ROAD TRIP!!!! Back in my college/single years, I would have screamed that from the top of my lungs, grabbed a bag of Cheetos & a huge soft drink and OFF we’d go! Enter a child (or 4) and sadly, the mood changed drastically upon hearing those words. The mere thought of riding in the car with children can send you screaming madly over the edge, but it really doesn’t need to with a few advance preparations.
Road trips are a necessity for our family. We love going to Disney World and when we lived in Florida, we were a mere 8 hours away. We knew once we started having kids, we wanted to go even more and knew that plane tickets were out of the question. Short of hopping on a boat and paddling to Orlando, our only option was the dreaded DRIVE.
Fast forward a few years and my inlaws relocated to Houston. Really? Oh, that’s only 10.hours.away. Piece of cake. NOT. We knew we had to bite the bullet and do it if the inlaws wanted to ever see the kiddos again. So we did it. Many times. Fast forward yet another few years and WE have now moved to Houston and have to drive back & forth to Florida and Alabama to visit my family & friends. We have logged a lot of miles over the last few years, but most importantly, we’ve learned some very valuable lessons to make traveling with little ones easier. Not EASY, but EASIER. Trapped in a car with kids for any extended length of time will
never rarely be fun, but it doesn’t have to be entirely miserable, either.
I am slightly obsessed when it comes to preparations for a trip, so making a list is the FIRST thing I do. I make a list of both what needs to be packed in the suitcases AND what needs to be packed in the car with us. Here is a list of my must haves for traveling with lots of little ones (ours range in age from 9 yrs to 18 mos, so it pays to be prepared).
- Backpack/tote bag – each child gets their own bag. ONLY 1 bag per child, that’s my rule. My 9 year old (before our other children were born) used to bring 2 bags CRAMMED full of stuff and since then I’ve edited it down to 1 bag per kid. Whatever they can fit in that bag, can go. In the beginning I just loaded toys/books/etc. into a bin and placed it in the floorboard beneath their feet. That worked ok when it was just a couple of toddlers, but now that the kids are different ages, I find it much less stressful to let each kid dig out whatever it is they want from their own bag. I spent an awful lot of time divvying out toys when there was only one container and it got old.fast. Each child gets to place their bag next to them on the seat. We normally sit the smaller kids in the middle row and the oldest in the third row, however on a roadtrip it helps to spread them out. Trust me on this one. This also gives each one more room to put their bags on the seat BETWEEN them. Their bags usually contain books, paper (notebooks or coloring books work best – loose paper is a very.bad.idea), pencils/crayons, stickers, small toys. I let the kids pack their own stuff and then after they’re done, I go back and add a few things, this helps them play with things they don’t normally play with.
- Snacks – My only requirements are: NOT messy and something they can eat without utensils. We usually pack pretzels, string cheese, small cheese/flavored crackers, small or mini cookies, and fruit (cut up before we leave). I pack a plastic cup for each child and that’s what they get their snacks in. Unless they hand me a cup to refill, they don’t get anymore. I also take along a full size juice AND a water (we cut the kids juice with water, they never get straight juice). I joke to my husband that I feel like a traveling bartender when we’re on the road, but it’s so much easier (and cheaper) than lugging along 10 filled sippy cups or getting each child a drink at a fast food restaurant. In fact, only my oldest gets a drink when we stop for food, the rest drink from their sippy cups/thermos. (Juice boxes/Capri Suns are not very good ideas in the car, either UNLESS you like that splattered 80s artwork on the ceiling of your car….I don’t.)
- Small cooler – Loaded with string cheese, cut up fruit, and prefilled sippy cups (2 per kid, because I speak from experience something CAN happen to a cup, believe it or not and this is NOT something you want to have to purchase at a gas station!). Sometimes I will even pack a drink or 2 for my husband and myself since it’s ALWAYS cheaper to buy it before you leave, especially those energy drinks he’s so fond of. At the grocery store you can buy a 4 pack for just about the same price some gas stations sell ONE for!
- Movies (this one’s self explanatory). Our truck doesn’t have a built in dvd player, but we were lucky enough to get one from a friend of my mother’s. There’s only one screen & the volume no longer works, but I always found it hard to hear the sound on the tv while going down the interstate anyway. My kids never seem to mind only being able to see the picture. I keep our dvds in a zippered holder at home all the time and that’s what I stash up front with me, too.
- Plastic bags – very, very necessary. Good for garbage, dirty diapers, etc. I keep it at my feet and whenever we stop for gas or to use the restroom, I toss it. Most cars have a little side pocket on the bottom of the door and that’s where I stuff enough bags for a round trip.
- Wipes/paper towels – need I say more?
- Change of clothes/shoes – I know this one may sound strange, however…..I definitely speak from experience on this one. On one of our trips home from Disney, my 2 yr old (at the time) had a major diaper blowout in the middle of the interstate sitting in her car seat. We had to find the nearest gas station and needless to say, I ended up having to change her in the truck. The seat was totally covered with poop and so was she. After scrounging for clothes in the suitcase that was (of course) buried at the.very.bottom., I still had the dilemma of the nasty car seat. The only thing we could do was to line it with layer after layer of paper towel and hold our nose ’til we made it home (3 hours later). Another time my son was very small and he had a similar explosion. Again, the suitcase was on.the.bottom and the only clothes I could get my hands on were a pair of frilly ruffled girl pants. Poor little guy had to wear these home, all because I hadn’t learned the important lesson of packing an extra outfit for each child within EASY reach. Trust me, you’ll thank me. I can’t think of a single trip we’ve taken that at least one kid didn’t need some change of clothing before we reached our destination. SHOES? what a strange thing, you say? Why in the world would I need an extra pair of shoes? It’s not like they’re going to toss them out the window going down the interstate. Maybe not, but a close second is having a child that needs to go to the bathroom.NOW. and once you’ve stopped, one of the other kids can only find ONE shoe. Sorry, but I refuse to go into the rest stop with a shoeless kid…nope, ain’t happening. Hence the extra shoes. Lots of kids in the car usually equals lots of toys on the floor and somewhere, in all that mess, are their shoes. I don’t know about you, but I do not enjoy standing on a hot slab of concrete in 110 degree heat digging for a shoe while my other kids are whining to go to the bathroom. Save yourself a headache & throw a pair of flipflops in the bag with the extra clothes…heck, I’d even let them wear the flipflops in the middle of winter rather than stand there and dig through 500 miles of toys strewn across the truck. That being said, once everyone’s had their “rest stop”, I usually let them run around with daddy while I go back to the truck and pick up all the toys and put them in their bags, most of the time I intentionally put the wrong toys in the wrong bag just so the kids have something different to play with. It’s at that point that I usually find the shoes and either these or the extra pair go back into the bag.
- A ball or a frisbee (or something similar) within EASY reach. While it is great just to be able to get out and stretch your legs & run, kids get bored.quick. My kids are always happy to see a ball to play with when we stop and it helps them get some of that cooped up energy out before we reload and head out again. Just make sure you put it where you can get to it EASILY.
Well, there you go. Those are my most important tips for road trippin’ with kids. I’ve learned all of these from trial and error and I have to say that most of our trips go smoothly. The most stress usually comes from the fact that the kids get so tired of being strapped in, and the only way to cure that is to stop often and let them run around. Hopefully if you follow these tips, your trip will be a little more enjoyable and you all reach your destination with all your hair. 🙂
Safe travels this summer.