by Kyle Westfall
Facing (read: fearing) a road trip with your kids? We’ve been there, and we’ve learned how to make it bearable, even fun, for the whole family. “How is this possible?” you ask. Here are 10 steps to making your next family road trip the best one yet…
- Plan for longer.
Driving with children takes longer. It’s a fact. If Google Maps says your trip will take twelve hours, plan for sixteen. You’ll be less stressed not trying to make that early deadline.
- Lots of snacks.
Nothing quiets kids faster than food in their mouths. Vary the type, too. Kids don’t want to eat 40 packs of fruit snacks. Nor do they only want to chew on apples all day. We usually do individual baggies of homemade snack mix so they can be thrown to the back of our van from the front seat without having to unbuckle and climb around the car while we’re driving.
- Movies (if that’s what you’re into)
If your vehicle has a built in DVD player, bless you. And bless the car company that made your sweet ride. Our minivan doesn’t have one built in, but we invested in a dual screen portable DVD player that gets strapped to the headrests. Just be sure to take more movies than you think you’ll need. You never know when the kids will give up on a flick halfway through and request something new.
- Stop a lot.
Driving can be boring for everyone not behind the wheel. Use rest stops, gas stops, and food stops to get out and run around. Play tag. Do scavenger hunts. Take walks. (We travel I-44 through Missouri a lot and their rest stops all have nice playgrounds. We’ve even been seen playing on them in the rain. It’s worth it.)
4b. Be sure to have a change of clothes in the car.
You never know when you’ll get caught in the rain. Or maybe the AC breaks and you all get sweaty. Or maybe your freshly potty-trained three-year-old doesn’t quite make it to the next stop.
- Break it up.
If you can afford to break up your trip, stop at a hotel for the night halfway through. We always look for a hotel with a pool and free breakfast. The pool allows the kids to burn off energy before going to bed, which is great when you’re not used to all sleeping in the same room. The free breakfast gets you a meal before you get on the road, saving you another stop ten minutes into your drive.
- Talk to the kids about it.
If you’re going to be driving straight through and not stopping, talk to the kids about it. Make sure they know it’s going to be a long day. Make sure they know that if they need something to speak up.
- Toys, Toys, Toys!
Take lots and lots of toys. It’s amazing how new something seems when you take it out of its context. Toys that are old and boring at home are suddenly a hot commodity in the car. We’ve even gone to the dollar store and purchased a dozen or so toys, wrapped them up, and given them to the kids each hour of the drive. The unwrapping gives them an extra something to do, then they get a new toy out of the deal.
- Don’t force what’s not going to happen.
If the kids don’t want to read a book, don’t force them to read a book. If your five-year-olds won’t take a nap, don’t force them to take a nap. Trying to force things that won’t happen only adds to the tension in the car and raises everyone’s stress levels.
- Examine the route closely.
Often, online maps give you multiple routes to choose from. Driving the northern route may take you through more exciting cities, but cities add minutes to your travel time and there are more chances for backups because of accidents. Driving the southern route may be faster, but there could be fewer places to stop along the route, and limited hotel options at the halfway mark. All possibilities need to be considered before you head out the door.
- Divide and conquer!
As mentioned earlier, we have a minivan. Usually, one of us will sit in the middle row while the other drives. The person in the back can then “deal” with the kids and let the driver focus. It works in a sedan, too. When we were a one-kid-family, one of us would be in the back of the Neon with the baby in the car seat while the other drove.
Kyle and his wife, Courtney, recently made a round trip from Tulsa, OK, to Greenville, SC, with three kids in tow (ages 5, 3, and 6 months). They annually make two trips to northern Indiana to visit family, and many of the tips above have been road-tested for at least five years, and in multiple vehicles, ranging in size from a Neon to a Grand Caravan.