During the long winter months, you might have spent some serious time fantasizing about your summer vacations. But the practical realities of traveling with kids can be a little more complicated than what you imagined. If you’re not prepared for it, you may end up arriving at your destination tired, frustrated, and wondering why you ever thought this was such a great idea in the first place.
Of course, like so many adventures in life, the trick is to enjoy the journey as well as the destination. Being in a car together for eight hours might not sound like the ideal way to spend time with your family, but with some planning ahead of time you might just discover that it can be a lot more fun than it sounds.
Tip #1: Plan your stops—and stay flexible
You might be able to sit in a car for a six-hour stretch without stopping, but your kids can’t. Between bathroom breaks, snack and meal times, and the need to burn off a little energy, you’ll want to plan for stops at least every couple of hours. It may feel like it’s slowing you down, but you’ll discover your passengers are a lot happier—and a lot less likely to ask “are we there yet?”—if they have the chance to stretch their legs a little.
And a little planning can go a long way. In the age of the internet, it’s easier than ever to plan out your stops on a road trip. Local parks and libraries along your route offer free public spaces where your kids can use the bathroom, run around, and play before piling back into the car. And your kids will enjoy making these stops a lot more than doing a lap around a convenience store.
Tip #2: Plan for entertainment
The license plate game only goes so far when it comes to keeping kids entertained. For longer road trips, it’s important to consider how you’re going to help your children have fun, even when they have to stay in their seat.
One great family activity that’s perfect for road trips is listening to family-friendly podcasts. Take some time beforehand to sit with your kids and let them help choose which ones to listen to. Podcasts can be a great way to engage their imaginations in a way that’s very different from TV and movies.
Or you can go old school: Bring a box full of coloring books and art supplies, storybooks, blank notepads, and other low-tech entertainment. Your kids may discover something long known by artists—a little boredom is a great way to stimulate creativity.
Tip #3: Pack some healthy snacks
There are a lot of reasons to bring road trip snacks, beyond the obvious fact that kids get hungry outside of meal times. Breaking out the peanut butter and celery sticks can be a great way to distract your kids from the drive when they’re getting a little impatient. And packing snacks means you won’t have to stop the car when someone gets hungry—which can help you reach your destination that much faster.
Of course, not every snack is right for the road. Pack foods that don’t require serious refrigeration, like peanut butter, crackers, carrot sticks, celery, or apples. Cereal is a favorite for many kids, but it can get a little messy. As an alternative, consider granola or cereal bars that offer the same nutrition with less of the mess.
Tip #4: Hop in the backseat
This tip can be especially helpful if you’re traveling with toddlers and infants, who may feel isolated and uncomfortable riding for long periods in the back of the car. Even kids who do well with short trips may struggle a few hours into a long day’s drive.
If you’re traveling with another adult, take turns sitting in the back with the kids. It’s a great chance to chat, play games, and even entertain each other. After all, your kids aren’t the only ones who will find time passes a little faster when they’ve got company close by.
Tip #5: Staying overnight? Pick the place with a pool
When you’re traveling with kids, it’s important to remember just how much energy young bodies have to burn. If you’re taking an especially long trip—one that requires staying overnight in a hotel—it’s worth looking for one that has a pool.
Not only will an evening’s swim be a nice reward for your kids after a long day’s drive, it will also help wear them out before bedtime. And a well-rested kid is a well-behaved one.
Learn how to be a better prepared parent
Traveling with kids is tough, but it’s not the toughest part of being a parent. Families First offers support and education for parents dealing with all kinds of unknowns and challenges. Our Parenting Education program helps adults throughout our community become better prepared, better informed parents. Learn more about this program, or give us a call at 317-634-6341.