The family road trip.

Who is gearing up for the real start of the Holiday season next week!? We are hitting the road with the little ones to go visit some family for an extended Thanksgiving weekend, and are so excited! (side note: We even get to go early to pay a visit to the Canadian Consulate to clear up some passport issues we have naturally run into before our next international trip later this winter…have I mentioned that I should write a book on these things?)

As I start to think about our road trip, I thought it might be helpful to jot down a few helpful hints for those who may be stuck in a car for numerous hours with little ones this coming Thanksgiving week and holiday season. We have a tiny car, and no TV to entertain the kids with in it, so planning is really key to having everyone survive a road trip. It makes me laugh to think of the road trips we took as a family when I was a kid– my siblings would easily vote me “most annoying.” I either had a huge wad bubble gum stuck in my hair or was trying to win a contest of “read every single sign we pass”…like I said: most. annoying. Now that I am on the parenting side of the equation, I find sometimes the only way I can deal with some of the things that are bound to happen on a road trip are to plan ahead. The following are some of the most important things I think about and plan for when I know we are hitting the road:

  1. The very last thing everyone should do before hitting the road is use the bathroom. Everyone. No excuses. There is nothing worse than having to stop 30 minutes in, no matter who it is for. Even though the toddlers are potty-trained, I keep some bigger-sized diapers on-hand just in case there is an emergency and no bathroom in sight.
  2. The bags. Each of the toddlers gets to take their own little “carry-on” bag or mini backpack for the car. This usually has their water bottle, a stuffy/lovey they want to bring on the trip, and some snacks from the pantry. I will oftentimes put a new activity I found for the trip in their bags too– it always excites them when we get going and they find something new to play with right away. They love getting to have their own bag of things and often have a lot of fun packing and re-packing it throughout the trip. (Just make sure they aren’t walking around the house collecting random things to put in it before you go…you want these bags of theirs to actually be useful!)
  3. In our car, it is all about the snacks. I usually go to the store the day before and buy some exciting new things that I know the kids will love, and that they have never seen before (or have always wanted me to get.) Although it may be difficult, pace when these get handed out. I oftentimes will even have some extra special treats on hand for those moments when we are all hanging on by a thread. (Think lollipops that spin, candies that are in packages that are fun to open and close, and anything with a light on it.)
  4. A doodleboard, drawing pad with crayons (no markers, please!), or one of those magical, no-mess coloring books that uses a little pen/brush where you just fill it with water is always in tow for an easy activity. There is a travel-size edition of basically everything, so think about what your kids like to do and get them a version of it that is good for the car. I just had a friend tell me what a “Boogie Board” is, and am thinking it might be the perfect activity for my kids in the car.
  5. Books. Each child gets to pick a few books. Since we are not at the age where anyone can read yet, these usually do not entertain them for long, but at least they have something to look at for a little bit. I also like having some books from home on hand to keep to our bedtime routine and wind them down when necessary while we are away.
  6. Map out the rest-stops. If possible, plan when you are going to stop. If you can plan even better, plan to stop somewhere with a play-place or big outdoor area. This has been a much needed break for us a few times, and the kids definitely enjoy getting to burn off some energy, even if it is just for 10 minutes (our stops are always very short.)
  7. Be creative. If you are not driving, it is very unlikely that you are going to actually be sitting there with your feet up enjoying the view. I oftentimes have to tell myself to get over it, being in the passenger seat is actually way harder than driving because you are basically an entertainer, snack-getting, nose-blower, water-bottle-fetcher, etc….for the duration of the trip. If you can accept this, it won’t be as bad. Embrace it and start a silly game of “I spy…” or teach the kids a new song. It may not be the exact way you would want to spend your time, but if the kids are happy the ride is much smoother and less stressful.

By planning ahead and knowing what to expect on our road trip next week, I am setting us up for a bearable, maybe even fun, 7 hours in the car with our 3 little ones. I will be armed with snacks, a bag for the garbage that will accumulate tenfold,  packages of wipes, and extra outfits for everyone. The best part of any road trip, however, is knowing how much fun awaits us on the other end, and surely makes whatever chaos arises during the ride worth it.

Are you taking a road trip with your little ones this holiday season? I would love to hear about how long you will be in the car and any fun tips or tricks you have for making it to your destination in one piece!