Road trips as a family with small kids can seem like a daunting idea.
Kids get board, they whine, everybody loses their minds.
It kind of takes the fun out of vacation.
We’ve been taking our kids on extensive road trips ever since our oldest was two weeks old – not something I recommend by the way, but we survived. 😉
But that was six years ago, and here we are, still taking at least two 750 mile (that’s one way) road trips every year, and several smaller ones. Every year. (And we’ve learned a lot of tricks for saving money on road trips along the way).
Kids don’t inherently love sitting in the car for twelve hours at a time, but with a little bit of help, they learn to tolerate it.
How to Road Trip With Kids (Without Losing Your Mind)
Get them mentally prepared
It’s hard for kids to comprehend when you tell them that we’re going to be in the car for 12+ hours, but I do think it helps at least a little bit to know what’s coming, and gives you the opportunity to talk to them about how we behave in the car.
Talk to them about the way you expect them to behave
We’ve found that it makes a huge difference in the effort our kids put into keeping a good attitude by discussing what kind of behavior is appropriate.
Remind them of what lies at the end of the road trip
For us, it’s usually cousins, aunts, and uncles, which is incentive enough. But regardless of what you’re planning, try to make sure there’s something for your kids to look forward to, to make the pain of the road trip worthwhile to them.
Start your trip early in the morning
Get some sleep before you leave, but start your trip early enough that your kids will sleep through a good portion of it. When we take our big trips to Nashville, I like to leave before 4:00 A.M. so that the kids get a good four hours of sleep before waking up for breakfast. Then, at least when they were smaller, they fall asleep again for an early nap just after lunch.
Make stops for exercise
As parents, we like to drive right through, knowing that once we get to our destination, we can get all the exercise we want, but kids aren’t really wired the same way we are. We try to time our stops to coincide with towns that have a Chic-Fil-A, or other fast food restaurant equipped with an indoor playground. But when that doesn’t work, playing tag in the grass by a gas station parking lot works just as well.
Take some special snacks
Getting to munch on some yummy snacks that aren’t part of our normal routine is one of the highlights of road trips, and is a great way to help your kids look forward to road trips. Some of our favorites are trail mix with M&Ms, string cheese, summer sausage, and dry roasted peanuts.
Give Them Activities to keep their hands and minds busy
We’re one of those old fashioned families who still don’t have DVD players in our car, so we stick to old fashioned forms of road trip entertainment – mostly. I kind of like it this way, because I feel like letting them glue their attention to a tv screen makes them miss out on seeing the countryside. There’s something to be said for games of counting bridges, adding up state license plates, and getting a glimpse of the cattle herds as you pass by.
- Coloring books and crayons – We take a small packet of crayons along with a few coloring books with us on road trips, which keeps the kids busy for 20 minutes at a time – until they spill all the crayons on the floor – which is why we only take a small packet – and then repeat the process after picking them all up on one of our stops.
- Picture books – Boredom does funny things to kids. Things they ordinarily find boring become interesting, and once they get over the fact that they’re going to be in their seats for a while, they’ll pic up a picture story book and examine this pictures like their lives depend on it.
- Read Alouds – Gabe likes to read to the kids while I drive. The kids love it! but it’s one of those things that only works for daddy, because reading makes me carsick.
- Audio dramas. Garrett has recently become addicted to Adventures in Odyssey – a radio show that’s almost as old as I am, and that has been a huge blessing on our road trip adventuring. He’s willing to sit in his seat for hours on end, looking our the windows listening to Mr. Whitaker mentor the kids at Whit’s end. (Caveat: I’ve hear the Adventures in Odyssey changed quite a bit after the first few years worth of episodes, so I can’t vouch for the whole series, but the albums we have are gold!)
- Amazon Kindle. While we don’t have DVD players, we do have an Amazon Kindle, which we let the kids play a few games on during road trips. We try to keep the games educational, but I won’t lie; Lep’s World sneaks in there occasionally. We tend to reserve the Kindle for the end of the trip when everybody’s getting fidgety to get us through the home stretch. I learned not to give it to them right off the bat the hard way – when the Kindle died near the beginning of the trip and suddenly, coloring books just weren’t good enough anymore. 😛
But the biggest trick of all to road tripping with kids without losing your mind is you. Remind yourself at the beginning of the trip that it’s a temporary predicament, and that there will be a few behavioral incidents, but that you’ll deal with them and get through them.
Your patience with your kids will make a huge difference in their behavior. And you’ll find that road tripping together as a family is actually kind of fun.