Before I became a mother, road trips were one of my favorite ways to spend a weekend or a vacation. Then I had kids. When my oldest son Noah was just a few months old, I thought it’d be a great idea to pack him up in the car and drive him across the country to visit family and friends in Pennsylvania. I figured, he sleeps most of the time anyway! He’ll be just fine in the car for sixteen hours!
Boy, was I wrong! He HATED his car seat by the end of that trip. When I’d try to put him back in the car seat, he’d arch his back and scream.
I tried the trip again when he was 15 months old, this time driving overnight. He hardly slept at all – and he needed constant entertainment. His father and I took turns entertaining him while the other drove. We sat in the back seat of the car doodling with crayons and singing songs until the wee hours of the morning. We were exhausted and exasperated!
Six months later, we made the trip to Pennsylvania again for a wedding. Not only were we carting a precocious 20 month old, I was seven months pregnant with my daughter!
13 years later, I see the folly of my ways. So here’s my list of how to make it through those cross country trips with your kids in tow!
Bring lots of snacks.
This one sounds obvious, but there’s a trick here. Bring some snacks that are new, and hide some until the last leg of the trip. Bring healthy and filling snacks, like trail mix, but make sure you also have snacks that the kids will get excited about.
Plan extra time for rest stop activities.
Your child(ren) will not want to get back in the car right away when you make a stop. That’s ok! Take a quick walk, play a game of tag, run around the car, have a picnic – whatever they need to do to get their energy out and raise their morale.
Don’t give your kids all of their options as soon as they get in the car. Save some toys or games for halfway through, and for the last hour (which can feel like five hours). Reward them for good behavior, too!
Plan your meals.
Whether you’re stopping on the way to get fast food, or bringing a picnic to eat, have it planned ahead. Let the kids know what the plan is so they’re not surprised that they’re getting ham sandwiches instead of fast food.
Take care of you.
Find ways to prevent yourself from getting stressed out by traffic, or by the children. Listen to calming music. Bring a book of poetry (as long as you’re not behind the wheel). Bring a neck pillow. Your kids will take cues from you – if you’re stressing, they’ll stress. Remember – this is supposed to be FUN!
Switch up how the kids are sitting.
I have three kids, and a minivan. We usually end up stowing one of the middle seats of our minivan to give us more space in the middle of the vehicle for snacks and games – and we have the kids on a rotating schedule, so they don’t fight over who sits where. They know they’ll each have a turn to sit by themselves and they’ll each have a turn with each sibling in the back row together. The kids and I make the schedule together and all agree on it before the trip even begins, and this saves us SO MUCH headache!
Have the kids make something.
If you’re visiting a friend or relative, this could be a great time for the kids to do an activity that they can give to them! This should be limited, obviously, to things that are mobile and not messy, such as coloring a picture, or making a card for your host.
I don’t have a DVD player in my minivan, and my kids don’t have phones yet – even the teenager – so we have minimal screen time in the car. I know that this doesn’t work for everyone, though! Try having it on a schedule. If you have a four hour drive, let the kids have devices in hour 2 and hour 4. Set the schedule with them and have them agree to it ahead of time. There’s definitely no shame in buying silence with a movie while you’re driving a long distance!
Make a road trip survival kit.
Mine has tissues, wipes, extra plastic bags (for trash), lip balm, gum, paper towels, a flashlight (and batteries), and hand sanitizer.
10. The return trip is always 10x worse. Plan appropriately.
You and the kids are no longer running on the excitement of going somewhere fun. Make sure you have MORE surprises, snacks, and plans to get you through the trip home. It’s OK to add extra stops on the way back, too.
I learned most of these things the hard way, but you don’t have to! The common thread that you see through this list is setting expectations. This varies depending on your kids’ ages – mine are 7, 11, and 13. You can’t put toddlers on a seating schedule that they can’t understand – but you CAN surprise them with toys, gifts, and snacks that will hold their attention for a while. You also probably don’t want to rotate seating when you have car seats – I just have one in a booster, which is much easier to move. I’d love to hear your tips & tricks for surviving road trips, too! Leave a comment!