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Take off on your next trip with less stress using our 10 tips for road trips with kids!
I’ve been parenting for just over 19 years now and in that time we’ve taken an average of 5 road trips of one kind or another every year (and I would guess the average is more like 10 per year but I don’t want us to sound totally crazy). Our trips range from 3 hours to 30 hours of car time and range from 0 stops to multiple over night stops along the way.
As I was packing us all for this last road trip I was thinking about all the things I’ve learned over the years and how much some of them have simplified the whole process!!
Before I jump into everything it should be noted that we are a family of 9. We drive a Yukon xl with 10 seats in it. I think every tip I list here is beneficial regardless of family size but I wanted to clarify that at the start.
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Here are my 10 Tips for Road Trips with Kids:
1. Start with a packing list.
I list this tip first because when I know we have what we need I am much more relaxed on road trips. I use the big chalkboard to create the list so everyone can see it and usually start it at least a few days in advance so we can add to it as needed. I figure out how many days we’re going to be gone and what we need then list each item and how many we need with each child’s initial behind it. For instance 5 pairs of underwear, 3 pairs of pajamas, 1 sweatshirt, etc
Each child will be required to bring the item up and show it to me BEFORE it goes in the bag then they are marked off. This prevents me from having to go through everyone’s rooms to find things or having to go through the bag after they think they’re all packed.
This Christmas break we were watching Home Alone and I had to laugh out loud when everyone was telling Kevin to pack his bag…I’m pretty sure I will be a full on basket case if my kids were all packing their own bags without any guidance from me!!
2. One bag per person.
This one took us a while to figure out. I use to think it was such an accomplishment to get multiple people packed in one bag then we we would get to our location and everything ended up everywhere as people were looking for items. About 10 years ago everyone got their own duffel bag and it has changed our traveling lives. Their items are expected to fit in their 1 bag, they know how much room they have to work with and it’s so quick and easy for me to double check something if needed.
We have a variety of these Everest duffel bags, we’ve had them for 10 years now and they’re just now needing to be replaced.
(Depending on how long we are gone for and how much extra room we have the one bag rule is flexible obviously it is way easier to get all our summer stuff in 1 bag than it is winter clothes. We will often have a shoe bag to make everyone’s packing easier but if we’re limited on space the bags are limited to 1 per person.)
2. Limit items IN the car.
Because we are a large family people alone take up most of the room in the car so we try to limit everything that is in the car/around seats. We at times use a car topper, a hitch rack, and a trailer. No one is allowed to have anything in the car that makes others uncomfortable which means if you’re bringing an “in the car” backpack it has to fit at your feet with your feet.
This year because we knew we were traveling for Christmas Nate purchased an enclosed trailer. It’s pretty much the stuff dreams are made of! It made this trip so easy, I’m already looking forward to trips to the condo and actually being able to bring bikes and stuff and not have to worry about them being stolen out of the trailer.
3. Break up travel time whenever possible.
The most common trip we make multiple times a year usually is from Riverton, Utah to Eugene, Oregon, my home town. It’s about a 13 hour drive. It is doable in 1 day and we’ve done it multiple times but we prefer to not whenever possible. We have family in Boise, Idaho who are always sweet and let us crash there for a night. Boise is about 5 hours from home so we do that leg, get a good night sleep and finish the drive the next day. Limiting the travel time definitely limits the complaining and the dreaded “are we there yet” questions.
We are AAA members, this helps us get deals on hotels. We also have rewards at multiple different hotel chains which helps with the cost especially when we’re only staying for a few hours. If we do end up staying at a hotel we look for ones bar offer a free breakfast. This puts everyone in a good mood when they get to pick their meal!
Again this all depends on the length of the trip, when we’re on long trips we try to limit our stops to when we need to refuel as much as possible, we can get about 400 miles per tank in the Yukon which also helps limit stops.
4. 1 overnight travel bag.
When we know we’ll be stopping somewhere along the trip I pack 1 bag to get out with a change of clothes in it for everyone. This way we don’t have to unload all the bags just to reload them in a few hours. We just grab that bag, the bathroom bag, and any electronics from the car.
5. Limit drinks to limit potty breaks.
When the kiddos were younger we let them have their sippy cups and drinks at will this also meant we were stopping OFTEN which extended the trip and frustrated all of us. Now we get drinks when we stop to eat and don’t bring them back to the car refilled and typically have a bottle or two of water to share so no one is dying of thirst but also no one is drinking so much we have to stop every 30 minutes.
6. Bring Headphones.
If you’re going to have electronics in the car it’s nice to everyone if people have headphones to use with them. Whether they’re watching a movie or playing a game it’s possible others don’t want to hear it (in our case this would specifically be the driver). Sometimes we turn on a movie for the whole family to watch and we run the sound through the car radio.
We try to limit electronics in the car when possible. We’ve got some children who get car sick and they tend to sleep a lot of the drives (I fall into this category other than being a kid). I do well when it’s dark though so I love talking to everyone in the car. On the way to our destination we talk about what everyone is looking forward to doing and on the way home we talk about the favorite moments from the trip. Years ago I read a article about remembering and one of the things they said to do was to talk about trips you just took because as you think about what you’ve just done it helps cement those memories so I try to do that as much as possible so even the younger ones can remember these trips we’ve taken.
7. Plan your stops.
It’s not always a perfect science but when we can map out the plan, stops included, for the kids everything goes a little smoother
“We’re stopping for dinner in 100 miles”
“We’ll get gas and have a bathroom break in half an hour”
When we can tell them about a stop before they start asking they’re much less anxious for the stops and we stop much less frequently.
8. Have snacks on hand.
I don’t know about you but we have a whole collection of snacks that we only ever buy on road trips, the kids all look forward to their snacks, it’s just one more fun element of the trip. We try to combine meals and bathroom breaks so we try not to eat full meals in the car but the little snacks help hold everyone over to the next stop.
9. In the car blankets and pillows.
Because of the car sickness I mentioned earlier we keep the car cooler than I personally like and if I’m cold I’m grumpy. I figure the kids are similar so we allow everyone to bring a smaller blanket and a pillow in the car. This way the car isn’t too hot but people don’t have to be cold either. We each have a minky blanket like these that we love to have in the car with us.
10. Have fun.
I know road trips are a chore but try to have fun with them. Some of my fondest memories growing up include getting to or home from vacation. I remember my mom reading us Choose Your Own Adventure books and us kids all having to vote on what we were going to do next. I remember long drives home on a mattress in the back of the truck counting the stars until I fell asleep (I wish there was a safe way for my children to experience this).
You don’t have to go crazy to have a fun road trip. We’re actually in the final 50 miles of our current road trip right now and I love our time together in the car, I really do!
Start young! Our children have been on so many road trips they handle them like champs. If you think road trips are something you’ll be doing a lot of I suggest starting when they’re little and do them often!
I hope these 10 tips for road trips with kids help you have a fun road trip next time you head out! Do you have any tried and true tips to share?!! We’d love for you to share them in the comments below!!