It’s getting to be that wonderful time of year again, Spring! If you are traveling by car with your family to your vacation destination this year, you probably know that good planning is a must. Whether you have one child or four (like we do), you will need to pack certain items and plan certain activities along the way to make your road trip a happy one. This year my family and I are once again driving to Florida (18 1/2 hr. trip one way) and I am sharing with you our family’s list for successful long road trip travel!
1. Schedule Your Drive Down To The Last Detail
This may sound silly, but make an itinerary! One from point A to point B and all of the little stops in between. I am not a big fan of the “Let’s go wherever the wind takes us…” or “Let’s just see how far we make it today…” type of plan unless we have several days to travel, and are really enjoying being on the road. To be honest, driving to your destination can be a bit of a daunting task, but with a goal in mind and plan, you can make the best of it. I usually have no desire to spend any more time on the road than the trip takes, and have only one vision in my my mind when driving south and that is me, sitting on the beach with my toes in the sand!
You can use Google Maps or your have your AAA Agent map your route for you. Break your trip up, like driving for 3 hours and then stopping for a sit down meal for an hour and then driving for another 3 hours and so forth. You can then make a tentative list for exits that you may want to get off at to eat or spend the night. If you know which restaurants and hotels that are at certain exits, then you can enjoy the food and comforts of the places that your family likes. It’s nicer than being tired, having a bad meal, and staying in an uncomfortable room because you didn’t have a plan and you had to get off of the road at a random exit to rest. If you are sure you will be stopping in a specific place overnight, go ahead and reserve the room! Most hotels offer a flexible cancellation plan, that will allow you to cancel and not have your card charged if you do so by 6 pm of the reserved night if you aren’t going to make it. After a long day of travel, who wants to stop at a hotel and be turned away because they are already booked?
2. Get A Head Start and Leave Early
I have heard of people leaving their homes at midnight and driving all night while their children are sleeping to get a good start on their trip. That IS NOT the kind of early I am talking about. I can guarantee that if my family went this route, my husband and I would be exhausted by the time morning came. The children would be well rested and ready to go for the day and we would be ready for bedtime. With no one to watch the children while we nap, this would definitely not work for us. It also throws everyone’s sleep schedule off. We have found that leaving around 4 am works best for us. Our children normally wake up around 5:30 or 6 anyways, so having everything loaded in the car the night before and leaving when they are still a little sleepy, gives us at least a few hours of quiet driving. It’s a nice way to start the trip and it also limits the amount of time we have to drive in the dark. When we are traveling on roads we do not normally use, we like to really see our surroundings.
3. Pack Snacks and The Essentials
Even with scheduled breaks to stop and eat, at some point, one of your family members is going to become hungry or thirsty. I like to bring a small cooler (I mean small) that I can fill with healthy snacks. Usually a small cooler will come in handy on your vacation too, so you aren’t packing anything that will not be of use to you later. Our favorite road trip snacks are muffins (which can be eaten for breakfast the next morning if your hotel doesn’t offer a breakfast), string cheese, grapes, bananas, trail mix, dried cereals, or snack mix (already divided into separate plastic bags for convenience), and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. If you place peanut butter on both sides of the bread when preparing the sandwiches and then add the jelly, your sandwiches won’t get soggy and this can be an easy quick meal if you don’t have time to stop for a long, sit down lunch. Baby wipes are also great for a quick clean up of sticky fingers and faces after a snack, so make sure you have a package just for the car. In addition to food I like to pack bottled water, a first aid kit, cough drops, Tylenol or Advil, nausea medicine (Sea Bands are a neat alternative to medicine and work great for children too), napkins, tissues and Chap Stick. You never know when someone might get a headache or even become a little sick, so it’s best to be prepared.
4. Bring The Entertainment
We are fortunate that our vehicle has a built in DVD/Entertainment System. If you don’t have one in your vehicle, you can always purchase a fairly inexpensive portable DVD player that can attach to the back of the driver or passenger seats. If you have an i Pad, you can purchase this Headrest Mount that will essentially do the same thing so that everyone will have a good view of whatever movie is on and there won’t be any fighting over who is holding the electronic and how it isn’t fair. Consider purchasing a few movies that your child hasn’t already seen or that are new DVD releases. Watching new movies adds an element of excitement for your children who probably at some point along the trip will become bored and ask the dreaded question, “Are We There Yet?” Your children will be happy to see something new and it will hold their attention longer and make for a more enjoyable ride. Disney’s Frozen comes out on DVD March 18 and we are definitely bringing this one along with us! Be sure to pack a few of your children’s favorite movies too!
5. Bring Fun For “Recess” Time
When you do stop for a potty break, you are going to want to let your children run around a little to really stretch their legs and well, just have a little fun. They will burn up some energy and everyone will feel better about getting back in the car for a few more hours if they have gotten in a little play time. We like to pack a small ball for kicking around or playing catch, bubbles for blowing bubbles, and a few jump ropes for skipping rope. I don’t really care what other people at the rest stops think if they see us having a little recess time because they aren’t the ones traveling with four children. So do what works best for your family and if you need to run around or even play duck duck goose- do it!
6. Pack Pillows and Blankets
My children all have these cute and cuddly neck pillows that they absolutely love and we always bring with us for any car traveling. Sometimes they will decide to take a little nap and they just want to feel warm and cozy. There is nothing like a familiar, comfortable pillow or blanket to have with you on a trip away from home. I like to bring a few blankets for them also, so they can snuggle up and get some rest whenever they feel like it. Blankets also come in handy when you want to roll the window down for a few minutes to get some fresh air and you have little ones in the back yelling, “I’m cold, I’m cold!” Sometimes you just need some of that cool, fresh air when your driving and if the children already have a blanket, then that should help for the few minutes that you do have the window open.
7. Pack Books, Games & Electronics
My older children both have i Pods with their favorite music and games on them (download new games or music before you leave for your trip), so they always like to have that by their side in the car. They aren’t always on it, and they do share with the younger two children, but sometimes they put them away to play a real game. I know there are a lot of “travel” games out there, but most of them have small pieces and are best packed in your suitcase for play at the hotel. Playing card games like Uno or Crazy Eights seems to work well with our children, as they can hold their cards in their hands, on their laps and on the seat to play. You can also print off travel scavenger hunt sheets to hand out to your children so they can search the road and landscape as you are driving and circle the items that they find along the way. Travel sized Magna Doodles are also an inexpensive activity (you can find similar ones at The Dollar Store) that offers a ton of different drawing and game opportunities for your children. They can play Hangman, Tic Tac Toe or just draw on them without the mess of crayons or markers. Of course a good old book is always nice to have handy for a little story time.
8. Pack an Overnight Bag
If you know you will be stopping to spend a night on your road trip, pack a small bag with a change of clothes for the next day. The last thing you are going to want to do after a long day of traveling is unload everyone’s large suitcases that are already packed so nicely into your vehicle to use for just one night. I pack my children’s school book bags with a change of clothes (remember to pack for the weather you will be in that day) and then I have them pack their electronics, games, and neck pillows in their bags and they keep those bags next to them or on the floor by their feet in the car. The older children are responsible for their own bags and belongings (plus it keeps the car tidy if everyone’s things belong somewhere) and this way when we are ready to stop for the night, we can just grab our smaller bags and go without the hassle of unpacking the car before our final destination. If there is a special soap, shampoo or lotion you like (along with your toothbrushes and toothpaste), make sure you pack it in your overnight bag and not your suitcase. I pack my younger children’s special bedtime stuffed animals in their overnight bag too which helps with bedtime in an unfamiliar place. In addition to our clothing, I like to pack my Kindle, a book or magazine for my husband and some good chocolate in our overnight bag just because!
9. Have a Small Trash Bag In Your Vehicle
I hate traveling in a messy car! Whether someone needs to blow their nose or throw away an empty bottle or bag from their snack, I like to have a designated place to put the garbage. It doesn’t have to be a trash can, but just a plastic bag (bring a few) that you can tie up and toss in the trash can at a rest stop or at the end of the day to keep your vehicle as tidy as it can be.
10. Have Realistic Expectations
I get excited about any kind of traveling, even long distance road trips because I really like to plan. I’m a list maker and an over planner- I admit it! My husband on the other hand doesn’t really care for long drives, but sometimes, depending on our vacation, driving makes the most sense for our family. We feel comfortable in our own vehicle (especially if we will be driving different places on our trip) and driving does save us money on air fare and car rentals when you have a large family such as ours. Even though I plan and plan and plan, I know it isn’t going to be perfect. Children are going to get cranky, heck- my husband and I are going to get cranky, but we will take it in stride and continue on our way. Sometimes our itinerary won’t work out exactly as planned, but with a schedule, we will be able to easily get back on track without feeling stressed. With stops along the way and everyone’s needs in mind, we be able to travel together and enjoy a wonderful vacation as a family.
If you are traveling this Spring, have a safe and wonderful family vacation! Life is short, so enjoy and make beautiful memories with those you love!
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