You’ve been planning this trip for weeks. You can’t wait to jump in that car and take a road trip to that family reunion in the mountains. You’re excited to bring your three-year-old to a part of the world she’s never seen, to introduce your twin sons to their great-grandmother. The problem is, you’ve never taken a serious trip with your kids, and you’re terrified of being stuck in a car, trying to entertain them, as you take them far out of their comfortable element, all while trying to enjoy the trip yourself. Well, fear no more! Here are a couple of the best tips to keep you sane and your kids happy.
1. Plan Ahead by Packing Smart
You don’t need to fit your children’s whole bedroom into the car—squishing a million things and your toddlers into a backseat is sure to lead to some loud crying. You just need to evaluate the essentials. Make sure you have their favorite blankets and toys. If they’re old enough, let the kids pack their own “car bag”—it will make them more excited for the things they know they get to do in the car.
Don’t forget an extra pair of pajamas, in easy reach of the passenger seat. When you decide to keep driving into the night, you’ll be happy that you can all be ready for bed in the car instead of the alternative: continuing on until 2:00 a.m. and waking kids up after they’ve already been asleep for five hours.
Lastly, be sure to pack your car smart. If you’re bringing a lot because you’re planning on staying a week in New York, just pack one carry-on with everything you and the kiddos will need for the pit stops along the way. Then, when you’re pulling in late to a hotel in Iowa, you only have to grab the one bag. It makes getting off and on the road a lot easier.
2. Don’t Expect Your Kids to Like It
Anticipate that your kids won’t be crazy about sitting in the car all day or even enjoy all the new adventures you find along the way. Pack healthy food and snack food for the car—fast food gets old really quickly when it’s your only option. Plus, a little candy or the promise of an ice cream cone can go a long way in persuading the kids to stay calm a little longer.
Kids love games and imagination; luckily, everything on a road trip can be just that. If they get stir crazy, pull out some card games or have them find all the letters in the alphabet in order on license plates. Entertain them by describing mystical Midwestern creatures for them to find out the window. The more they use their imagination, the less you have to worry about them and the more you can focus on driving.
3. Be Practical in Your Stops
Every time you have to fill up the gas tank, make everyone get out and use the restroom. No exceptions. And make your meal stops legitimate stops, not just drive-throughs. Give the kids a chance to stretch their legs and run around. With a full belly and a little well-spent energy, they’ll do better climbing back in the car. Five pit stops that take twenty-five minutes instead of five minutes will ultimately save you from stopping every thirty minutes for ten minutes.
4. Fun is the goal
You want to have a successful vacation and do everything you’ve planned. But kids often don’t stick to such a regimented schedule in unfamiliar places. As long as you remember that the goal is to have fun and to create positive memories, you don’t need to stress. The best part of a road trip is that you get to enjoy the journey just as much as the destination. So don’t be afraid to get out and explore, especially if the kids are getting restless. The memories you make will be well worth the time you could have saved, and in the long run, the time back in the car will pass more quickly.
—by Makayla Beitler