Here in Minnesota it is about that time of year where we start becoming tired of the snow and dreaming of summer adventures. I love planning a few fun road trips for our family over the summer months, and today I wanted to share some easy tips for making family road trips possible (and even fun 😊) with toddlers and young children. I’m hoping these tips for road trips with kids will launch you into planning your own family getaway!
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How far can we go?
The first thing I think about before planning our trip is what our capacity is as far as time spent in the car. When we had an infant and knew we needed to stop every few hours to feed them our trips were shorter. Now that we are out of the infant stage we feel that 9 hours (not including stops) is about the maximum we can do in a day with our kids while keeping our sanity. Although over an overnight stop adds a little more cost to your trip, it is sometimes well worth the value. Don’t hesitate to break your trip up over a few days if needed!
If you don’t usually venture far from home I would recommend starting with a shorter trip. This helps build confidence and allows you to figure out what works best for your family. Its important to remember that the journey to get there is part of the fun. Don’t push your kiddos or yourself to the point of utter despair due to too much car time (spoken from experience :)).
Build up anticipation and make the journey part of the excitement
Once we pick our location we make it exciting for our kids. If we decide to share where we are going with our kids prior to leaving we will learn all about where we are going. Our whole family will research what there is to do and we get our kids involved with picking activities while we are there as well as places we want to stop along the way. If we keep the location a surprise we try to build up the excitement by making a paper chain or providing a clue to where we are going every day the week leading up to when we are leaving. This takes the dread out of long car rides and my kids are often so excited to hit the road when it is vacation time!
Intentionally plan screen time around other family activities
We have a DVD player in our vehicle but we never use it unless we are in the car for more than a few hours so, when we use it, it is a pure treat for my kids. We will rent DVDs from the local library and let each kid pick one or two for the trip. Screen time is usually saved for nap time or closer to bedtime to let everyone have a little break from activities. I find my kids need some down time during trips and I also appreciate a little break from entertaining them. However, it is important not to overdue screen time or use it as your only tool for entertainment. Often kids will get tired of screens after a while so use this time wisely
It’s a good idea to think of some games that don’t involve screens prior to leaving so you have things up your sleeve when things start to hit a “are we there yet” point. We love doing Eye Spy and even our toddler participates in this. You can make a scavenger hunt and have a prize once they complete it. Searching for license plates from different states is always a hit. We also love finding every letter of the alphabet on signs. These games are great at keeping kids of all ages engaged, often my husband gets into it the most 😊
Preplanning activities is time well spent
One of the biggest things I think about prior to leaving is what we will do on our road trip to make it fun for my kids. A little planning will be well with your time when you are in hour 5 on your trip and everyone is getting a little stir crazy. I usually start gathering fun activities that I know are car friendly, and try to provide a mix of things around our house as well as a few new toys or activities. I look for something that isn’t messy, that lasts longer than 10 minutes and my kids can be fairly independent with.
Paint By Sticker books are a household favorite. Melissa and Doug has a variety of levels of difficulties which make them perfect for kids of all ages. Another activity that I always have with is Water Wow! Books. These are perfect for long drives with younger kids and leave no mess! Literally a mom’s dream come true on a road trip.
A family favorite for long road trips is audio books. There are lots of ways to do this, we often will get books on tape that our whole family will enjoy and listen to them when we all need some down time. There are some really cool audio book players like Yoto Players and Tonies. We got our kids old school walkmans which work perfectly! This activity is one of our go-tos for long drives, short trips or even quite time activities! The library often has awesome options for young children and lots of choices for older children as well, I love bringing my kids and letting them pick out their favorites.
If you are looking for more screen free road trip activities for kids visit my post here.
Let your kids run the show with snacks during the trip
I would be remiss not to mention snacks, does anyone else’s kids live for a good snack?! I’m pretty sure my kids would live off of them if allowed. We usually keep pretty tight reign of snacks at home but when we are on a road trip we make snacks extra special for the kids.
I put together a gallon ziplock bag for each kid full of road trip snacks. I try to include a mix of special treats and healthier options. Fruit snacks, protein bars, cheese and cracker containers, apples, cereal in ziplock bags, pretzels and granola bars are our go to foods. I then tell them these are their snacks for the trip and they can eat them whenever they want. This has gotten rid of the constant nagging (and the near impossible task of throwing snacks to the kids in the back seat) and my kids love being able to have the control of when they want to eat. 😊 I was worried they would eat it all in the first hour, but that hasn’t happened once and they actually are fairly intentional about saving snacks for throughout the trip. Don’t forget to pack another bag for each kid for the way home!
Take a few minutes to preplan meals
When we hit meal time we usually try to pack at least one meal to save money. Our go-to on the road meals include cheese, crackers and lunch meat or PB&J’s, we are super fancy over here. 😉 If we run out of food or are on our way home we will often stop at a grocery store or gas station to get lunch supplies, it almost always is cheaper to do it this way versus getting fast food. All of our kids have car seats that have a spot for their water bottle which we make sure is filled and ready to go prior to hitting the road. Also, don’t forget a bib for your little ones, because one untimely bump and the entire meal is in their lap. We always eat on the road and save our stops for wiggle breaks. Speaking of wiggle breaks…
Plan for wiggle breaks and some time to get some fresh air
What to do with all the wiggles you ask? Well potty breaks have turned into, “let the kids run free” breaks in our house. We usually plan on stopping about every 2-3 hours. When looking for rest stops we always look for a park or place for my kids to run. We plan about 30 minutes for these stops. It is truly how we keep sane as we all need fresh air after 3 hours together. One tip for long road trips is to plan a few potty stops at a Target or other store. After everyone has gone potty let your toddler or little one pick out a special toy in the Dollar Spot at Target or the Dollar Store. It’s a treat for them and is a great way to provide good entertainment when you hit the road again.
Don’t forget the necessities
As you are getting ready to hit the open road don’t forget some of the most important things. The hope is that these things won’t be needed, but if they are you will be so thankful you took the time to pack them. We always make sure we have a first aid kit on hand just in case our wiggle breaks lead to a scraped knee or injury that a band-aid inevitably will fix. We also always try to bring things just in case someone gets car sick. A roll of paper towels, wipes, change of clothes and trash bag are essentials if someone in your car struggles with car sickness. We always keep a few snacks and filled water bottles in our necessities bag as well. If you have a child in diapers don’t forget your diaper bag stocked with diapers and wipes (it seems obvious to pack these but I can’t tell you how many times we have had to stop because we have forgotten at least one of these items).
Use this time to pour into your children and spark conversation
One of my favorite things about long car trips with my family is the conversations I get to have with my kids, You can’t beat the quality time that is automatically gifted to you on these trips. They are strapped in, begging for attention and I’m there for it. Ask questions about school, their friends, what they want to be when they grow up. This is a great opportunity to pour into your kids and give them some undivided attention, which seems to be hard to come by these days. I promise, if you set the stage and ask the questions your kids will start sharing things with you and it will make your trip so sweet.