Road trips can be a fun family vacation. Whether you are headed to a vacation destination or just Grandma’s house, with a few of these tips for planning a successful road trip, the whole adventure can go smoothly.
Today’s post is a guest post by mom and traveler Heather Reed.
Life with four kids isn’t always easy or blissful. Occasionally, it’s pure chaos mixed in with some insanity (on my part). When my husband and I decided to make to move from San Luis Obispo, CA to Dallas, TX, we knew it was going to be a lot of work. Flying that distance with our kiddos wasn’t really an option, but a big road trip was!
I had two visions for what a long road trip would be like: one being a lot of fun, well-planned activities and destinations with six smiling faces eager to embrace life and our love for learning. The other vision was complete misery, four cranky kids asking every minute the phrase that makes my skin crawl, the phrase no parent can avoid, “Are we there yet?”
Determined to get as close to the first picture in my head as possible, I decided to embrace the Boy Scout motto, “Always be prepared!” Even though I strive to be, I am not always the most organized person. If I told you I was, my husband would probably be the first person to comment on this article calling me out.
However, my desire for a positive, successful trip encouraged me to plan ahead and think through what I packed and why. I asked for advice and received a few tips as well. Fortunately, our road trip was a hit! My kids were happy and entertained the entire trip. Only once did my 7-year-old ask when we were going to get there! Most of all, we enjoyed each other’s company, laughed a lot, and know we could do it again! Here are some things we did:
#1 Organize, Organize, Organize.
One of my pet peeves while traveling are the toys, books, uneaten food, and trash that accumulates and floats around the van. Determined to have as clutter-less a trip as possible, I wanted everything that entered the van to be in some sort of container or organizer. Luckily, there are some amazing backseat organizers on the market today. The biggest thing you want to remember before you purchase any organizer is the space you have in your vehicle where it’ll be going. If you can’t afford one, or don’t want to spend your money on an organizer or two, or in our case, five, don’t worry, you can make your own! Just measure the space between the seats and find a tote or box lying around your house. You can even cut up a box you aren’t using, cut dividers out of it, and tape them into a box or tote to your unique specifications. They might not look pretty, but it will definitely do the job!
#2 Girl Or Boy, They All Need Toys!
Have you ever asked your kids to pick their own toys for a trip, give them a small bag, and they stuff it so full that they can’t play with any items inside that bag without them all spilling out? That’s what happens in our house every time, so this time, I decided to pick which toys and books I wanted my kiddos to have on our trip. I gathered their favorites and placed them neatly in the organizers. Here are some suggestions for items that will keep them busy and happy for hours on end.
- Action Figures or Army Guys, Cars, Dolls (only a few and only their favorites)!
- Coloring Books and Crayons (a zip lock baggie of crayons for each child).
- Etch-A-Sketch or Magnadoodle
- A Small Notebook and Pencil For Each Child
- A Small Zip Lock Bag Of Legos For Each Child
#3 Surprise, Surprise!
One of my Trekaroo friends (thanks, BAT!) gave me a great idea ahead of time to pack little surprises for my kiddos that I pull out at random times (ie: when we’ve been driving in the desert for a few hours, and the kids are starting to get restless). When I pulled out their first surprise, they were so excited, it was like Christmas! They laughed and played with their new toys for at least an hour without stopping! The little surprises cost only a dollar each and my budget was $10 total. I shopped in the dollar section of Target and in the arts and crafts area for kits that were on sale. Here’s what I bought:
- Window Clings (We bought race car designs).
- New Books (Hardback for my younger kids and an easy reader for my 2nd grader).
- Color Wonder Markers & Coloring Books
- Hot Wheels Or A New Music Toy
- A Kit With Foam Sheets & Foam “Robots & Space” Stickers
#4 Less Is More
This one is a bit obvious, but it has to be said. Packing light is the key to room under everyone’s legs to stretch out, versus stuff crammed between seats & piled so high, that the kids are practically sitting with their legs crisscrossed in front of them! If you’re planning on camping, here’s a link to an excellent and thorough list of items you’ll need: http://www.trekaroo.com/traveltips/tip/camping-packing-list-and-gear-recommendations-for-families. If you’re planning on staying in hotel rooms, remember that most hotels have laundry service or a laundry area, so you don’t need to pack 7 pairs of everything! Of course, check the weather forecast for the places you’re visiting before you pack and plan on layering your clothes. For the summertime, I use the 5-4-3-2-1 rule.
- Five pairs of socks and undergarments
- Four short sleeve shirts
- Three shorts and pj’s
- Two, long sleeve shirts and jeans,
- One sweatshirt, raincoat, a pair of sandals, tennis shoes or hiking shoes, bathing suit, and a fancier outfit for going out!
#5 Plan Your Route
Check Trekaroo.com for some excellent suggestions for places to travel in route to your destination! If you have some extra time, plan for at least one fun stop a day. It makes a big difference in your children’s attitudes if they’re able to run and play for a few hours and will make a huge difference in your peace of mind too! If you have an android phone, Trekaroo is gearing up to launch their Android App making Trekaroo mobile, Hooray!
#6 Drive At Nap Times & At Night
Make it a second honeymoon and enjoy some quiet time in the car with your hubby! We love to drive for a few hours while our kids are asleep and talk together about our plans, how the day went, etc… without distractions.
#7 Pack Snacks!
Some great kid and car-friendly items are: fruit snacks, fresh fruit (apples, grapes, peaches, and plums), pre-cut veggies (carrots, celery, jicama, bell pepper, broccoli), trail mix (we make our own with pretzels, raisins, rice Chex’s, almonds, walnuts, coconut, and a few M&M’s) , and whole wheat crackers. For the fruits and veggies, bring a small ice chest to keep them fresh.
#8 Time Can Fly With Books On Tape!
My mom used to check out books on tape for us, and I’m happy to continue this tradition for our kids. The library offers an amazing selection as well as downloadable books and CDs for portable devices such as iPods, mp3 players, and iPads. Check your local library for selections!
#9 Pre-Program Your GPS
If you’re visiting several different destinations and you have a portable GPS, before your trip, program the addresses into it! That way, you never get lost.
#10 Eat Your Meals In The Car
Another one of my Trekaroo friends (thanks, LiLing!) gave me a very helpful suggestion. She told me to eat most of our meals in the car, that way when we stop, we’re not wasting running around time by sitting and eating!
If you’re not planning on off-roading or hiking on your road trip, I highly recommend purchasing or borrowing umbrella strollers. They are extremely compact, take up barely any room, and come with sun visors. If you have more than one child, they even make links to connect the two together!
#12 Water To Go
We always pack our reusable water bottles and purchase gallon size jugs at rest stops to refill them. On average, we spend about $3 a jug which refills a family of 6’s water bottle about 2 times, versus $1.29 per water bottle per person a few times a day! It’s a huge savings!
Thanks to some preplanning and organization, our road trip was extremely successful! The kiddos were happy and only asked a few times when we’d get there. We enjoyed each other’s company and had fun visiting different states on our way there. Good luck on your road trip, and happy travels!
Heather Reed is the Texas Destination Guroo for the online parent-driven family travel website Trekaroo.com. Her passion for travel stems from taking trips with her family when she was little and she makes sure that her own children have similar exposure. Heather likes to incorporate learning into every trip and loves watching her children as they discover new places and have new adventures.