5 Tips For Road Trips With Young Kids
In the last two years, I’ve driven more almost 10,000 miles on road trips with my kids. Most of those without my husband along for the ride. You might think I’m crazy, but I really love being on the road. Not only is it usually much more affordable than flying my whole family around, but we make such great memories along the way! And after all that time the car, of course I have discovered some secrets to making the whole experience enjoyable for everyone. Here are 5 Tips For Road Trips with Young Kids:
1. Be Excited
This may seem obvious, but it is number one for a reason. Without a happy, positive, excited attitude about your road trip, none of the other tips I can offer will help. My kids were four-years-old, two-years-old, and six-months-old when we took our first big road trip (a 4500 mile loop from Texas, through New Mexico, Nevada, to Northern California, down the coast to Southern California, then Arizona on the way back to Texas! Whew!) At those young ages, the kids know to be happy if mom’s happy, and mad if mom’s mad. Our modeling of attitude and behavior on road trips–and well, all the time– makes a bigger difference than any.
We prepped for the trip by printing out a map, showing the littles where we’d be going. We talked about it with only positive words, saying “You’re going to love watching movies, getting snacks at the gas station, and sleeping in hotels!” (More about those in the tips below.) They only knew to be absolutely thrilled that they’d be spending 5-10 hours a day in the car for three weeks!
The positive road trip attitude spills over into the rest of the vacation and makes the whole thing feel like a grand adventure, which it really is, of course.
2. Stock up on Water
Water is the number one request I hear when we’re in the car. To prepare ahead, I like to stock the car full of water bottles before we head out. I can get a whole flat of bottled water at a grocery store for just a couple dollars (rather than a dollar per bottle at the gas station) which helps us stay on our treat budget. The younger kids still drink from a sip cup or water bottle, but I always have a bottle of water on the ready for quick and easy refills.
3. Make Stops Fun
Keeping the excitement up for the whole road trip is a lot easier if you are always looking forward to the next stop. Rather than simply pumping gas, then rushing inside to use the restrooms, my kids know that at each gas stop they can choose one treat, under $2. If the treats they choose are messy, like ice cream bars, we sit on the curb of the gas station to finish them before getting in the car. Things like gummy bears and skittles can come along for the ride though–in fact you’ll almost always find a bag of gummy bears in my glove compartment. We try to plan ahead, budgeting our treats, gas, hotels, and meals so we can enjoy the trip with less financial stress of every nickel and dime.
We love managing our budgets with Capital One 360 accounts, both checking and savings. The savings account in particular has no minimums, is fee-free, and helps keep us on track by allowing automatic transfers into savings and offering great interest rates. We can set goals and milestones, helping to keep us motivated and looking forward to the next success.
4. Eat inside
Along with planning for and budgeting our money along the trip, we also plan for and budget time for real meals. Rather than hitting a drive thru window and eating on the go, we head inside to stretch our legs, sit down at a table, and let the kids run around a bit at a play area, if the restaurant has one available.
Eating our meals outside of the car not only keeps the car itself more clean and fresh for the drive, but keeps everyone from feeling too stir crazy or confined. Just like looking forward to our gas and treat stops, the kids look froward to the meals stops. We usually let them choose the restaurant–and sometimes we’ve played a game where we can’t repeat a restaurant on the same trip, which means we get to try every different type of fast food along the way. On some trips, I’ve been ambitious about looking up little local joints for us to explore together, which has been really fun and interesting, just takes a bit more planning.
A road trip with young kids is a perfect time to release all of the strict low-technology rules that you might have and let them have some good, solid screen time. Watching movies and playing games on the iPad is the best way my kids are able to stay entertained and happy while we drive! We make sure to enjoy fun adventures along the way–seeing historic sights, taking mini hikes, and visiting great landmarks, so while we’re actually in the car itself, I don’t mind them zoning out. They really look forward to the novelty of watching a couple movies back to back, and I really love having them enjoy the drive. I remember my parent’s strapping a tv/vhs player with bungee cord on top of a cooler when we went on road trips as a kid, and how much fun it was to kick back and have a movie day.
When they get tired of movies, then we break out some classic road trip interaction like playing “I Spy” and looking for all of the letters for the Alphabet Game. My own kids don’t much like to draw or color, and don’t quite read to themselves for fun, yet, but I’m sure in the near future our entertainment options will expand a little bit. In the meantime, I love how excited they are for their movie marathons on the road.
Hitting the road with my family has allowed us the freedom, both financial and physical, to visit places and people we otherwise would not have. We really all look forward to our adventures, and can’t wait to see where the road takes us next!