The first time our family of five attempted a road trip, things did not go according to plan. Things began to fall off the rails when we realized, 30 minutes from home, we had forgotten something important and had to turn back, only to hit traffic from a car accident. Later, our son got car sick, and when we pulled over on the side of the highway to clean up, a swarm of tiny gnats flew into our van. I spent the rest of the trip in the backseat, swatting bugs away from my newborn’s head.
It was enough to make me never want to road trip again. But because all our relatives live in Florida and we’re here in the midwest, road trips have been a necessity. Luckily, we’ve learned a thing or two over time.
Here are my best tips and tricks for road tripping with little ones:
- Pack a big jug of water. Along the way, you’ll need water to refill water bottles for you and the kids (or water bowls if you are traveling with pets!), and this saves you money and allows you to avoid public water fountains. It can also come in handy for rinsing sticky hands or soiled clothes in a pinch!
- Make a countdown chain. When your kids get old enough to ask “Are we there yet?”, you can limit the question-asking by making a countdown chain with one link for every hour of the drive. (I like to throw in a few extra just in case.) It’s such a helpful visual, even for kids who don’t quite understand the passage of time yet.
- Suckers + baby wipes. Listen, it’s really hard for kids to cry (or even talk) with lollipops in their mouths! If your kids are old enough, add a bag of suckers to your snack supply and hand them out freely–just also keep baby wipes available for sticky fingers and cheeks.
- Tie important stuff to the car seats or to the headrest in front of your kid. Whether it’s a pacifier, a stuffed animal, or a matchbox car, tying things up will help ensure you don’t have to go hunting around the floor of your vehicle.
- Keep diapers, wipes, and a change of clothes where you can reach them easily. Keep one reusable shopping bag with a change of clothes for each kid and lots of diapers and wipes where you can easily get to it at each stop. Don’t go through the hassle of digging through a suitcase!
- Keep one snack for emergencies. Pack one special, secret snack (like a box of cookies or something your kids wouldn’t normally get to eat). Save it for when a meltdown is happening and you are out of patience, or for the inevitable traffic jam close to your destination.
- Don’t worry about the screen time. Seriously–just roll with it. Your kids will not be irreparably harmed by 24 hours of too much iPad time. In our family, we hold out on the screens as long as we can but once they come out, anything goes. (While you’re at it, if you’re in a vehicle without a built-in DVD player, buy one of these!)
At this point in the life of our family, we’ve done the drive from Indiana to Florida (and back!) a good many times, and it’s really not so bad. With three young kids, I wouldn’t go so far as to say a road trip is fun, but you can certainly do it without too much of a headache! My husband actually prefers it to flying…but he might be crazy. The next time you are thinking about road tripping with little ones, keep some of these ideas in mind!