Jessica Dana, travel advisor, One Swell Travel
After a few survival-mode road trips with my own kids, I was determined to find a way to make the hours spent in the car part of the adventure instead of something that had to be endured.
First and most importantly, be flexible and patient. As adults, we set the tone for the drive. If we are excited about it, the kids will be too. A little time spent preparing will help you spend less time twisting around uncomfortably in your seat and more time enjoying your time together.
Your family adventure can start from the moment you leave your house with the following 10 tips for surviving family road trips:
• Plan your pit stops. Use a website like roadtrippers.com to plug in your route and see what there is along the way that you can combine with a necessary stop for gas or food. Look for things like parks, playlands, or outdoor activities. You’re looking for things that are physical, close to the road, quick, and free since you won’t be there for long.
• Pack special “travel essentials bags.” For some reason, kids love having something in their “own” little bag. Pack things like band-aids, tissues, hand sanitizer, a small water bottle, and Chapstick. Expect them to be all gone when you get to your destination, but you will spend less time climbing all over the car trying to meet everyone’s
• Give them lap trays. Use smaller-sized cookie sheets from the dollar store that will fit on your kids’ laps when they sit in their car seats. This gives them a flat surface to do activities on while the edges of the tray hold things in.
• Prepare surprise bags. My kids literally beg for these. Get brown paper bags and pack a few for each child to handout at designated times along the way. Put inexpensive things in them, like a new treat or snack, window stickers, surprise balls with little toys inside, sticky hands, etc. Collect things before you go from clearance aisles and dollar stores. Keep it simple and exciting.
• Be prepared with snacks. Pack a Ziploc bag for each child full of snacks that they can eat along the way whenever they want. Tell them it’s all they get, so they can decide when they want to eat it. Pack one for the drive there and one for the ride home. Then have a special bag that they don’t have access to that has “special” snacks they don’t get often. Use this as a secret weapon if they get restless.
• Pack a road trip activities bag. Have a bag of activities that they don’t get to play with at home. Fill it with
things like scratch-off sheets, stickers, play-doh, puzzles, Color Wonder markers, word searches, five-minute crafts, eye spy bags, and road trip bingo.
• Put a leash on loose items. If there is something that you find yourself always having to retrieve for your child, like sippy cups or blankets, attach it to their car seat so they can always find it.
• Check out library DVDs, audiobooks, or podcasts. Borrow some new movies from the library that they haven’t seen before or in a long time, or choose audiobooks or podcasts that everyone can enjoy.
• Award road trip points. Find a way that works for you to let them earn points or “bucks” along the ride for
good behavior or no complaining. Let them cash those points in for a gas station treat or a small souvenir.
• Track your drive. Using either a printed-out timeline of your route or an app on a device, track the progress of your drive as you go.
Since every road trip dynamic will be different, use these ideas to get the creative juices flowing and tailor things for your family. Road trips provide a chance to explore something new together. Let the drive be an adventure in itself and make as many memories along the way as you can!