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Surviving a Long Road Trip with Little Ones

Updated on March 17, 2016

On the Road Again

We like to travel. It's actually one of my favorite things to do. It always has been. My fondest memories of my childhood involve and revolve around some of the great trips we used to go on as a family. I get a bit childishly excited when I get to take my kids to new places.

Already this year, we have clocked some serious miles in the car. But more miles in the air. We do prefer to fly. But that is not always an option.

In January, we went on our big annual ski trip with my family to the mountains in North Carolina. My mom and I opted to leave a few days early and drive up. We brought my kids along for the adventure. We spaced it out over three days - which was way longer than it needed to be. But it all worked.

Our next road trip is going to be a 15+ hour journey to Nashville. This trip is with my husband's family. Stu and I are planning to break the drive up there into two parts. I'm not sure yet about the ride home; we might try to bang it all out in one day.

Everyone's packed in and ready to go!
Everyone's packed in and ready to go!

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I love it when we find a Chick-fil-A! And even though it's fast food, we usually go inside to eat. It keeps the car cleaner, people can use the restrooms and it's nice to just get out of the car.
I love it when we find a Chick-fil-A! And even though it's fast food, we usually go inside to eat. It keeps the car cleaner, people can use the restrooms and it's nice to just get out of the car.

Things I Learned on the Road

  • Have a food plan. It doesn't have to be super specific. For instance, my husband and I only go through drive-thrus for breakfast. Usually we plan to have at least one meal at a sit-down restaurant. This gets the kids out of the car, we are able to stretch our legs, and actually look at each other for at least 30 minutes. Thanks to iPhones, we can look on the map and find places fairly easily. When we are on the road, I try to anticipate the need for food. I start my restaurant search about 30 minutes before I think a food-induced, hangry tantrum will possess one of the kids (hubs included).
  • Have a bathroom plan. My bathroom lowest standard is a McDonald's. This booty (and the tiny booties in the backseat) will NOT go anywhere near a gas station toilet. The hubs conceded long ago that this was an acceptable demand. When you're traveling with young humans, you want to make sure that you're asking regularly if a stop needs to be made. This was also something my hubs had to get over long ago. He used to like to "just drive, not stop and get there!" One time when I was very pregnant, he argued with me on the highway for, I felt, longer than was necessary about stopping. I explained that he needed to pull over or prepare to buy a new passenger seat. We have not had this conversation ever again. Little kids and preggos cannot "hold it". And neither group will give you very much notice on needing a toilet either. So, it's better to just constantly bring it up, or stop regularly and force people to try.
  • Make a killer playlist. Or at least a playlist that the kids will enjoy. I know not all of the songs on our Road Trip Playlist make my husband very happy, he would rather listen to the kids singing along to Justin Beiber than the kids screaming, yelling and asking "How much longer?" every two seconds. Sometimes you really have to go with the lesser of the two evils. I usually ask the kids a few days before the trip if there are any songs they want to buy. We then load up some new tunes on the playlist. I also extend the offer to the hubs, but his taste in music is horrible, so he is limited to selecting in certain kid-approved genres. I have a rule that on long trips, we only shuffle the playlist and let the iPhone pick the order. No special requests.

Thumbs up Mom, I am ready for the movie to begin!
Thumbs up Mom, I am ready for the movie to begin!
  • Charge all electronics. I spend the day before a long car trip syncing the devices. I erase all the photos off of the iPads (each of our kids has his/her own), this way they can take pics on the trip without running out of storage space. Each kid gets one movie downloaded to his/her device - this way they have at least 4 hours of movie time in the car (if they are nice and switch). My kids usually decide amongst themselves which movies are going to get downloaded. Last trip I also put one or two on my MacBook. That way, they have even more movie time! If your movies are on Apple TV, it's very simple to download them to your devices via iTunes. This is perfect for cars because the downloaded movies will play without wifi. DON'T FORGET TO PACK HEADPHONES! Each kid has his/her own, so they don't have to watch the same movie. If the kids are watching the same one, I plug it into our car's AUX and run the sound through the car speakers, and we prop the iPad up in-between the two front seats. That way everyone in the back can see and hear the film.
  • Have something else for the little ones to do. My kids, particularly my son, LOVE to draw. On the last road trip, we brought each a large spiral notebook and a set of pens. I am not kidding when I tell you that my son drew pictures for nearly 4 hours. He was completely content. My daughter messed around in the notebook for a bit, then watched a movie, played a game on her iPad, played with her Lovies, took a nap. It worked out well. You know your children, pack something that will entertain them - even just entertaining one of them will cut down on the time they spend arguing over something stupid.
  • Pack something comfy and cozy. Each kid is allowed a plush Lovie or two if they are on the smaller side. The hubs and I always bring a pillow each, so each kid ends up with one in the backseat. When we are taking trips in the winter, someplace cold, the kids bring their sleeping bags. They like to snuggle up in them, especially after we have opened the car doors at a bathroom or food stop.


Buddy doesn't even realize we are in the car. He is lost in his own world. This was the best $5 ever spent.
Buddy doesn't even realize we are in the car. He is lost in his own world. This was the best $5 ever spent.
  • Dress comfy. There's no need to be dressed to the nines when you are going to be in the car for a long time. I personally prefer to wear leggings or yoga pants on car trips (I prefer to wear them everyday, but sadly I can't always get away with it). If we are leaving early in the morning we don't even bother changing the kids out of their pajamas until we stop for a breakfast/bathroom break. And sometimes, the stay in jammies longer than that. And if we are traveling late into the night, I will get the kids back in their pjs after we stop for dinner.
  • Pack the car thoughtfully. This is probably the most critical. Be mindful of where your little ones will be and what they are going to want to get to during the ride. I prefer to pack multiple smaller bags for a car trip. I have a small bag for our clothing needs. I love this Thirty-One Large Utility Tote my sister-in-law gave me years ago... It is an absolute must have for the car. I fill it with the kids' entertainment things (iPads, notebooks, pens, etc) and stick it on the seat in between them. It is easy for them to grab their items, and it serves as a nice buffer between them.

Seriously, this is THE MOST AMAZING TOTE. I love the way it holds its shape no matter what, it fits perfectly in the car.
Seriously, this is THE MOST AMAZING TOTE. I love the way it holds its shape no matter what, it fits perfectly in the car. | Source

Did I forget anything? Share your tips in the comment section below.

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