Let’s talk the actual “traveling” part of travel – the journey itself.
Road trips can be a really inexpensive way to travel, and they aren’t half bad if you plan them right.
We took a 16-hour road trip to Chicago when our kids were 8 months and 2 years old.
And let me tell you how it went….
It went GREAT!
I’m not even kidding. We drove overnight with my husband and I switching off driving every few hours.
Intrigued? Let me share my traveling secrets with you!!
Welcome to Part 4 of my ‘Traveling With Kids’ series.
Just in case you’ve missed the others, we’ve already discussed:
Part 1 | Train, Planes, and Automobiles – Booking Travel with Kids
Part 2 | 5 Easy Strategies to Plan the Perfect Trips with Your Kids
Part 3 | Essential Packing Tips for Family Vacations
Part 5 | How to Make Your Vacation with Kids FUN and EASY
Here I’ll be going into road trips, which is my husband’s preferred method of travel. However these tips apply to ALL methods of travel (especially points #2, #4, and #5).
And no matter what stage of planning you’re in, be sure to check out my travel checklist. This freebie gives you a great checklist for planning, preparation, and packing.
Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links. See our disclosure policy for more details.
As we’ve discussed in the methods of travel post, there are both pros/cons to road trips with kids.
- You aren’t as limited in the amount of luggage you are able to bring
- Often cheaper than flying
- You aren’t limited to destinations near airports
- If you plan out your stops right, the journey becomes part of the vacation
- Not a good idea if you have family members who are prone to motion sickness
- Hidden costs can quickly add up (fuel, lodging, food, attractions etc.)
- More time is spent driving which can eat away from time at your destination
#1| Plan Out Your Driving Schedule
It’s a good idea to break driving time on road trips into 2-3 hours chunks. That’s really the most time you can expect young children to sit in the car before they need to eat, potty, and stretch their legs.
If you want to keep your sanity, aim for 6-7 hours of travel during the day. Your schedule will roughly look like this:
8:00 – 9:00 am Breakfast
9:00 – 11:30am Driving
11:30 – 12:30pm Lunch
12:30 – 3:30pm Driving with Quiet/Nap Time
3:30 – 4:00pm Snack/Short Exercise Break
4:00 – 5:30pm Driving
5:30 – 6:30pm Dinner
6:30 – 8:00pm Check in at hotel/Chill time
A few notes on timing road trips….
- Road trips usually go pretty well the first day, but realize the second day you probably won’t be able to do such long stretches in the car as the kids are totally over it at this point.
- When you are planning possible attractions/stops and hotels, make sure you plan for a variety of different options as you never know what will happen.
- If you have a long drive (like 12-14 hours), consider driving overnight while the kids sleep. For your own sanity, bring another adult to alternate driving an LOTS of coffee.
- If you want your kids to sleep in the car, be sure to plan to start driving 30 minutes to an hour before you want them to ideally fall asleep.
#2| Be Prepared with Appropriate Busy Activities
There are variety of options for entertaining your kids during road trips. The perfect “busy” toy is one that is quiet, reusable, and doesn’t make a big mess. To make it easy for you I wrote an entire article on the perfect busy toys for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.
Before I show you my top picks for busy toys, let me just make a quick plug for not over-stimulating your child.
I actually encourage you to let your child be bored sometimes. It’s good for them!
Learning to entertain themselves and mediate their own behavior is an important skill. It encourages creativity, free-thinking, and you’d be amazed at the games and thoughts they come up with.
So when you sit down in the plane or car, don’t immediately reach for your busy toy activity bag. Wait a while and see what they do on their own first.
On that same note, make sure they are completely done with an activity before moving on to the next.
I can’t tell you how many parents I’ve seen who interrupt a happily playing child on an airplane to ask them if they need a snack! You need to drag out everythingggg when you travel to get the most out of each activity.
Here are my Top 3 Kids Busy Activities (for travel):
Water Wow! Reusable Water-Reveal Activity Pads
The Moms at Odds Recommended Ages: 18 months – 7 years
(Manufacturer Recommended Ages: 36 mos – 7 years)
Attention: If I could only bring one activity for my kids on a trip, this would be it. These books are magical. Simply fill up that little plastic pen with a small amount of water and the kids can go to town “painting” the colorful scenes.
Children are amazed as the brush reveals trucks, animals, and more! You’ll love it because there is absolutely no mess and it’s reusable. Once the pictures dries they can “paint” it over and over again. Get the 3-pack for sure, you’ll be so happy you did.
Fisher-Price Clip-On Doodle Pro
The Moms at Odds Recommended Ages: 2 – 7 years
(Manufacturer Recommended Ages: 36 mos – 7 years)
I’m not sure who likes this more, my 3 1/2 year old or my husband… haha!
This is the travel version so it’s a nice, compact size. The possibilities for creativity are endless with this one. My son draws, plays tic-tac-toe, and practices his letters. We also play pictionary! Available in blue, green, or pink.
Search and Find Book
The Moms at Odds Recommended Ages: 3 – 8 years
(Manufacturer Recommended Ages: 3 – 6 years)
These search and find books are designed for children to work independently. The goal is to search for specific pictures in complex scenes. However, one of the beauties of these books is that two children could also work together or compete to find images.
You can also pat yourself on the back for getting your children a gift that will improve their visual memory and tracking. Both are very important skills critical for academic success.
Want more? I wrote a whole article dedicated to travel busy activities for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.
These are my top busy toys for good reason. They have a few things in common that are essential for the perfect travel activity: stimulating, reusable, quiet, and don’t have a ton of pieces that can get lost and dropped.
#3| Choose Your Seats Wisely
A lot of travel blogs will recommend one parent sit in the back seat with their child/children. While this may be the best option for you in the end, I’d invite you to think about it carefully first.
Now I’m coming from the perspective of having 2 kids close in age. On trips they are constantly entertaining and interacting with one another – lots of talking, fighting, laughing, crying, singing and playing (sometimes all at the same time).
Note: we try to minimize the hitting by having a short divider between the car seats. My husband made it with cardboard so it’s super fancy. It is high enough they can’t reach over it to touch the other kid, but low enough that they can still see each other and interact.
If you wanted to get a more official car seat barrier, check out the High Road Kids Food ‘n Fun Car Seat Organizer that provides both distance separation and organization – win/win!
Ok but back to my main point. Personally, I have found that by sitting in the back with my kids means they rely solely on me for entertainment.
If left to their own devices they’ll look out the window, sing songs, play with their toys, etc. But if mom’s back there it’s constantly “read this book, not that one”, “he’s hitting me”, “I’m uncomfortable”, “waaahh”….
And I never sit in the back with them if it’s nap time. That’s a recipe for disaster. They just keep staring at me with wide eyes instead of falling asleep (even when I pretend to be asleep myself).
On road trips I try to mix it up by alternating between sitting up front (for my own sanity) and in the back. My excuse for having to sit in the front is always that I have to “help my husband drive the car” – they never question it.
#4| Embrace the Chaos and Tears
This is a short point, but probably the most important piece of advice I can give you about traveling with kids:
Accept that no matter how hard you plan – there will still be yelling, screaming, and tears.
Sometimes I get a little anxious in new situations – and your kids can feel the same way.
If your kids are whining and don’t want to sit still at dinner after being cooped up in the car all day… you are not a failure.
If your kids spend the second travel day yelling at each other… you are not a failure.
If your kids ignore every educational toy you packed for them and only want to watch the tablet… you are not a failure.
Keep your expectations realistic! Accepting that things will be chaotic at some point will make you so much more relaxed and able to roll with the punches.
#5| Involve the Kids in the Journey
I mentioned before when I was talking about ways to prepare for travel that it’s a good idea to prepare your kids ahead of time.
Don’t cut them out when the travel stops – let them continue to be involved in decision making and in the journey itself.
A few examples of this:
- Let them buy a souvenir at a rest-stop
- Give them ideas of what to expect at the next stop
- Show them a map of where you have traveled and where you are going
- Allow the kids to decide between restaurants for dinner
The more they are involved, the less they will fight you on the road!
Before you know it, you’ll be at your destination and ready to party.
Good thing that Part 5 deals with Unique Strategies for Getting the Most Out of your Vacation with Kids.