Recently we completed an epic 5 day event of driving across the country, Arizona to Pennsylvania. 10 states, 5 days, 3 kids, 2 adults and 1 dog. All in one car with three rows. It was interesting to say the least. I have written a few road trip posts in the past, but this one I specifically wanted to focus on some additional tips for longer drives, like over multiple days. These types of trips need some careful consideration and planning, but if I survived it, so can you! To be honest, it wasn’t as bad as I imagined it would be. Obviously we had moments where I wanted to just jump out of the car but more often than not, it wasn’t bad. So if you are planning a multi-day road trip, whether for fun or for necessity, here are some tips and tricks on how to survive driving across the country- with kids!
Plan your trip right
Before you go, look at your trip and divide up your traveling between major cities. Depending on your kid’s ages and your deadline, I wouldn’t aim to drive more than 6 1/2 to 7 hours a day because you WILL have to stop (see the second tip). These stops will add into your total time and you don’t want to be driving all night with kids most likely. I like to stay in or around major cities to minimize the risk of getting caught in a strange place at night, and also make sure you are traveling along major roads if you can.
Expect plenty of stops
Just like any activity with kids, you can expect driving with kids to take longer than without them. When my husband and I drove from Massachusetts to Arizona years ago, it look us 3 days. Now, it look us 5 days and it was less miles. We planned to leave every day around 8:30 and stopped every 2-3 hours and for lunch. We would look for places to eat with a play area or got to-do and found a park to eat at. This gave the kids time to run around and play some, which was key to their (and hence, OUR) sanity.
Prepare for everything you can imagine- ahead of time!
Make sure you have extra clothes, tissues, a first aid kit, pillows, small blankets, emergency medicines- you name it. Think of anything that could happen and what you would need for it. Use all of your cars cubbies and containers to organize your stuff too. Don’t waste that space!
Bring the right entertainment
….and lots of it! TV’s, DVD’s, movies, iPads, crayons, paper, coloring books, mazes, Mad Libs, travel games- all of these are my go-to’s when traveling with my kids. Don’t forget your chargers and extra batteries if you need them. I also like to give each kid their own zippered pencil case with their own crayons, pencils and pens so there is no fighting (or at least less of it). Get the travel games that are magnetic to minimize lost pieces. Each kid gets a pillow and small blanket if they want to sleep (which mine NEVER do, but oh well) and their favorite stuff for snuggling, of course!
Bring the right snacks
I like to pack a nice mix of healthy and junky snacks for our long trips and keep two bags: one for regular snacks and a cooler bag for cold snacks. Pick things in individual packages to make your life easier- no one wants to dish out a bowl of something on the road. If you want to save money, buy big boxes of dry snacks, like pretzels, goldfish or crackers, and bag them up yourself before you leave. Same goes with the cold snacks. Individually packaged cheeses, squeeze yogurts and applesauces or mini boxes of milk are all good ideas to eat as you drive. Keep a bag ready for trash too, I like to keep some grocery bags in my car and use one for trash in my console and ditch it the end of each day.
Be smart with your hotel choices
If you are traveling with multiple kids, you will likely be going bonkers at the end of the day so it’s a good idea to splurge some and get a suite at your hotel; it’s probably not too much more and will be a LIFE SAVER! We like to stay at hotels with free breakfast and a “manager’s reception” too, like Homewood Suites (and no I am not being paid to say that!). Free food and cocktails? Count me in. We also like to stay in places with pools and hot tubs so the kids can swim and everyone can relax some.
Get your kids involved
I like to get my kids maps or download map apps for them to look at so they can plot our journey as we go, they like to learn about the states we are traveling through and it helps to keep them busy too.
Have low expectations
Seriously. Expect fighting and temper tantrums- then if they don’t happen, it’ll be a pleasant surprise!
Take turns driving, if you can
This is so important to do if you can. Long driving can be so tiring, which is both mentally and physically exhausting. It’s a good idea to switch if you are traveling with your spouse or someone else so you can get a break. If you are driving alone, then make a few extra stops.
Make it fun along the way
If you have to drive, you may as well make it fun! We like the Roadtrippers App to help you find some fun things to do or see along the way and also I’ll use my Geocaching app to make those rest stops even more exciting. Little things like that make the drive part of the vacation or adventure, not just a hassle.
So, what are YOUR tricks and tips for driving long distances with kids?
Want more road trip tips? Check out these posts!