Thursday, June 3, 2010

8 Tips for Taking a Road Trip with Small Children (and not losing your mind)

How does a family of 6 (with 4 children under 7) take a road trip for 6 days and the mama not lose her mind?

Planning.  Planning.  Planning.

Road trips with small children are a lot of work but they aren't impossible!  You just have to think through everything BEFORE you go.

In fact, taking a road trip with my children is a lot of fun.  To help make your summer travels fun, too, here are a few tips I've learned along the way:

Plan your activities ahead of time.

My family took a road trip to Washington, D.C. last month.  Joel and I knew we would leave Friday and return on Wednesday.  Our only "have to" for the trip was a friend's 40th birthday party Saturday evening.  That left 3 days without any plans.

So, I searched the internet and made a list of activities I thought we could do.  Joel and I discussed it, compromised, and planned a flexible itinerary for the trip.  I say flexible because Sunday ended up pouring down rain so we replaced on outdoor activity with an equally fun indoor activity. 

Plan the clothes for the entire family.

Granted, I have little people who aren't as opinionated about clothing as teenagers, but I believe the idea works for everyone. I thought through each days expected activities and decided which clothes would work best.

I also color-coded everyone's shirts.  I know it's lame but one of my biggest fears is losing someone in a crowd.  Wearing the same color helps people know we are a group.  It also makes for great pictures!  :)

Plan your route ahead of time.  

Once we knew we were driving to D.C. I spent time pouring over an atlas to decide the best roads for us to take. 

Print maps from Google maps.  

I arranged them in order and put them in a clipboard.  This made it much easier than dealing with an over-sized atlas.  AND rest stops (BATHROOMS!) are marked on the maps - a big bonus when traveling with little bladders.

Stop for a potty break BEFORE entering a city.  

I decided to be brave this trip and take us straight through NYC on I95.  It took us 2 hours to get through the city!  I was SOOOOO glad we had taken a potty break before we entered NY!

Pack your own snacks.  

It's cheaper and makes your stops quicker.  I bought about $30 worth of snacks before our trip.  Then, divided anything not individually wrapped into plastic bags.  The bags were put back into the boxes for the trip.

Those snacks lasted us for the drive down, 4 days in D.C., and the drive home.  Much cheaper than buying as we traveled.

Take re-usable water bottles and a thermos.

I found these cute water bottles at Wal-Mart for $1 each.  The morning of our trip we filled a 2 gallon thermos with ice water and took it with us.  Each time we stopped we refilled everyone's bottle.  MUCH cheaper than bottled water and healthier for us than sodas.

We also carried the bottles with us as we explored D.C. and left the thermos (filled with ice and water) in the van.  Nothing is better at the end of a long day of walking than a bottle of ice cold water!!

Plan activities for the road.

For this trip I purchased each of my children a clipboard, a pencil bag, a small box of crayons, a coloring book and a scribble pad.  I found most things at a dollar store.  I also wrote names on everything so there would be no fighting!

(You can see Ellie's clipboard and pencil bag in the pocket under her feet.  Under her legs is our tub of snacks.)

We also took a bunch of books with us - some on c.d. and some to flip through.  Our library has a great selection of children's books on c.d.

While in D.C. we spent a day with dear friends touring Mount Vernon.  I had to laugh when, after seeing our supplies for the day, B. commented that I have traveling down to a science.  I guess she's right.  All that planning may seem silly but it makes for a relaxed and enjoyable vacation with my family. 

So, what tips do you have for staying sane on a road trip with small children?


Amy said...

Good tips! I had to laugh when I saw how full your van looked for a 6 day road trip! :) We might be in in trouble for our 3 week+ trip! Not really, we'll do laundry along the way and buy snacks for the first part of the trip and then visit a store along the way to restock. We DON'T buy snacks along the way...either.

If you're traveling long distance, we've found it helpful to incorporate something fun into each day which may mean driving longer into the night. BUT the kids sleep and mom and dad get "alone" talk time and everyone is happy!

Stephanie's Mommy Brain said...

I know, our van is ridiculously packed! We had 2 carry-on sized suitcases, 1 tub for snacks, 1 2 gallon thermos, 1 diaper bag, 1 bag of toys/books for Sam, 1 box of books/stuff for the boys, a pack n play, a backpack carrier, and a stroller. It's crazy how much stuff you have to take with you for kids. And we DON'T take toys for the big kids. Just their special blankets and 1 stuffed animal. I don't know how we'd ever manage it all flying!!

mer@lifeat7000feet said...

I have two that I'll add:

1. We've given each of our kids a roll of quarters at the start of a trip. Each time they fight w/siblings, or whine (after several warnings) we'd take a quarter away. Whatever they have left a the end of the trip is theirs to keep/spend. Money motivates my kids.

2. Cookie sheets with a lip make good surfaces for coloring/etc and the lip keeps things crayons/pens from rolling all over the car. It's awkward as they get bigger though. But it's fun for the little kids who can't color yet to use them for magnet play.

Stephanie's Mommy Brain said...

Great ideas, Mer!! I had considered cookie sheets for our trip to D.C. but went with clipboards instead. The clipboards worked great for giving each child a hard surface to put the coloring books on. I might use cookie sheets in the future.

Carrie said...

Um. Yeah! I'd say that's a science, alright! I'm duly impressed!

I like the idea of putting a box of books between the kids. Helps keep things organized and clean.

Making mental notes...

Shoot Son Dang Girl Alissa said...

I dont have to travel with 4 kids, but I think I might use some of these tricks and tips when I go roadtripping with myself and friends!!!!! Thank you for the great insight!

Wherever HE Leads We'll Go said...

You definitely have this down to a science! I am all for planning, planning, planning ahead of time. Even if you don't strictly follow the plan, it still makes things go smoother.

We do bring some snacks, but still end up buying stuff on the road (usually Mountain Dew or a candy bar). Of course, buying those things ahead of time would save us money...

As for the van being super packed - you don't want to know what ours looks like when we travel. Little miss Em has some STUFF! I cannot imagine ever flying with all the stuff that we have to bring for her.

Glad you had a great time catching up with friends. I miss those guys!

Shoot Son Dang Girl Alissa said...

haha you would be surprised ;) it would probably come in handy!

Sheila said...

I saw this idea in Lisa Whelchel's Creative Correction book: Give each child a bag of coins. Every time they fight, they lose a coin. Whatever's left is their spending money for souveniers. I thought it was a great idea if you're planning to let the kids bring something back.

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