Embarking on a road trip with young children can be a daunting thought. These are some of the things we do to make it a fun and memorable vacation for everyone.
Plan…But Not to a “T”
Before we go on a road trip we map out the total miles we will be driving, then divide them into segments, usually based on how much time we think the kids can be in the car without going stir crazy. We map out where we might be at breakfast, lunch, or dinner and time it with stops to get gas that way we minimize the amount of stops in a day. If the stop is in a town or city, we try to do a bit of research to find if there are interesting things for the kids to see. It doesn’t have to be a big museum or important piece of history, sometimes a park or lake can be just the thing to break up the trip and stretch tired little legs. Other times it might be a diner or hole-in-the-wall eating place that locals rave about that makes for a memorable stop on the trip. When we drove through New Mexico on our trip to visit family in California we spent the night in a small town and saw a war memorial in a park. Stopping to take pictures next to a tank and fighter jet made our son so excited he still talks about it.
Let the Kids Pack Their Own Bags
Each child gets a small rolling backpack that they fill with books, small toys, and a stuffed animal to sleep with. When they are tired of watching DVDs or listening to the radio, this keeps them entertained for hours. Especially now that they play so well with each other, it gives us time to keep going without having to stop. We do insist that they be in charge of their bag—we do not carry it for them or check to see if everything is packed before we check out of the hotel. It’s a good way to teach them to be responsible for their own things.
Bring a Cooler
Our family doesn’t eat out too often, so when we do it’s considered a treat by the kids. On road trips it’s inevitable that we eat at restaurants since driving through rest stops and small towns usually don’t provide much of a choice. After a while, though, even the kids will get tired of fast food and we end up just driving, disgusted at the thought of another fast food meal. What has saved us money and time was to pack a cooler with fresh fruit and vegetables (cut up, cleaned, and ready to eat), bread, cheese, and cold cuts for making sandwiches, even pita chips and containers of hummus. These provide such a refreshing change that the kids can go through bags of clementines and clamshells of strawberries in a matter of minutes.
Create Family Traditions
When my husband was younger he and his family took many road trips between San Francisco and Los Angeles. They always stopped to eat at Pea Soup Andersen’s in Santa Nella, California with their signature windmill. Now when we are on our road trips and find ourselves on the 5 freeway we make a stop there as well. The kids love to hear stories of the road trips my husband took when he was a child, and they always make a point to have their picture taken in the “head holes” of Hap-pea and Pea-wee after eating a bowl of the famous pea soup with all the fixings.
We also like to get a Christmas ornament when we are on a trip. When we visited New Orleans we decided on a fleur de lis, since we are big New Orleans Saints football fans. On a day trip to Austin we picked up a red, white, and blue elephant at the State Capitol. Then, when we decorate for Christmas each year we open the box and remember all the trips we took together as a family.
Our kids have decided that they like to drive places instead of taking an airplane. Just last year we made two road trips back to California, logging 4,000 miles for each trip, plus driving to Orlando for the Disney Cruise. Yes, the driving was exhausting and many times seemed endless, but I do agree with the kids. We are “forced” to talk to and entertain each other. The time we spent together as a family made for many unforgettable moments.
How do you and your family road trip?