How to Survive a Road Trip With Kids – Top 10 Tips For Parents
“Are we there yet?”
Those four little words are ones that every parent dreads as the family makes it way on yet another road trip. If you’re planning to take a spin in the car, kids, parents, pets and all, you may want to read on for some tips and strategies for keeping your sanity while traveling down the highway.
Following are the top 10 tips for surviving a road trip with kids:
1) Map it Out – It may seem obvious but know where you’re going before you hit the road. Map out your destination through Google Maps or a similar, including where you’re going to stop (rest stops) and have technological backup. Make sure that your car is outfitted with a reliable GPS or similar navigation system that provides clear instructions on how to get to your vacation locale. And while technology is great, always have an old-school map that includes your full route available in the car. The last thing that you want to happen is to have a tech fail while you’re in the middle of a remote location with a car full of cranky kids.
2) Be on the Money – Having financial troubles while traveling with the kids is the last thing anyone wants to experience. Being short on cash, maxed out or surprised at how much you’ve spent before even reaching your destination is upsetting to say the least. Have a solid budget in place before you hit the road and stick to it. As well, set financial expectations with your kids at the same time so that there are no surprises. If there’s going to be a limit on the amount of money spent on food and other miscellaneous items while traveling, it’s best to let the little ones in on the plan now.
3) Auto-Tune – Your vehicle – the one that’s going to take you and your precious cargo abroad – must be in tip-top shape in order for your trip to be a success. Before heading out on the open road, get a full tune-up to put your mind at ease. Fill the tires, change the oil and don’t forget to fill up the tank so that you can drive for a while before stopping for gas. The last thing you want to deal with is a flat tire or worse with a carload of cranky kids.
4) Juice Up the Devices – I’ll get to technology in a second, but remember: gadgets are no good to you if they’re dead. This is particularly the case when you’re in desperate need of your portable GPS while driving through the Mojave Desert or your three kids are having a monumental meltdown in the backseat that will only be quelled by their favorite movie on the DVD player or iPad. Charge everything to 100% before you head out the door so that you’re set for a time at the outset. And on a related note, don’t forget to bring along the car chargers, iPod cords and any other auxiliary connectors that can work in the car as well. You’ll need them once the juice runs out of the gadgets after a few hours (or less).
5) Take the Tech – These days, having digital devices and gadgets to entertain the kids (and the parents) while on a road trip is a must. Arm yourselves like you’re going into battle and pull out all the technological stops. These include but are not limited to: headphones, a DVD player (if not included in the vehicle itself), a laptop/iPad/e-reader or smartphone loaded with movies, stories and games, a USB key loaded with movies, shows and games, etc. Yes – books – the old fashioned kind – are great, but your child’s favourite movie on a DVD player complete with headphones is sometimes greater 😉
6) Hit the Washroom – Before you leave, make sure that everyone – including the adults – makes a visit to the washroom. First off, the best way of breaking the road trip momentum is having to stop for a restroom break before you’ve even gotten your driving stride. On a related note, let’s not mention how gross some pit stop bathrooms can be as well. You’ll have to deal with them during your drive, for sure, so if you can minimize the number of visits, you’re ahead of the game.
7) Take Lots of Breaks – This is both for the kids and the parents. If you’re splitting the driving between two people, it’s important that both parties are rested and comfortable. Alternate driving often, for sure, but stop to take a rest whenever possible. This could mean a quick five-minutes for everyone to get out of the car and stretch their legs to avoid cramping. While it may seem to make more sense to drive through with as little breaks as possible, it’s actually dangerous to do so. Leg cramps, fatigue and highway hypnosis are very real results of trying to do the road trip in as little time as possible. Avoid long bouts of driving for either party and get to your destination safely.
8) Old School Play – Sure – tech is great. What kid doesn’t love an iPad or the latest movie playing on a DVD while traveling down the highway? That being said, there’s something quite quaint and compelling about some of the ways that previous generations entertained themselves while traveling by car. These include Highway Bingo, 20 Questions or a License Plate Bingo. Heck – even an old-fashioned deck of cards can go a long way for kids strapped into the back seat for a long drive down the highway. Bring some portable or travel-sized games: Scrabble comes to mind for older kids; for the younger ones, consider options like Go Fish or even things as simple as crayons and paper. And on this note, you’ll need what’s suggested in tip #7
9) A Flat Surface – It sounds so trivial but believe me when I say that without this, you will have problems. The kids will go out of their minds when they’re not able to balance their games, toys, DVD players and gadgets. Make sure to have a sturdy and usable surface on which the children can lay out their toys, games, gadgets. You won’t regret it.
10) Comfort Food – Yes, part of the fun of going on a road trip is the fact that the family gets to stop at various restaurants, truck stops and similar locales along the way. It’s exciting for a time, but the longer your trip, the more likely you’ll have pangs of longing for some “real” food from home. Luckily, there’s no law that says that you have to eat greasy fries and burgers for the duration of your travels. Pack a small cooler full of easily portable food and snacks: sandwiches, wraps, cold pizza, are just some examples of what to bring. Don’t forget those stop-gap foods that will keep the kids going in between stops as well: granola bars, veggie sticks and fruit are good examples. You’ll get tired of truck stop and fast food pretty quickly and some more healthy options from home will be a welcome break. Don’t forget to bring a good supply of fluids for the kids as well – juice boxes and water bottles will go a long way to keeping them hydrated as well as saving you money.
And ideally, you’ll want your road trip to look something like this. Here’s a picture of my kids on a recent trip. Ahhhhhh….heaven…..;)