This one is a long one folks! Consider this your warning! 🙂
It’s almost summer and time to hit the road, or at least it would be if you didn’t have to worry about traveling with a couple (but seems like 50) kids in the car with you. I’ve amassed a few traveling tips that we use when we travel to make those summer road trips less National Lampoons and more fun for everyone!
1. Leave the kids at home!
Just kidding! I know, that sounded nice for a second didn’t it?
You can’t leave the kids at home, or at least you can’t leave them home with family all the time. But what you can do is limit what they bring with them. Kids would bring everything if they could.
A good guide is each child gets to bring one item from a few categories; One electronic, one stuffed animal, one game and if they are like my kids, one small blanket. Mine like to have a light blanket to cover up with if they take a nap.
Instead of suitcases I each of my three kids have a travel backpack. I find them to be easier to cram into the back of the car instead of a hard sided suitcase.
2. Feed Children occasionally!
Yes, kids traveling will eat way more than kids just sitting at home playing a game…even though they are probably just sitting in the backseat…playing a game. Keep a small collapsible cooler in between the front seats. Stuff it with fruits, veggies and other healthy treats. Also stash some juice boxes, prepackaged graham crackers or other crunchy snacks in the ‘snack bag’. Kids enjoy crunching away in the backseat, usually when your favorite song comes on or you are trying to talk about something really important.
Purchase your snacks ahead of time from a grocery store. You will save money too.
- Feed yourself too!
If you have the room for it and you are going to be in the car all day spend the night before packing sack lunches for everyone. I write KID#1 Breakfast, KID#1 Lunch etc., and a cute smiley face or quick love note. In the small brown lunch bags I pack, a box of juice, a banana and if I feel mighty ambitious I make breakfast burritos the night before and pack them in the bags too. If you are leaving really early in the morning and no time for breakfast, at your first stop of the morning you can hand out everyone’s breakfast bags and they are all set to go! Not only do you have snacks, but you have prepared “meals” ready to go. This saves time and money. No more arguing at the drive through! Just hand back a breakfast bag and done. You have saved money and time.
- Pack an activity box!Pack a small box or tote and fill it with some kid friendly items. Remember those silly plastic handheld games that you were supposed to get the ball through the hoop by the little paddle on the side, but you could cheat by just turning the game upside down? Yeah? Bring some of them. No noises, bells, whistles and as an upside your kids may not even fight over them. Also pack along some reading books, small sketch pads, pencils and crayons. Kids have incredible imaginations and it is interesting to see some of the things they drew while en-route to your destination. (Keep in mind that the happier you keep your kids, the better drawn portraits of you, you will get!)
On long road trips, the rest stop brochures you inevitably pick up can be put into the activity box as well. See example:
Kid: Mom! I’m sooo bored.
You: I know darling, me too. Why don’t you read the guidebook about Louisville?
Kid: That’s a great idea, Mother. You always have the best advice.
This is probably not exactly how the conversation will go, but it is good for the kids to have the opportunity to look at what all is in the other states as well. It’s fun and educational at the same time.
I have to issue a warning here…many of the travel brochures have full page inserts with water and theme park attractions. You are on your own when you kids find those.
- Pack a second activity box.
Yes. Pack two activity boxes. This second box goes in the trunk of your car/back of the van or where ever it can be accessed quickly. Pack in this box a couple of short jump ropes, a long jump rope, a picnic blanket, sidewalk chalk and a few other small items.
When you stop for a quick break from driving and the potty breaks are taken…and since you parked in a SAFE spot out of traffic, let the kids’ jump rope for a couple minutes.
There is something so special about Mom and Dad holding one end of the jump rope and watching your kids play. You would be amazed at how many other travelers will actually watch and sometimes jump into a big jump rope! It’s quite fun and it will get the kids moving and keep them active.
- Don’t rush to get where you are going!You are already heading there, getting there an hour or two earlier with children who are hungry, bored and just plain cranky from a long day on the road isn’t really worth it. Give yourself an extra couple hours to get to your destination. Drive for two hours…and then right around the two hour mark. What? Stop? We barely started! I know this seems counterproductive to your travel plans, but it’s helpful.
Drive two hours and stop for 10-15 minutes. Everyone climbs out of the vehicle, runs in and goes potty and comes out ready to get back on the road.
It is hard on younger children to have to hold their pee, it is also unhealthy to have to do so repeatedly or for long periods of time. If you drink too much coffee on a road trip, it is for you too!
Two hours is a good amount. You’ve made nearly 120 miles progress down the road and your kids get to stop and stretch and even play a little bit. If you feel adventurous, jump in on a game of jump rope too. Use this time to refill your coffee cup, pick up souvenirs, stretch a little bit and move those muscles.
Eliminate Gatorades and power aids and vitamin water, those will really make you and the kids have to pee more frequently. My own friend Jeffrey is terrible at that. He gets Gatorade and has to pee every 35 minutes. Jeffrey, did you read that sentence?
Pack your own water. Trust me; bottled water is NOT the same everywhere. I like Aquafina water best, so we pack a couple cases of that, but pack whatever water you KNOW like best.
- Get gas (not that kind!)
When you stop those every few hours, you won’t always be at gas station, but those times you are, put gas in then. Sure, you are going to spend x amount of dollars on gas anyway, but it just seems like less when you put in $20-$40 to top off the tank instead of refilling it at almost empty and spending far more.
There really is no reason for this to be on the list, except I personally find it better to put in $20 than $60 even though I’m going to pay the same later anyway.
Added bonus, if you are the driver and your spouse is going half with you on the gas, you can stop when it’s your turn for gas and spend $15, when it’s their turn you can let the tank get a little lower and they can spend $30. They usually catch on pretty fast, so this will only work once or twice. You can blame me if you get caught.
- Get a room!
After you’ve driven two hour shifts 4-5 different times, it’s time to make a stop for the night. The only thing worse than a bored kid, is a cranky and tired bored kid. They’ve been on the road for 8-10 hours already.
Plan your driving to leave early in the morning and stop around 5:00-7:00 pm. This will get you close to 500 miles in a day. Stopping at 5:00-7:00pm will give the kids a couple of hours to wind down after a long day in the car. You can’t expect kids who have been crammed in a hot car all day to instantly wind down and head to bed. Work with nature and not against it.
If you stop at a hotel with a pool, this gives the kids some time to swim and play and time enough for you to order dinner or make your own if you brought it. Stopping earlier also gives you the best deal for your money. What I mean is you are going to spend the money on the hotel anyway, so you might as well spend the most hours in it.
Now everyone has their own preference with regards to reserving rooms. Some folks like to make a reservation and that is their goal. I personally prefer to simply just head out towards my destination with no real time frame to adhere too.
When it is about an hour before you are going to stop tonight, call your hotel club or look it up on your phone and make your reservation. Nothing is more exciting for the kids than to hear, we’ll be to our hotel in an hour and you can swim!!
No matter how much you are paying for your room, make the most of it. Plan to spend some time to relax in your room. Put your feet up, watch a little tv, watch the kids swim, go sit in the hot tub etc. While a hotel is merely a room with a bed in it made for sleeping, don’t just pay money only to sleep.
Spend your money to relax, enjoy the amenities and give yourself the ok to relax too! Sip a little wine or have a beer or soda and just chill out. You earned it. Day one of the road trip is complete.
- Seriously, get a room!Not all hotels are the same. There are some really great hotels out there, and then there are some that you wouldn’t even want to step through the front door.
I have found that being a member of a hotel club has its advantages over buying rooms from a third party hotel groups that offer discounts or purchases sight unseen. I myself prefer choice hotels. I am a member of several different hotel clubs but found that Choice Hotels works for our family.
Not only do I receive great customer service when I call, but I also collect points that I can use at many hotels across the country. I can also partake of the many marketing promotions as well. I also have a standard of care that I expect and it is most always delivered, plus the Choice Hotel brands usually have a free full breakfast.
I figure, I have to feed the kids anyway, I might as well feed them “free” breakfast before I leave on the days adventure. Send the kids off with a full belly. That being said, expect day two’s first stop of the day to be less than the two hour mark.
Not only do I receive the quality I expect, but being a Rewards member is great. When I call ahead for a reservation and I get to the hotel ALL of my paperwork is ready. Check in literally takes 2 minutes to initial and sign and swipe my card. I like that! I can walk in, get checked in, load my cart and come back through the lobby and STILL see the folks who booked at a 3rd party site checking in. Saves on time and hassle, I like easy check ins!
- Clean your garbage out of the vehicle!
Keep small garbage bag or can or two in your vehicle. Ideally, every time a kid needs to toss a wrapper, sandwich bag or banana peel it goes directly into the garbage bag or can. Being parents, we know that it will usually end up somewhere behind a kid or hiding between the door and the seat.
When stopping at your hotel for the night, have everyone go through and pick up all the garbage and throw it away. Nearly every hotel has a conveniently placed garbage can out front. Use it.
The next morning when you get into your vehicle … clean it out again. Yes, really. You will find even more stuff you missed the night before. Start out every day with a completely clean vehicle. Put all the pencils, crayons and books in their box. Re organize all of your stuff. Then just get ready to hit the road!
My biggest thing about traveling with your kids is that you need to make sure that they are happy and comfortable. Nothing ruins a fun family road trip than pushing your kids to hard, resulting in angry, upset kids who want to do anything but hang out with you politely. Give them room to relax too.
Kids are not designed to sit quietly without moving or uncomfortably waiting to go to the bathroom for hours and hours on end. Keep to a nice routine, everyone will get used to it quickly and even though the two hour formula my family developed may seem like a waste of time…by getting everyone on the same “pee schedule” you eliminate the constant stopping that you might currently already do. It actually saves time in the long run.
Let the kids have fun. That extra hour of travel time you spread throughout the day isn’t really all that much and you will have much more happy and content kids than just shuttling them in and out of the rest area. You will all be more relaxed and happy.
Stay tuned, next week we’ll discuss saving a LOAD of money on a luxury vacation!