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Family Vacation & Road Trip Tips That Every Parent Needs

Photo by Jake Blucker on Unsplash

Traveling with kids can be a daunting undertaking, but it’s totally possible….without pulling your hair out…when you’re prepared. We recently took an 11-hour trip to Chicago, with three kids, ages 6 and under. The closer we got to departure, the more I kept thinking of ways to make the ride at least somewhat enjoyable. What could go wrong, you ask? Um, EVERYTHING! Thankfully, I have some great tips to help parents ease on down the road!

  1. Allow the kids to stay up late the night before you leave. My really good friend gave me this tip the day before we left! Let the kids stay up as late as possible. That way, they will be exhausted while on the road, and they will sleep longer. Sleeping children can’t bother anyone!
  2. Let them sleep in whatever they will ride in. Give them a good bath, put on some comfy clothes that can also serve as pajamas (i.e. gym shorts/pants, t-shirt), and brush their teeth. Let them party and, when the alarm goes off, plop them right in the car. You don’t have to worry about waking them up, allowing time for them to get dressed, or anything that will slow your trip down. Now, mine were awake enough to use the potty before hitting the road, so don’t forget to do that if you have any accident-prone kids.
  3. Pack snacks for the road. In the name of saving money AND time, please pack snacks! I remember road tripping with a family, as a teenager, who was ALWAYS prepared with a packed lunch/snack. We didn’t have to stop at any restaurants, spending up all the money. You need breakfast? Cool, here’s a foil-wrapped breakfast sandwich, breakfast bar and fruit, or instant oatmeal and water in the thermos. Hungry for lunch? Grab those pb and j sandwiches or ham and cheese roll-ups. Want a snack? Pick a fruit, gummy snacks, trail mix, cookies; I got it. Think about the foods that are easy to pass around, as well as your family’s favorites. I also saw a recommendation for bringing paper/plastic cups to help pass out snacks to the kids. They can hold their own cups and you can just buy a big bag of chips or crackers vs individual sized ones. I usually bring a small cooler as well as a small tote bag of food/drinks.
  4. Pack empty water bottles or a potty. Y’all, I have NEVER had so many close calls with little boys having to use the potty on the road. Now that I’ve been mommy-ing for over 6 years, I’ve learned to be prepared. I have one kid who doesn’t use the bathroom often enough, and another kid who uses it all the time. So, we always have at least one empty water bottle in the car. I got this tip from my husband. I used to laugh at the thought, but I know better now. There was one time, we were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic on the highway, with NO immediate way to exit in sight. The kid, who pees A LOT, was shaking; he was so ready to burst. Our oldest had to let him out of the carseat (we were in our van and they sit in the back), he had to run up to the front, and we almost had to fight him to get him to cooperate. LOL We laughed so hard during the entire ordeal, because we were so close to a kid-free vacation, but there just HAD to be to be this one last scandal that we, as parents, had to deal with. We had to work for that alone time. And he almost urinated everywhere. LOL I’ve also heard that many people carry a small potty on the road. Because I have a kid who is still in diapers, I have definitely had my share of putting my older kids in a diaper in emergency number 2 situations in the middle of nowhere. Hey…no shame and easy clean-up.
  5. Bring a variety of entertainment options. We have a van that has a dvd player. So, that’s a life saver. But for our Chicago trip, we had to take our SUV at the last minute. We ended up having to buy a portable dvd player; there was no way that I was going out like that. We don’t have iPADS or individual devices, so that wasn’t an option for us. If you have a device that you allow your children to use, bring it! I also packed blank paper and utensils for drawing, coloring books, reading books, etc. For one trip, I took a bag of toys with a cookie sheet and magnetic letters. Think of things that aren’t too noisy and things that can fit easily into a bag. Don’t pull everything out at once, either. Stretch it out.
  6. Leave EARLY in the morning. We left around 3:00 am on our road trip. This was so that a chunk of the ride could be done before the sun rose (not too hot outside) and the kids could be asleep for a long period. On the contrary, my kids stayed awake for about an hour after we hit the road. Once i realized that they were not quite as sleepy, I got nervous and said, “Uh, guys. It doesn’t work like this. Y’all need to go back to sleep!” They were excited and talking to one another for a while, but they eventually fell asleep and I had peace and quiet for a few hours before the first stop. It was peaceful, the roads were clear, and I listened to a podcast.
  7. Let them stretch their legs. After traveling for a long time, it’s nice to be able to stretch your legs. We stopped at one rest stop, close to our destination, and I led the kids on a chase through the grass area. Do a quick workout- squats, jumping jacks, lunges, races, etc. BUT, have a plan for getting them back in the car. I knew my youngest would have a fit about riding any longer, so I coerced them with refreshing juice boxes that they could only get once buckled up! Try candy too. LOL
  8. Bring headphones and chargers. If your kids have devices, bring the headphones. My husband and I brought our own headphones so that we could enjoy our own entertainment while the kids watched movies or listened to Kidz Bop. I like to keep my phone charged while in use so that it doesn’t get low. Plus, I knew that we may need to charge the portable dvd player at some point.
  9. Use optimal seating arrangements. Our kids had to ride close together, since we were in the SUV. They enjoyed being able to interact more, but they also got on each other’s nerves. So, don’t put two kids, who may get irritated with one another, next to each other, if you can help it. If you have a kid who will need more help with the snacks and handling entertainment, seat them behind the driver, so that the front seat passenger can assist easily.
  10. Bring extra grocery bags or ZIPLOC bags. They can serve many different functions: trash bags, snack bags, bags to hold a few crayons, poop diaper bags, barf bags, etc. If you recycle, use reusable bags.
  11. Store up on energy. I’m not a coffee drinker. I do drink pop (soda), but I haven’t in a while, cause I’m trying to lose a little weight. I was so determined to leave early, that I prepped some coffee for myself. It was disgusting, but i sipped it off and on while driving the first leg. I can’t tell if it really helped, or if my own excitement kept me awake and alert. Either way, bring something that will help you stay alert: gum, candy, drinks, energy drinks, etc.
  12. Enjoy the ride! Take in the scenery or play I-spy. My oldest only slept for about 15 minutes of the ride to Chicago; he was too excited. I found myself trying to point out the mountains as we drove through Tennessee, even though it was dark. We love crossing bridges and seeing the water as well. God’s handiwork is awesome to behold.

I hope these tips are helpful to you guys as you embark on your next road trip! Let me know if you have any tips! Comment below!

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