I do my best not to write how-to’s in the parenting world. I’ve been a mom long enough to know better than to give parenting advice just to watch my kids work to prove me wrong every step of the way.
I will break this rule to bring you some tips and tricks learned from 11 years of road trippin’ with my motley crew.
We’ve had some successes and we’ve had plenty of failures…like that time we decided to road trip to see some snow and I convinced my husband that our Chrysler Town and Country could definitely make it through the snow covered roads to get to the cabin. I was wrong. I’m still being reminded of how wrong I was. Thank you to the good Samaritan in North Carolina who towed us out of that mess!
A few times a year we pack up our house, our four sons, and an extra dose of patience and head out for an adventure.
We usually base whether to fly or drive on the 8-hour rule. If the drive is 8 hours or less, it’s easier for us to drive. Flying with this crew deserves it’s own post and creates a completely different set of preparation and challenges. We have driven as far as 10 hours in a day though and we all survived to tell the tale!
First and foremost, we have a minivan. God bless that beautiful piece of machinery for road trips. Someone recently told me that you can only enjoy a minivan if you’re really sure of yourself. I’m not always completely sure of myself, but I am completely sure of my minivan.
It is step number one in making a road trip easier because (full disclosure here) it has a rear dvd player that keeps people pretty entertained with minimal effort from me. All I have to do is navigate a few arguments about what movie to put in and press play for an hour or so of peace on a trip. It’s also incredibly convenient for explaining how much longer we have on the trip. “We have one more movie to go!” Those of you who are *blessed* enough to have a minivan know what I’m talking about.
The rest of you, enjoy your self-respect while I enjoy these luxurious sliding doors and excellent gas mileage. Alas, I digress.
Whatever your chariot of choice, here are some tips and tricks for making it through to your destination with your sanity intact on your next road trip.
ROAD TRIP TIP #1: PACK AS LIGHTLY AS YOU CAN
Nothing is more miserable than being stuffed into the car with no room to breathe. We used to opt for getting every thing into the car so we didn’t have to do any grocery shopping or baby equipment rentals when we got to our destination, but it made actually fitting the children in the car REALLY hard. Now we bring a cooler with one day’s worth of necessities and make plans for a grocery trip or delivery. I recently found this collapsible cooler that works great for using on the way there and then easily storing once you don’t need it anymore!
ROAD TRIP TIP #2: RENT BABY EQUIPMENT TO SAVE SPACE
I’ve also learned that most tourist locations offer baby equipment rentals for pretty decent prices. Nothing is a space killer quite like baby necessities—double strollers, pack and plays, travel high chairs, etc. Renting those saves us a mountain of space! It’s also kind of fun to test drive new strollers… you might find that super expensive jogging stroller you’ve been eyeing is a pain in the butt to fold.
ROAD TRIP TIP #3: SCREEN TIME RULES DON’T COUNT ON ROAD TRIP DAYS
My kids are not big techy-kids. I’ve tried to make that a priority in our home, but on road trip days, they watch a lot of movies. We only own one tablet and one Nintendo switch and we leave them at home because I can’t referee all of the fights about whose turn it is, BUT if you don’t have video capability in your vehicle, then bring all the electronics to buy yourself some peace when possible! You’ll make up for all the screen time with new experiences and family memories on the trip.
ROAD TRIP TIP #4: BE READY TO STOP… A LOT
Our goal is to stop every two hours. Sometimes we can stretch it a little more and sometimes we have to stop on the hour every hour because one of us birthed four beautiful boys and drank too much diet coke at 5 a.m. when loading up the car.
We do usually plan for taking about 30 minutes at lunch to stop at a playground near the interstate to let the boys move and play. I think the brief break gives us just the push we need to finish out the drive in peace. It’s a bit of a time waster, but it’s a mental health saver so we do it anyway.
ROAD TRIP TIP #5: SNACKS
I’ve tried it all. Giant bag of endless snacks. Cooler full of nutritious snacks. Picking out a snack at gas station stops. I’ve never really been happy with any of the things I’ve tried thus far. They fight over who has possession of the bag, and they make a ginormous mess with snack wrappers everywhere despite my well-placed trash bags.
On our last trip, I tried stackable snack towers like these. I think this may have been our best plan to date. Each boy had his own tower with snacks that he preferred in his cup holder. I put some candy in the top tier of the snack tower so there was a little less begging at gas station stops (what’s up with the size of gas station candy these days?!).
My only complaint is the two younger boys struggled to open the snack containers by themselves, but it was easy enough to open and pass them back when needed. I always give my boys a water cup as well, but pro tip—pack your smaller cups. I’ve only had to learn this the hard way about 55 times. Small bladders do not need the 40 oz cups.
ROAD TRIP TIP #6: IF YOU CAN KEEP A LITTLE ONE SOMEWHAT ON THEIR SCHEDULE, IT HELPS
My kids NEVER sleep well in a car, but I always try to bribe the older boys to stay quiet and turn on the most boring movie of all time when it’s my youngest son’s normal nap time. I know he won’t sleep for two hours, but starting a trip out with a cranky toddler isn’t fun for anyone.
I recently tried these neck pillows and they are pretty great at preventing that heinous neck flop they do in the car!
ROAD TRIP TIP #7: BUSY BAGS
I’ve gone down into the pits of Pinterest hell making traveling busy bags. Seriously y’all—all the alphabet magnets and small piece of metal to stick them to. POM POM BALLS AND TONGS. I gave my three year old hundreds of pom pom balls and tongs for some kind of fine motor practice. Felt crafts. Please learn from my mistakes. These things have no place in your busy bags. Save the Pinterest crafts and cutesy road trip scavenger hunts for some other time unless perhaps you have more civilized children than I do. I’m still finding pom poms in unsuspecting places in my van.
This is what I put in the busy bags now: books, something to draw with, and maybe a couple small toys.
I usually do a bag for the second row and one for the third row. The big boys each have a road trip binder. I put paper in a 1 inch binder and a binder pencil bag like this one. I put pencils, colored pencils, and a small pencil sharpener in the pencil bag and my boys will draw for hours. I also throw in some new books that they’ll be interested in like Weird but True! or neat fact books like this.
For the younger boys, I may pick out some interactive books with buttons that make sounds or sensory books that might keep their attention for a while. I also think water wows or magic ink books are perfect busy bag items for little ones!
ROAD TRIP TIP #8: YOU CHOOSE SONG GAME
When we’ve reached our limit and need a fun distraction, we let each member of the family pick a song they want to hear starting with the youngest and working up from there. I have no idea why everyone loves this, but they do. We usually start with the Umizoomi theme song and end with some 90’s one hit wonder, but we dance and sing along the way. You’d be surprised how much time you can get though after a few rounds of this game.
I feel like the list could go on and on, but I’m probably boring you at this point. Suffice it to say—some of my very favorite family memories have occurred on road trips with my family.
Is it a pain to get us all packed up? Yes. Is it a pain to endure hours in the car? Yes.
Is it all worth it to watch your kids experience new and exciting things?
Yes. A million times, yes!
So get out there on the road and enjoy the ride, and I’ll see you out there! I’ll be the one pulled over on the interstate with four boys peeing out of the sliding door of my van.
Oh! And honk if you believe in Bigfoot!