I’ll be honest – the main reason my family road trips everywhere is because buying airfare for six and then getting a rental car is stinking expensive! I absolutely would rather (most times) jet off to our vacation destinations, arriving more rested and have more time to spend there. That’s not realistic for us though, so we choose to save a whole lotta cash and just drive it.
In the last year, we’ve made two long trips (2,500 miles round trip and 3,300 miles round trip) and one short trip (600 miles round trip), and we’ve lived to talk about it. We made the super long (Kansas City to New England) one 4 years ago too, when our kids were much younger, and found that many of the same ideas I had back then still apply now (our kids are currently 8 and 5)!
Get the kids involved! We’ve found packing light to be the easiest way to go, and depending on the length of our trip, we may plan in a laundry day or two. Our kids pack everything into their school backpacks, because they can carry those in and out of the car themselves, making it easy at stops. I show them how to prioritize what goes in the bottom versus top too – to minimize digging.
Tip: Roll clothes to reduce wrinkles and also save on space. You could take it a step further and roll outfits together (I rolled my own camis and t-shirts together, so I wouldn’t have to dig for separate items).
Plan for the Worst
After suffering through a trip where our kids all caught horrible colds (one that landed us in an ER 12 states away and was on the verge of turning into pneumonia), we now make a “worst case scenario box” for each trip. We pack things we know we’ll need and things me might need: allergy medicine, vitamins, pain reliever (for adults and kids), cough & cold meds, bandaids, splinter removal salve (hey – you never know with kids!), random essential oils we use frequently, sunburn care, inhaler we rarely need to use, etc.
Plan for Fun
It might be my own upbringing, in the magical age when technology was just becoming a “thing,” but not portable yet, but I hate watching my kids use screens for entire car rides. Sure, it keeps them quiet and occupied, but I want them to be as miserable as I was! OK not really, but I do want them to engage their brains in screen-free ways too, so we pack Travel Kits and a Fun Bag.
Travel kits are hard plastic cases that we fill with blank notebooks, colored pencils or washable markers, activity books, random travel games we’ve printed off, a map of the US with our trip marked out, and a blank map they can use as they wish (usually turns into a way to keep track of license plates they see).
The Fun Bag is kept at the front, so that we can grab something as things get hairy. What should you pack in it? Be creative! Here’s some of what’s gone into our Fun Bags….
Bubbles (super fun to turn the vents to high, and then blow the bubbles into the vent, letting the airflow shoot bubbles all over the car)
Pipe Cleaners (so many creative things can be made with a handful of pipe cleaners!)
More road trip game printables
A frisbee or deflated beach ball to pull out at rest stops
Balloons (my kids and husband love this, while I despise it – inflate a few and let the kids smack them around the car)
Special snacks (trail mix, m&m’s, gum, etc)
Audio Books (our kids love The Boxcar Children audio books we checked out from the library)
DVDs (if your car has that)
Electronics and chargers for phones
Make Your Stops Entertaining
We used to be fully focused on “making good time,” but realized that just makes the car time feel that much longer. Now we try to make our pit stops a little more fun than the standard rest area every single time! Enter apps like RoadTrippers, where you can find all kinds of randomness along your route! Thanks to that app, Casey, IL will forever be on our radar – hello little town filled with lots of large, random things!
If you see something coming up relatively close to your route, consider veering a bit to check it out. We added a solid 90 minutes to our last trip when we noticed Williamsport, PA (home of the Little League World Series) was nearby! Our baseball loving boys were thrilled to go see the gift shop and catch a glimpse of the fields for a bit.
Or when we realized we were only about 20 minutes from Niagara Falls… We’d already been in the car for 8 hours, and were SO close to our hotel, but knew we couldn’t by-pass the falls when we were that close! An hour of walking around there was perfect, and now our kids can say they’ve seen it.
Final Random Tips
Pack a nightlight or two – hotels are VERY dark, and even if you’re staying with family, they may not have nightlights anymore! Even if your kids are older, it’s nice to be able to find your way to the bathroom without stubbing a toe.
Always do a Stuffy line-up and count before leaving each stop! Nothing worse than getting 45 minutes away and hearing “I can’t find ____!”, and needing to loop back around to fetch it. Believe me – I’ve lived that one.
Use small, cheap cookie sheets for lap desks/tables! You can find them for $1-$3 each, and they are the perfect size for eating off of, or using as a coloring/playing surface.
Let your kids help make a Road Trip CD mix. Nothing more entertaining (and annoying, by hour 10) than having an eclectic mix of songs from Minions singing YMCA, to Taylor Swift, to random church songs.
Pay the kids to behave. No really. This was a new one for us this year, but it worked BEAUTIFULLY. They wanted money for gift shops, and we wanted to reduce the number of “keep your hands to yourself!” yells. We made 4 clothespins, each with their initials or names on them. They started clipped to the passenger side visor, and we’d give them a time goal (usually 3-4 hour blocks). If they were being excessively whiney or annoying, their clip got moved to the other visor. Any clips on the original visor when the time goal was hit, earned .50.
Above all – have fun and chronicle it! If you can make it through with only wishing you could throw yourself from a moving car once (or twice) then call it a success and get planning the next one!
What’s your favorite Road Trip tip? Share it below!