Tips for a road trip with young children – the reality edition

This post should be short and sweet. It should read something like ‘Tips on how to have a successful road trip with children: DO NOT TAKE THEM.’ But, alas, we live in a big wide world and often take our children out into it. My husband and I moved to Japan when I was still pregnant with our first. We lived there for six years, during which we flew to and from Tokyo to Raleigh almost a dozen times. And so, I do consider myself a bit of an expert when it comes to traveling with small children.

After a particularly grueling road trip from our home in Jacksonville, FL to visit friends and family in Raleigh, NC, I decided to compile a list of my favorite sanity saving tips for surviving the drive. The trip should have taken seven hours– it took ELEVEN. There was traffic. There were accidents. There were parents slowly but surely loosing their minds in the front seat as their children whined and whimpered and cried and howled in the backseat. At one point, in stand still traffic, I looked over my left shoulder to see a mama with her head square on her steering wheel. I can only assume her children staged some sort of a coup d’etat and she felt her only chance of survival was to fake her own death or pretend to be sleeping. So, to all you mamas out there with their heads planted firmly on their steering wheels, this post is for you.


A mom, two kids, their luggage and a poodle head off to Raleigh…

1. There are no rules

We are an almost media free home during the school week. We try to limit the children’s screen time to the weekends, and have been doing great with sticking to this over the past couple of weeks. But I knew we had a long trip ahead of us, and so I made sure our iTunes library on the MacBook Air was updated and ready to play. Want to watch every movie we own? Deal. Just don’t whine. Rules are also out the window for food. We don’t eat fast-food on a regular basis, and I certainly could have packed a cooler FULL of healthy snacks. Parents, don’t waste your time. Get them junk food. Bribe them with it. Do not be above the bribe, not on the road. “Look! A chick-fil-a sign! Who wants nuggets?!? You do?! WELL THEN STOP WHINING AND FIGHTING WITH ONE ANOTHER!!”

2. Plan to stop every two hours

Do not even try to play the ‘we gotta make good time’ card, because that does not exist. Embrace the fact that you will have to make frequent stops. Soon, the kids AND YOU will start looking forward to these short breaks. It’s a great way to help them understand how long you’ve been driving, and somewhat cuts back on the battery of ‘when will we be there’ questions.

3a. Don’t you even THINK about bringing Pinterest crafts

At one point in my life I, too, fell for the idea that crafts could magically save our road trip. They will be entertained! They will be engaged in something besides a screen! They will actually LEARN something! No, no, and no. Unless you hired a full time nanny to travel with you and facilitate these awesome crafts, you can just forget about them going smoothly. You know what kids drop? Everything. You know who can’t bend over to find that crayon? The parent driving the car or the kid strapped into the five point harness. Save yourself the tantrum, and just don’t bring crafts into the car. I do, however, approve of these Boogie Board writing tablets.

3b. Don’t even THINK about bringing toys

I know, heartless mom alert: I limit the amount of toys that they bring into the car. Remember, kids drop everything. They also have a hard time sharing. So, unless you want to spend your time while driving reaching behind you and blindly searching the abyss that is the floorboard of any family vehicle, don’t bring a lot of toys. My kids each have one small bag, similar to this one and they know they can only bring the toys that will fit inside that bag. The bag, one stuffed animal, and they are good to go.

4. Do not drug your child

It is so tempting to give your child benadryl or dramamine so they will sleep for the entire trip. I’m speaking from experience here, so heed my warning; do not do it. Even if you think you know how they will react on the medicine, you can’t be 100% sure. They could either sleep like the sweet cherub that they are, or morph into a deranged and unreasonable spawn who is one can of pea soup away from starring in their own horror film. My pediatrician always assures me that ‘if they don’t fall asleep from benadryl, it just means you didn’t give them enough. Give a second dose and they should be fine.’ No thanks. I’d rather my child be zoned out from Toy Story than loopy on drugs. Also, you know who is hard to wake up to pee after drinking a huge styrofoam cup of lemonade from chick-fil-a? A drugged child. You know what isn’t fun? A drugged child peeing their pants in their carseat because mama slipped them an antihistamine. Remember, I am speaking from experience here.

5. Embrace the road

The best advice I have ever heard for surviving a road trip with children was to just accept the fact that you will lose an entire day to driving. Don’t try to rush, don’t try to distract. You are all up in that car. With your children. And it really can be ripe with opportunity to bond and make memories. It does not have to be miserable… as long as YOU aren’t miserable. Remember, mamas, you aren’t only driving the car, but you drive your family’s mood. If you are positive THEY will be positive. If you have a sense of adventure about the next rest area, THEY will have the same spirit. It’s so easy to say ‘Uggg, when will this be OVER?!’ but try to shift your outlook to one of ‘OK, we are all up in this car. And I love y’all! And we are going somewhere AWESOME! So let’s make every second an ADVENTURE!’

No go be a road warrior. And don’t forget to stock up on Swedish Fish for the driver!

My tips don’t work for you? Check out Kristin’s 10 Ways to Survive a Road Trip with Kids.

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  1. says

    This is such a great post full of practical tips! As a mom of 2 kids (ages 11 and 8) with lots of miles of road trip experience, I found myself nodding my head to everything- especially not drugging your kids and being sure to bring lots of Swedish Fish for the driver! :)

  2. says

    This made me laugh! So many truths here. We’ve traveled with our kidlets since they were bitty, and while we deviated from many of these (we’re the crafty, healthy eating road trippers), there are so many other “rules” we learned the hard way. Namely the antihistamine one. Heavy sigh.

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