Friday, March 15, 2013

Six tips for a successful road trip with little kids

toddler boy sitting on grass
Enjoy those rest stops!

Last year our family of four drove from Washington State to California, and this summer we're considering road tripping all the way to Chicago. If you're brave foolhardy like us, here are some ideas to make road trips a low-key and enjoyable experience:

1. Pack heavy.

toddler boy sitting in suitcase unpacking
Don't worry — you'll get help unpacking.
Oh, I know. That's the opposite of how it usually goes, right? And you want to keep this one in moderation. But traveling by car vs. flying opens up more possibilities to carry along a few of the comforts of home: familiar snacks, a variety of toys to liven up hotel rooms, extra pillows to make economy lodging comfortable, special dolls or stuffed animals, and any bulky baby gear you can't live without: For Mikko, it was a bouncy seat that he would (thank heaven) nap in. Pack everything in multiple suitcases according to what you'll need at each place. For instance, need fancy clothes for a wedding? Pack those in a separate small case that you don't need to haul along with your casual clothes into every hotel along the way.

boy in car seat eating snacks
Nutritious snacks make for a moving picnic.

2. Keep the car ride fun.

It's always a smart idea to stave off boredom with trip-only fun. Bring some new singalong albums, listen to children's audiobooks, and teach everyone folk tunes. Children's songs with lots of customizable verses work well (think "Old MacDonald"). Freestyle a scavenger hunt, looking for particular animals, buildings (farm, house, store, gas station), license plates, or letters of the alphabet in order. Have a generous stash of soft toys for the very youngest set, and just keep pulling out a new one as the latest gets thrown. 

3. Bring travel-friendly activities.

Stopping at a thrift store beforehand to pick up some never-before-seen toys and games at an affordable price is a good bet: a selection of books, magazines and puzzle books, play dough and tools, bath toys, small vehicles and dolls or figures in zippered bags, and card or travel board games. Some of these will work for the car, others for hotel nights or lunch breaks. Activity bags provide long-lasting engagement (and Pinterest is a goldmine for ideas). Bring your laptop or other media player with some DVDs or downloads if you like. I have a post of 37 take-along suggestions if you need more!

boy coloring at restaurant table
Coloring is an go-to road-trip activity, no matter where you are.

4. Eat smart.

Remember they have grocery stores where you're going, too, so you can keep eating your normal foods. I'm a big believer in the fun of eating out, but too much and you might feel greasy and stuffed. Grab your regular snacks and hotel-workable meals: fruit, crackers, nuts, hard cheese, nut butters, freeze-dried veggies, lunch meat, beef jerky, bread, and pretzels. Bring at least one sharp knife for cutting and one dull one for spreading. Your options expand if your hotel has a mini-fridge and expand even further if you score a kitchenette.

toddler boy riding on luggage cart
The best part of the hotel is the luggage cart.

5. Make special memories.

Encourage your kids to take photos and talk about what they liked best about each day's adventures. Show them on a map where you are each day and where it is in relation to where they live. You don't have to give in to every begging request, but expect to buy at least one souvenir, and negotiate to make it a memorable one. Include little treats that might not mean much to you but will to a kid, like picking a hotel with a pool or letting them ride on the luggage cart, get ice from the machine, or swipe the keycard.

6. Take it sloooow.

Speaking of which, my biggest piece of advice is to scale down ambition when traveling with kids. You might have to skip some group activities or remove options from your schedule if you notice your little ones (or you) getting overstimulated and stressed. Keep your drive times reasonable, take lots of breaks along the way to get the wiggles out, and lower your expectations at your destination. Even if other family members are egging you on, don't expect to do more than one big outing a day, and budget time for naps, relaxing, and meals. You'll all enjoy the trip more and come home feeling refreshed by the time away!

Golden Gate Bridge
You can enjoy the journey and the destination.

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Christy said...

This is a very timely post for me! We leave today on a big family driving trip for spring break. I like all your suggestions. I am very worried that I have overpacked, but like you said, we're driving so less of an issue. Thanks for the suggestions.

Adrienne said...

Great tips! Another tip I've found to be successful is to have an adult spend a leg of the road trip in the backseat with the kiddo. Breaks up the view as well as gives the kiddo some focused one-on-one time that he's used to having during his days.

If you're really coming to Chicago, you should stop by and see me!! I'm on the way!!! :)

Lauren Wayne said...

@Christy: Good luck & have fun! Not everything will go perfectly, but that's totally to be expected. :)

Lauren Wayne said...

@Adrienne: Yea! We should! Sam just had the idea that we could drive instead of fly so we could make it more of a vacation for us.

Great tip to have an adult sit in the backseat! Sam actually does that for us, since I get carsick, and it does help a lot. Thanks for adding it!

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