I know just the title of this piece sounds like a bad idea. However, our family has taken many long road trips, and it’s worth it (especially, when you look at the price of flying a large family). We bond as our little clan journeys together, exploring new places, and building wonder-filled memories in the minds of our young kiddos. However, taking a 10+ hour drive hasn’t always been beautiful. In fact there are times it has felt like flat-out torture. Nursing babies, exploding diapers, and incessant bickering have led to many clenched jaws and yearning to escape the four-wheeled pressure cooker. But I have picked up some knowledge along the way, and here are my top ten survival tips for a family road trip:
Make Sure There are TWO Adults in the Car
This will give you someone to laugh with when the crazy hits. I know this is not always an option for everyone, but it really helps keep the other adult sane, awake, and off their phone.
Prepare for the Unforeseen
Are your kids prone to carsickness? Mine aren’t, but there was that one time on that one road trip where someone lost their lunch all over the backseat in the exact middle point of our trip. Here’s what would’ve been handy, and now we never travel without:
- Gallon-sized Ziploc bags. These fold up small and will hold a gallon’s worth of stomach contents, AND can also contain the smell of any soiled clothing until it can be washed.
- Paper towels
- A small spray bottle of odor-destroyer. You will really wish you had this should your kiddos get a tummy bug while stuck in the car.
- A first-aid kit
- Multiple sets of easy-to-grab clothes in the trunk of the car should you need them
Pack Some Food
Traveling for over ten hours means you will likely need to eat two or more meals, not to mention snacks. IF you are going to eat fast food, ONLY do it once, and choose the least greasy options. Twice can cause stomach problems, and they will be more grumpy and whiny because they feel uncomfortable.
Kill the “Are We There Yet?” Question
This question always starts about 15 minutes into the road trip. If your child can tell time say to them, “You can ask me that question again at (an overestimated time of when you think you’ll arrive o’clock).” If they can’t yet tell time or forget to wait for the official checkpoint, I use this trick: Print out a picture of your car, glue a piece of a straw on the back, and run a ribbon through it. Now the car can move back and forth on the ribbon. Pin each end of the ribbon to one side of the car and move the car once an hour, telling them when the car reaches the end of the ribbon you will be at your destination.
Limit Fluid Intake
If you’re traveling with at least three kiddos you know they don’t really need water every time they ask. Sometimes they are just bored and looking for something, anything to do. Just be careful to keep a close eye on how much they are drinking, or you will be making extra stops. When we know one of our planned stops is approximately 30 minutes away, we hand our kids juice boxes and let them have at it; but back in the car, sips are far and few between until the next stop nears.
Talking Time Out
This works surprisingly well. If our kids start bickering or speaking words that tear down their siblings, we declare a talking time-out. Any and all offending children are not allowed to speak for 5, 10, maybe even 15 minutes depending on the severity of their offence.
When you are all buckled in, discipline can get tricky. I found this system on Pinterest. The gist: each child gets a clothes pin with cut-out character on the sun visor. If their clip is still up at the next stop, they get a treat of some sort. Buy the treats ahead of time and have them in the car. Waiting for a bunch of kids to decide what they want at the truck stop might take more time than you would like. Bonus: avoid the potential sugar rush and inevitable crash by making their favorite activity the treat (coloring book, road trip game, or the power to pick the next song).
This is probably one of my favorite traditions we have picked up. We always check out an audio book from the library that the whole family can listen to, and preferably covers the whole trip. Some of our faves are The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, The Giver by Lois Lowery, and The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins.
While I do think it is good to limit screen time for everyday use, I allow a brief break in that rule for extended road trips. Many family vehicles have built-in ways to watch movies and if yours (like ours) doesn’t, a laptop, a digital download on a tablet, or a portable DVD player of any variety is a Godsend. These also tend to make it easier for naps as they often lay their heads down on the one pillow we allowed them to bring, and drift off to sleep. For the first three hours of our trip, we say no movies. We promote books, car games, and discussion, but after that initial three-hour leg, it becomes more about maintaining the peace. We take breaks for an audio book, but I am grateful for this technology. I seriously wonder sometimes how my single mom did not LOSE HER MIND when she took my siblings and me on road trips.
- Headphones. When you are not driving and your driving partner is awake enough that you can take a brief time-out, these little beauties are your ticket to temporary escape.
- Plenty of pre-drive sleep!
- Coffee and/or energy drinks. In other words, DO NOT get sleepy; when roads are windy and children are sleeping make sure YOU are wide awake. Pull over if you have to or switch drivers. Your cargo and the others you share the road with are too precious.