Last year we went on a road trip that was over 1500 miles. We had to make the drive in 4 days with a moving truck, a car, 2 adults, a 4 year old, a 1 year old, and a cat. Preparation and flexibility were key. We also added in a few more challenges (since we needed them and all), and decided to camp each night. We had initially planned to drive 6 hours each day if we could, but quickly realized that was not going to be possible. I was alone with my 1 year old in our car and she loathed her car seat. Our max drive time was a total of 4 hours. We couldn’t do those straight through either. Typically, we would wake up, have some breakfast, go for a swim, and then pack up. We would get a good hour of driving in with the help of some of the tips below. Then we would stop, eat some snacks, drink some cold drinks, and run around. After that first hour, things could get a bit hairy. If your kids are older it will probably be a bit less painful, but the one year old just didn’t understand why she was being trapped in her seat foreeeevveerr. She would usually take a nap in there somewhere too and give us a solid hour of peaceful drive time. I shot dagger eyes through the moving truck to my husband if he even hinted of needing to stop and pee during that nap time.
So first things first. There are a few pre-travel musts that need to be taken care of as part of the preparation for a safe and fun trip!
- Clean out the car. It will make life much easier if you have a clean slate before you start piling in all the stuff.
- Do a bit of general maintenance on the car like checking tires, oil, etc. Make sure your car paperwork is up to date; i.e. insurance cards, registration, drivers license, etc.
- Charge everything. And don’t forget all those dreaded cords! We like this 3-Port USB charger for charging on the road. Or if you want to get fancy, you can use a solar-powered charger. Go green!
- Another great thing to have ready pre-trip is a small emergency car kit and first aid kit.
Here is our list of ideas for making a long road trip less painful, and maybe even fun!
- Snacks! If there was one road trip essential, it would be snacks.
All the snacks.
We brought a giant cooler (since we were going so far and would be on desolate stretches of nothingness for hundreds of miles at a time). We had lots of drinks. We bought a pack of these veggie infused chocolate milk drinks for a bit of variety and nutrition. The options are mostly limitless with a cooler. Hot snacks. Cold snacks. Fruit. Veggie slices. Sandwiches. Nuts.
- Books. We brought a ton of board books for the little one. I actually ordered a handful of new books and little things that would be new and exciting. I hid them until it was go time, and then put them in a box in the floor of the passenger side of the car. When things started to get a bit hairy, I would pull out a new book and hand it to her. We got several adorable lift-the-flap board books. They all died a slow and painful death as she methodically ripped each flap off. But at least it kept her entertained! Our older kid would get carsick with books, so we chose some different things for him, although he just had fun being in a giant moving truck and rocking out to music with his daddy.
- Screens. Headphones. Music. Car DVD player of sorts. The 5 year old enjoyed wearing headphones and watching movies on the road. In our car, I also had a little movie player, and would try and switch out movies for her, but she mostly had no interest in watching them. We also did a bit of pre-planning with phone apps. We downloaded and tested out some apps that would work without internet service (or even 4G), so that they would work while we drove through the nothingness.
- The one year old had a handful of songs that she really loved listening to; they probably aren’t what you would expect. So we had our playlist of songs that she would dance around to when we weren’t able to pull over. I could probably count on the playlist one or two times each day, but after awhile she just needed to be out of the car.
- Frequent stops. Like… super frequent. It’s about the journey, right? We had to be very flexible and stop if we needed to stop. We let go of any expectations of driving for x amount of time, otherwise we would be setting ourselves up for frustration, which is the last thing you want on a trip that you are hoping to be fun.
- Stay loose and flexible while also planning a little bit. We booked campsites in interesting locations (like the edge of Yellowstone National Park) and with interesting things to do and see; usually just a swimming pool and pretty view. We tried to book our campsites the night before we would stay there, that we could plan our drive time based on where we ended up each night, just in case we lost time with our frequent stops and didn’t make it too far. There was nothing worse (ok, there are probably a lot of things worse) than wandering around in the dark trying to stick a tent pole through your pant leg while accidentally whacking your kid with a flashlight (no, that didn’t happen. I just made it up).
- Have a positive attitude and go with the flow. I think this is a common theme here; relax and enjoy! If kids want to stop, stop. It’s no big deal because you let go of any preconceived expectations about how things should be going. You’ll get there when you get there. We stopped at malls. Play areas. The side of the road in desolate Montana because there were no signs of life for hundreds of miles in either direction.
- Bring lots of fun road activities that are age appropriate. Some of these, for us, included foam magnets and a magnet board. The magnet board also happened to be a dry erase board, so we brought markers for the oldest. Kids camera. Kids journal. Stickers. Here is a list of DIY kids travel activity kits. Or a portable lego kit. Books. Toys. Movies. Action figures. And snacks, did I mention snacks?
- Organization. A little bit of organization can be helpful. I was alone with my 1 year old, so by the end of each day, all of my failed distractions were strewn about every surface. So we would have to reorganize each night so that I could find them again the next day. Having a trash bag might be helpful. Maybe a basket for books. A basket for crafts.
A long car trip with kids might seem daunting, but with some preparation, it can be a great time. I was terrified of the journey, mostly because of the one year old’s hatred of her car seat, but I look back on it fondly. We went with the flow, relaxed, laughed, let go of expectations, and had a blast! I would definitely do it again, but preferably without a moving truck.What are some of your road trip tested tricks with kids? We would love to hear about your adventures and where you’ve been!
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