After nearly 10,000 miles road tripping with my crew of three kiddos ages 7 and under, I’ve got a few tricks to share for a happier (and more sane) travel experience. Whether it’s your first time hitting the road with little ones or you had that one bad experience that scared you away, I’ve got you covered with five of my favorite tips:
Map Your Route in Kid-Time
Until Google Maps figures out an algorithm for having kids in the car, you’ll need to do the math yourself. Plan to stop for a minimum of 15-30 minutes every couple of hours to let the kids monkey around at a rest stop playground, use the bathroom and sit down for a meal. It’s better to take frequent breaks to let the kids recharge than it is to forge ahead with unhappy kids.
Keep it Healthy
The better your kids feel, the happier they will be spending long hours in a car. Nobody wants to be trapped in a car with a sugar-hyped toddler singing “It’s a Small World” on repeat (not that I know anything about that, ahem). Pack healthy snacks like fresh fruit, baby carrots, nuts like shelled pistachios or almonds, granola, meal bars and water to keep them balanced, fueled and content.
Don’t Leave Home Without These
Before you head out, pack a backpack with the following to keep in your car for emergencies:
- baby wipes
- upset tummy remedies
- antihistamine and pain reliever
- spare set of clothes (especially for almost or newly potty trained toddlers)
- napkins or paper towels
- a few garbage bags and hand sanitizer
Diversions For All Ages
Borrow small, new (to your kids) toys from friends or buy a few gently used ones at a resale shop. Keep them in a bag away from the kids, but easily accessible and strategically pull one out whenever the whining reaches an unbearable pitch. For older kids, the dollar section at Target has car-friendly activities, like small puzzles, workbooks, coloring books and games. Make sure each child has their own bag with the basics like crayons and paper, stickers, a few books and his or her own water bottle.
Audiobooks also are a fantastic way to keep kids occupied for long periods of time. The local library is a great resource for audiobooks on disc. You also can listen to stories with the Audible app or download kid-friendly podcasts like “Stories Alive,” NPR’s “Wow in the World” and “TED Talks: Kids and Family.”
Find the Fun
Attitude goes a long way toward making a road trip enjoyable for everyone. Rather than focus on the destination, find ways to connect your kids to the present moment. Share stories from your childhood, teach them how to read a (real!) paper map, stop at quirky roadside oddities, car dance to cheesy music, play old-fashioned car games like “I Spy” and “20 Questions” and laugh when things go wrong (because they will.)
Road trippin’ with kids isn’t easy, but the time spent together is priceless. Give these tips a try and I’ll see you on the road!
Kate Saffle is a writer and podcast host embarking on a year-long family road trip around the country with her musician husband, three kids and a camper named Golden Silverwind. Follow her family’s adventure at thestreamlinedlife.com or hear more on the Cohesive Home Podcast.