The season of road trips is upon us! I love a good road trip and I can prove it with the 113,000+ miles on my poor car’s odometer. We’ve made many cross country trips, several of which I made alone with the kids, and being able to see the sites instead of flying over them is truly amazing. (Unless the trip isn’t going well, then I’d fly any day of the week.) We actually don’t have any solid plans for a family road trip this summer, although I’m always planning something, I thought I’d share some road trip tips that have worked really well for us on past trips and some great must-haves for traveling with kids on long trips.
My Best Road Trip Tips
- Plan, plan, plan ahead. When we go on long trips, we’re usually on the road for days, which means we need places to stay in between those long travel days. Plan ahead and plot out your route. Plan for a destination each day and book hotel rooms in those places. If something happens and you get off track, you can always cancel the booking and stay somewhere else. But having a destination each day is key. Also, research what cool things there are to see along the way. If you’re driving, you might as well see the sights! Plan extra time into your travel day if you have places you want to stop along the way.
- But plan in pencil. When traveling with kids, something is bound to get you off track. There will be potty accidents, scraped knees, and meltdowns…just count on it. But you’ve got a plan, right?! Just remember when planning with kids in the equation, planning in pencil and wiggle room is the best idea.
- Combine bags. Cars fill up so quickly, especially when you’ve got six people plus six bags plus six “carry on” bags with books and fun stuff. That’s a LOT of stuff. For my four kids, I almost always have the girls combine their stuff into one bag and the boys do the same. Since my husband and my things are usually bigger and bulkier, it doesn’t work as well for us, but we do combine when we can. That cuts the luggage down by half, which creates lots more room.
For stuff my kids bring into the car besides their luggage, I just ask that they really choose what they want to bring wisely. Such as one book, one device, and one other fun thing to do. My kids rarely do much of the things they say they have to have, so less is always more when it comes to bringing stuff into the car.
- Have a family bag for quick hotel stays. For us on long trips we usually put our luggage into the top carrier and I pull out a change of clothes, socks and underwear, and swimsuits and toiletries for quick hotel stays. There’s no reason to haul in three of four huge bags and back out again in less than 24 hours. I have an extra duffle bag and shove in everything that we’ll need for the night so we can avoid so much shuffle.
- Have everyone wear multipurpose shoes. Shoes take up so much space in bags, so I usually try to limit how many we each bring. For my kids it seems like a pair of simple flip flops for the pool and slipping on quickly, plus a pair of good walking shoes like Keens works really well.
- Do not over pack carry-on bags. My kids always want to take so much stuff, but then they never actually do anything with it. Too much car clutter makes everyone crabby. Usually a book, a device to play on, and an extra magazine or activity book is just enough.
- Break up the screen time. Letting my kids watch movies or play games for 8 solid hours is never a good idea. They turn into zombies and get really crabby with each other. Our rule is usually wait until after lunch to have screen time. The morning car ride is more for quiet reading, staring aimlessly out the window, an audio book, etc. Breaking it up seems to really help the irritability that seems to follow a ton of screen time.
- Load audio books ahead of time. My kids love to listen to audio books. Love! It’s really hard when you’re driving though to load the books you want. It takes a little bit of time, especially when you’re not sure what you want to listen to. We are members of Audible, which is amazing! There’s also Overdrive, which is an app that connects you with your library system and you can rent audio books for a time. The only reason I prefer Audible over Overdrive is because I can always choose exactly the book I want. Sometimes on Overdrive, they books are unavailable or you have to be on a waiting list to get them. Also, you have an unlimited time to listen on Audible.
- Give kids maps. Having little co-pilots in the backseat can have it’s advantages. Such as, plotting out your route with a highlighter can cut down on all the “are we there yet” questions. My kids love to see where we are on the map and how far we have to go to our next destination.
- Keep a travel log/journal. This is so fun and something that we really enjoy doing together. I’ve found that having one journal for everyone to contribute to is better for us than individual journals. We just pass it around and fill in as we’re driving. I have some resources below for things that have been really fun for us. Also, we kept a travel journal on our long Out West road trip last summer that you can check out.
- Have “surprise” gifts for the trip. I always like to have a couple of fun, new things that my kids can do in the car. It seems to keep their attention more than the things they see every day.
- Rest stops over gas stations…but don’t waste a pit stop. Rest stops are always faster than gas stations. Plus there’s usually a grassy area where you can run for five minutes before getting back into the car. Gas stations seem to take forever because of all the shiny, sugary temptations you see on the way to the bathroom.BUT, if a rest area is not an option, don’t waste a pit stop at the gas station. Fill up for gas even if you only need a quarter of a tank. That could save you in four hours when you need gas, only have an hour to your destination, and the baby is sleeping and you’ll wake him up if you stop.
- Quarter bags. Giving your kids a travel allowance is so much easier then shelling out $30 at every gas station. We give our kids bags of quarters instead of all the begging for junk food. Usually rest stops have vending machines and the kids can pick what different snack to have other than what we’ve brought in the car. They can ration out their money for stops and when they run out of quarters, they have to snack on what car snacks we already have.
- Know your limits. What has worked really well for us is starting our days really early, like 5am. The kids are usually so dazed and confused they just sit and stare or fall back asleep for the first four hours. By the time they come-to, you’ve covered a ton of ground! Then it’s time for a pit stop, a quick stretch, a snack and a few more hours of driving. After stopping for lunch, we can usually handle two or three more hours and then it’s time to call it a day. So usually we will get to our destination by 2 or 3 in the afternoon and have a bunch of time to explore, run around, swim in the hotel pool and get to bed early for another day of driving.We can handle about 5-7 hours of driving per day, but that might look much different for you depending on how well your kids travel. Know your family’s limits and plan accordingly.
Our Road Trip Must-Haves
- Travel journal//A plain sketch book is perfect, make sure you bring clean adhesives that won’t make a mess, like double stick tape. My friend Mary is going on a long road trip and she found some great pre-made travel journals that look fabulous!
- Fun camera//We love this camera. Make sure you bring extra batteries and film!
- Books// Bring some new ones for fun! See our list of books from our last school year…
- Earbuds//Because noise in the car from three different devices is just a horrible idea.
- Travel games//Travel bingo, Mad Libs, Spot It!, Melissa and Doug activity books, and any other paper game is fab for bored travelers.
- DVD player//I know iPads and other devices can play movies, but we’ve always had the best luck with our good ol’ DVD player. Our car has one built in, but we’ve used a Philip DVD player that worked great. This way, everyone can easily see the screen too, instead of trying to huddle around one iPad screen.
- iPad or other device//Boot up those old iPhones to play games on, iPads, whatever you’ve got. Everyone seems happier when they don’t have to wait their turn.
- Ziploc baggies and grocery sacks//Accidents happen, so have a few Ziplocs for storing wet undies or socks when your kid jumps in a puddle outside the rest area. Grocery sacks are good for rounding up garbage and dumping the whole bag when you stop.
- Reusable water bottles with spill-proof lids//Spills in the car are the worst. We only let the kids do water for that very reason and when everyone has a water bottle that won’t spill, things go much smoother.
- Road atlas//For the times when WIFI isn’t available and your phone has no service.
- Rooftop car carrier//With a big family, these are a must. We have a soft top carrier, but we’ve borrowed a hard top carrier and that one was much easier for getting things in and out of. But the soft tops are much easier to store and much cheaper, so weigh your pros and cons.
Summer road trips are my favorite! Have fun out there this summer!
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