One of the perks of working from home is my ability to write from anywhere. So ever since our kids were infants, we’ve been a road trip family. It’s not uncommon for me to get the urge to get out of town, to want a change of scenery and perhaps a helping hand from Grandma (who happens to be two states away). In fact, I think that my ability to pack bags and be on the road in under an hour is some sort of spiritual gift.
Of course, we’ve had our fair share of disasters—diaper blowouts, essential sleepy-time friends left in remote places, and more recently a broken water pump five hours from home. (That last one just so happened to be when I was traveling alone with all three boys, ages 7, 4, and 8 months.)
Over the years, we’ve learned a few things that have made our family road trips a bit simpler. And with spring break and summer vacations quickly approaching, I want to share a few of our stay-sane tips for family road trips.
1. Don’t let your kids pack their own entertainment.
If your kids are under age 10, then don’t let them be in charge of their own travel bags. You’ll only end up with
A) A backpack full of LEGOs that get lost in the first 15 minutes.
B) The one toy that always becomes a source of contention.
C) A coloring book without crayons, several empty Tupperware, and that Cubs hat you’ve been missing for the last month.
Instead, take the reigns. Pack each kid a personalized bag of good travel toys, books, and other entertainment. Don’t let them know what’s inside the bag until after you’re on the road (build up that anticipation!), and always include something that’s new or hasn’t been played with in a while. New or long-lost toys always make the best diversions.
2. Pack snacks—lots of them.
I’m a habitual road eater. I get it honest from my mom who never travels more than two hours away without a bag of Twizzlers. What I’ve found, however, is that bringing our own snacks and water bottles tends to minimize stops, cut down costs, and keep our sons’ tummies content. Even if you don’t usually eat in the car, consider making an exception and just pack a handheld vacuum.
3. Take advantage of rest areas.
Seriously. If you are traveling with kids, state-operated rest areas are the best places to stop for bathroom breaks or to stretch your legs. The restrooms tend to be well maintained, and many of them have picnic tables and green space so you can eat lunch while the kids run around. And if you happen to see a tall bearded man jogging with a herd of boys behind him, don’t worry—it’s just us.
4. Don’t be a stickler on screen time.
In our home, we have boundaries when it comes to screen time (TV, iPad, Nintendo, and so on). However, on road trips we loosen the reigns. Our boys have not yet gone brain dead because they got to watch a movie or two on the 7-hour trip to Grandma’s house. So in the name of parental sanity, friend: Do what you gotta do.
5. Stay flexible.
On road trips, I tend to be the insane one—the parent who wants to get out the door at the first crack of dawn and limit everyone’s fluid intake to minimize restroom breaks. Thankfully, my husband has mellowed me out and helped me see the advantage of remaining flexible when traveling with kids. Yes, we still make a plan and try to stick to it, but we also allow space for the unexpected. One way or another we’ll get there. Eventually. We hope.