Road trips can be long and boring, and adding kids can make them difficult. Since we have family spread all over the large state of Minnesota, I can say we have logged a good number of miles driving. Our girls are 3 and 1, so I know first hand some of the difficulties road trips plus children can bring.
Entertaining little ones in the car is tough! They don’t understand why they must be strapped into their car seats for hours on end. There have been a few times that I have thought how nice and convenient it would be if we had a built in DVD player to help make everybody happy.
Up until about recently we only had a car, and no DVD player. When we started looking at minivans we asked ourselves if having a DVD player was something we needed or not. We went back and forth, but in the end decided it wasn’t necessary. Although it would sometimes be a nice perk, our girls have survived countless hours in the car without it, so why introduce one now?
I want to share some tips that have been helpful for our family to survive hours in the car, all without a DVD player! Here are some questions to ask yourself as your prepare for your next trip.
1. What toys do I need to pack?
Going on a trip with kids can already feel like you are bringing your entire house. The last thing I want is to bring practically a whole other suitcase of toys to entertain my girls on the drive. But I have learned what types of toys entertain each kid and are car appropriate. Try to find the balance between being prepared and being minimalistic.
For my 1 year old I bring just a few toys for her to play with. She plays with them for awhile but eventually they end up on the floor. She also enjoys looking out the window, at her sister, or at herself in the mirror. We are lucky that she travels well!
Toys for 1 year old:
- Small stuffed animal
- 1-2 cloth or indestructible books
- 1-2 toys to attach to the car seat
For my 3 year old I will typically pack her small backpack with toys for the car. It always consists of similar items because I know what works for her. On longer trips I try to give her only 1 thing at a time and that keeps her occupied longer.
When packing I sometimes try to grab things that are either special car toys or that she doesn’t play with often. I often grab books that aren’t new, but have gone unread and forgotten about for months. Occassionaly I will buy an actual new toy, book, or small trinket from the dollar section at Target to provide some new entertainment too. If you are feeling crafty you can find some simple busy bag ideas online. Even simples items like pipe cleaners, felt, and ribbon can provide entertainment!
Toys for 3 year old:
- Favorite stuffed animal
- Blanket & neck pillow
- 3-4 books (search and find or books with flaps are always good)
- 1-2 Barbies or baby doll and a few accessories
- Notebook with stickers
- Crayola Color Wonder paper and markers
- I-Spy Jar
- 1-2 New small toys (like a car, small kaleidoscope, etc.)
As a rule I try to avoid bringing toys with small pieces or lots of parts. Inevitabley they will be lost before we leave the driveway, so I just stick to bigger toys that don’t involve a lot. Think through what you bring, and don’t bring (do you really want to listen that noisy toy for 3 hours??), and keep your kids in mind.
Speaking of sound, don’t forget to bring music! It doesn’t even need to be strictly “kid music” either, some of that stuff can drive you crazy. I know what types of music my girls like to dance or sing along too and I have that ready to go! I even have a CD that has been known to lull them to sleep from time to time. Lately we have been delving into audio books and stories which opens up so many possibilities! If you don’t have any of your own, check out your local library to try some.
2. Do we have enough snacks?
It may seem obvious, but pack plenty of snacks. I try to keep our snack bag stocked with a variety of snacks. Small snack cups, or pre-portioned baggies are wonderful. I know that some of that snack will end up on the floor, the car seat, and who knows where else! To avoid one HUGE mess I keep the portions of snacks smaller and easier to handle. Of course messes will still happen, but I have just come to accept that.
Some foods are less messy that others, so I try to stick to snacks that travel well. And typically we only do water in sippy cups for car rides. Milk and juice messes are not something I feel like cleaning up on a road trips! But no matter what you pack, have baby wipes or napkins at the ready. You will need them!
- Dried Fruit (Craisins & raisins)
- Fruit Snacks
- Fruit/Applesauce pouches
- Goldfish or animal crackers
- Dry cereal (Kix, Cheerios, and Life)
- Snacks for mom & dad (granola bars, trail mix)
3. Where will we stop for breaks?
Of course pit stops are going to have to happen multiple times for multiple reasons. Accept the fact that these stops are going to happen. And they will probably be more frequent and longer then desired. On our regular road trip routes we have our favorite stops pretty well planned ahead of time. And we know that each stop it will be at least a half an hour or longer. Spending a little more time outside the car is worth it to make the time in the car more enjoyable!
We try to make the most out of our pit stops. Stopping at a rest area or a Target is usually better than just stopping at a gas station for a bathroom break (but sometimes emergencies happen!).
Target is great because it gives us all a chance to stretch our legs, maybe pick up an item or two we forgot to pack (it always happens), recharge with a cup of Starbucks, and of course use the bathrooms. This is especially nice when the weather is cold or rainy, but you still have kids with energy to burn! Rest areas also allow for a multipurpose stop to use the bathroom and play. Lately we have been keeping sidewalk chalk and bubbles in our van, which can help make some less exciting rest areas more fun.
When it’s time for a meal break use it as another chance to get out of the car and get some energy out of your little ones. Stop at a place with a play area, or get food to go and eat at a park. Malls can be another good option to stop for meals. Food courts have many options, all in ONE place. And a lot of malls have a play area, or just plenty of space to walk/skip/run.
If you are traveling somewhere new and are unfamiliar with the route, spend some time researching. Look at the map and try to plan out some stops to be multipurpose and fun. Also check out the City Moms Blog map of cities that lists their blog locations. Each blog has different resources that may be helpful to you that could point you to fun parks, indoor activities, or kid friendly restaurants!
4. How can I mentally prepare myself?
Maybe it’s just me, but when I have a positive attitude going into a road trip I notice it makes a difference for everyone else too. When I pack and prepare beforehand, instead of rushing the day of, I feel less stressed. Having a decent night’s sleep may seem like a little thing, but again makes a difference!
My attitude in the car can also help set the tone for our trip. I don’t like it when I get so obsessed with getting to our destination that I miss the fun along the way. Telling funny stories, making up songs, and just engaging in conversations together help make the kind of memories I want my girls to have.
What are some of your favorite road trip activities and tips?