Summer is upon us and that usually means road trip season. I recently took a road trip to Austin, Texas, from Kansas City with my husband, our 4.5-year old and our 19-month old. Even though I’m a parent coach, it doesn’t mean I don’t have my low moments. Just like everything else, in the case of road trips, you need to set yourself up for success so you can still be the parent you want to be.
I’m not gonna lie. I was not looking forward to it … I’m not a fan of road trips. It’s just so much car time. The last time we went, our oldest was 2.5 and baby was on the way so I could sit in the back seat and hold her hand. It was enough to keep her comfortable for the duration of the 12-hour trip, and we didn’t need to make any overnight stops.
But, with two kids, that wasn’t going to be an option. Here’s what we did to keep everyone happy.
6 Tips for a Successful Road Trip with Kids
1. Decide what’s going to make it a successful trip. For us, it was limiting screen time and keeping the girls fairly quiet. We expected a few outbursts here and there, but to drive for hours with screaming, inconsolable children, would have been pure hell. We did that when our oldest was 11 months and it was brutal. The plan was to keep that from happening. And I’m happy to say, except for a few minor outbursts, everything went really well. The big key was to not have any expectations of how we thought they should behave.
2. Pack a bag with diapers and changes of clothes just for stops. Keep it separate from everything else and easily accessible. This is a huge lifesaver for when you end up in a little town with a single gas station with dirty floors and no changing table. We have a Skip Hop Diaper Clutch and it’s really a great investment for when you don’t need to bring ALL the stuff, or when your kiddo gets a little older. I packed that, along with changes of clothes for both girls, and kept it together in the back seat.
Then, on the first day, when baby poured water all over herself, we didn’t need to spend time unpacking the trunk to find a dry outfit for her to wear. Plus, I didn’t need to change her on a dirty bathroom floor. Winning.
3. Plan your snacks and meals. I went to Costco just to stock up on snacks for traveling. I bought things we don’t usually eat but were still fairly healthful (compared to gas station and fast food) that I thought the girls would enjoy. Salami, Laughing Cow Baby Bell Cheese, peanut-butter-filled pretzels, pork jerky sticks, dried fruit and seed trail mix, and mandarin oranges. And, I happened to have a few juice pouches on hand that I brought along in case of emergency, which we did end up using on the first day.
These were all pretty clean foods — we didn’t need to worry about messes or the car getting stinky in case something got lost somewhere. And, it was all substantial enough that we didn’t need to stop for a food break on the way to our half-way point.
4. Encourage independent play. I am a HUGE proponent of independent play. Since my kids are in the habit of entertaining themselves, it wasn’t a big stretch to expect them to entertain themselves in the car. If you have a road trip coming up, I highly encourage you to start working with your kids to play independently instead of relying on screen time to entertain them. For one, what if the device runs out of battery or you lose a charger? Plus, in my personal experience, if my kids spend too much time in front of screens, they get really cranky. Much more cranky than if they just aren’t allowed to watch the screens in the first place.
Bring some things along that are new to your kids so they can find new ways to entertain themselves, in addition to the current favorites. Include a variety of activities, like books, safe magnets, games and crayons.
5. Plan for breaks. I know lots of parents just want to hit the destination as fast as possible. But it’s a life saver if you can stop for a few minutes or plan to take a long break when you’re about 2 to 3 hours short of your final destination. For us, it was enough for the girls to work out all their crankiness and then keep the rest of the drive peaceful. Those 45 minutes we stopped each day were all we needed to prevent the occasional whining from turning into full-on meltdowns from boredom and sore bottoms. Had we had ignored their needs to stretch their legs and explore a little bit, I’m positive both girls would have lost it. (Side note: if you happen to be driving to or from Waco on I-35, there’s a new rest stop about 25 miles north of there with play areas for kids. I highly recommend it!)
6. Know your kid’s limits. We stopped halfway on the way to Austin at a friend’s house, and then we stopped at a hotel with a pool on the way back to KC. These were critical because it gave the girls something to look forward to. We could tell them, “you’ll get to go swimming at a hotel!”
Our kids let us know when they were done and by us honoring them and their needs, the entire trip was a success. We spent 4 days driving 6 to 7 hours, and we didn’t feel we could have pushed it any further. Keep in mind this was without screens and minimal whining or arguing from the girls. If we had to drive longer each day, I’d probably have let them play on the iPad for short periods to buy some peace and quiet. But, I don’t want them to be in the habit of road trip = screen time, and I’m thankful we didn’t need to use screens this time.
Do you have any tips to add for a successful road trip with kids? Share them! —Cati