Packing, Planning and Patience: Preparing for a Road Trip With the Kids
“Are we there yet, are we there yet, are we there yet?” If going on a road trip with kids seems like the stuff of nightmares, it doesn’t have to be. Taking a family road trip just calls for some extra planning and a little bit of flexibility.
While preparing for every single outcome or emergency is impossible, knowing what you want to get out of a trip, and what you want your kids to get out of it, is a good start. Take your time to do some research before embarking on a road trip and see if it’s even right for your family.
Traveling with very young babies or children with special needs may prove more difficult than it’s worth. If you do decide to go for it, take a hint from the following tips, which may prove useful on your journey.
No matter what the length of the trip, do a thorough inspection of your vehicle before you leave. Are all the fluids topped off? Are your windshield wipers and air conditioning working? How about tire pressure?
Car trouble is annoying enough for adults — imagine what it’s like for a child with patience the size of a penny. Even if your car is in tip top condition, it won’t hurt to take it to a trusted mechanic before your trip.
Have them check for leaks, hose weaknesses and axle trouble, along with a general inspection of the car. Better safe than sorry.
Additionally, if you don’t already have one, it may be time to join an auto club such as AAA or one specific to your car’s make. In case of a breakdown, roadside assistance will enable you to get a tire changed, provide gasoline, or a tow to a shop if necessary.
Some states also have free roadside assistance on major highways or freeways. Check for signs while you’re driving or call 5-1-1 for more information.
If you have small children, it’s essential to check their car seat is installed properly. Teach your kids the importance of seat belts and staying in their seat at all times while the car is moving.
It’s also a good idea to stress the importance of not distracting you while you’re driving. Let them know ahead of time you won’t be able to turn around when they ask you to look at something they’re doing.
Finally, ensure all medications are packed, along with a first aid kit and extra water. If your phone or car doesn’t have GPS capabilities, bring one with you or a set of maps for states along your route. It’s also a good idea to keep a phone charger in the car in case you need to call for help during an emergency.
Plan Your Stops
Planning is essential when traveling with children and will save you a headache later. While you can’t always predict when nature will call, you can keep track of how much gas you have and when to stop for a meal.
Instead of using those tired old roadside stops and grabbing lunch from gas stations and fast food joints, a little planning can make your stops a memorable part of the vacation.
Find out how many miles your car’s gas tank can hold and look for interesting places around that mileage point. Are there national parks close by where you could have a picnic? How about a vintage diner or family-friendly burger joint with five stars on Yelp?
This is also where you can allow for a little flexibility within your carefully planned trip. If you’re not completely pressed for time, maybe you can stick around for a little while and enjoy a silly roadside attraction or local event that you stumble across.
Let’s face it, even kids get hangry. While children need fewer calories than adults, snacks are still a necessity between meals.
It may be tempting to pack a bunch of chips and other carb-filled snacks, but these foods aren’t the greatest for long periods of sitting. Your child will consume empty calories and won’t be able to burn off the energy because they’re stuck in the car.
Avoid sugar as much as possible, which is likely to make them more fidgety and hyper. Instead, pack snacks high in protein and fiber to keep them feeling full longer. String cheese, hard boiled eggs, beef jerky, and raw veggies with cups of dip are all great road trip snacks.
Don’t forget about beverages too! Aside from bottles of water, milk and juice can be packed in sippy cups and brought along in a small cooler.
Don’t Forget the Entertainment
Depending on the age of your kids, entertainment options may range from interactive to introspective. Smaller children are more active and therefore need more stimulating activities for their developing brains.
Activity and sticker books are lifesavers during road trips. Brain teasers, drawing pads and small magnetic toys are also great car ride activities.
Pick up a cheap metal cookie sheet or baking pan at your local grocery store, which can serve as an activity board; the upturned edges will prevent objects from sliding off onto the floor.
Older children are generally easy to keep entertained with electronics and media. They can bring along a favorite book or magazine, iPod with music, or a portable DVD player to watch their favorite movies.
Audiobooks are also a fun way to keep the whole family entertained. With familiar celebrity voices and action-packed storylines, the Harry Potter series, Series of Unfortunate Events and Chronicles of Narnia are excellent road trip choices.
However you decide to keep the kids entertained, just know it will make the car ride go that much smoother and allow you to focus on getting to your destination.
Edmunds (How to Survive a Road Trip With Kids)
Minitime (Tip Sheet: Road Trips)
Baby Center (Road Trip Survival Guide: Don’t leave home without our kid-friendly tips)