not just surviving, but enjoying, road trips with kiddos

Jeff and I have settled our family in UT, even though neither one of us grew up here.  As a result, our parents, many of our siblings, and most of our extended family lives far away, which means plenty of road trips to visit!  We usually travel at least once a year to either CA (a 10+ hour drive ) or TX (a 20+ hour drive) and have more destinations planned soon!  Our last trip to Texas we jokingly called the Tour de Texas, because we traveled all over the state to see various family members.  In all- it was over 4500 miles of travel with 4 kids ages 9,7,5, & 3.  And it was wonderful!  Seriously- our boys were dream travelers and we had such a great time together- thanks to a few things we figured out early on.  We’ve now added another little one to our family and she made our latest trip quite exciting. But our road trip plan still worked, with a few modifications!  I know each family is different, but I hope some of our tips and tricks can help you on your next family adventure!


(grumpy faced kiddo decided he doesn’t like pictures, but he had a great time on our trip and was an absolute star traveler!)

Our family road trip tips:

  1.  Pack a travel bag for each child:  This bag includes small activities that they can easily do themselves, a couple of books to read (buy a few new ones, or check some out from the library if you think you won’t lose them), treats or snacks that are just for them, a change of clothes, 1-2 small toys to play with, and any comfort object they need.  My  kids really love packing their own bag and even though it takes up more space, it really cuts down on fighting and losing things. We make sure there are colored pencils in each bag or at least in each section of the van. That way they don’t have to pass them back and forth and possibly drop them in the process. (no crayons because they melt- we found that out the hard way one trip!)  Our kids usually end up sharing, but they like having their own bag they have packed themselves.
  2. Pack snacks that won’t melt and are not messy:  When kids are bored, they get hungry. We like to have plenty of snacks available- but they have to be easy to eat and easy to clean. We usually have a couple of treat-type snacks, but then lots of fruits and veggies.  Sliced apples, carrots, cucumbers, raisins, pretzels, etc. all work well for us.  And I have to let go of the fact that the car WILL get messy. 7 people living in a tiny space while we travel= mess. That’s ok.
  3. Trash time: to combat the mess we have a trash bag in the back of the car and a trash bag in the middle.  At each pit stop we collect all trash and take it out.
  4. Individual water bottle for each kid: They keep it beside them in the car. We refill at pit stops. We don’t drink soda in the car.
  5. All meals are eaten EN ROUTE:   Eating is an activity that takes TIME.  And usually needs to be done while sitting. Since we are stuck sitting  in the car, and tend to get bored while there, eating meals WHILE DRIVING means our pit stops aren’t wasted sitting down and the eating keeps us occupied for some of the drive time.  Usually the driver will try to eat quickly while we are busy with our pit stop activities.  Then the rest of the family eats during the drive.  I found simple plastic , divided containers at the $1 store that have lids. So i pack a simple lunch meal in those and pull them out at lunch time.  Usually those meals aren’t very messy so i shake out the crumbs and put the lids on when we’re finished. Then when we get dinner- i divide them up in the containers and use them again. If they get messier this time, it’s ok, I just stick on the lid and save clean up for when we reach our destination or stop at a hotel.
  6. Pit stop activities: Pit stops are our time to be active and get moving.  One parent will fill up the car with gas while the other takes everyone to the restroom.  Restroom trips are mandatory for everyone each time we stop.  After that is taken care of, we will go get food (if it’s one of the meals we’re eating out). During this time, one parent will order the food while the other leads the kids in our fun exercise routine.  We do not play in the fun houses at fast food restaurants.  After getting sick one too many times, we only do outside play. If we can’t find a good parking lot or space, we find a park to burn off energy. We’ve found some pretty nice places to get our wiggles out and try to keep track of which cities have the best amenities.
  7. Exercising/stretching routine:  Touch our toes, hold a lunge on each side, stretch out arms, stretch hips and quads, 10 squats, 10 lunges each side, 10 jumping jacks, 10 high knees or butt kicks, then we will race to a specified spot. (a tree, or phone pole, etc.) If we still feel wiggly we’ll do it again.  We try to make most pit stops 30 minutes, if we do a longer one we will find a park and stop for 45 minutes. We’ll play catch or frisbee, or race each other.  Anything but sit!
  8. Movies:  I feel bad even saying this, but they are part of our trips so I can’t pretend we don’t use them!  The kids get to rotate choosing movies.  We always start with independent activities,  listen to music, and play silly car games together.  When we need a break, we watch a movie. Then the routine starts again.  We haven’t tried books on tape, yet, but that’s coming on our next road trip for sure!
  9. Essential oils:  We wash our hands and sanitize a lot.  And we faithfully use On-guard to build up our immune system and kill those germs before we catch anything.  Vacations are hard- your entire routine is thrown off and you are usually not getting as much sleep as normal. Until we started using On-guard we would have a pretty major sickness occur each vacation. It was miserable. And I can honestly say that since using it, we have not had a single sickness happen while on vacation. So worth it.
  10. Last but not least:  Let things go & stay positive: This has been a hard one for me, . I internalize a lot and I’m a naturally emotional person.  I want vacations to be PERFECT- after all, this is our one time a year (or two) we see some of these people we love so dearly.  But kids will be kids, meltdowns will happen, someone’s routine or plans will look different than what you thought, and plans will change in the course of a week or a day,  and all of that is OKAY.  Just remember- you love these people and life is never, ever perfect. Especially on vacation.  Laugh it off, let it go, and enjoy your family.

Don’t miss part II- baby travel modification tips coming soon!

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