I love our everyday life, but sometimes, it sure feels great to get away. My preferred mode of transportation is plane, but if car is the only option, I will take it! Most of our car travel occurs is in stints that are under 3 hours. Occasionally though, we indulge on long weekends away and are able to justify longer drives.
For years I have used the kids as an excuse. “They don’t do well with long car rides”, I’d say. Truthfully, the kids are fine. With tech, snacks, and curated surprises, the kids are quite content on a drive.
With an upcoming road trip on our calendar, I have started making a list of things to do and am sharing this with you.
Clean and Organize
If time allows clean your home before leaving. I always want to do this, but it does not always happen. At the very least, be sure to start the dishwasher and empty every trash can in the house. Stinky trash is not a greeting that you will want when you first arrive home.
The day before you leave, remove everything from your car, wipe down all surfaces and vacuum out the interior. If it is not raining wash your car. You are going to be living out of this space for a good amount of time so start with it nice and clean. At a minimum, remove everything from your car and add back in, only what is necessary for your trip.
This goes without saying, but on the off chance you were considering skipping this for the sake of time, don’t. Even a two-minute shower is worth the time.
Have a plan. Excruciating detail is not required, but you should have some sense of what to expect. When you are traveling with kids, and really, even without, you should plan to stop every 2-3 hours. Once you have a plan, give it to someone who is not on the trip. At a minimum, the day you leave and the day you will be home are wise details to share with a family member or friend.
About those two to three hour stops…locate gas stations along your route. Gas stations can be a great stopping point to stretch, fill up on gas and use the facilities. To keep the mood of your travelers upbeat, you might consider checking out the mini mart. A pack of gum or stick of string cheese can have a big impact when travelers of any age become weary.
This gem of a site was a recent find for me. Have a look and I think you too will be impressed! Their free version is great for the occasional weekend getaway road tripper like me. A true multi-state road tripper would be better served by opting for the paid Plus version. Plus allows you to collaborate with others on the trip and free yourself from ads. With either version, you are able to set your destination and select food & drink stops, points of interest, and accommodations. I was impressed with the both the quality and quantity of options. Once you have selected your waypoints, you can clearly see how much time you can expect to spend driving, how much time you have scheduled between stops, and even approximately how much you can expect gas to cost.
Check the Weather
Start checking the weather a few weeks prior to your departure to be sure that you have proper clothing. This can be especially important when you have kids because they grow so quickly! Beyond the benefits to outfitting your crew with the proper clothing, checking the weather allows you to be prepared for potential weather hazards you might encounter while on the road.
Let your credit card company and bank know that you will be traveling. Sometimes this is as easy as a few clicks in your bank account online or in your app. For your protection, your banks and credit card company may “freeze” your account if you don’t notify them in advance. This would be both inconvenient and embarrassing. Of course, you can remedy this if necessary, but if you get the chance, give them the heads-up. While on the topic of money, be sure to bring some cash with you. While you may not need it, it is better to have a little cash just in case.
Like it or not, they are bound to happen. Bring some wet wipes, paper towels, hand sanitizer, and a Ziploc bag or two. Keep all of these items together and maybe even stow a small package of wipes at each seat. This move may prove to be excessive, or the best advise ever, regardless of what you are thinking right now, don’t skip this step.
When we are driving, I want to stop as little as possible so we can arrive at our destination as quickly as possible. What I often fail to consider (especially when traveling with kiddos) is the importance of exercise and fresh air. When you are driving for more than three hours, adding 10 minutes really isn’t much time. As you are planning your stops, consider locations that provide space to get the wiggles out. A playground would be great, but a small area for a game of Simon Says or to jump rope is all that you need. Exercise is a mood booster and when you are packed like sardines you want the mood to be good.
With devices virtually everywhere, Apps can be a lifesaver! The age of the child (or children), and if you have access to Wi-Fi should be considered. Nothing is more frustrating to kids than trying to play a wi-Fi required game, when service is unavailable. I have experienced the frustration (aka meltdown) and it is not fun. With this in mind, check out this list from Milania's Travels for 20 apps that don't require Wi-Fi. If you want something for the entire car to enjoy, Podcasts are a great option. Kids Listen has a great variety of family friendly podcasts including fictional short stories, curiosity science shows, manners, and the list goes on. If you remember to do so, download everything over Wi-Fi before you leave.
While it requires a fair amount of planning and prep on my part, doling out surprises to the kiddos is now a part of our trip experience. For younger kiddos, I like having a larger quantity of smaller "prize box" gifts. A trip to Party City or the Dollar Tree makes this easy. Elementary school kids do well with a few select activities. Target and Michaels are my go-to shops for these ages. Having themed surprises are fun (Disneyland and Hawaii are perfect for this). You really don't need to overthink it though. Grab a few books, games and toys, your kids will be happy. While you are picking up your goodies, grab tissue paper. I get a color for each kiddo and wrap each surprise individually. I use the term wrap loosely, because I don't worry about perfect corners, or even opacity. I simply want each item covered. Hold onto these surprises and use them at your discretion.
Hangry, it's not a good look - for anyone. If there is just one thing that you plan in advance for your trip, please make it food. Especially if you are traveling with kids. If you can, travel with a cool bag. If you are short on space, freeze a few water bottles which can do double duty (in lieu of ice as well as hydration - just be sure to have some water ready for consumption in addition). Your cool bag will increase your options to pack healthy food options. Yogurt, cheese sticks, and veggies are great to have on hand. If a cool bag is not happening, there are plenty of food options that will keep your crew nourished. Granola bars, dried fruit and jerky top the list on many of our road trips. Good Housekeeping has a nice list of options for healthy travel snacks.
If you find yourself desperate for food at a gas station, this list from Cooking Light will guide you toward healthier options.
Having structure for your trip will keep everyone sane, so make time to plan out your road trip. Especially when traveling with kids. That being said, make room for impulsivity; after all, impulsivity is what makes a road trip exciting!