Road Trips With Kids

Have you started making your adventure plans yet? Summer will be here before we know it.  While we are now empty nest parents, we still do road trips. We are a traveling family. My husband travels with his job. Before the boys, I traveled with my job. As a couple we traveled. As a family, we traveled. The first long road trip with our sons was when they were two. It was an 8 hour drive between Milwaukee and St. Louis for a Christmas visit with family.

Why Do We Love Road Trips?

Diversity in the Environment.  We live in a country that is easy to travel around, why not grab life and see some of it? It’s really very beautiful. We have lakes, river, mountains, plains, deserts, rolling hills and so much more.  We are breathtaking, “From Sea to Shining Sea!” Teach your children to love our America, all of it.  Teach them to appreciate all of what is here.

Diversity in People.  When you travel around this country you get to meet people of every kind. I am not just talking ethnicity, I am talking accents, phrases for things, even the simple differences between a cup of coffee in Seattle, in Boston and in New Orleans. Your children will be more accepting of others if they actually go and visit and meet them. They will understand that our country is huge and that they can make it a better place. There is beauty everywhere! American culture is unique, distinct and valuable.

California July 2006 029

Seeing Family.  We road trip because we live away from our families.  We have lived in five states. Our road trips have taken our family from Wisconsin to Oklahoma, Oklahoma to California, Oklahoma to Iowa, Oklahoma to Colorado, Iowa to Colorado, Iowa to Wisconsin, Iowa to Washington, Washington to California and Washington to Maryland. Those are just the big trips. Some of them were one way, some both ways, some were repeated a few times. Do we have Wanderlust? No. We don’t constantly wish we were somewhere else. We enjoy hanging at home as well. We just love seeing what is out there!

Here is our states visited totals so far: Michael (50), Me (45), Zach (30) and Josh (23).


Road Trip Tips

If your kids get car sick, get a taller car seat so they can see out the window.  If you can, place the car seat where they can look out the front window versus the side windows. Have your kids watching movies, not reading. If your car doesn’t have a video player in the ceiling, get one for behind the head rest. Any time spent looking down increases the chances of getting car sick. Keep a box of gallon sized ziplock for sickness. Zip and toss it! My husband just suggested these would be perfect for hurling at offending drivers….not!

Invest in an electric cooler made for cars. Koolatron makes one perfect for between the seats of a minivan. Make sure to have an adapter so you can take it into your hotel room at night. Don’t leave it plugged into your car overnight. It will kill the battery. Trust me on that. No messing with ice, more room for your other stuff and ready to eat healthy snacks.

Car Snacks.  When on long car trip we always had three places with food.  The cooler would contain drinks, water, carrot sticks, cheese sticks, Gogurt, fresh fruit and sandwich fixings.  Snack bags in the middle of the car reachable by everyone contained snack-sized ziplocs of portable snacks.  Grab and go items that could be eaten in the car or thrown into a backpack.  Lastly, we had a bag in the back with evening or refill foodstuffs like bread for our sandwiches, microwave popcorn and Costco sized Goldfish.

Fall 102Eating on the Road.

  • Breakfast.  We liked to stay at particular hotel chains that were reliable, many of which had breakfast included in the price of the hotel.  Sometimes we would eat there, others we would grab stuff and eat in our rooms while getting ready.  To get an earlier start to our mornings we would keep the kids in their pjs, grab breakfast for them and put it in the cooler and then head out.  About the time we needed to fill up the gas tank they were waking up.  We would change their clothes, use the potty and have them sitting up eating breakfast on the road.
  • Lunch.  The best part of taking a road trip is the wonderful places you can stop and eat lunch.  This is why we always had lunch type food in the car.  My hubby is great at being able to gauge just about where it will be when we are all ready for a stop.  We loved those off the beaten track places eating lunch.
  • Dinner.  Dinner was either eaten at a local eatry or we ordered ahead, picked it up and ate in our hotel rooms.  As the boys got older we would give the choice of what they wanted to do.  Sometimes they just wanted pizza and to play video games and be together with each other.  We were cool with that.

Potty breaks. No matter the age of your children or the size of their bladder, they will need to go potty on occasion. Please remember that they are kids and while you may have stopped 5 minutes ago and they tried to pee, they will have to go at least once when it isn’t convenient. You will get a two-minute warning, that’s it. Prepare for that.  There aren’t rest stops or gas stations every mile, so pack a roll of TP and make sure you have blanket for a privacy barrier. If you have really little ones, have a kid port-a-potty like this one. Yes, it’s one more thing to pack, but if you have a minivan, take out an extra seat if you can. We would put the boys in the back and took out a center captains seat. We folded down the other captains seat and used it as a table for the laptop.

Move your Body!  Use the planned gas or potty breaks to let the kids get out and stretch. You too. 10 minutes here and there will save your sanity in the end.  I do yoga in the car as well as at rest stops.  Do I care what people think when they see me? Um, no.  I know that at the end of the day I will feel great and they won’t.   Think of the benefits to your body by getting that circulation moving.  It works for kids and your spouse as well!

Car Games. While we are now in the age of iPhones, iPads, and video players in cars, we weren’t when our boys were young and I am glad of that. We had so much fun with car games, I wish I took video!  Many of these car games are available as apps, but print some of them out and do them the old-fashioned way.

  • The license plate game. Print outs map of the states. During the trip let kids color in the state when they see a license plate for it. See how many you can color in! If you go to Amy tourist destination, ,ame sure to check plates as you walk through the parking lot and in the lot of your hotel as well.
  • Alphabet game. Any version. We would print out multiple copies of the alphabet. We would do it as a car. As teams or as individuals in competition.
  • Car Bingo.  There are many different versions with pictures for little ones.  it helps to pass the time.
  • Start a story. We would pick a car or truck and someone would start a story about the at and the people in it. They had a couple of minutes and then the next player would continue the story until everyone had a turn and the person who started it would finish the story. Oh! I’ve never laughed so hard as what the boys would create.
  • Mad Libs.  Really, who doesn’t love mad libs?  The kids were hilarious!  Plus, again they are learning something while having fun and laughing.  Noun, pronoun, exclamation, verb……
  • Info on places you may be visitingIf we were stopping some place important along the way, I would print out little information books for the boys.  They would learn something new and be excited to visit it ahead of time.  I would include some games (word searches work great) with names of things we would see there.

Plan Well.  Plan your trip and don’t worry about “making good time” that the side trip to see Mount Rushmore or the Battle of Little Big Horn. History is more alive for a child when they can see it rather than read about it. Visit places and museums.  Sure, Disney and Lego Land featured prominently, but we mixed it with the Grand Canyon, Meteor Crater and the Golden Gate Bridge.  While it may be another trip for you, you are making memories they will remember a lifetime.

Medical emergencies. Plan for it.  It happens.  We always had a first aid kit, water, medicines, etc in the car just in case.  We made sure to have our insurance cards and access to our children’s medical records.

Special Rewards.  We always had new things in a bag that we could pull out from time to time when you hit a dull patch.  Legos, a new movie, a DS game.  We also went to the Dollar Store for inexpensive “prizes”.  Depending on the game or the situation, it was something we could use.  We also discussed ahead of time the “gimmies”.  If we were going to one special place (Lego Land) or a few, we set up the gift store parameters before heading in.  They were given a dollar amount for the trip as a whole.  Where they chose to spend it was up to them.

Hotel rooms. We are a family of four so we always booked single room, double queen beds when we traveled. If you need more than that make sure they are connecting rooms when you book them.  When our sons turned 12 we started booking them a double queen and us a king adjoining room.  They needed their space and we needed ours. We gave them clear instructions about wake up and departure times for the next day. It was up to them to go to sleep on time. No excuses the next morning if they stayed up late. No extra sleeping, they could do that in the car.

img_7168Patience. Pack extra. If you don’t pack some patience, figure out how to quickly conger some out of thin air. If you need to get your zen on, do car yoga. Yes, I do yoga in the car. Have a book to read. Listen to music. No, you don’t have to always entertain your kids especially as they get older, but you will want to make sure you have some down time. Work out a plan with your spouse or travel buddy. Recognize that some of us become divas if we don’t eat regularly, so have snacks handy for you, your spouse or your child. No one want to be in a car with a growly bear when they are hungry.  Feed them.

People in other cars are inconsiderate jerks. Don’t be one. Drive responsibly and take caution with weather conditions. The lives in your car are not worth passing that truck, cutting off a car, or driving through a freezing rain storm.  Be okay with not reaching that destination when you planned. Don’t book non-refundable hotel rooms. Make use of hotel apps for booking and cancelling and be aware of their policies.

Have Fun.  In the end, the best reason for road trips with your family is to have fun.  Laugh, sing, see somewhere new or revisit somewhere again.  At 52, I remember the car rides with my family and at 21 our sons will still get up at the crack of dawn for a Rodriguez Road Trip Adventure.  A trip can be just one day.  A trip can be a week or more.  It’s getting time to explore.  Plan your road trip today!

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