They say that July is the prime time for family road trips and summer vacations and it’s no wonder. Have you ever tried to take a road trip in January in between blizzards? Um, no thank you! I’d much rather travel this time of year.
Last month, we returned from an 850 mile family road trip (each way) to North Carolina and it was amazing. No one wanted to kill each other, I didn’t end up with a migraine, and Nate and I didn’t go insane after 16 hours on the road and threaten to never do it again!
I’m going to share a few secrets and must have items that helped our long road trip with four kids (ages 4, 6, 8, and 12) be a success.
15 Things You Need for a Family Road Trip:
1. Plan out a schedule
This is my favorite tip for a successful family road trip with kids. Plan out your route and your stops. Find out where a favorite restaurant is along your route and plan a stop there. Not only does this keep the trip segments more reasonable and give the whole family a scheduled break time, but you’re less likely to end up at a nasty gas station bathroom.
Look up traffic and construction too. It might be faster to take a slightly longer (in miles) route in order to avoid traffic. On our trip down to North Carolina, we went through (around) Washington DC, but even at 1pm, we became stuck in traffic for almost 2 hours. On the way home, we went a longer route through the middle of Virginia and saved an hour of driving time!
Whether it’s an available built-in DVD player or regular ol’ CDs, technology is Mom’s best friend when it comes to traveling. Bring along a few favorite movies for the kids to help pass a couple hours right there. Spend time listening to a favorite family station on Pandora (did you know there’s an actual “Road Trip” station?!) It’s a blast to sing along with your kids and be silly!
3. Make a travel kit for each child
My kids had so much fun with their travel activity kit binders. They followed along with the road trip maps and colored and play games. It was a great change from watching DVDs.
I am not above bribing my kids to behave in certain situations and a long road trip is definitely one of them. Although this method is really less about bribing and more about rewarding for good behavior (potato/potato?).
Pick up a few items from the dollar store or low priced toys. Wrap the toys or simply put each one into a brown paper bag. Label with the child’s name and the # prize. I had 5 prizes for each child on the way down and 5 on the way home. (I separated them into two different bins – one for the trip down and one for the trip home.)
5. Name Clips
(I learned this brilliant idea from other bloggers.)
I printed and cut out the kids’ names, covered them with packing tape for durability, and hot glued them to clothespins. I then attached the name clips to the front of our vehicle using reusable adhesive. (Our visor was too thick for the clips to fit there as I originally intended, so I improvised.)
The name clips stayed up as long as the kids had kind attitudes and weren’t teasing each other or being overly hyper. Because the name clips were in the center of our car, it was a visible reminder to everyone. Only twice did a child lose their name clip. We set a one hour time and during that period, that child didn’t receive a prize or snack (they’d have to wait until the time limit was up.)
This idea worked amazingly well. Normally, my kids tend to bicker like crazy, but for the entire 850 mile trip there and another 850 miles back, they were really good. I was so proud!
6. Sticky Notes
Bring a sticky note pad and permanent marker on your road trip.
I wrote down times for prizes, snack times, and the next stops. Then I attached the sticky note to the front of our vehicle so the kids could see it. This drastically cut down on the “are we there yet?” questions and also helped Dad with our schedule when I took a turn driving.
7. Snacks and gum
I never give my kids gum, but I figured one piece here and there on such a long road trip wouldn’t hurt them. It was a simple no-mess treat they loved! I also packed brown paper bags with snacks for each child (cheese sticks, crackers, raisins, etc.), which helped cut down on the mess.
Whether you bring along tablets or smartphones or use free printable activities, you definitely want to bring along some games for some good old family fun. It could be a simple mad libs type of book or the favorite license plate game.
We had such fun playing a bingo game and debating whether the picture of a cow on a billboard counted as a cow or not!
9. Water Schedule
Bring bottled water along and label the cap with each person’s initial.
I planned a very specific schedule for water drinking so we wouldn’t have to frequently stop for bathroom breaks. I only allowed the kids to have their water bottles 1.5 hours before a scheduled stop and took the water bottles back before we stopped. No one had anything to drink when we stopped for meals either. (We stopped every 3-4 hours so the kids were plenty hydrated.) This method worked extremely well – we only had one extra bathroom stop on the way down to North Carolina, but DC traffic was to blame for that! This is with my four-year-old, Luke too!
Forget about suitcases & bags, use laundry baskets and plastic bins! It’s much easier to pack and find things later when you’re at your destination later. You won’t miss digging through a bag only to mess everything up and find your item at the very bottom. When you arrive, simply put the clothes away in a dresser or if you’re someplace clean (like us at Grandma’s), lay them on the floor in
11. Chargers for devices
Make sure your vehicle’s outlets are working and you have enough chargers for all your devices (we had 5 tablets and 2 smart phones for our family!) Plan ahead of time so you can take advantage of your technology, otherwise you’ll end up with dead batteries.
12. Car Sick Bin
Even if your kids haven’t been sick in the car before, that may change on a long road trip. Three of my four kids became car sick on our road trip, but thanks to our handy Car Sick Bin, it wasn’t too bad. I recommend packing a round plastic container with a screw on lid for possible throw up (the screw on lid makes it leak proof as opposed to a regular cup that can tip over.) Also bring a small towel, motion sickness bands, and motion sickness medicine or remedies.
Car sickness isn’t fun, but you can make it less miserable with a little preparation.
13. Baby wipes.
Even if you don’t have little ones in diapers, bring baby wipes. You’ll never know when you might need them between kids getting sticky fingers, a younger brother opening a packet of salsa on big brother’s pillow (true story), or carsick situations. You’ll be glad you did.
14. Bandages & Pain Reliever
I don’t worry about a full first aid kit, but I do bring bandages and pain reliever. Keep it up front in the glove compartment because you never know when you might need them.
15. Trash bags
Bring a few plastic bags to use as trash storage in the car. There’s no guarantee the kids in the back will use them, but it will help cut down on the mess regardless.
There you have it! If you try out these ideas and tweak them to work for your own family, you’ll be amazing at how great your family road trip will be!
More Road Trip Ideas: