Although my husband and I used to go on numerous road trips before we had kids, once my son was born that all changed. No matter what we tried, he was just NOT happy in the car. He would always nap (even if only for a short period of time), but if he was awake, he wanted out of his seat. Not one to be a fan of being strapped in anything (other than the Ergo, strangely), he would cry and cry and cry on road trips when he was young (and we would inevitably pull over for long breaks since this “no cry” mama couldn’t bear to hear him wailing), and as he grew older and started talking, he would shout “out!” at us in between crying. Things didn’t improve much when our daughter was born; although she could more easily “entertain herself” in the car by looking out the window and playing with toys, she was a TERRIBLE car napper and would sleep for such short periods of time that she would then be cranky the rest of the day. Needless to say, road trips were not enjoyable for us, so we stuck with airline travel (they both do remarkably well on planes – go figure!) and avoided road trips at all costs… until this year, that is!
This year I decided to take a road trip down to Ithaca, NY to visit with a friend, and to bring the kiddos along with me because, you know, attachment parent here. 😉 The drive was going to take close to 5 1/2 hours, door to door, with no stops. I was a bit nervous, to say the least. But, we all survived, and I would even dare say it went quite well! Following that trip, I put together the following tips on how to survive a road trip with kids:
Bring a Friend/Family Member: My number 1 tip for surviving a road trip with little ones is to bring someone with you, be it a family member or friend. The extra hands are such a blessing when you are driving and cannot pass 17 zillion snacks to your children every 30 seconds. An extra person also means you have a built-in entertainer, which for us (being a low screen time family) was amazing. I was fortunate enough that my sister-in-law agreed to join me on my journey to Ithaca last spring, and I can honestly say I likely wouldn’t have survived it without her!
Make Frequent Stops: I’m sure this is an obvious one to anyone who has ever driven any where with a child in the car. Kids, no matter their personality, just can’t drive for hours on end; they need to get out and stretch. So set your expectations accordingly, and don’t go into the trip thinking you just might be able to beat a record time getting there. I have found having an idea of roughly when I want to stop is helpful so I can look ahead and find stop options, but flexibility is key here. Your kid may have enough of the car before you planned for them too, so if things are getting screamy, pull over and find an open space to let them run. Local parks are great, as are restaurants with built-in play centres. On our road trip to Ithaca, I had hoped to pick up lunch and take it to have a picnic by the falls in Niagara, but my daughter was falling asleep earlier than anticipated (go figure, the terrible car sleeper actually wanted to sleep the one time I wanted her to stay awake) so we had to switch gears and stop on the fly to pick up lunch for them to eat in the car then do a quick stop at the falls afterwards. All in all, it worked out; it just required some flexibility on our end.
Drive During Nap Time: This tip is better for some families than others. As noted above, neither of my kids are extraordinary car sleepers (my daughter much less so than my son). The result? Neither one sleeps much, they both wake each other up at some point, and everyone is a little cranky. If your kids are great car sleepers, by all means, take advantage! Either way, I would suggest investing in some of the car window shades if you don’t already have them as I find they really do make a difference! As for timing, if you plan to leave 1-2 hours before nap time so you can squeeze in a stop for lunch about 1 1/2 into the drive, then they can go to sleep having just stretched their legs and filled their bellies, I find that timing works best.
Bring LOTS of Activities: What you bring will depend on your parenting style. Whether or not you are okay with screen time, I recommend downloading some shows onto your phone/tablet so you have them on hand just in case. I had NOT done this in advance of our Ithaca trip (we are a very low screen time family so I wasn’t anticipating putting anything on for the kids) and did regret it. We actually made it through both trips with only about 20 minutes of screen time each way, but it was definitely painful for my sister-in-law to find child-friendly shows in hit-and-miss cell areas as the kids were entering “meltdown mode”. With all of that said, I had planned very thoroughly for a screen-free car ride by putting together a basket for each of the kids, full of different activities. Overall, the baskets seemed to work great and the kids had fun cycling through new activities. Now I used them when we travel to/from the cottage, and just substitute in different activities for each trip to keep things interesting. Here the baskets I put together for your reference:And here is what I included in each bin for my son (just under 4 at time of travel) and my daughter (age 1 1/2 at time of travel):
Bring Fun Snacks: We typically eat pretty healthy around here, but I have always made an exception for traveling, and buy the more “fun” snacks when we are heading on a trip. Individually packaged snacks are great for car rides, especially if they contain small-sized snacks (think fruit snacks). As are snacks that can entertain, such as Cheerios/Fruit Loops that can be strung onto a string. I try to avoid anything messy and, of course, anything that has a higher choking risk (ex: grapes) is a definite no. Snack containers with the no-spill lids are AMAZING for car trips as they cut down on spills and messes. Juice boxes are great for road trips as well since they are so convenient (and juice is a treat at our house, so it is always well received!)! For our road trip to Ithaca, I put together a basket with all of the snacks as well, which made things easier to get at. I have seen some great ideas on Pinterest where families put together little snack “packs” for each kid in an individual organizer, which I think would work great for older kids (I pinned that one for later!).
I hope you found the above tips helpful, and they make your next car trip a touch less screamy! 😉 If you have any more to share, please do so below!