Road Trippin’ with Kids: 7 Tips for Making it Easier for Even the Littlest Passengers

Road Trippin’ with Kids

We just got back from a 15-hour road trip to Tennessee a few weekends ago. It was a whirlwind trip in which we spent more time in the car than out of it. If you’ve read this post, you know that I don’t like road trips. Being stuck in the car all day is not my idea of a good time. And when you add a preschooler with constant demands and a baby who loathes his car seat, it makes for a whole day of chaos. Although I love my kids more than anything in the world besides my husband, the idea of running away is very tempting by the end of it. I start to imagine myself lying on a deserted beach, the warm sun on my face, a light breeze blowing through my hair, and the sound of the waves crashing against the sand lulling me into a peaceful slumber. And the best part about this fantasy is that I’m completely alone. Sounds amazing, right? My kids are pretty good travelers. But they’re still kids and they have their ugly moments just like the rest of us.

But we made it through. We’re home now and getting back into our schedule. Every time we travel we learn new things and pick up new tricks for the next time. Here are seven tips we picked up while making our way through the cornfields of the Midwest.

1. Plan before you go. 

I’m a major planner. I try to plan for as many unexpected situations as possible. In the weeks leading up to our trip, I look at the route we need to take to see what cities we will be driving through. Then I pick a few depending on how long the drive is and research things to do.

Let me tell you, on this last trip I didn’t have much to work with. We drove through the middle of nowhere. The route I planned was not entirely direct- I had to look at surrounding towns to find things to do besides dancing around gas station parking lots. I mostly planned our stops around parks- I knew the kids would want to play and move during our breaks. This leads me to my next tip.

2. Make regular planned stops to stretch your legs and play. 

As much as I dislike being stuck in a car all day, the kids hate it even more. Buddy has not had a good relationship with his car seat since the day he was born. He tolerates it on short trips but if he stays in it too long, I pity the person who has to face his wrath (which is me most of the time, unfortunately.) He also nurses every 3-4 hours so stopping regularly is a must for us. Since we have to stop anyway, we might as well stop somewhere that will keep the little ones entertained.

3. Bring lots of snacks. 

Road Trippin’ with Kids

Whenever we travel, either by car or by plane, I like to pack certain snacks that I usually don’t buy when we’re home. We try to eat relatively healthy most of the time but while we’re traveling, special treats help to break up the monotony of being on the road. It also helps to snack on some M&Ms or other small sweets while I drive to keep me awake. I try and pair those treats with fruits and vegetables, string cheese, and sandwich fixings to keep our bellies full and happy. We bring a cooler full of water bottles, juice boxes, and non-refrigerated milk cartons (for Ladybug) to keep us hydrated. No one likes a hungry traveler and it’s so much more convenient to be able to make meals and pass out snacks while on the road than having to stop every time someone is hungry. (We did stop for dinner, however, because we were on the road unexpectedly past dinner time.)

4. Don’t forget the tunes (or podcasts).  

This is crucial for us. D prefers to listen to podcasts when he drives because it’s easier for him to stay awake. Talking makes me drowsy so I have to listen to music and usually sing along (my poor family). Ladybug likes to listen to Disney music so that’s usually what is playing during our road trips. (It’s a good thing she inherited her love of Disney music from me.) Music is a great way to break up the quiet when everyone else is asleep, too.

5. Expect meltdowns. 

In a dream world, both kids would be perfect angels and sit in their car seats with no complaining, patiently waiting until we arrive at our destination. But this is not a perfect world. Kids are kids and sometimes, they lose their cool.

Buddy screamed for most of our final leg to Tennessee. He was fed and dry but nothing we did pacified him. He was at the end of his rope and he didn’t calm down until we got to the hotel. It was horrible and heartbreaking but there was nothing we could do about it. So we kept driving and I reached back and put his pacifier back in his mouth every five minutes.

Expecting meltdowns to occur makes it a little easier to cope when they actually happen.

6. Be flexible. 

This tip is the most difficult for me to follow. I struggle with spontaneity. But the truth is, things go wrong. Traffic jams slow us down. Someone has to go to the bathroom or needs a diaper change. We need to stop for gas before our scheduled stop. It happens.

Road Trippin’ with Kids

On our way down, we were stuck in a traffic jam because the road ahead was closed due to an accident. We were about five miles away from our next planned stop but we were completely stopped with nowhere to go. It took us two hours just to get to the next exit a mile away. We ended up stopping at a McDonald’s so Ladybug could run around in the playhouse for a half hour while I nursed Buddy. That was definitely not in the plan.

Being flexible and positive keeps the morale up when problems arise. Kids can sense emotions so when you’re frazzled, they are more likely to become unglued.

7. Make it about the journey. 

When I’m traveling, it’s really hard for me to be patient. I just want to get where I’m going and not have to endure the method of getting there. For this trip, I really tried to make it about the journey instead of just being anxious to get there- I tried to make it fun, not only for the kids but for myself. And you know what? It helped a lot. Yes, it still wasn’t fun to be in the car. Yes, there was frustration when we were stuck in that traffic jam for two hours and then again on the way back so close to home because of another accident. But by embracing the situation and making the journey part of the trip instead of the thing that had to happen to go on the trip, it was a lot better.

Some aspects of traveling by car will never be fun. But road trips don’t have to be entirely miserable. I hope these tips help you on your next road trip with your children.