Friday, June 24, 2011

7 Tips for your Road Trip with Kids

Summer has officially arrived!  That means swimming and sleepovers, popsicles and popcorn!  And of course, what childhood is complete without at least one multi-hour excursion across these great United States?  None I tell you.  None!  So today, as promised over two long months ago, I present to you my patented (not really.  can you patent tips?) tips for taking a road trip with kids.  If you haven't read part 1, you'll want to start there first.  I mean, don't you wanna know what kind of drivel I was reading when I was 12 years old?  And how long it took us to drive from California to Michigan almost a whole year ago?

Okay, now that we're all caught up, let's get to it. 

7 Tips for your Road Trip with Kids!
We're not in 1974 anymore, Toto.  That means we have to buckle seat belts and be sitting upright and have approved car seats.  That means no blanket forts or counting the stars out the rear window.  That means they're going to need diversions. They're going to need entertainment.  If YOU do not provide it, THEY will provide it, generally via games that involve pinching and/or slapping each other and arguing about what the definition of the word "is" is.  Unless the vision of this appeals to you, be ready to purchase electronics.

Yes, my first tip is "buy stuff".  And you know how I am about spending money (that I am allergic to it mostly because I don't have any? Yeah, that.), but desperate times call for desperate measures, folks.  Plus, if you avail yourself of your internet resources (read: and ) you can find totally usable things for VERY reasonable prices.  Like $30 reasonable.  Yes, my daughters bought an iPod mini off of Ebay for $30- splitting the cost and each spending just $15 of their Christmas money!  I did the same for the all important travel DVD player.  Especially if your trip is anywhere close to the 35 hours of driving it took for us to get across the country, I highly recommend giving in to the one-eyed beast, even if you keep it hidden "for emergencies".


Speaking of electronics, if you grown-upish folks don't have a GPS already....GET ONE.  Again, you can find extremely reasonably priced ones on Ebay.  That's where our Garmin came from and it has been invaluable on more than one occasion.  I mean, if you have a huge diaper blow-out and then realize that you've run out of diapers and you need to find a store, like, NOW and also everyone is starving and some of them don't have teeth so they can't eat beef jerky, you can use that handy dandy device to locate the nearest establishment, arrive there in a timely fashion and find your way back to the freeway with only minimal tears shed. 

I've heard about those that fancy phones have GPS these days...but I've also heard that cell phone coverage in the mountains of Colorado can get pretty iffy.  Take a chance if you're brave, but I wouldn't suggest it.  If you can swing it, have a dedicated GPS.  You won't regret it.

I have a wonderful friend back on California who thought of this next tip.  Well, she actually did it.  I'm the one who's making it into a tip.  And here it is: pack a bag of secret kiddy treats.  Wrap them if you have time.  Every day (or hour, depending on your patience and the length of your ramble) present a new little treat to your brood.  A new toy or book, no matter how small or silly, is always so exciting to children that a parent will surely get at least 45 minutes of peace.  So many little things like matchbox cars, mad-lib books, miniature notebooks, special favorite candy bars, are so cheap yet so treasured by children.  You can also use them as a bargaining chip if things start getting out of hand- which they WON'T because you will also be following tip number four....

Don't be afraid to stop the car.  Not "STOP THE CAR!" in that scary you-better-quit-fighting way, but "hey, let's stop the car and go to the bathroom and stretch our legs and enjoy this awesome rest stop in Iowa."  and "isn't it neat how the trees here are so different from the trees at our house?" and "watch out for that pile of dog poop!"  Really try to make the trip itself part of the adventure. 

The welcome centers at the state lines are GREAT for this sort of thing.  Your older kids will love getting the free fliers that talk about the history and geography of the region and your younger kids will love almost getting hit by other cars.  Being too time oriented will ruin the experience for all of you and will have you arriving at your destination in an exhausted puddle of frustration and sweat.

Oh, and if you're planning on "making good time", please don't.  Having a whole day stretched out in front of you filled with an unknown number of hours covering an unknown number of miles can be disheartening.  Going and going and going until you can barely keep your eyes open is dangerous.  Getting pulled over because you're going too fast is expensive.  And time consuming.  Remember about how it's not 1974 anymore?  Book hotels IN ADVANCE.  Use the power of the internet to your advantage.  Divide up your trip, pick cities to stop in, and then get on and book four star hotels for $99 per night.  Yes, you can! I totally did.  That is how we were able to stay at some pretty fantastic places with swimming pools and Wifi in our rooms and free breakfasts without totally blowing our budget. 

This also gives you and the kids a daily goal. "If we eat lunch quickly guys, we'll get to the hotel sooner and daddy will take you swimming!"  You will always be able to see the light of a hot shower at the end of the tunnel of your stinky mini-van prison.  Please tell me ours was not the only van that was stinky after 5 days of driving.  Please?

Whether your trip is multi-day or multi-hour, sometimes moving your children to new seats can make them feel like they're in a whole new car.  Which could make YOU feel like you're in a whole new car.  Sweet!  So if so and so is getting too fussy or feeling uncomfortable or bickering with that other so and so, move them to the other side of the vehicle for the next leg of the trip.  Especially if you know that something interesting is coming up on one side of the car, be sure that the child who will appreciate it most is able to see out the closest window.  They will feel so grateful that you thought of them and you will feel so proud when their eyes light up and whatever silly/wonderful/interesting/miraculous sight it is that you knew they would appreciate.

Above all, treasure it.  Treasure this uninterrupted, different, interesting adventure as a family.  Take turns telling silly jokes.  Start verses to silly songs and let your toddler finish them.  Take lots of pictures.  Marvel at the wonderful, diverse country we live in.  Have your older kids take notes and draw pictures to create a travel journal of sorts.  Have them read historical fiction books set in the states you're driving through.  Let them learn to use the key card in the hotel room door and which buttons to press to make the elevator work.  Who knows...the road-trip itself could turn out to be the best part of your vacation.

Happy summer, everyone.  Enjoy this beautiful country of ours!

today's Quick Takes are hosted by Hallie at Betty Beguiles because Jen has had her BABY!!!

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  1. Aww man, no more forts in the back of the van, no fun Dweej! :) These are really great tips, I will have to keep some of them tucked away in the back of my mind. Especially the present one. I think that would be perfect for overseas flights as well. Hope you are having a great start to Friday and everything is well :) I owe you an email here. We will get this done one of these days (insert you rolling your eyes and thinking I am a flake, lol).

  2. I used to give little gifts to Mac in the car. Oh, memories.

    Seriously, he loved road trips, he's get in the back seat with about thirty books and no complaints. Of course, it was just him and me, no one to fight with!

  3. You're a wise one! These are all great tips, thank you for sharing! Have a great Friday, dear friend.

  4. great tips! We haven't taken ours on vacation yet (sad I know) I want to, but just scared of listening to fighting and noise for hours on end.

  5. You forgot to mention "BUY EARPLUGS!". Or, find someone who can install one of those soundproof, bullet-proof, roll-up metal dividers that goes right behind the front seats.

    I was a child that was regularly treated to cross-country drives, and weekend trips where my road-warrior father happily dragged us 300+ miles "for the memories". LOL

    My husband was not nearly as blessed, so his idea of a "great family vacation" is to rent an RV and cruise the country. With all 6 kids. And, the dog. I can't. I just can't.

    Actually, his DREAM is to retire (HA!), sell our house, buy and RV, and just cruise the country until we die, stopping only to visit each child for 2 weeks. Won't they be excited when we park in their driveways "Cousin Eddie"-style???

    Actually, I like your tips a lot and have utilized most of them on road trips AND airplane trips.

  6. Here is another one. If the kids are in car seats, have something between them, like say, a cooler. And if you don't do that, do not feed them anything throwable or mushable. Do not under any circumstances give them bananas unless you want to stop 15 minutes into your trip to clear banana out of a car seat, toddlers hair etc. Talk about a food fight.

  7. @Debbie: I am not joking: we had zero fighting! Between them packing their favorite books and workbooks, seeing places we'd never seen, the dvd player, the leapster, the ipod, the snacks, the stops, the switching seats, the naps...5 days went by way faster than you would imagine!!! :D

    @Allison: Yes, no perishable snacks and no drinks with removable lids. Sports bottles and sippy cups ONLY!

  8. Amen on the portable DVD player and the GPS! Those have been LIFE-SAVERS (or perhaps, more accurately, sanity savers...)

    Re: food - yeah - it's important to pick food that doesn't mash, melt or mess easily. (i.e. - licorice vs. M&Ms; turkey & cheese vs. PB&J)...and in the car, NO stainable liquids - just water!

    Thanks for the reminder to enjoy the journey - not just the destination - which is how I am programmed (unfortunately). Hopefully, I'll remember that later when we endure a road trip this summer. And hopefully, since my kiddos are getting a little older, they will be a tad better at entertaining themselves in the car, so I'm not stuck playing waitress the whole trip.

    ~amy l

  9. I think stopping a lot and driving no more than 8 hours per day MAX is also key.

    The excitement of knowing it's only half an hour until the hotel is another LIFE SAVER!

  10. Could these tips be adapted to two 50-something parents traveling with a bored teen across boring (to him) Wisconsin from southeastern Minnesota?

    FYI: I graduated from high school in 1974.

    Honestly, a helpful post, if only my kids (except for the teen) were not grown up and gone from home.

  11. I think they could, Audrey! Maybe he can gander at a map to help choose the route...decide which cities to stay in. Help book the hotels (depending on how long the trip will take). I'm guessing the electronic gizmos are already covered ;).

  12. Great trips. I wonder if I could get Roy to wrap me a present to open ever few hours. Hummm I will have to work on that one.
    I think the portable DVD player has got to be a heaven sent thing for you who travel with kids.

  13. Great tips! My mom used to make the four of us kids rotate seats in the van every potty stop. The toy buckets stayed at the seat but the kids moved. We got a new seat & new toys every couple of hours. Brilliant!

    On the topic of budget car toys - my mom made us felt boards in a shoe box. The inside of the lid was the board and the box held all the parts. Felt = cheap. Shoes boxes = recycled. And we could ONLY play with them on our long summer road trips.

  14. I always kept an awesome snack box in the car with a variety of items portioned out in snack bags, along with some juice boxes/bottles. That way, nobody starved when there were no suitable restaurants open, or we were trying to stay on a schedule!

  15. More excellent tips! My readers are so resourceful. I love it :D

  16. Wish we would have had tip number three type little gifts on our long family journey in 1974. How did you know? Three of us in the back seat from California to NY and back. It will have to be a book.

  17. You're such a good mom, and so thoughtful! I love your tips!

  18. Okay... I need to do my road trip. End of July. Maybe not ALLLL the way, but part way. Thanks for inspiring me :)

  19. I LOVE road trips! Listening to the kiddos chatter away in the backseat is alway fun :)

  20. Why is it that my arms seemed so much longer years ago? I remember being able to reach the back seat of our station wagon, easily, to dispense both food and slaps during those long, long road trips.

    Yes, I slapped my kids; sometimes it was the only way to break up a strangle-hold one had on another during a trip. Don't judge me...

  21. Um, yes please to the portable dvd player! I borrowed my mil's for our recent trip only to discover that it didn't work! I ended up playing movies for the girls on a laptop instead, because oh how movies make the time pass!

    Also, you belong to the correct school of thought when it comes to roadtrips - the lets take our time and meander and have fun school! I'm a big fan of stopping for the world's largest whatever or the best toffee this side of the mississippi, all of that stuff. That's what makes it fun!

  22. The portable DVD player saved our lives. We barely hear a peep out of our two since we bought it. We have the kind that you strap around the head rest. I think it cost $150 at target, but it was the best investment I ever made.

    I love you friend's suggestion in number four. A little surprise every hour? That's an awesome idea. My kids would totally be excited by that.

    Great suggestions, Dweej, and you are pretty much the authority on cross country trips in my book.

  23. You're such an awesome mom, Dweej. Seriously, your kids are lucky to be growing up in such a fun household! I loved these tips...mainly because they took me back to my own road trips growing up. Some of my favorite memories from vacations are of the road trips themselves and not the destination. I had awesome parents, like you guys are awesome parents, and they always found a way to make the journey even more fun than the destination.

    Oh, and my favorite line: "your younger kids will love almost getting hit by other cars." HA! Had to read that one aloud to Jeremy...we both were cracking up.

    Love you, buddy!

  24. I think I will second all of these tips. We just finished up a 10 hour drive with our two year old and all of your pointers apply (though I do wish you had posted this exactly one week earlier).

  25. It's a brand new world out there if it's your first time to bring your kids on a road trip. Compared to your buddies you're always with, some of the kids will easily get bored throughout the trip, so keep them entertained with toys, DVDs, or road trip games.


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