Remember road trips as a teen or an early twenty something? All you had was time, and you never felt freer than being with your friends on the open road, blaring whatever you were lucky enough to find on the radio. Fast forward ten to fifteen years and road trips look quite different for almost all of us. There is always a time schedule, your friends are tiny dictators to whom you’ve given birth, and you have traded that teenage freedom for a 4 X 8 prison cell consisting of a soundtrack of “Are We There Yet?” and “Let it Go”. Okay, I may be exaggerating, but we’ve all had this kind of experience. This past winter, my family and I packed up our car for a ten day vacation to Florida. My sister was getting married on the beach, and we were not going to fly our family of five to Florida. I was determined to make this our best adventure yet. I had packed for road trips in the past. Every year we go to Colorado to see family, but this was different. We had never been in the car for two consecutive days. I knew this would require some epic organization on my part. The keys to success for me when packing for road trips of any size are: keep them busy; have snacks at the ready; have surprises to brighten the dark hours; and keep the collective group positive so the driver can concentrate.
Keep Them Busy:
I’ve already described my terrifying kid meltdown Walmart experience. Well, being trapped in a car with kids (and sometimes dogs) can have the same effect on my nerves. For this Florida trip, I had to activate the kind of preventative measures one would take for an apocalypse. We needed to be able to live in our minivan comfortably and for a very long time. The first step was to keep them busy. This looks different depending on their ages, but here are some crowd pleasers on my list:
- Movie Buildup: We collect movies months before we leave for trips, and we don’t let our kids (ages five through eleven) see the movies until we leave. We have movies for young and old in our collection. If we watch movies when everyone is awake, they are films that are clearly great for all ages; however, if our tiniest falls asleep, we can put in a show that is PG and older-kid friendly.
- Stationary Games/Activity Books: There are plenty of games that can be played while sitting in seats. We count cars, we have dry-erase boards, we have paper and gel pens, we also have activity books with fun built in. We have books to read, and I have recently come across The Suburban Mom activity of license plate identification. This gets very fun in the dark hours of a trip.
- Bag-o-Legos: I’m not sure why it took me three kids to get this idea down. All they need is a semi flat surface and some Legos. They can disassemble and reassemble as they please. They can have building wars. They can build together. The baggie of Legos has accompanied us many places, and it is a favorite with all of my children.
- Electronics: I save these until all attention spans are drained. Thank goodness for these devices. No, I mean it, wow, especially when I’ve exhausted my mom arsenal, I defer to the power of the screen. There are millions of learning games on the computer like Duolingo, Pre-School and Kindergarten Learning Games, and CASE for math and English. I have my kiddos play these so I feel a little better about their extended screen time in the backseat.
Keep Them Fed:
Before we had movies and electronics, the best part about road trips used to be the snacks. The trick about the snacks is that I want them to be healthy, and I want them to be clean, but I don’t want them to create extra rest stops. For our Florida trip, I had a small cooler right by my side so that I was able to be in control of dispersing them. I packed:
All of the food could be disposed of easily; didn’t emit any weird smells; and could keep their little systems regular. As for the Capri Suns, I also purchased pink lemonade in these pouches. I used to arm my kids with water bottles for the trip, instructing them to sip as needed. It was a lot to monitor. Now, I have caved and I just use pouch drinks once every three hours or so. They are big enough to satisfy, but small enough to not increase our stops. My rule in the car is that they had to have fruit or veggies with their preferred snack. I never let them get at snacks until two hours into a trip. I try to schedule our first rest stop three hours into a trip. Sometimes this does not work, but most of the time it does. When we stop three hours in, we fill our tank, get anything we might need, and use the restroom. We have this down to a science. When we get back in the car for the next set of miles, I usually surprise them with a sweet snack to get them excited to get back into their seats. Yes, sometimes this means a candy bar.
Help Them Appreciate the Sights
If your family is on an extended road trip, the chances are good that you are driving by some interesting sights. If you have a checklist of the things that they may see on the way, this can serve as a game and can help shake up the monotony. Monuments, football stadiums, museums, etc. can all make the kids feel like they are invested in the trip.
Have Separate Backpacks for Overnight Stops
Another win for me was packing little back packs for what was supposed to be one overnight on our way to Florida. (We ended up having to stop more than that due to Mother Nature.) In this pack, I made sure they had swimsuits, jammies, and clothing that matched the weather for the next day’s climate. I did this so that we wouldn’t have to totally unpack the car each time we stopped. This was excellent and really cut down on our trips to and from the car at the hotel.
I have to say that our trip to Florida was very eventful. There were tornadoes, torrential downpours, areas of road construction, five hour waits on the Interstate, and an unplanned night stay, but I can tell you that the easiest part of our trip was our kids. They were so entertained, well fed, and well behaved that I found myself imagining my family carrying me out of the car on a throne of flowers while fanning me because of how well I prepared. (That didn’t happen, but if you can dream it…)
There they are, my favorite road trip ideas to take the stress off of the long trips. If you have any tried and true tips for road trip success, send them our way via our blog or Facebook!