Road trippin’: How to survive a cross-country drive with kids
If your family is facing a long-distance move, then there’s probably a long drive in your future. And as much as we all like to daydream about that wild road trip we took with our girlfriends to Daytona Beach for spring break in our glory days, the truth is driving with kids is a very different experience. But it can still be fun. Just follow these easy tips.
First, swap your Jell-O shots for straight up Jell-O and buckle your seatbelt.
Ok, maybe we should back up a little. The key to success for any trip with kids is in the planning and packing. Having a plan and staying organized will help you feel more in control and prepared so you can enjoy the ride, too. Clothing and personal care items can get shoved in the back of the vehicle for when you stop for the night, but things like snacks, activities and movies need to be accessible to the adult passenger. If you can’t reach it, you’ll have to pull over to find it and that only delays the trip.
If you’ll be spending several days on the road, map the ideal route for your family. Take into account things like attractions along the way, speed limits and how well traveled a road is. You don’t want to get stuck in some desolate area of Montana without a gas station in sight while your kids are in the car. Trust us, it can happen all to easily.
Make reservations at hotels along the route that are affordable but have fun features for the kids, if possible. A simple swimming pool is all it takes to entertain most kids so do your homework, book the room and pack their suits. Hotels with free continental breakfasts are also nice because you can be sneaky and grab a few snacks to take back on the road.
Make it fun
Bring incentives for children old enough to understand them. Buy some trinkets from the local dollar store, small toys, activities that will entertain them in the car or even silly things like socks featuring their favorite character. Wrap your “road trip gifts” like presents. Then at the beginning of your journey, explain the rules. If your child follows the rules in the car, he or she can choose and open a road trip gift when you arrive at the hotel for the night. Just a quick reminder of this incentive can restore order and inside voices pretty quickly.
Above all, be patient and flexible. Go into your voyage knowing that the members of your family will get on each other’s nerves at some point. But the parents set the tone for the ride, so keep your cool. And don’t be afraid to stray from the plan. If someone gets sick or the weather turns ugly, ditch the itinerary and make alternate arrangements. And if all else fails, add a little alcohol back to that Jell-O and have a shot with your husband once the kids are asleep at night!
- Lovey, blanket or special stuffed animal that comforts your child, if they have one
- Cooler with drinks, healthy snacks like fruit, veggies and yogurt for the kids. It’s not easy to find kid-friendly and mom-approved snacks at some gas stations and this isn’t the right time to be testing out whether your child can tolerate exotic new foods – belly aches and road trips do not mix.
- A towel in case of spills, bathroom accidents, injuries or any other number of unforeseen issues
- Tissues and paper towels
- First Aid Kit (check that it is stocked with the usual items along with a thermometer and your favorite fever-reducing or pain-relieving children’s medication). Also bring any prescription medications.
- A potty. That’s right, I said it. If your kid is newly potty trained or just can’t hold it very long, then bring along a small training toilet. In a pinch, you can pull over and let them use it practically anywhere. And they think it’s pretty entertaining.
- Disinfecting wipes (see above… ew)
- Blanket for impromptu picnics at rest areas or parks. Add in balls and bubbles to help the kids expend some energy before returning to the cramped quarters of the car.
- Vital documents – you may not want to send them with the moving company so if you bring them in the car, be sure to take them into the hotel with you at night. You don’t want to risk losing important or irreplaceable documents in the event that your vehicle is broken into.
- Chargers for everything – cell phones, iPads, electronics for the kids, computers, etc. Also, headphones for adults to use with Netflix or Youtube after the kiddos are in bed at the hotel.
- Snack cups with lids for older kids
- Plastic bags for things like garbage, wet clothes and vomit (better prepared than sorry)
- Night light and noise machine if that would help your kids sleep better in hotels
- Outerwear for whatever weather you may encounter
- Books for nighttime stories
- Age-appropriate activities. For toddlers and up, the Melissa & Doug Water Wow Activity Book – Alphabet product is great because it is mess free, reusable and the kids love it. Coloring books, hand-held puzzles, puppets, music, new iPad apps and books are also great. Items that are “new” to your child will keep their attention longer but you don’t have to spend a lot of money – ask friends if their child has outgrown anything they would like to pass on or stop at a local thrift store before you leave town and hide the “new” goodies until the road trip begins.
- Stash of fun kids’ CDs to break up the radio time or lack thereof on long, remote drives
-By Emily Shedek