We've all said it: "We'll drive. It won't be that bad." We picture the adventure, the memories, the nostalgia of car trips when we were younger.
But if we're really being honest with ourselves, think back to those car trips. Someone was crying. Someone was puking. Someone was whining. That person very well may have been your poor mother. True story, my mom once got out and walked along the highway when all six of us kids wouldn't stop fighting. A long car trip can be daunting, but with our tips and tricks they don't need to be.
Here are 6 Road Trip Travel Hacks for Kids:
Having done the cross-country trip with kids several times, I've somehow survived and actually enjoy the long journeys. PCSing and traveling is already stressful, and kids take their cues from their parents. Embracing the adventure makes it a little more manageable for everyone.
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1. Manage your expectations
Rule one for a road trip is managing your expectations. This approach is very technical and clearly accurate (insert sarcasm), but if your kids are ages three and under and your trip is three hours or less, then add 15 minutes per child to your arrival time. If your kids are 4+ and your trip is 4 - 6 hours, then add 30 minutes per child to your arrival time. And if you're going more than six hours, then God speed and add at least an hour per person. Extra life hack: Just as everyone told you, "When they sleep, you sleep" when you had a newborn, we'll add: "When they pee, you pee." Nothing is worse than everyone finally sleeping at the same time and you being the weak link.
2. Dollar grab bags
One of my kids' favorite things about our road trips is that I always pack a grab bag for each kid. I hit the dollar store and get a giant birthday gift bag, and fill it with arts and crafts, sticker sets, special snacks and anything I can find that will keep little hands and minds occupied. It's like Christmas in the car and something they look forward to every time we're hitting the road. And once, when I completely spaced this fun hack, we made it a point to stop at a dollar store in every state so they could fill their own bags.
3. Plan your meals
I'm not saying pack a grilled chicken and broccoli dinner for your trek unless that's your thing. That is not my thing. I'm saying during hour one of your epic journey, have your kids come to a consensus about what they want to eat for each meal, and then incorporate it into your adventure. If they decide pizza sounds good for lunch, then, "We're on a mission to find pizza!" becomes our mantra. If everyone can agree on tacos, then that little Bell does wonders.
Whether you're all agreeing on Happy Meals or Chick-Fil-A or finding a local spot for a burger, figuring this out early and having kids write it down makes stopping without fighting so much easier. If one kid wants chicken nuggets and the other tacos, then we agree to stop at one for lunch and the other for dinner. Democracy in action.
4. Embrace the adventure
Scour your map for fun things to do along the way. Whether it's touring a random museum, finding a park using this awesome resource, hitting a town for local fare, having something to look forward to every few hours makes the trip feel less daunting. For our trip from Virginia to Kansas, I downloaded a song about each state we went through and when we saw the "Welcome to X" sign, we played it. The kids thought it was hilarious and kept them watching for state signs.
We stopped at downtown Charlottesville in Virginia for a great meal, caverns in West Virginia, a sweet hotel along the highway in Kentucky for the night, and then hit the Woodford Reserve Distillery for a tour and lunch, found a great park in Indiana, discovered awesome ice cream in Illinois, stopped and walked around the arch in St. Louis and a mere 30 hours after we left, arrived in Kansas City. Yes, driving 1,000+ miles is somewhere along the lines of The Worst, but breaking it up makes it so much better. If your kids are older, have them look at things to do and let them each pick one.
5. Be engaged
In addition to planning awesome stops, being engaged with your kids on your trip for at least part of it makes it more fun for everyone. I printed off a map of the fifty states and when kids saw a license plate from that state, they colored it in. We've also been known to play the alphabet game (find a word on a sign starting with each letter of the alphabet, in order), and car bingo. Because who doesn't love brief silence followed by piercing screams of "COW! COW! COW!"
We try to do daytime games so they can watch a movie or sleep when it's dark and I can listen to podcasts and power ballads.
6. Lollipops are your best friend
Speaking of silence, a surefire way to curb the "WHEN ARE WE GOING TO GET THERE?" and "HOW MUCH LONGER?" is giving everyone a plethora of lollipops. They can eat kale and organic cereal bars when you get there. For now, dole out those lollipops like it's Ibuprofen in your college dorm on a Sunday morning.