I’ve always loved road trips. Even when I was a kid, I found it really fun and exciting to see so many new places and things in a relatively short time. I enjoy the fact that I can take the slow meandering route as I go and stop to see whatever strikes my fancy. When road tripping with kids however, what seems like a fun family bonding exercise wandering across the countryside can quickly turn into one of stress and exasperation. No need to worry though. I’ve got some tried and true road trip hacks and tips that can make it a much better experience.
Tips for Road Tripping with Kids
1. Plan ahead when it comes to food and drinks.
We’ve been stuck on the road in the evening driving through towns that apparently roll up the sidewalk at 8 pm. Packing snacks and beverages means that we always have something on hand no matter where we travel and it’s much cheaper than getting them along the way. Gas stations, convenience stores, and motels can charge up to $5 a bottle for drinks!
2. Help your kids to pack a tote bag or backpack of items to keep them busy while on the road.
I always like to let them play an active role in choosing what to bring but with my guidance. I pick up some items like activity books, pencil crayons, blank notebooks (to use as travel journals), glue pens, children’s scissors, and construction paper at the dollar store to add to their bags. Other items to bring along: a pillow, blanket, and favourite stuffed animal. Bringing tablets and the portable DVD player along with headphones can be a really smart way of keeping the peace when everyone starts getting tired. Colorforms (remember those?) are still around and they are a really fun treat in the car because the pieces will stick to the car windows.
3. Pack some surprises.
When I was little, my mom packed paper lunch bags with some little toys and trinkets from the dollar or toy store and I continued this tradition with my daughter. Think about your route ahead and plan to give these out every X number of hours, every X number of kilometers/miles, or every time you cross a provincial/state line. Comic books, chewing gum, favourite candies, a deck of cards, travel games, little craft kits, small dolls or animal figurines, or other small inexpensive items are perfect for this. Sometimes, I would just fill one of the bags with assorted craft items like pompoms, pipe cleaners, wiggly eyes, beads, and so on.
4. Play travel games together.
Print up some simple travel bingo cards and see who can fill their card first. Play I Spy, the licence plate game, 20 Questions, I’m Going on a Picnic (first person says and I’m bringing – insert something that starts with letter A. Next person repeats everything the first person said and adds an item that starts with letter B. Keep going through the alphabet or until someone loses track!).
5. Choose rest areas for your bathroom breaks.
Here is one of the great reasons I love to stop at rest areas for bathroom breaks. There’s always a large open outdoor space there. So, we always pack things like a Frisbee, inflatable beach ball, skipping rope, and even a water shooter. They don’t take up much room but give the kids a way to burn off some energy before they have to sit in the car again. Stopping at a rest area also means that there are picnic areas so we can have a comfortable picnic lunch or snack while on the road.
And finally, many rest stops also have welcome centers or at the very least, a wall display of travel information and brochures. This is a great place to pick up some information on area attractions! They sometimes even have postcards and other such souvenir type items that the kids will enjoy using for their travel journals. My daughter always loved maps so it was always a thrill for her to pick up a new one.