Road trips with young children can be tricky. I have many fond memories of driving with my family on family vacations. Most of the time, the trips lasted at least 8 hours, sometimes we drove down the western side of the United States. Similarily, Jarrett, my husband has lots of memories of his own road trips travelling from Canada to Florida through the mid west. Between the two of us, I would say we are very experienced road trippers. Now that we have children of our own, we have started doing our own adventures. Here are some things to keep in mind when doing road trips with young children.
There is always a debate when considering when to start road trips. It’s hard travelling with young children. It makes sense to wait until they are older. But, if you wait until they are older, they still will not understand how to sit for long periods of time. Trust me on this, start early. That way, your child learns the expectations of a road trip. They know that they are going to sit for a long time, and that’s ok. It isn’t necessarily easy to train your child, and you may have to deal with an extended period of crying, but I found that with my kids, we only had to do it once. The second trip they had they were good.
Time Your Driving
The most valuable thing I have learned when driving with my kids for long periods of time, is timing my driving. I plan to leave during nap times because it will take up a good portion of the drive until they wake up for the next meal time. For us, my kids nap at 9am and 1pm. It works great because we get up, eat breakfast and by the time we’re ready to leave, it’s 9am. Nap time. Then we drive for a couple hours, they wake up, and then it’s almost lunch time. After lunch it’s almost nap time again and we get a couple more hours of sleep in until we are almost at our destination. Do we still get fussy kids? Of course. But, it’s a lot easier dealing with cranky kids for only a portion of the time instead of their whole waking time in between naps.
If you expect your child to sit without moving for 8 hours, you are probably kidding yourself. At least for young children. When I grew up, our drives were 8 hours long and I was expected to sit for 5 hours until we made it to the closest city. No bathroom breaks. Just driving. With one year olds and a three year old, not stopping for 5 hours is not going to happen. We stop every 3 ish hours. That way, the kids can get out, stretch their legs, and eat their next meal. It works really well for us. The more you travel, the longer you will be able to go and eventually you too can do 5 hour stretches without stopping.
It’s a great idea to plan your trips around places you want to stop. There are lots of fun little stops you can make with your kids to see the world largest egg or a fairytale land or check out a go cart loop. If you find something that will tire your kids out, you will have a nice and quiet ride for the next leg of your journey!
Snacks are Great
One of my favorite parts about road trips are snacks. It’s a great time to buy fun snacks that are unique for travelling and easy to eat in a car. Plus, they are GREAT distractions. Here are some snacks you can try
- cheese sticks/cheese strings
- pepperoni sticks
- beef jerky
- travel packets of carrots and dip
- fun ‘fruit’ treats (fruit by the foot, gushers, fruit snacks)
- bags of chips, popcorn, pringles
- gum, chocolate bars and gummy candy
- resealable bottles of juice or pop (I once traveled with cans of pop and one rolled and exploded everywhere. Won’t be doing that again)
It’s always a good idea to bring some activities with you for in the car. Here are some things that your kids can do that won’t get everywhere while you are driving!
- Make a play table out of a little tray so that your child can put crayons or markers on it along with coloring books. I’m always afraid of the mess that comes with coloring so here are some products you could try (These are just products I have used, I’m not getting paid to talk about them)
- Crayola Dry Erase Crayons – these come with a whiteboard or black board, and gets allows your kid to write on the board and then wipe it off. It’s pretty cool! Just don’t let your children eat them as they get everywhere. I may or may not be speaking from personal experience. Let’s say a friend told me.
- Crayola Color Wonder. These markers are SO COOL. They only color on the special paper you get in the coloring books that are made for color wonder markers. That way you don’t get marker all over your vehicle and your kid.
- Color and Sticker Books – my son has a Paw Patrol ‘my first crayola’ color and sticker book that lets you match stickers to their shapes. He loves it! A GREAT purchase. They also have other color/sticker books you can get too though for older kids. I might recommend adding crayons to this idea as you probably don’t want the markers to go everywhere.
- You can make a magnet board out of a small whiteboard (they are usually magnetic). You can make magnets out of letters or animals by buying some small magnets at the dollar store and gluing them to the back of the toys. Or. You can find magnets. Genius. I know.
- It’s always fun to play games as a family in the car. Here are some ideas
- count cars, cows, buildings… whatever you can find!
- On my trip I brought…. – you can make it a memory game or just talk about things you would pack
- ABC game – think of things that start with each letter. For a more challenging game, make it a memory game!
- Think of a word that starts with the last letter of the given word. For example “goat” next word could be “turtle”, followed by “elephant”. You could pick themes of animals, food, nature, or household items depending on the age of your children.
- I spy – a nice easy game for young children. Wanna pump up the difficulty letter? Do it alphabetically. Try to get through the whole alphabet!
I think that there needs to be a balance between electronics and other activities during road trips. My husband’s most fond road trip memory is that his parents let him and his brother play 1 hour of Pokemon red and blue a month before their trip to Florida, and then made them wait until the trip. They played their Gameboys all the way to Florida. I don’t think he remembers anything else from that trip. I also think it was the first trip they never fought. I never really had electronics on road trips, I did read a lot or we listened to music, but not much as far as electronics went on my end. We let the kids watch DVDs now that we have a built in player, but we make them wait a while before turning it on. It does keep them entertained, but they don’t behave because of the video playing.
Good luck with your trip! If you have any more questions, you can always find me here 🙂