bag of trinket toys at Goodwill (we can buy a whole bag for $3) and toss them back one at a time.
Bring baggies of snacks, and treats and span them out throughout the day. Our go-to road snacks are: protein bars, dried fruit, lunch meat roll-ups, applesauce pouches, string cheese,and yogurt. Suckers are also a good treat because they keep their mouths busy and last for a while!
Track your progress using a map or another sort of visual to show that you are making progress!
- Have a reward (aka bribe) for good behavior and patience on the road.
- Download the Roadside Attraction app and allow time in your schedule to stop along the way. They’re fun & quirky, provide the perfect opportunity to stretch your legs and since most roadside attractions are free, they’re budget friendly.
- Take a look at your route and see what interesting sights you can see along the way or with a slight detour. Not only does this turn a long day of driving into a fun day of sightseeing, but you can experience interesting places (at least briefly!) that wouldn’t have made it onto the itinerary otherwise. Sometimes, these little places are more memorable than the larger destinations!
- Get a National Park pass! The pass will pay for itself after a few visits to the more expensive National Parks. Use the restroom at the visitors centre – they almost always have decent baby changing facilities. Pack a lunch and find a picnic area in the park. With the National Park pass you won’t feel guilty about keeping your visit shorter – ducking in to use the facilities is a lot more enjoyable than a greasy fast food rest stop or gas station bathroom.
- Look for coupons – groupons, etc. – before you go! Also, in the US, at the first public rest area when you enter a state, they will have whole books of coupons for hotels, attractions, etc.
- Get older kids involved in mapping and planning.
- Stay at a hotel with a pool so the kids can burn off energy after a long day of driving.
- Join AAA. Not only can they help with car trouble but their TripTik travel planner can help you plan your route, locate gas stations, hotels and restaurants and lead you to some interesting spots along the way.
- If you plan to move around a lot, plan to pack one carry-on with enough outfits for that section so you don’t have to bring everything from your car to the hotel, especially if you will arrive late at night. We have a lot of stuff when we road trip but I packed a carry-on for the first night so when we arrive we can just bring only that carry-on to the hotel.
- Pack by the day, not by the person–one suitcase or duffel for each day/hotel on the trip, plus another for makeup/toothbrushes/pajamas and other daily needs. Mark them with a tag for the date/location so anyone can grab the proper one out of the trunk. At each new hotel, you’ll only have to bring in two bags, instead of the potential many depending on your family size.
- Also make sure you have a small first aid kit packed in the car and a small raodside emergency kit ( flare/flashligt/etc).
- Keep a towel and a change of clothes per person in a small bag in the trunk for quick roadside water adventures. Splashing in fountains makes for fabulous photos and cools kids off before hopping back in the car.
- Make sure you remember your car charger… Our phone holds our GPS & our road tunes so when the battery is dead we are either lost or moody!
- Have a plastic bag, paper towels and wipes handy in the car for unexpected car sickness.
- Put the kids in shoes that are easy to put on and take off so they can be comfortable in the car, but ready quickly at the stops.
Tips for On the Road:
- Give each child an age appropriate “job” while on the road. You can also switch jobs each day. Ex: Pump gas, clean windows, remove all trash from the car, fill water bottles, etc.
- Download a free app called ‘Road Ahead’. It’s a great app to see what available in the exit up ahead on your highway. A great way to at least ensure we have decent selections of places to eat.
- Don’t rely entirely on your GPS. When we were in Montana last summer, the GPS was down for an entire day. Thank goodness I had actual maps with me!
Don’t be on such a strict schedule that you can’t make unexpected stops.
- If we were driving at night or if they were likely to doze off, I put them in pull-ups. Wasn’t taking a chance! Also I had a stash of plastic grocery bags within reach. My kids were motion sick once in their lives and it was when I had nothing handy to “catch” it!
- Be on the lookout for those brown roadside signs. The historical markers are pretty fun, quick side trips and teach a thing or two, too Usually, the “attractions” are a short detour and worth the stop.
- For road trips in Europe (this is specific to Germany, though could be true in other countries): you have to pay to use the bathroom in the rest stop, but you get a ticket when you pay. You can then use that ticket as a coupon when you buy something at the rest stop. The value of the ticket is a portion of what you paid to use the restroom. For example, pay €0.75, the value is €0.50.
- Leave at nap or bed time. Nothing ensures quiet as much as a sleeping kid.
Boredom Buster Tips:
- Fight the urge to start trips with iPads, video games, or movies. Hold back on the electronics and use them AS NEEDED. We always start with conversations, our family sing alongs, books, enjoying the scenery, license plate games, etc. One of our best trips was 8 hours of pure family road trip bliss, with a 3 year old, and no electronic interference. It was a shock and an amazing bonding time. Of course, the next trip called for the iPad before we even left town and it was needed for sanity the entire trip.
- Lesson learned: You can always add the ‘kiddo crack”, but it is hard to take it away once introduced. Always have an ace in your pocket.
- Listening to audiobooks together helps the hours fly by on long road trips. We always have audio books in the car, even when we are only driving a short distance. Not only do they keep the kids entertained but it increases vocabulary, listening skills, and attention span!
- Pack a Secret Weapon: A little treasure trove of boredom busters and new things that can be busted out when kids are getting antsy the drive is getting long or the unexpected ruins your plans! Fill it with fun little items from the dollar store: wikki stix, balloons, stickers, new coloring items, cards, a dice game, kaleidoscopes, things that can be fun in the car, not make a big mess and won’t sugar them up!
- Make a “mix tape” or it’s iPod equivalent–a playlist. Get input from all members of the family.
- I always have lots of things printed out – scavenger hunts, license plate games, car bingo, fact sheets about the states we are driving through, and quizzes – my kids love quizzes. Miles of Smiles is an awesome book for road trip games
- String small beads onto a pipe cleaner and hang from your rear view mirror. Use it as a mileage marker for the days travels. 25 miles per bead. Then you can tell the kids how much further by the number of beads left. Or “we will stop for lunch when we drop 3 beads”.
- For toddlers and pre-schoolers make a busy kit with different activities they can do in the car with little to no assistance.
- Blue painters tape! Tape is contraband in my house so when I give each of them their own roll and say “go nuts”, it’s like Christmas! Painters tape won’t hurt if it gets stuck to hair or skin and won’t damage the car. Plus it’s cheap so they can use the whole roll.
- I gave the littles an old digital camera & ipod and verbal list of things to capture. i.e. only green things, things that make noise, things that have the sound B…
- A few days before our trip, I’d go to Walmart or Target or The Dollar Store and pick up several new inexpensive “toys” or items for me to pull out as needed throughout the trip. These were never expensive, just something different for the kids to enjoy.
- Create a Survival Kit that is tailored to your individual child’s likes.
- I try to buy a few cheap, new and car-friendly toys and books. To add to the fun, wrap them like a gift and give them out every 50, 75, 100 miles.
Eating on the Road:
- We try to find alternatives to fast food dining stops, and we love checking out the prepared foods in supermarkets like Wegmans, which has a dedicated hot food bar and a dining room. In this post, I polled other family travel bloggers for their own ideas on eating on the road.
- If you can borrow or purchase the mini-fridge that can plug into your car, it’s a great little thing to have. Dad can have his cold drink of Mountain Dew to keep him going and we can also pack cold cut meat for lunch.
- Don’t let the kids gorge themselves on drinks. I let my kids have drinks, but I make sure to spread it out. This keeps us from making extra stops.
- Don’t disregard highway non-chain restaurant signs. Try out the mom and pop restaurants!
- Check to see if there are any farmers markets in the places that you’ll be passing by. They make a great place to relax, see local life, and get fresh food that is often lacking in restaurant meals.
- Because our kids are quite young, we love packing a picnic lunch or dinner instead of eating in a restaurant (which inevitably involves more time having to sit still and behave–precisely what they need a break from!). Then we just stop at a rest area, nearby playground, or state park.
- Pack healthy food like cheese sticks, bananas, nuts, dried fruit and cereal rather than stopping for fast food along the way.
- We found eating on the road to be our biggest challenge because the Interstate is nothing but fast food chains. Yuck! If you don’t mind taking a little extra time during stops, use your Yelp and/or Trip Advisor app to find healthier (and tastier) options off the beaten path. Save them to your favorites so you’re not trying to find them while on the road and the directions will be right there on your phone.
- We also use our GPS (not the one on our phones–ours is a Garmin unit) to find restaurants along the way. You can do searches by cuisine/type and also search for options along your route or near your destination(s). We try to eat locally as much as possible to experience local cuisines but sometimes the kids just want something familiar so it’s easy to find them that way. Plus, the GPS helps you estimate how long it will take you to get there!
- At the end of each day, write down one thing/sentence that each person liked about the trip that day. By the end of the trip, you’ll have a nice keepsake without much effort. Even better if the kiddos write it out! Perhaps, include drawings.
- Pack crayolas and give each a journal they can draw in to chronicle the journey, as they can hand it down to there kids. Also, have them draw pictures they can hang in their room. Grab a stack of postcards and stamps for each child and let them mail out to themselves telling about the trip this way it will help them remember all the fun they had.
- Give your kiddos a disposable camera to chronicle the road trip. To me, the most memorable part of the trip is the journey there. I like to snap photos as we pass a city or state “Now entering… or welcome to” Plus if you plan ahead and know memorable sites or landmarks those are fun to snap up too!
- Give your kids a composition book, a glue stick, tape and colored pencils. Let them put any paper objects they find in the notebook, plus they can draw and add thoughts if they want. Even young kids can do this!
How about YOU? How do you keep your sanity with kids during road trips? Share your tips and advice!
These are some of our favorite games & activities for a road trip
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