We’re a family who road trips.
We live 1000 miles from family, and so far our record for driving to visit them is four times in one year.
That’s 8,000 miles of road.
That’s a lot of Raffi.
We started the kids young — I think the earliest long trip was a 13-hour drive to Arizona when my son was barely two months old. It’s gotten easier as we’ve gotten more experienced — now we know better what to pack and when to stop. We’re more relaxed. I’d even say we actually enjoy them. And if the whole point of going on vacation is to have time with your family — well, a looooong time in the car together certainly does that!
Here are six tips to help you survive (and even enjoy!) road trips with babies and toddlers:
Have a shoe spot
One of the first things my kids love to do when they’re settled in for a long drive is take off their shoes. And they should — things go much better when everyone’s comfortable. But when you have potty-training children who have to go to the bathroom right now…you want to be able to find those shoes and grab them fast! You can even have a designated shoe bag and have the kids hand over shoes as they get in the car each time, then hand them back as everyone gets out of the car again.
Stop and let everyone play.
When you stop for lunch, look for a fast-food place with a play area. Or pack your own lunches (our favorite plan), and stop at a picnic or rest area with a playground if you can. If you can’t, be sure to spend at least 15-20 minutes letting the kids run around. Play a quick game of tag, have a race, do some jumping jacks — anything to burn off some energy. Plan on a good long stop when you have meals — you might spend a little longer than you wanted there but it could save stopping later for meltdowns or cranky kids. If you’re traveling with a baby, find a spot where you can spread a blanket for him to lay and crawl and wiggle a bit, especially on his tummy since he’s been on his back in the carseat all day.
Pack healthy snacks.
Look for snacks that are easy to eat in the car, but good for everyone, too. We like applesauce packets, yogurt tubes, cheese sticks and boxes of raisins. We also bring a cooler to pack our lunches and fruit (pre-cut). And even though healthy snacks are great for most of the day — it’s fun to throw in a few treats you don’t have often, too. You are on vacation after all! We usually pull out our goodies mid-afternoon, when everyone’s getting tired and cranky and looking for a little pick-me-up.
Have a few new things to do.
It helps to have some new toys or activities to try. We check thrift stores for new books to read, and we grab a few new coloring books and crayons (that new-crayon feeling is the best and doesn’t cost much…just don’t leave them in the car to melt!) For babies, try getting a new toy to hang from the grab bar above the car seat, or a new shaker toy. And buy some new music (especially kids’ songs) as well — I’m always amazed at how fussy babies will sometimes stop crying so they can listen to music they like.
Keep the diaper bag handy.
When you’re packing things up, and trying to fit everything in your car like a giant game of Tetris, it’s easy to pack things where they fit instead of where you need them. In other words, we’ve been caught at a rest stop before, unloading the entire back of our van and trying to find a diaper and wipes to put on a baby who’s made a spectacular mess. Keep a diaper bag somewhere easy to reach and stocked with diapers, wipes, a change of clothes, pajamas, back-up pacifiers if they need them, and plastic bags for messes.
Always check for the blanky.
We’ve all done it. Left the favorite blanky, or stuffed animal, or other lovey at a rest stop in the Arizona desert or somewhere. Our family has been known to drive an hour out of our way, because that was preferable to facing a poor child at bedtime who no longer has her favorite blanket. So. Even though we know it’ll happen eventually, it always helps to do a quick check when everyone gets in the car to make sure any favorite loveys traveling with you have made it in, too. While you’re at it, it doesn’t hurt to check for all the kids as well.
There! I hope you’ve found these tips helpful. But I think the most important point is this: your vacation doesn’t begin when you get there. Your vacation begins when you leave your driveway. When you switch your perspective, and don’t assume you’re only going to have fun when you get to your destination, you start to see all sorts of opportunities along the way. They may be small. They may not be impressive. But they just might be the ones you remember most. Happy traveling!
For more road trip tips, check out these posts from Peace but Not Quiet:
Laura lives with her husband and four children near Denver, Colorado, where she loves exploring the outdoors with her family. She blogs about kids’ activities and recipes at Peace but Not Quiet, and you can also find her on facebook, instagram, and twitter.
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