This post contains affiliate links, which provide me a small percentage from your purchase at no extra cost to you
Road Trippin’ with the littles. AKA: rollin with the homiesssss (cue my Tai hand moves)…anddd now I really want to watch Clueless. As if! As if…I could talk my husband into watching a chick flick with me after the kids go to bed. I’d have to agree to some kind of car chase or superhero movie on a different night cause compromise and yada yada but I’m just not ready to make that kind of sacrifice in my life right now. *sighs* Anyway, I digress.
So. The fam and I recently took a few trips together: an 8 hour drive to visit my sis in law (hi Allie if you’re reading this!) for 5 days in Cartersville GA and then a 12 plus hour drive to beach it up in Cape San Blas, FL for a week. Yes, we drove both trips from our home in STL MO! We (cough cough *I*) spent a ton of time planning, researching, and prepping to make the long drives go as smoothly as possible with a one and four year old in tow. Parents, if you love to travel, it can be done with kids! AND you can enjoy it, too. I’m here to spill some of my tips and tricks learned along the way.
Ya know how I keep using the word trip instead of vacation? Yeaaaahhhhh about that. Soooooooo…it’s….completely intentional. Traveling with children is a trip, not a vacation. Vacations are relaxing and rejuvenating. Trips take us new places new but don’t necessarily allow for rest or relaxation. Personally, I know zero children chill enough to allow for any kind of adult rest or relaxation. But you now what? Trips rock too.
Unless you bring backup, that is (cue the grandparents/nanny/whoever you can trick into getting into a car with you and a pack of wild animals for eight plus hours), you’re going on a trip. So yes, consider bringing helpers if you’re looking for rest and relaxation while you’re gone… but that’s not always an option and that’s ok! The key here is having the right expectations, which is my numero uno, most importante, piece of advice.
Soon you’ll be rollin’ with your homies.
Tip Numero Uno: Set up everyone’s expectations for success.
If you’ve already driven a long distance with your crumb crushers then you already know about Murphy’s law of time. The law? Time no longer exists as it did pre-children. A drive that took three hours pre-kids now takes four. Or five. It’s physics. Or something like that. Because of this unfortunate scientific phenomena, we make sure to allow for lotssssss of extra time for stops.
There are the “get me the biggest coffee they have” stops. The bathroom stops for the overly caffeinated parents. The stretch/movement breaks for the seemingly caffeinated children. The diaper changing stops. The “oh sh** the baby blew out his diaper” stops (note: blowouts typically occur five minutes after getting a fresh diaper and/or while the offender is just about to take a nap). The preschooler that didn’t have to go to the bathroom fifteen minutes ago but is now going to pee his pants if you don’t stop the car right now stops. The parental sanity stops.
Arrive earlier than expected because you allowed for 2,349 stops but only needed to stop 598 times? Great! I see no problem here. The goal here is to get there sane. Personally, when I’m not feeling rushed I’m much better able to enjoy myself and embrace the potential chaos.
Our kids need some extra prep in the expectations department before a big trip, too. There is SO much excitement that builds up leading to a trip that it’s easy for kids to get over-exited but then feel let-down when things don’t go as they had it planned in their minds (I’m thinking their plan involves teleportation). Emotional highs and lows are the makings of a perfect storm for a tantrum.
To get the kids on a more even keel, take some time every day the week or so before your long drive to talk about it. This conversation is especially important to have with your routine-loving personalities. You know your kids best but as a group, most preschool aged children thrive on routine, so trips and big changes can really turn their worlds upside down.
Using language your kids easily understand, explain what your travel day(s) will look like. Preschoolers have very little understanding of time (this develops close to age 8 but varies child to child), so talk about the sequence of events as opposed to using terms like “hours”. Ex: “We will wake up early and have a special breakfast-we’ll get McDonald’s AND eat in the car! Next, we’ll drive and drive and drive all day long-drive during lunch and eat in the car, drive during nap time and nap in the car, and we will get there at dinnertime!”
Another thing that will help get them mentally prepared is to help them feel a sense of ownership over the trip. Have another conversation dedicated to brainstorming activities that you can do together to have fun while in the car. Offer choices if needed-limit to two choices for younger children. Ex: “What special toys do you think we should pack to play in the car? Should we pack crayons or markers to draw with? Should we play card games or bingo between movies?” Etc. I’ve personally had a lot of success giving Jack a child size backpack and saying, “Ok, you can pack anything you want in here to play with on our trip as long as it all fits in this bag!” This both gives him ownership and eliminates a potential battle over bringing a zillion toys along.
Tip Numero Dos: Vacation Mode
It’s time to apply…vacation mode. Different rules apply now. The only rule? There are no rules. Jk. Kinda. As parents, Adam and I like to be much more lax when we’re on a trip. It’s like survival mode but sprinkle in some fun. Leave all your parenting guilt at home-it’s time to parrrrtayyyyyyyyy (motherhood style, which oftentimes involves bedtime at a reasonable hour but I’m not mad about it).
We usually limit screen time pretty strictly at home. While traveling? Nope. Do I feel guilty about it? Nope. Cause I left my mom guilt at home. We usually limit certain snacks and aim for healthier options. While traveling? Not so much. We’ll let Jack and Sawyer eat more sugary treats, junk food, etc. And say it with me, not feel guilty about it. The idea is that the entire family gets to relax, let our inhibitions go, and really enjoy ourselves. Kick that mom guilt in the tush and slam the door in her face when you leave for your trip!
Tip Numero Tres: Setting up the car
For road trips, I like to pimp my ride. A few things I always include:
- The MVP: A snack bin
- If you do nothing else, make sure you have one of these. Fill her up with paper towels/napkins, hand wipes, extra cutlery, sanitizer (aka hanitizer) and of course, alllllll the snacks. Any bin will do!
- We love to go with novelty items to make it extra special
- Side note: on our way home from FL I saw a van with a Sam’s size box full of gummy bears. I really, really wanted to stow away in that car. That’s exactly the kind of vacation mode, no guilt energy we’re striving for.
- Car trash can
- Set it somewhere that the adults and kids can reach. It’s a much nicer ride when you’re not the designated trash person!
- Ours has a lid and is waterproof/leakproof-all musts and a strap that keeps it in the same place
- $9 on Amazon
- Consider seat setup
- Can you get creative with everyone’s seats? Obviously we’re only talking safe/car seats properly installed options but especially if you’re driving a car with a third row (whoop whoop love my van!), maybe things can get switched up for the trip. Here’s what we do: we move Jack (4 and forward facing) to the third row for the trip and keep Sawyer in the second row, rear facing. With that setup, the two boys are able to look at each other and an adult can comfortably sit in the seat next to Sawyer. Options will vary a ton depending on your child’s age and size for car seat safety, plus the vehicle you drive, but it’s something to consider!
- I’m a human camel. I drink. so. much. water. In addition to an insulated water bottle for each family member, I always pack a humongo water bottle for refills. Adam likes to refer to it as my tankard. I use it to refill my kid’s cups as needed. I drink straight out of it and look like I wet myself because I always spill on myself. Yeahhh-linking one with a straw so you don’t have to suffer that fate yourself. Btw marry someone with about the same bladder control as you (aka next to none); this is the secret to marriage success.
- $35 on Amazon – I paid around 30 at Target a few years ago for my spilly pee pants one
- Diaper caddy
- A travel tray
- Strap a travel tray around your preschooler for a built-in table! They can eat on it, use it as a surface to draw on, keep all their treasures nearby, and it comes with an iPad stand so they’re not looking down and straining their necks. Ours has saved many a chicken nugget from the floor and I have to say there’s a lot of value in that both for Jack and me who is 100% going to gobble up his leftovers.
- $27 on Amazon
I have a bunch of favorite toys and games that we always pack on our trips but that will have to come another day and time cause nap time is just about over!