Growing up, my family and I took a lot of road trip vacations. Most times we camped, sometimes we just drove and stayed in hotels, but those were some of my favorite family vacations. We got to spend a lot of time together as a family in the car, and my mom and dad always managed to make those long drives fun for us. When my husband and I had kids, we didn’t want to let the fact that they were young stop us from taking vacations. We made a trip with two of our kids to Arizona, we took our three kids under four and drove all day to attend our state’s peach festival, and this year we will take our family of (almost) six on a road trip vacation to South Dakota. Is it a little intimidating taking multiple preschoolers on a long road trip? Yes, but it doesn’t have to be a nightmare! It’s all about thinking things through and planning ahead.
1. Pack snacks. Is it just me, or do little kids eat a lot? My kids are always asking for snacks, and having some special things to eat is a great way to break up a long ride in the car. If you pack snacks ahead of time it also saves time that you might spend stopping for food, so you will get to your destination quicker.
2. Plan for a few stops. Even though fewer stops means you will get to your destination sooner, young kids have a lot of energy, and they still need a chance to let it out. Map out a few places you can stop and let the kids stretch their legs. If there are any historical sites that you can check out on the way, pull over! Young kids can still appreciate a good historical site, and it will be an interesting break for the adults too. If you have a potty training child, like we do this year, keep in mind that you may have to pull over even more.
3. Bring entertainment. If your car is equipped with a DVD player, you are home free—put that thing to use! If not, you have to prepare a little more. Check out some story CD’s or podcasts that your kids can listen to. Bring picture books for your young kids to “read.” Lately, I have been reading my four-year-old and two-year-old chapter books without pictures and they have loved it – bring chapter books to read to your kids! Buy coloring books, or other activities that can be done in the car—Tommy Nelson has many free activities and several great sticker books on their website that would be great for keeping children entertained on the road.
4. Keep nap time. Young kids still need to nap, even when they spend the day in the car; but sometimes it can be difficult to get them to fall asleep. I recommend stopping for lunch at a place where they can run around and get their energy out. Feed them a lot! It is easier to sleep after a big meal. Then strap them back in the car and play some soothing music, limit the talking, and cross your fingers.
5. Be flexible. I think the most important thing to do to ensure that your road trip with young kids is a dream and not a nightmare is to be flexible. You might have wanted to make it another hundred miles, but if everyone is getting cranky then find somewhere to stop for the night. Plan a little extra driving time to get to your destination, and make sure all your vacation days aren’t jam-packed so your schedule has a little wiggle room. Focus on just enjoying this experience with your family, and you all will be sure to have good memories of your road trips.
Several people have expressed concern to me about making long drives with their young children, but I think as long as you prepare ahead of time and are willing to be flexible, road trips can actually be easier than flying on a plane with young kids! You don’t have to check car seats or worry about pressure changes and annoying the people around you—it’s just you and your little family spending time in a car together. Vacations with young children can be challenging whether you are driving or flying, but in the end, I think it is worth it. My children may not remember everything we did, but I think they will remember feeling like we were having fun. And even if they remember nothing, I will have so many fun memories of these first family vacations, and that is worth all the effort to me. Have you ever taken a road trip with toddlers? What did you do to help it go smoothly?