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Surviving a long road trip with kids

Updated on May 7, 2016
Anna Marie Bowman profile image

Anna wears many hats: writer, mother, crafter. Over the years, she has found what works and what doesn't for herself and her family.

Are We There Yet???

A long road trip with the family can be fun! Yes, even for the difficult tweens and teenagers. It just requires planning and flexibility. No matter how far the road trip is, there is always something to see on the way. Remember, it's about the journey, not the destination.

Growing up, we used to take a lot of road trips as a family. We never flew anywhere. I had never been in a plane until I was 23 years old. We drove to Florida, South Dakota, all over the place, and my parents always made the drive to wherever we were going part of the vacation, not just the way to get there. There are a few things to remember when planning a family road trip; some easy steps to keep things inexpensive and fun.

And, when you finally get where you are going, you will be that much more relaxed, having had a pleasant drive. I won't say that the drive will be perfect. Children will argue, there will undoubtedly be traffic and road construction at some point, but it will be a far more pleasant experience.

Where Are We Going?

First of all, you need to do a little planning. Let's start off with where you're going. Where do you plan on going on your family vacation? Let's say you are planning a trip to the Grand Canyon. It's a great family vacation destination.

What route are you going to take to get there? Of course, this all depends on where you are coming from. Plot out a basic course, and then find things that are along the way. There are many great books that offer information on great family-friendly tourist attractions that range from natural sites, museums, historical sites, to the outright strange. In my travels growing up, we have seen everything from Mammouth Cave, the St. Louis Arch, and historic military battlegrounds to a strange little hotel where the buildings looked like tee-pees and the world's largest six pack of beer. You may want to use what you know of your kids to tailor the experiences to what they might be interested in. There is a lot to see of this great country that so many people don't even know about. With the advent of amazing modern technology, finding interesting things to do is even easier than it once was. Google maps, Google Earth and various other programs make finding everything you need on a road trip quite simple, and most GPS systems can give you a list of rest stops, gas stations, even parks along the way, so you will never run out of gas on a long stretch of highway in the middle of nowhere. And now, with the awesome wonder of the current smart phones, all information is just a click away. There are even travel apps that allow you to look up interesting things along the way.

Little Miss Sunshine
Little Miss Sunshine
The painted desert, on my road trip with my mom
The painted desert, on my road trip with my mom | Source
A funky old hotel (or motor court) on old Route 66
A funky old hotel (or motor court) on old Route 66 | Source

I'm Bored...

Now, there are times when there might be nothing to see or do for miles on end; those long stretches of road between one interesting thing and another can make a road trip seem endless. To avoid the complaining of being bored, the potential fighting, and the questions of "Are we there yet?" you need to remember to take along things to keep the kids occupied in the car. Not every minute of the entire drive will be a fun filled experience for you, or the kids. Pack some travel games, a DVD player and some movies, a portable video game system/tablet and some coloring books for the younger ones, and don't forget to pack a book, some cds, or MP3 player for yourself. Or you can make up travel games of your own. Growing up, we always had fun playing the license plate game. I am sure many of you already know what I am talking about. As you are driving along, have the kids look out the window and see how many different state's license plates they can find. I still find myself calling out, "Montana, I'm winning!" when I am in the car. You can play the same sort of game with a variety of things. Be creative. Make the ride more enjoyable, and the vacation will be more memorable.

National Lampoon's Vacation

I'm Sick of Sitting in The Car...

Don't forget to stop every now and then and stretch your legs. Even though you are just sitting down, a really long car ride can take a tole on you physically and mentally. Make some stops along the way to not only make those all important potty breaks, and stretch your legs, but also to take in some sites along the way. Remember, it's as much about the journey as it is about the destination.

Taking in some local tourist sites, or a nature walk is a great alternative to just stopping at a boring rest area. Stopping in a tourist area can offer you a variety of options. Usually there are pamphlets about many of the things to see and do in the area. Though, those are often found at the rest areas, as well. So if you are unsure about what to do, stop and track down some pamphlets for an area, and see what you can find. And don't forget to take pictures. Make the ride to where you are going as much a part of the vacation as what you do when you get there.

I'm Hungry!!!

A long road trip requires food, there is no way around that. You and the kids are going to get hungry along the way. A well stocked cooler with snacks and drinks saves a ton of money over stopping for fast food, or junk from a gas station. Keep it simple, though. Don't go overboard making sure everyone has there exact favorite foods and drinks. Find a few things that everyone can agree on, but offer a variety so no one gets bored eating the same things over and over again. Bring a loaf of bread, some lunchmeat and cheese for an easy lunch on the road.

Remember how I said you should make stops along the way? Incorporate a meal or two in those stops to maximize time. Even if you just stop to have a picnic in a local park, or if you stop and taste some of the local flavor. Along with finding some great tourist sites, you should be able to find some great places to eat. Ask a person local to the area where they go to eat. Locals usually have a few great, little-known places that have really excellent food. I know there is a McDonald's in almost every town in the country, but that doesn't mean you should eat at every single one of them. Try something new.

Really, Are We There Yet??

And, when you finally get where you are going, you will be that much more relaxed, having had a pleasant drive. I won't say that the drive will be perfect. Children will argue, there will undoubtedly be traffic and road construction at some point, but it will be a far more pleasant experience if you take the time, do a little planning and make the trip as much a part of the vacation as the ultimate destination. Oh, and one more tip...try a different route on the way back, that way you get to see some different sites on the way home. Happy trails to all of you!

This Was a Running Joke With My Family on Long Road Trips...We Would Sing This As We Were About to Hit the Road


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