Don’t Just Survive The Drive, Enjoy It.
Do you have a road trip as a family coming up? Are you dreading the long hours in the car, hearing, “are we there yet” and “how much longer?” Sometimes road trips with kids can be quite intimidating. Imagine instead that the drive itself is just as memory-filled as the destination. Ok. maybe not quite that perfect, but there really is a lot that you can do to make the drive less stressful, and more enjoyable for everyone involved. So have no fear, with these ideas, your little ones will be begging you for another road trip! You might not even swear them off yourself.
Don’t worry, we slid his buckle to the right place before taking off. Clearly we weren’t driving yet.
While driving isn’t always the fastest mode of transportation, sometimes it’s what we find ourselves doing for a number of different reasons. For a long time for our family, driving was just easier. Yes, it took way longer, but it was more cost-effective for a big family which allowed us to travel more often and packing up (the whole house pretty much) was easier to fit. It also gave us more flexibility. The long hours in the car quickly became miserable when I didn’t have a plan of attack. After trying out a ton of different options, here are our secrets to enjoying a road trip with little kids.
1. Plan your pit stops
When your driving with just adults you can usually make pretty good time and take very few pit stops. With kids, it’s usually a different story. Depending on the length of your drive, you may have to stop several times. Use a website like Roadtrippers to look at what is along your drive. Your goal is to find something exciting, physical, close to the road you are on and quick. Don’t waste your money on paid things, because you won’t be there for long (unless it’s something you really want to do). There are so many free and fast things to do in random small towns or while passing through a big city. We usually are pretty anxious to get to our destination, so we don’t pick too many things, one fun stop every 3-4 hours for 20 minutes tops. While it will add to your overall travel time, the youngsters along for the ride will be much more cooperative if you sacrifice for it. We always plan our gas station stops with a park or playland close by and give the kids a 10-min break to get their wiggles out. Some gas stations even have playgrounds on their property. We usually go play a game of tag or something active with the kids to get our hearts pumping a little. Let’s face it, it’s good for the adults to get moving too! So. plan ahead and see what adventures you can have along the way.
2. Travel “stuff” backpacks
As a Mom that is usually the passenger in charge of the kids on a road trip, I get impatient if I have to keep climbing back to help the kids for every little thing. Kids always seem to need the most random things while on a drive. My solution – pack them each a small travel bag with THESE things inside it. I’m not stating the obvious things like a toy and a teddy bear, I’m talking the stuff like band-aids, tissues, sanitizer, water bottles (small ones, so you don’t have extra potty breaks), and chapstick. Not only do they get excited to have this stuff as their “own”, but they can also be much more independent.
Obviously, tailor these to your kids and be prepared for every one of those band-aids to be used on the way. Also include an adventure journal with blank pages, pencils and crayons, and stickers. Play different games along the way or point out different things along the road for them to draw or write about. These are just supplemental things to go along with the stuff that’s in your other “Mary Poppins” travel bag. If you let them help you pack them they will be excited about using them on the drive.
3. Surprise bags
This is my kids’ favorite thing about road trips, probably, because it’s like getting presents. Maybe it sounds a little over the top, but it is such a great behavior incentive and makes the drive exciting. Collect some little prizes from the dollar store for each kid. If I’m really prepared I will just collect things over time and have a tote full, so when I need something I already have options.
Sometimes they get an individual surprise bag, other times it can be a group bag. Anything from a new treat, a coloring book, a new pen, a slinky, a bag of their favorite chips…. anything that suits you. Put them in brown paper lunch sacks so you are ready when you need them. You can give them out as rewards, or when they start getting restless, or if they have had awesome behavior. We have also set time limits and given one out when a set time has passed. They don’t know what is coming next, so they always want to earn it, and it works wonders for getting them to be patient and cooperate.
Don’t spend too much, so they are expecting these grand things every time and try to make it something that will be beneficial afterward as well. The trick is to pick something that will take some time! Games, crafts, activities, snacks…. anything that they can take time opening and using for a while and throughout your vacation. Then they have their personal backpack to put these things in and bring along.
It might seem overwhelming but it is the stuff that you are going to pack for them to use anyway, so you might as well make a double benefit of it. Keep it simple and exciting. For really young ones, wrap their surprise stuff in wrapping paper. It will take them some time to get it all unwrapped and then open it and play with it.
4. Library DVDs
This one kind of explains itself. Watching movies on a long drive is a must. However, the same old movies they have seen tons of times might not keep them entertained for very long. Go to your local library and rent a bunch of movies that they haven’t seen before or at least in a while. Sometimes library DVDs are scratched, so get more than you think just in case some of them don’t end up working. This is free and they will be excited about all the new viewing options.
Parent hack – if your system allows, get wireless headphones for the kids so you don’t have to listen to their movies the whole time either.
5. Road trip friendly activities
Everyone gets bored on long road trips. Sometimes it can be hard to keep kids entertained without making a mess or stressing everyone out. This is where my “Mary Poppins” bag comes into play. I keep this stuff in a “Mom touches only” bag that’s readily accessible. Here is a list of our kids’ favorite on-the-go easy road trip activities. For most of these, I use dollar store smaller cookie sheets as trays for their laps. The dollar store also has a lot of these supplies.
I never spend very much gathering everything up. The edges help hold stuff on the tray without it rolling away. I attached some images that link to these items, but you can also shop locally to see if you can find things similar. Hopefully, this list at least gets your creative juices flowing, so you can think of things that will work for your family. We were not moving in this picture, in case you were worried about her seat belt.
Make paper bag puppets. Playdough – playdough mats, figures, cutters…anything that fits in a ziplock sized bag that they will use.
Make Fruit Loop necklaces with yarn.
Sticker books, and even better if you can find reusable stickers like these Melissa And Doug ones.
She has the whole collection with different themes. These are extra-large sticker-activity pads that include 5 colorful backgrounds and 150+ cling-style, repositionable stickers. You can remove background scenes and reposition the stickers too. It also promotes fine motor skills and creative play.
Also, my kids love these animals’ wooden mini-puzzle set with storage and travel case.
Handheld games. These are different than a regular Ipad or tablet, so it provides a little variety. We love this one of the old school games, but there are a ton of options out there.
- Laminated writing sheets or whiteboards to use with dry-erase markers;
- Pool noodle stacking, matching, and pattern making. Cut pool noodles into little rings and stack on wooden dowels.
They were so entertained that they wanted to keep working during a gas station stop.
Paint by sticker books. They also have a huge variety of them. We personally love the zoo animals’ theme.
1. Get a leash for the little kids’ sippy cups! Something like the one below, but you might be able to find one locally too.
2. Get a sunshade for the windows to protect your kids.
3. Another cool feature is to have a backseat baby mirror in the car. It is not only will help you to stay focused on the road, as you won’t have to turn your face back. But also, it will provide peace of mind while driving with young kids. If the baby is fussing, dropped their toy, or spilled their snack, you’ll know right away.
4. Let them earn “road money” that they can use to get a treat at a gas station along the way if they have been good.
5. Use an app to let them track the progress of your drive.
6. Stock up early on a bunch of new snacks and treats, that they haven’t had or at least haven’t had in a while, and set them aside. Make sure, they don’t have any of them for a while before the trip, so they are all new and exciting.
7. If you can choose your time frame, try to leave really early in the morning or towards the evening, so they will sleep.
8. If you have a tablet or Ipad and use Netflix, you can download certain movies and shows that you can watch without any internet connection. They say to “find joy in the journey, not just the destination!” I literally repeat this in my head when I’m doing all of these things with my kids on the road. Although it is a little more work, it is so worth all the extra effort. Your kids will be happy and making memories along the drive.
For us, uninterrupted time together is hard to come by with everyone’s different schedules. I use our road trips as a time to hang out with them and enjoy being together. We play I-spy and Abc games and sing and dance. We always have movie time, quiet time, and look out the window time for my sanity. With having a plan for the drive, we have very few fights along the way. My kids look forward to the drive just as much as wherever we are going because it is a party the whole way there. If you’re lucky, you will wear them out, so they will sleep for some of the drives.
Traveling as a family in any capacity is such an amazing adventure! Enjoy every minute and soak up all the memories you can! There is so much to see and do and with a little patience and flexibility, you are sure to have the drive to remember!
Enjoy your trip and safe travels!
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