Family Road Trip Tips

Any other moms who grew up in the 80s? When plane trips vacations were absolutely not the norm and station wagons (with wood panels) flew down the highway every weekend from May through September?

Growing up, my grandparents lived 4 and 3.5 hours away so once every few months, my parents would pile us in the car, with our dog, and we would hit the road for a weekend (or sometimes longer) visit.  Our summer vacations meant spending the week before going through checklists that my mom prepared, shopping for travel sized boxes of ketchup, mustard and laundry detergent. It meant new sticker books, checking out out a huge bag of books on tape from the library and stocking up on dramamine.  I remember coolers full of Shasta and stopping at the Osceola Cheese Store for a halfway there snack. My mom will tell you that I never stopped saying “I wish we could just beam ourselves there” because I would get so carsick, and I couldn’t read to pass the time.

I cherish those memories. So when my husband and I were planning our first family vacation after we married with his then 6 and 8 year old kids, I was so excited to create our own memories as we drove across Kansas to take them to see the “snowy mountains” (as my step son kept calling them) in Colorado. I Googled every single idea out there for entertaining kids on long car trips. I planned out meals to make while staying in our cabin to save money on eating out. I made packing list after packing list.

And then reality set in. By the time we left that August, I was 16 weeks pregnant and horribly sick. Everything made me nauseated. I realized that we’d never driven longer than an hour with the kids anywhere and now we were talking about 8 – 9 hours. My husband convinced me to purchase portable DVD players for the our van. Some of my plans turned out to be completely ridiculous and some of them actually genius. So given my childhood history, and now three years of car trips under my belt with my now 2, 8, and 10 year olds, here’s my list of road trip tips for any family.

  1. Own (or rent or borrow) a minivan. Forget how uncool it is. Embrace how you can pack kids in with the ability to have them not able to touch each other.  And the insane amount of cupholders.

  2. Bring snacks. Lots and lots of snacks. My rule on a road trip is eat whenever you want (with limited drinking! – my older kids were already potty trained by the time we started road tripping and the 2 year old is still in diapers so I’m sure this will change when potty training starts).

  3. Put together activity clipboards. I bought clipboards that open to store markers, pencils and paper. I bought activity pads from the Dollar Store and laminated pages of license plates to cross off and road trip bingo cards I found online. I also put in some Window Markers which are pretty cool and some plain paper for drawing.

  4. Movies, movies, movies. We let them binge on them as much as they want as long as they are wearing headphones. We check them out from the library the week before by the dozen. Bad parenting? Maybe? But in a confined space, I prefer peace.

  5. Sing-a-longs are fun! All those wee sing tapes that I had as a child are now available in digital format.  There are even podcasts of kids songs and it’s so fun to sing silly songs with the kids.  

  6. Play games! We love the alphabet game (spotting things as we drive that start with various letters of the alphabet) and 20 Questions (think of an object, person or place and people guess by asking yes or no questions).

  7. Be flexible! I’m a planner and planning makes me feel less stressed but I also am completely okay with some of the plans being changed, trashed or re-done due to circumstances or other opportunities that we find.


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