Tips for Traveling With Kids in a Car
Highlights from my Vacatons with my FamilyClick thumbnail to view full-size
Airfare for a family vacation can be very expensive. It is usually much cheaper to drive. Let us face it; traveling in a car with kids can be an adventure. You never know quite what to expect. Fortunately, for my wife and me, our kids (7 and 6) are very good in the car for the most part. We had no choice but to start them when they were babies because my parents live about six hours away and hers live about two hours away. In addition to visiting our parents, we have driven all of the country on vacation over the past six years. Our vacations have led us to Door County (WI) in 2007, Minneapolis (MN) in 2008, Great Smoky Mountain National Park – Gatlinburg (TN) in 20009, Rocky Mountain National Park (CO) & Colorado Springs (CO) in 2010, Yellowstone National Park (WY) & Grand Teton National Park (WY) in 2011, and Arcadia National Park (ME) in 2012. As someone who became a travel-hardened veteran by taking several very long trips with children in the car, I hope that these tips will help you as much as they helped us.
What is the longest car trip that you have taken with kids?
Things to Consider When Traveling with Kids
The first thing to consider before taking your kids on a long road trip is how long can they reasonable sit in the car. I have seen many different articles that suggest that you should drive no more than 6 – 8 hours per day. My personal belief is that it really depends on how well your kid(s) travel and how easily they are entertained. Thankfully, last year, my kids were able to sit in our van from where we live outside of Chicago all the way to Billings, Montana, which is about a 17-hour drive. Also, consider how well long you can drive too. It is important to remember that you are on vacation and to enjoy the trip. For me, my maximum range is around 18-20 hours on the way to our vacation destination. However, I do not do as well on the return trip and usually try to shorten the drive to around twelve hours if possible on the way back. Another thing to consider when planning your trip is how frequently your kid(s) will need to stop for bathroom breaks and to move around. It is also important to determine whether your kid(s) will do better leaving in the early morning or later in the day. I have found that my kids do better when we leave early in the morning. What works best for us is to put them to bed in what they are going to wear and wake them up and get them settled in our van quickly so that they will fall back asleep.
Pack an Activity Bag for Each Kid
One great way to help keep kids entertained is to pack an activity bag for them of things that they can do in the car. We normally pack a bag for each of them. My wife will also go out and buy a few surprise items that she will hold back in case that they begin to get restless. Here are some ideas of can be included in their bags:
· Books to read
· Coloring books
· Sticker books
· Word search puzzles
· Hand held video games
· Small toys
There are many free activities for kids available online for download.
Portable DVD Player
Many vans and SUVs have portable DVD players built into them. This is another great way to entertain kids for hours upon hours. Unfortunately, our van does not have a built in DVD player, so I purchased a portable one a few years ago. I learned the hard way on a trip to visit my wife’s parents. I strapped the player to the back of my seat thinking that this was the greatest thing, but quickly learned that it is important to be able to reach the player in order to change the DVD or adjust any of the settings. This is especially true with young kids that do not know how to work a DVD player.
Music or Audio Books
Another great way to keep your kid(s) entertained on long road trips is to bring along some of their favorite music or audio books. My kids love to listen to their Vacation Bible School CD that has all kinds of great songs for them to listen to. They also like to listen to the CDs that they received with their Awana books. There are many kid appropriate podcast on ITunes to download.
Road Trip Games for Kids
There are many different games that you can play in the car to keep everyone entertained. We usually see how many different state license plates we see along the way. On our Colorado trip, we saw license plates from 49 states. Miraculously, we saw a Hawaii license plate at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. On our trip to Yellowstone and Acadia National Parks, we played a game to see who could see the most wildlife along the way and handed out points based on the type of animal.
Giving your kid(s) snacks, as your drive, is a good way to keep them happy. One way that has worked wonderful for us is to let them pick out a few special snacks from the grocery store a day or two before you leave. This way they have something to look forward during the trip. I would caution you not to let them have a bunch of sweets because they are strapped in a car for an extended period of time.
One thing that can have a huge impact on how well kids do on long trips is their comfort level. If they are not comfortable in their seats or it is either too hot or too cold, kids will become fussier. Make sure that they have enough room to at least stretch their feet. I remember when I was a teenager, my dad drove one of my friends along with his dad, my brother, and I to a Milwaukee Brewers game in Milwaukee. There were three of us jammed in the back seat for over four hours. It was a very uncomfortable trip because we could not even stretch our legs. My wife and I have made it a practice on long trips to remove the middle row of seats from the van to give the kids a little more room, plus it also allows us to keep a cooler within reach in case any of us gets hungry or thirsty.
Keep a Camera Close By
The final tip that I can give you is to always make sure that you have a camera within reach. You never know when a kid will start acting goofy or fall asleep in a funny manner. This is especially true if you have pets that travel with you.
Traveling with your kids in a car can be a great experience. Be sure to keep in tune to how they are doing and be sure to have enough activities and things for them to do to keep them occupied. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the trips that we have taken. I would not trade all of the wonderful memories that we have created during those trips. I hope these tips for traveling with children in a car are helpful to you.