While on an 1,800+ mile road trip with our four boys, ages 8, 7, 4, and 8 months, a stranger commented, “I never travel with babies younger than 18 months.” We smiled at each other politely, as everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but we disagreed. Our family was having the time of our lives!
If you have wanderlust, and the itch to travel hasn’t stopped just because you have a baby, then try these six tips for road trips with little ones.
1. Under-schedule your driving hours. We found that planning for about 5 hours of drive time was optimal for everyone to remain happy but to keep moving forward. Five hours on Google Maps may end up taking all day once you add in a morning of packing up, potty breaks, lunch breaks, traffic, etc.
2. Make car time count. DVD players, iPads, and other screens are great tools, however, too much screen time can make little minds go crazy and hurt more than it helps. We love listening to books on CD, in addition to the books we bring for the kids to read or look at themselves. We bring a few toys, but not tons. Too many just get lost under bags and in the cracks between the seats.
After listening to Saren’s podcast about road trips with older kids, we also created our own “Power Point” system. My boys could earn points based on the number of pages they read (or my four-year-old looked at), pictures they drew, and pages they wrote either in their journal, letters to extended family members, or creative writing in their notebooks. They also could earn “Peace Points”: one point for every hour of no fighting, complaining, etc. These points could be cashed in for real money for treats at stops on the road and/or souvenirs at our final destination. Maybe it was bribery, but it worked. I wasn’t exhausted from trying to entertain or referee in the car, and they felt they had earned their souvenir.
If you are the crafty type, here is a great post about travel entertainment one mom made and gathered for her little ones.
3. Break it up. Do something every day. In addition to needing to stretch legs, little minds (and bigger minds too) like to have something to look forward to. Nearly every place you stop has something interesting to see or has a piece of history. If you need help finding it, try the free app called RoadTrip for iPhones.
One day we needed to cover a lot of miles and didn’t have time to make a detour to the closest big city. So when we were ready for a break, we found a grassy Civil War Memorial park and had an Easter egg hunt! We have been known to have hula-hoop contests in the gas station parking lot and are always up for a game of hide and seek at lunch time.
4. Don’t plan too much in one day. When you travel a long way and spend a lot of money, it is hard to not pack your day to the brim. However, if your kids are like my kids, they don’t like to be rushed about and bossed to “Hurry up,” “Let’s go!’, etc. I have finally come to accept that even at a breakneck pace, you can never see and do everything.
So we just plan on one major outing each day and dream about what we’ll do “next time when we come back.” Slowing down our schedule helps remind me to focus on my kids and not just the tourist attraction. It allows me to see the world through their eyes and to acknowledge that the squirrels at our campground were just as exciting as the rockets at Cape Canaveral.
5. Skip the hotel. I would rather sleep just about anywhere than have my entire family in one hotel room. Besides the fact that the baby is often in the bathroom and one boy has to sleep on the floor for us to fit, I feel extra stressed trying to keep them quiet so as to not to disturb the other guests. My boys are just so excited in hotels, it is hard for them to fall asleep. And the moment one person wakes up in the morning, we all are up. So all I can do is hope that we’ll all get a few hours of sleep.
We have had much better experiences with vacation rentals and KOA cabins. The space makes all the difference in the world, and you can often find places that are less expensive than hotels. KOAs are throughout the US and Canada. VRBO and Airbnb are great resources and have options worldwide. Also Mowitania has great options when traveling in Europe.
6. Enjoy each part of the journey. A road trip is an experience; it isn’t just about the destination. Especially if you have lots of stops along the way, there will be a lot of unpacking and packing. Try to involve the kids, give them little jobs to do. I tried to identify “stations” when we were packing up in the mornings. One boy rolled up sleeping bags with Dad, one boy filled our water bottles, and one boy entertained the baby (allowing me to be more efficient with my packing!).
While hiking, eating, standing in line, use the time to talk and engage with your kids. Tell funny stories and listen to theirs. Vacations are a wonderful time to get away from the world and just focus on your family.
My final tip is to do all you can to plan and prepare, then when you get on the road, just let it go. Relax and enjoy the journey!
For more great road trip tips and ideas, check out this popular post: Tried-and-True Road Trip Tips
QUESTION: What do you do to make road trips with little ones more enjoyable?
CHALLENGE: If you are taking a road trip this summer, consider how you can prepare in advance to make it a more relaxing and enjoyable experience for your family.
Edited by Sarah Monson.
Image provided by Marinda Bush/Graphics by Anna Jenkins.