With the holidays here, I am staring down over 30 hours in the car with our kids. 30 HOURS!!!! If you are like me, you will probably be spending some time in the car with your kids traveling to see family or going on vacation during the upcoming holidays. I used to be intimidated by the thought of a long road trip in the car with kids. Anything longer than four hours and I was not into it. Mr. H on the other hand loves road trips. He doesn’t mind driving and it saves us a ton of $$. He once drove to Seattle (13 hours of driving) when the boys and I flew and met him there! After surviving a 9 hour each-way drive to San Diego this summer, I have come around; road trips with kids can be amazing.
I learned I can survive 9 hours in one day in the car with our two kids (2YO & 5 YO), by myself, and actually have fun! Here are my best tips for how you too can survive any length roadtrip with kids:
Build Up To It: We did not immediately start the kids on 9 hour road trips and expect success. We have been doing 3-4 hour road trips since they were young. Start early. At approximately age 2 we started doing 5-6 hour road trips with big D and are only now starting to do 8-9 hour road trips. Starting small helped me gain the confidence that we could do longer road trips. By planning shorter road trips, we were able to experiment with stopping half way, different types of car entertainment, different timing, etc. For example, our kids do awesome when we leave around naptime mid-day. Leaving later in the evening around bed time tends to be tougher. Trying different options helps you get to know what works best for your family.
Create a Schedule: A lot of the time in the car can be hard and boring for anyone. To make it more interesting, and diversify the experience a little, break up your trip into different entertainment sections for your kids. For our trips, I like to include quiet/nap time, screen time, and social time (ie. time when we talk or play games). When we first get in the car, I layout the schedule for the kids, so they know what to expect when (ie. “We will play on ipads for 2 hours, then we will have a 2 hour quiet time, then we will play some I spy”, etc.)
Set Expectations: Like anything with kids, kids are better behaved and a lot happier when they can anticipate what is going on (aren’t we all?) Talk about your upcoming car ride, what you will see on the drive, what your schedule will be, etc. Get your kids input on anything that is flexible..where they want to eat, stop, etc.
Be Flexible: Sure you want to make it 100 miles before your first pit stop, but then your 2 year old starts to throw a fit in the back seat. Sometimes it is easier to stop for five minutes now than to wait. Its good to have a conversation with your kids up front about being flexible and we are all in this together to make it go smoother for everyone.
Bring Lots of Entertainment: No one wants to hear “are we there yet?” endlessly for nine hours. To survive any road trip with kids, you need to pack lots of entertainment options…ipad, coloring books, trucks, whatever your kids dig. I pack a backpack for each kid with a bunch of toys I know they like and can self entertain with.
Boredom is OK: At the same time that I pack a lot of entertainment options for the kids, it is also OK for kids to be bored. There are so many studies that encourage us as parents to let our kids be bored more, road trips are perfect for encouraging this. (Check out articles on this here, here, and here.) I knew we had reached success when big D, on a recent 4 hour car trip, about an hour in, told me he wanted to turn off the ipad and enjoy the scenery. Enjoy the scenery! Hah! Amazing!
Car Games: Car games can be good bonding and also help me as a driver from getting too bored. I don’t want to play car games for nine hours, but half an hour here and there is fun. Our favorites are I Spy and 20 Questions, but here are two websites with even more ideas to try (here and here).
Food is your Friend: Like anything with kids, we bring a ton of snacks in the car. 1. it helps delay the “I’m hungry” stop a little longer and 2. it can be really good entertainment.
Podcasts and Audiobooks are Not Just For Adults: Big D and I did a ton of driving this summer and he loved listening to podcasts on the way. Previously, I hadn’t really thought about podcasts for kids, but it is a great, non-screen time way to entertain kids on long drives. In the past we really enjoyed the Classics for Kids podcast. Here are a few other podcast lists for kids if you are looking for new ones to try: on Fatherly, Podbay, and NPR.
Get Comfy: Car seats can be uncomfortable, especially after a couple of hours. If we are going to be in the car for a long car trip, we bring a pillow, blanket, and loveys for each kid to be as comfy as they can be, plus maybe they will actually nap for a bit.
What are your best tips and tricks for long road trips with kids? Let me know your ideas, with so much car time ahead of us, we could use some new tricks to try!
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