Road Trips With Kids: Fun or Frightening?

My older son is out on school break this week, thanks to an additional Fall Break in San Jose Unified.  My dad and I decided to make lemonade out of the how-am-I ever-going-to-figure-out-what-to-do-for-another-random-week-off lemons with a road trip to Phoenix and Disneyland.

The miles between my house and my brother’s house in Northern Phoenix is over 800.  The GPS says we can get there in 13 hours and 30 minutes if we don’t stop and we don’t hit excess traffic.  I think it failed to consider that I’ll be driving 80 mph whenever I can.  Even by breaking up the trip into 2 days, we’re stuck with a lot of driving.  That’s a lot of time in the car.  Lots of time with a toddler buckled up in his car seat.  Lots of time for your eight year old to ask “Are we there yet?”

This is our third time making the trip and each time is gets a little easier.  Part of that could be attributed to the fact that my kids are just getting used to the long drive.  But I like to think that the main reason it is easier is attributed to the fact that I get smarter planning each road trip.  Here’s my Top 5 Tips to making road trips fun rather than frightening.

1. Media Entertainment Is Your Friend

Remember when we were kids and we just had to stare out the window for 13 hours?  Your kids are lucky they don’t have to experience that.  Pack your entire arsenal of entertainment.  Bring the iPad, the iPod, the Kindle, the portable DVD player.  We always force “Quiet Time” in the car too – typically when the toddler is asleep.  Everyone (except your driver) can rest at the same time.  Or read a book.  Or stare out the window.

2.  Snacks, Snacks, and More Snacks

Pack lots of healthy snacks.  Something about road trips gives everyone the munchies.  Our favorites are cheese and crackers, apple slices (the pre-sliced and packaged ones from Costco are the best), grapes, and graham crackers.  Before the trip, I divide everything into individual portions.  It makes it easier to just grab a snack (and doesn’t require mommy to help when she’s navigating the road).  We also avoid sugary drinks including juice boxes and diet sodas.  If those spill in your car, you’re stuck with a sticky mess.  Bottles of water with the sports tops work best – limits the spills and keeps everyone hydrated.

3. Something Old, Something New

If you’re child has a favorite toy or lovey, don’t forget to pack it.  But also bring something new along.  You can save it for an especially fussy moment or for a milestone in your trip – say the halfway point, or when you cross the state border.  It doesn’t have to be anything expensive.  I bought a new book in my older son’s favorite series and some new cars for my toddler.  I also packed my son’s Star Wars action figures and my toddler’s Woody doll that he carries with him everywhere.  The comfort of the old and the appeal of the new can keep your kids self-entertained.

4.  Turn Pit Stops Into an Exercise Break

When everyone is getting restless, stop at a Rest Stop instead of taking a bathroom break at McDonald’s.  For one, there is always room to run around.  I chase my kids around on the grass and make my older one do sprints and jumping jacks before getting back into the car.  We all feel better getting out and stretching our legs.  You can always stop at the Golden Arches for some road food… but look for Rest Stops as a “Body Break.”

5. Set Goals

Set short- and long-term goals on your trip.  It can be something as simple as “We want to stop for dinner in this town,” or it can related to driving time (especially for long trips).  Our goal of getting to Phoenix is always to make it to own of the desert cities in California on Day 1.  Sometimes we make it all the way to the Arizona border.  This last time we only made it to Indio.  But we are flexible with the kids and the driving time.  After once making the mistake of driving with the kids for 11 hours, I now know our limit is about 8 hours a day.  More than that and everyone (including me) gets cranky.  If I set goals on when we’ll stop or how much further before we’ll turn on another movie, my kids are learning how to pace themselves too.

And when all else fails, pull out the lollipops, turn up the music, and refuse to answer the age-old question of “Are We There Yet??”


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