Road trips are a time where families get together to create memories that will last a lifetime. That is, if you are adequately prepared to spend an extended period of time in a car with children who have tiny bladders, argue, complain, spill things, and constantly wonder how much longer they have to endure the pain and suffering of simply sitting in a car. Happy memories can quickly turn sour, but you can help reduce these stresses by preparing beforehand in order to ensure that your family road trip is a great bonding experience for all.
Planning the Route
This may sound as simple as punching the address into the GPS and driving straight there, but in reality, with children it is a lot more complicated. Though it may seem more efficient to limit stops, children need these stops in order to release pent up energy, relieve their bladders, and stretch their arms and legs. Rest stops and gas stations are staple stops on road trips. They give children ample space to get out of the car and stretch, use the restroom, and load up on snacks for the next leg of the trip. Another great stop are restaurants or fast food restaurants if you want it to be a bit quicker. These stops create a moment that a typical gas station or rest stop can’t. It allows for the whole family to sit together, enjoy a meal, and have conversations with one another whether that be about the current trip, memories from a past trip, or just exciting things happening in one’s life. Sometimes, it isn’t always about the destination but more how you get there that leaves a lasting impression. So, when you are planning the route, give yourself freedom when selecting where you want to stop and how long you want to stop for.
When packing, it is important to prepare for the inevitable. As a parent, you understand your child and how an extended period of time seated in a car will affect them. You also understand how clumsy they can be at times and the messes that they are capable of making. When packing, prepare for the inevitable messes by bringing extra clothes outside of the already packed suitcase to ensure easy reach. You should also pack paper towels, wipes, hand sanitizer, and plenty of plastic bags or barf bags in case you have a child who gets car sick.
You should also pack a cooler filled with snacks and drinks. Traveling on the road can be unpredictable at times, so it will not hurt to pack a little extra in this area. When choosing snacks, make sure to pack car-friendly ones. You do not want to find yourself having to vacuum crumbs out of your car months later. This includes things like dips, chocolate, powdered donuts, or anything jelly. Instead, pack foods like celery, carrots, granola bars, grapes, fruit snacks, and beef jerky. When it comes to drinks, it is always a tricky thing as the more you drink, the more stops you have to make to use the restroom. When packing, keep in mind that caffeinated drinks do make you need to stop more.
When it comes to entertainment, make sure electronic devices like phones and tablets are fully charged before hitting the road. It will also be especially helpful to pack long charger cords to make recharging a lot easier. In addition to electronic devices, make sure to pack any toys or stuffed animals that your child often leans on for comfort. In doing this, it is important to use your discernment. Bringing a child-size plushie that takes up its very own car seat is unreasonable compared to say, a child’s blanket or a stuffed animal that they can carry themselves. Another fun and unique thing that you can do is bring a physical map with the route that you are taking highlighted. Not only will this come in handy if you were ever to lose Wi-Fi or GPS services, it will also actively engage and entertain children as they follow along the entire trip, able to note where they are and how close they are to the destination. This will help limit the number of “are we there yets” from your children as you can just tell them to refer to their map.
On the Road
Once on the road, all of your preparation is now going to be put to the test. If you can help it, try completing portions of the drive at night. Children tend to sleep through the night, so this would help alleviate some of the stress of entertaining them for a period of time. Once awake, keep a healthy balance of screen time and on-the-road games and activities like the map that you brought along. Long periods of screen time are generally bad for children, but a bunch of bored and restless children are worse for your sanity, so increasing their daily screen time for this special occasion would not be that detrimental to your children’s health.
Communication is Key
If you don’t want your children asking every minute about the arrival time, be honest with them. Before you even hit the road, set the expectations and communicate them to your children. Tell them about the route and how long you expect it to take, but also explain that delays can happen. You can also let them know about how many times and where you will be stopping so that they can have something to look forward to. At the end of the day, it isn’t going to be a perfect ride where the children behave like angels and you get to your destination with time to spare. That is okay! It is important to allow yourselves the freedom to have fun and be spontaneous if you need to. It is okay to deviate from plans every once in a while. The only thing that matters is that it leads to moments together that you all can cherish as a family.