Last month marked the third time my family, my sister’s family, and my parents all vacationed together on Hilton Head Island. The week we spend in South Carolina is always relaxing, but getting there and back can be a little bit crazy.
When we lived in Omaha, we used to fly to Savannah and get picked up at the airport. Since we were living with my parents in NJ this year, we caravanned down I-95 S in three cars, picking up Jordan in DC along the way.
Jordan and I have taken a few long car rides with the boys (we drove from Omaha to Cleveland with them at least one time), so I wasn’t completely freaked out about how they’d manage in the car for so long. Our past experiences have taught me that the key to surviving a road trip with kids is to channel your inner Girl Scout and be prepared.
Also, you don’t have to listen to your kid’s favorite songs on repeat.
Tip #1 – Accessorize the backseat
If your children are going to eat or drink in their car seats, I recommend car seat guardians to protect your cushions from inevitable snack-tastrophes like crumbs and spills. (Used regularly, they can also help prevent compression damage.) Also, an auto mirror that provides a clear, wide-angle view of your rear-facing infant will give you peace of mind — and reduce strain on your neck from trying to see behind you.
For this trip, we tried these cool pop-open shades that magically cling to the windows. I didn’t want the sun beating down on the boys, especially when they were trying to sleep.
Asa didn’t mind his shade, but Levi wasn’t the biggest fan. I think he wanted an completely unobstructed view, but I insisted he use it since the window shade also blocks harmful UV rays.
Tip #2 – Make everything accessible
I’m not generally a fan of open-top tote bags — except for road trips. When I’m reaching around from the passenger seat, trying to find a particular book or snack, I don’t want to deal with zippers or bags with small openings.
At this stage, I pack one bag with books, one bag with toys, and one bag with snacks, but when the boys are older, they might each get their own tote bag with books and toys combined.
Oh, and when packing snacks, take care not to bring anything that could easily get crushed. I like these Snack Catchers for keeping cereal and small crackers from turning into dust and spilling into the bag.
Tip #3 – Plan for extra-long rest stops
According to Google Maps, the drive from my parents’ house to our vacation house should take about 12.5 hours. It took us approximately 17 hours. Between six adults and three kids under the age of four, somebody needed to stop every three hours or so.
My recommendation? Whether you’re stopping for a bathroom break or for lunch, give yourself at least twice as much time than you anticipate needing.
Also, do yourself a favor and give your kids a chance to stretch their legs and release some energy before getting back in the car. I suggest looking for a rest stop with an adjacent grassy area or a restaurant with an enclosed play place. Yeah, fast food can be gross, but their playgrounds can be lifesavers.
Tip #4 – BYOB
That’s “Bring Your Own Booster.” If you pick a popular kid-friendly restaurant, there may not be any available high chairs. (And if you stop to eat at Starbucks, you might not find any, period.) Honestly, our foldable travel booster saved the day more than once.
Tip #5 – Refill while you refuel
Whenever we had to pull over for gas, somebody would run inside the convenience store and fill up the boys’ travel cups with cold water from the fountain machine. So much cheaper than bringing bottles of water, and saves room in the backseat, too.
Tip #6 – Don’t listen to children’s music. (At least, not for the entire ride.)
If Levi had his way, we’d have listened to his favorite CD on repeat for 12 hours. How did we get around that? We have a “rule” about taking turns: Mommy and Daddy get to play their music after Levi gets to listen to his.
Another trick is to adjust your stereo so that your kid’s music only plays through the rear speakers. You’ll still hear it, but it’ll drive you a little less crazy.
Tip #7 – Plan some surprises
Before we left on our road trip, Jordan downloaded Planes on Levi’s iPad as a surprise. We’ve been reading a book about Dusty Crophopper and thought Levi might get a thrill out of watching the movie. With his headphones, of course.
The novelty of a surprise movie, book, or toy won’t last for the duration of the trip, but you’re guaranteed at least a few quiet minutes from the backseat.
Tip #8 – Let them be bored
Just like at home, Levi had time limits on his iPad. Yeah, it’s a good distraction, but I thought it was important he also spent time looking at books, magazines…and out the window.
Was it annoying to hear him ask (repeatedly), “Can I have my iPad now?” Absolutely. But I had an ulterior motive: Levi does not nap in the car. Besides preventing an addiction to technology, I was kind of hoping he’d bore himself to sleep.
Do you have any tried-and-true tips for surviving road trips with kids? If so, please share them below!
Thanks to Munchkin for sponsoring today’s discussion — and for making some of my favorite products for kids! Munchkin rids the world of the mundane by developing clever, innovative solutions that make family life safer, easier, and more fun.