My family is getting ready for our very first vacation as a family of four. We’re so excited. But our five-year-old is already complaining that we’re driving instead of flying. (And we haven’t even packed the car yet!)
Tackling a seven-hour road trip with a five-year-old and an eight-month-old is a little daunting, I’ll admit. But I’ve been looking at some ways to hopefully survive the trip without spending a fortune on new toys and games. Here’s what we’re planning:
First off, understand that your trip is going to take way longer than Google Maps says it will. That’s just part of road tripping with kids. My husband can normally drive seven solid hours without stopping even once. I’m preparing him for much more frequent stopping on this trip.
If you need to get out and let the kids walk (or crawl) around so that they’re less fussy for the next hour, go for it.
2. Plan for Some Fun Pit Stops
Don’t make your end destination the only thing you’re looking forward to, especially on a long road trip. We’re personally planning a lunch stop at a very cool dairy farm about a third of the way through our trip. It gives us something fun and delicious to look forward to.
Check your route ahead of time on Google Maps. Find a city a few hours in, and look for something fun to visit there. Bonus points if that something lines up with a meal you’ll need to eat anyway.
3. Spend a Few Bucks on New Apps
Even parents with strict screen time rules are likely to relax the rules a bit on long drives. We certainly do!
Our daughter will be using the shared family tablet for some of the trip. I’m giving her a $5 budget to spend on new apps. She’s got some old favorites on there, but new options will keep her engaged for longer.
4. Invest in Comfy Kid Headphones
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to actually hear all those new apps my daughter will be using. When her tablet is on, her headphones get plugged in. We had a hard time finding ones that work for her, but settled on the kind that are embedded in a fleece headband.
Luckily, you can get decent kids’ headphones (with volume control!) for well under $20 on Amazon. They’re an excellent investment, but if money is tight, you could consider using a cash back rewards credit card to pay for them. Use that same card to pay for your gas, food and lodging on your trip, and they’ve paid for themselves. Of course, you’ll need good credit for most cash back rewards cards. If you don’t know where your credit stands, you can check your credit scores for free on Credit.com. (Also check out some of these great electronic gifts kids love.)
5. Put Together a Coloring Kit
Most little kids can color for ages on end. My vacation coloring kit includes coloring books, plain notepads and crayons galore. I’ll also pack her some of the stickers from our seemingly endless supply in the art cabinet.
The trick here is to keep the coloring stuff accessible. Put everything in a bag or backpack that will slide beside the colorer’s car seat during the drive.
6. Check out Reusable Sticker Kits
If you don’t mind spending $5 on extra entertainment for the trip, check out reusable sticker kits. You can find them on all sorts of themes on Amazon. We bought a fairy one and a cupcake decorating book for our trip. I swear the five-year-old is more excited about opening these than she is about going on vacation.
7. Pack a Cooler
You probably already know snacks are indispensable on a road trip with kids. But packing a small cooler can give you more options, especially for healthier snacks. Just be sure the cooler can fit between your kids’ seats and the front seats. That way you won’t have to stop the car every time your kids need a snack.
Our snack list includes bottled water, string cheese, grapes, apples, small oranges and mixed nuts. We’ll also throw in some usually forbidden unhealthy snacks because we’re on vacation, after all.
8. Strap on the Pacifier
Traveling with an infant who likes a paci to sleep? Invest in a pacifier strap and strap the paci to the car seat. We keep ours strapped to the side of the car seat near the front passenger seat. This makes it way easier to find when the baby is ready for a nap, but can’t reach his pacifier.
9. Drive Over Nap Time
This is a simple one that just involves planning. If you can, drive when your kids would normally be sleeping. Even our five-year-old, who doesn’t always nap these days, will knock out in the car under the right conditions.
Some parents prefer to leave late in the evening and drive overnight. I’m too old for that now. But we’ll be leaving for our road trip around the baby’s morning nap time.
10. Pack Blankets & Pillows
With that in mind, pack blankets and pillows. We’re always warmer in the front seat than the kids because of the sun coming through the windshield. So we crank up the A/C and then the kids get cold. Pack some lightweight blankets and small pillows so kids can make themselves comfy.
There are all sorts of pillow-like gadgets on the market for kids. But check out your car seat’s instruction manual before you use anything that attaches to the seat!
11. Try a Family Audiobook
We’ll be listening to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone together for some of our trip. Other excellent chapter books that will please a variety of ages include the Chronicles of Narnia series, the Boxcar Children books, and the Little House on the Prairie books.
We get many of our audiobooks from our library’s app, so they’re free. Other options include Audible and Playster, which are both subscription-based services. Both have free trials, though, if you just want to give it a shot for your road trip.
12. Pack a Potty
If you’re in the early stages of potty training a toddler, put on pull-ups just in case. If your child has been potty trained for a while, he’s not going to want to wear a diaper, but little kids also aren’t great at holding it.
The best way to solve this problem is to pack a small portable training potty in the back. You can pull over just about anywhere for a kid to use this potty. It’s gross but better than having to find a laundromat to wash your car seat cover after an accident.
13. Go to the Library
We just picked up a huge stack of books from the library yesterday. They’ll live in the car while we’re vacationing so none get lost. Reading aloud from the front seat is an easy way to keep the kids entertained, though showing off pictures could be more complicated if yours are still rear-facing.