Spring Break will be here in just a few weeks so I thought I’d share a few things that I’ve learned over the years of taking road trips with kids. I’ll never forget the first time we took my now 7-year-old to Chattanooga for the night. He was probably 6 months old at the time, or whatever age you get you start teething. My husband and I wanted to get away for the weekend and Chattanooga is only a few hours from where we live.
So we found a reasonable rate for a hotel, not far from all of the restaurants and shops in downtown Chattanooga. We packed all the supplies we thought we’d need- formula, extra outfits, diapers, even extra crib sheets. We thought we had everything, so we set out for Tennessee, full of hope and a sense of adventure.
An hour and a half in and we were ready to turn around and go back home. Nevertheless we persisted, because even though Noah had cried most of the way there we were only a few miles away from our hotel. We somehow came to the conclusion that he must be teething and found an exit with a baby store where we thought we could find something that might help. It just so happened that there were restaurants right next to the store, so we decided a little snack and maybe an adult beverage would help our moods. I don’t remember much else about that trip except that we got some sort of natural remedy for teething, some baby toys and teethers, and whatever other baby essentials that we had forgotten.
Since our family loves to travel, there have been many more trips and forgotten baby supplies along the way. I’d like to think that we’ve become better packers, but in reality I think I just have gotten to be a better planner. I also have lowered my standards for the perfect vacation, and more importantly I know that most everywhere we go will have a Target nearby.
So, without further ado, here are my top 10 tips for surviving road trips with kids:
- START PLANNING EARLY: I am a planner by nature, so for me my mind is at ease when I know where we’re going at least a few months in advance. We like to find houses to rent on VRBO and usually they list what baby or kid items they already have in the house. Then I can try to borrow or buy what we might need that they don’t have. I always like to make lists for what we’ll need from clothes to food items to specific things like whether or not they have a coffee maker or a Keurig.
- PLAN STOPS ALONG THE WAY: We usually go to the beach in Florida every summer, and it’s about an 8 hour drive (without kids). The past few times, we have stopped about an hour away from our destination at a grocery store to stock up on what we’ll need for the week. The grocery stores by the beach usually jack their prices way up, and not to mention how crowded they are when it’s Spring Break at the beach. This is where planning comes in handy and I have my list with the essentials of what we need to get. We usually bring a big cooler so we can get cold items and since the place we stay at the beach has a full kitchen, we tend to try to plan at least a few meals to cook there so we don’t have to fight the crowds at the restaurants every night. Plus we save some money that way.
- TALK TO YOUR FRIENDS: The beauty of technology is that you have instant access to friends (or even better, your village!) all over the world and more than likely, someone you know has taken their kids where you’re going before. We always like to be adventurous when we travel and try new places that we stumble upon, but it definitely helps to have a few ideas tucked away just in case you get in a bind. Plus there are some places that are a must that might require a reservation ahead of time. You never know, if it’s Spring Break, some of your friends might be traveling to the same area and you can plan to meet up. It can be great to meet up with other friends with kids when you’re in a different place and get a little taste of home. Plus, if your kids are like mine, they love having other kids to play with so its instant entertainment for them.
- SNACKS, SNACKS, AND MORE SNACKS: You can never have too many snacks. When my kids were babies, we had the Munchkin 2 Piece Snack Catcher- a little cup with a hole on top where they could grab a snack without dumping them everywhere. Puffs, cereal, and yogurt melts were our favorite snacks for the toddler years. Now that my boys are older we are less limited on the snacks we can bring and less worried about them choking in the back of the car. I always try to pack at least a few healthy snacks since I know that it’s inevitable that we’ll give in to the plea for candy at one of our many pit stops. It makes me feel better to know that I’m at least trying to encourage some non sugary foods. I usually let me kids help pick out what snacks to pack so that they can’t complain about their options, although this doesn’t guarantee a whine free trip. A few of my favorite snacks for road trips now are granola bars, homemade trail mix (like raisins, Cheerios, and M & Ms), applesauce pouches, apples, bananas, and lollipops.
- CHECK THE WEATHER: Obviously the weather man isn’t always right, but it helps to know ahead of time whether or not you need to pack long sleeves and pants or shorts. Especially since kids grow so fast and you may need to get a few things ahead of the season if it will be warmer or colder where you’re going. I always try to pack at least one jacket or pair of shorts for each person just in case there is unseasonable weather that wasn’t predicted when we get there. Again, most towns have a Walmart or Target, heck you can even order Amazon if you get desperate, but it’s always nice to have options.
- TAKE A FIELD TRIP TO THE LIBRARY: I’m so blessed to have two kids who love to read and nothing is better on a long car ride than a new book. Our library allows us to check out an insane amount of books at once, which comes in handy now that my oldest is flying through chapter books. Just make sure you keep the receipt that tells you which books you’ve checked out so that you can keep up with them. I also like to remind my kids that library books are only borrowed and we have to take good care of them so they’ll let us keep checking out more.
- TRAVEL GAMES AND ACTIVITIES: The possibilities are endless on this one. Melissa and Doug has some great books with activities for the car like Water Wow and Color Blast. My 4-year-old also loves to play with Wikki Sticks. They’re a little wax stick that your child can mold into whatever shape they want and they leave no mess. Plus they’re reusable and you can even get a book that your child can stick them to and practice their shapes, letters, or numbers. They’re great for motor skill development too! My kids also love sticker books, coloring books, mazes, and word searches. You can also get little lap trays that have a compartment for storing small toys like little cars or legos. Some have a pillow on the other side that makes them comfier to hold.
- PACK A TRAVEL POTTY: Even if your kids are past the stage of potty training, a travel potty can come in handy for those long stretches of road trips with kids where the exits are few and far between. Don’t forget to pack lots of wipes, napkins, and some sort of disposable bag to store your trash for those unavoidable messes along the way.
- DOWNLOAD A FEW MOVIES OR SHOWS AHEAD OF TIME: Let’s face it, there are times when you’ll be desperate and you’ll have to turn on a movie for your kids. If you’re going on a long trip a 2 hour movie can go a long way. Netflix allows you to download movies to your device ahead of time so that you can just press play when you’re ready to watch. My kids usually get tired of movies after a while, so definitely don’t rely on this alone to entertain your kids. If you have a built-in tv in your car, even better. Most libraries have DVDs that you can check out, but just pay attention to the due date. Ours only gives us a week for DVDs, but I can renew them online for another week if we’ll be gone longer than a week.
- LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS: I know I mentioned this already, but you can’t expect road trips with kids to go as planned and for everything to be perfect. I’m not saying you can’t still have a good time, but don’t expect to come home feeling like you’ve been to the spa for a weekend. Once I finally realized this, I was able to enjoy our vacations more- though most of the time I feel like I need a vacation after a vacation with my family. If you can, build in a little time to recharge the day after you get back from your trip before you have to go back to work. Even if it’s just a few hours to get caught up on laundry and listen to music on your headphones while you do it.