Road trips with kids can be fun and memorable, but they have the potential to be extremely stressful if you’re not well prepared. Taking children on a long ride in the car can go smoothly as long as you follow these road trip rules.
- Plan well. Good planning is key when going on a road trip with kids. Make checklists so that you don’t forget anything. Think about things like dressing for different types of weather, first aid items, toiletries, electronics, reading material, medications, etc.
- Leave in the morning. It’s important to get as many miles under your belt as possible before afternoon meltdowns start occurring. A good strategy for a full day trip might be to leave early in the morning, stop off for lunch in the early afternoon, and get back on the road after lunch when kids are likely to nap for a couple of hours.
- Get a car organizer. There are plenty of great organizers on the market today. If you don’t want to purchase one, you can make your own. Use a sturdy container or bag (an old diaper bag or duffle bag works well). Use smaller containers to subdivide the inside of the main container or bag. You can then fill these smaller sections with things like crayons, notepads, books, games, and other things to help keep your kids entertained while you’re on the road. The idea is to place the organizer in the back seat with the kids so they can access it without mom or dad having to reach around.
- Pack easily accessible snacks. When deciding what kind of snacks to bring in the car, think about portability and cleanup. You don’t want to bring drippy, sticky, or otherwise messy items in the car with young kids. Things like cut-up veggies, bite-sized crackers, string cheese, apples, raisins, and nuts all make good healthy road trip snacks that can easily be stored in re-sealable containers. Try to keep these where kids can safely and easily get to them. Also be aware when your children are eating to avoid any choking hazards.
- Make a game out of the trip. Kids will love playing road trip games and the whole family can join in. Play “road-trip bingo” or have a visual scavenger hunt using roadside sights. See who can find all of the items first.
- Reward good behavior. Jacqui Boland, CEO and founder of online city guide Red Tricycle, suggests bringing along a “prize box” filled with simple age-appropriate toys or trinkets. Use these to reward kids for behaving over a certain time increment or for a set number of miles. This is a fun way for kids to track the progress of the trip using milestones, and it makes a great incentive for them to be good along the way.
- Plan a leisurely stop. When traveling, most people are on a fairly tight schedule. As much as you may want to take the most direct route and keep drive time down, it’s also a good idea to plan at least one just-for-fun stop along the way. Kids will enjoy and look forward to road trips a lot more if you incorporate some scenic stops along the way. If your kids love the old West and you’re traveling near a historic mining town, take a quick detour and do a little exploring. Dad and travel expert Finn Olaf Jones says that kids will have a lot more fun if they have or can develop a meaningful connection to a place or an experience by doing something that’s important to them.