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Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about taking road trips with kids. I’ll never forget the first time we took my now 9-year-old to Chattanooga for the night.
He was probably 6-months-old at the time, or whatever age it is 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 the downtown area. 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.
Things Don’t Always Go As Planned
An hour and a half in and we were ready to turn around and go back home. The baby cried most of the way there! We somehow came to the conclusion that he must be teething. So we 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. We decided a little snack and maybe an adult beverage would help our moods, and it did. 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 a sleep sack because we realized we forgot to pack one.
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’ve just gotten better at planning. I’ve also lowered my standards for the perfect vacation. More importantly, I know now that most everywhere we go will have a Target or Walmart nearby.
I’m going to share with you my tips for surviving road trips with kids so that you don’t make the same mistakes that I have!
10 TIPS FOR SURVIVING ROAD TRIPS WITH KIDS:
1. Start Planning Early:
I am a planner by nature, so my mind is at ease when I know where we’re going at least a few months in advance. I also always like to make packing lists for what we’ll need to bring. When we go on road trips, we usually find a house to rent on VRBO. Most of them list any 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.
If you’re renting a house, make sure to find out what appliances they have ahead of time. Then you can bring your own coffee if they have a coffee maker. If they have a washing machine, you can make sure to bring laundry detergent.
2. 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. Not only does this break up the driving a little, but we can usually save a little money this way. The grocery stores near the beach usually jack their prices up. Plus, the stores at the beach are always so crowded you can barely walk, especially when it’s Spring Break or the middle of Summer.
This is where planning comes in handy and I have my trusty list of the essentials for a week of vacation with kids. We always bring a big cooler so we can buy the cold items we need. Since most places we stay at the beach have full kitchens, 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. Eating in a few nights is another way we save a little money too.
3. Talk To Your Friends:
The beauty of technology is that you have instant access to your friends who live all over the world. 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 stuck. Plus there are some restaurants or attractions you might really want to go to 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.
4. Snacks, snacks, and more snacks:
You can never have too many snacks. When my kids were babies, we had these Munchkin 2 Piece Snack Catchers. They are great because they have two handles that are easy for little hands to hold while they’re learning gross motor skills. They also have soft flexible flaps that keep snacks from dumping out, while still giving them access to get their snack without any help! They’re perfect for dry snacks like cereal or these Happy Baby Organic puffs or yogurt melts.
Now that my boys are older, they can use a ziplock bag or these zipper reusable bags from Growing Up Green that are even better for the environment!
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 my kids help pick out some snacks to pack so that they can’t complain about their options. Although, I’ll admit this doesn’t guarantee a whine free trip.
OUR FAVORITE SNACKS FOR ROAD TRIPS WITH KIDS
- Granola bars
- Homemade trail mix- We like to do raisins, Cheerios, and M & Ms.
- Applesauce pouches
- Fruit- Apples and bananas are easy for traveling.
- Lollipops- What kid doesn’t love candy? Lollipops tend to keep them quiet a little longer! If you want something a little healthier these Yum Earth sugar free lollipops are pretty good. My kids approve of them and they don’t even realize that they’re sugar free!
- Try to stick with dry non sticky snacks to avoid more mess than necessary.
5. 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 if you get desperate. Heck you can even order Amazon and have it delivered to you at your destination!
I also recommend packing a small bag with a change of clothes and making sure it’s not buried at the bottom of your car in case of emergencies while you’re on the road. Nothing is worse than having to dig through suitcases at the rest stop when someone has a potty accident. If you’re anything like us, we pack our car to the brim. Sometimes moving one suitcase can cause everything to tumble out like dominos all over the parking lot!
6. 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 up with them so you don’t end up having to pay the library for lost books! I also like to remind my kids that library books are only borrowed and we have to take good care of them, so that they’ll let us keep checking out more. This helps them learn how to treat books so that they last longer and teaches them responsibility.
7. Bring Travel Games and Accessories:
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 6-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 even get a little lap tray like this one that has 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.
8. 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.
9. Download Movies:
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.
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.
My kids usually get tired of movies after a while, so definitely don’t rely on this alone to entertain your kids.
10. 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.
Let us know in the comments what you’ve learned from traveling with kids that you wish someone had shared with you. Happy Trails to you!
Our Favorite Things To Pack On Road Trips With Kids
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