I think I’ve read about 73 different blog entries on road-tripping with kids. I read about half of them in the last few weeks, knowing that I’d be driving five and a half hours with the kids by myself. And I’d be driving through St. Paul – easily the biggest city I’ve driven through. (Yes, I’ve been driving for 13 years and Des Moines is the biggest city I’ve driven in. Don’t judge.)
In case any of my friends are taking a trip soon and want some tips, without reading dozens of strangers’ blogs, here are my ideas 🙂
- Plan ahead. This is an easy one for me, because I ❤ planning. For our most recent trip, I found a town just under halfway there and located a McDonald’s with a PlayPlace. We left the house so that we got to lunch just before noon, the kids ate and burned off some energy before we got back in the car. If you’re not into fast food – not our first choice, but convenient, and luckily, my kids aren’t aware of Happy Meals, so I got us in and out pretty inexpensively – you can do some research to find a rest stop with a playground. We saw a few of those off the interstate and could have taken advantage if I’d taken the time to pack us a lunch before we left!
- Use a portable DVD player, iPad, Kindle Fire…whatever you have available. We have a portable DVD player with 2 screens. We only put this in the car when we’re going on a long trip, and our kids don’t watch it the whole time, but it certainly helps when they’re tired, getting restless or need a distraction.
- Pack lots of snacks. When in motion, my kids are soooo hungry. I packed lots of snacks, and tried to mix healthy options – fruit, cheese sticks, granola bars and popcorn – in with treats or things that are a bit more special – animal crackers, cracker mix and fruit snacks. Along these lines, my kids each get their Camelbak filled with ice water before we leave. And that’s it for their beverage, because I don’t want to make extra stops just for the bathroom if we can avoid it.
- Use dry erase markers for good car activities. This is great for a couple reasons. My kids think dry erase markers are super cool, so they think this is a treat. It also makes for reusable activities. On this trip, I took a name tracing sheet for C, shape tracing sheet for D and an I-Spy game for each of them. We have a laminator, so I laminated the papers and voila! they become dry erase activities. We also have some activity books we use at home with the pages in sheet protectors, which work just as well. In one of the 73 blogs I read, I also saw the suggestion of using dry erase markers on the windows. This is a great idea we might take advantage of in a couple years.
- Have some “car only” activities. For us, these include a Melissa and Doug Water WOW! Activity Book, a set of small, wooden puzzles and Magic Ink books. These are all small and mess-free, so they’re perfect car activities. Each of these activities can keep my kids entertained for over 15 minutes, which can be an eternity in kid-in-the-car-world.
- Bring lots of books (and a LeapReader if you’re lucky!) I always pack a bag with 20+ books and put it in between the kids’ car seats. They can both reach the bag, so they don’t even need my help to get to the books. The books are not a 15 minute activity, but it’s an independent activity, which is a win. We got C a LeapReader for her birthday. Using this, the kids can have books read aloud to them. D can use it to read the books and C loves to hear the books and play the games within the books. And…you can put headphones in it. C “read” books while D slept on the way home – perfect quiet time activity.
So there you have it. My non-expert tips on road-tripping with kids. The kids and I spent 11 hours in the car this week and managed to come home with smiles on our faces. Although that might not have anything to do with what I’ve said above, it might just be because they’re rock stars!