If you have kids, you might be thinking it’s too expensive to fly your entire family somewhere for vacation, but you might also be worried about the prospect of spending extremely long periods of time with your kids cooped up in a car. I get it. I get a little nutty on road trips, too, and I’m in my 30’s!
I should preface this with a note that I don’t have kids. However, I have a lot of friends who do have them and since I love to talk about travel with anybody who will listen, I’ve actually gleaned a lot of information on road tripping with kids from them. I thought it might be good to share a few of the things I’ve learned on tips for keeping kids happy on the road just in case any of you parents out there are thinking about taking the family on a road trip. Some of these tips might even be good to help out restless adults, like myself.
Planning and Packing
When you pack up the car, pack strategically so that everything you need easy access to will be within reach. You don’t want to pack up your car only to find out four hours into the road trip that the snacks you brought are inside the cooler, buried underneath a mountain of bags and camping gear.
Another good idea is to keep a change of clothes handy and not buried deep down in your packed car. This is great for younger kids in case there is an unexpected mess, but even for older kids in case you’re driving into a different climate. I know I’ve driven up into the mountains in shorts and flip flops in the past only to get out of the car in the snow, wishing I had the forethought to keep something warm within easy grasp.
Drive When Your Child is Asleep
If your child goes to sleep around 8pm, it might be a good idea to plan to drive while your child is sleeping. If they can sleep in the car, this can be a good way to get a lot of the driving done while they are sleeping. This will be most beneficial for younger children.
Make Regular Stops
Don’t try to just power through hours and hours on the road with as few stops as possible. I know it will be tempting to just get there, already, so you can get out of the car, but your kids will appreciate if if they are given regular opportunities to get out of the car, use the bathroom, and move around a little bit. Bonus points if you are able to plan out stops along the way that might be interesting or fun for your children. For instance, on the drive between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, there is a beef jerky store called Alien Jerky in the small town of Baker. One could quite easily pass by Baker altogether, but a stop at the Alien Jerky store is fun because they have all these funky alien spaceships, aliens driving a car, and other funny curiosities. Stopping there becomes a fun and memorable part of the trip rather than just another boring roadside gas station or fast food run. Look for interesting things you can stop and check out along the way and it will make being on the road much more bearable. If there aren’t roadside curiosities, look for things like parks with playgrounds where your kids (and you!) can get out of the car and move around a bit. It will make all the difference in the world.
Keep plenty of snacks and drinks on hand for your kids. I’m sure you probably know this already, but it makes a huge difference. Things that your kids will like is obvious, but also try to pick things that won’t make a horrible mess of your car. Things like string cheese, sliced cheese, rice cakes, pretzels, sliced oranges, bagels, sandwiches, apple slices, bananas, granola bars, cookies, dried fruit like mangoes, raisins, or craisins, puffed corn cereal or Cheerios works well. Plus, it will cut down on your need to eat crappy roadside food all the time.
Of course, don’t rule out fast food places altogether. If you make a stop at McDonald’s a special trip-only treat, it can be a powerful thing. Your kids will enjoy having something they don’t normally get, one stop at a fast food place won’t send them on a spiral of unhealthy eating, and besides, they have great play places a lot of the time (remember those scheduled stops?).
You’ll want to have ample ways of keeping your children (and yourself) entertained while on the road. You know your children and what they might enjoy doing best, but here are a few suggestions:
- Download some audio books that would be appropriate for their age group before the journey and play them in the car as you drive. This is fun for the whole family because you get to spend your time in the car engrossed in a story. You can get just about any audio book you want at audible.com.
- You can also load up your phone or burn some CD’s of music your children will enjoy. Have sing-along time during the trip for younger children, and for older children let them rock out to their favorite music for a while.
- Car games can be a fun way to pass the time. Things like Go Fish, I spy, or even spotting license plates from various places can be fun.
- Load up an iPad with games, activities, movies, music, etc. for your child. If you have multiple children, multiple iPads. Obviously this can be kind of expensive if you’re buying iPads for everybody, but also a life saver. One of my friends says she doesn’t really let her kids play on the iPads except in special circumstances, so they get really excited for road trips since they get to have uninterrupted iPad time.
The bottom line
These are just some ideas which you can take or leave. You know your situation and your kids best, but hopefully you’ve gotten some ideas that are useful for your next road trip.
Do you have experience road tripping with kids? I would love to hear your tips in the comments!