Summertime and long holiday breaks from school often mean long road trips for families with children, especially in North America where there is no extended train service. On the positive side, driving is cheaper than flying with the whole family, road trips are more flexible, and you can build your own adventure.
Fortunately, you can find lots of ideas to make car travel with kids less stressful and more enjoyable. Let’s take a look at the six best tips and tricks for car travel with kids.
1. Decide on the Best Time to Drive
The best time to drive depends on the individual kids, their ages, and how long the drive will be. Some parents swear by driving overnight and others say the kids are full of energy the next day while they themselves are short on sleep. Sleeping overnight in a car won’t be a deep restful sleep, and they may be cranky as well.
Some parents like to leave very early in the morning. Some kids may fall asleep while others are wide awake and ready to party. For younger children who still take naps, leaving an hour or two before naptime may be ideal.
If you have infants or toddlers, these travel booster seats are designed to prevent slouching as well as protect them from a collision. But keep in mind that car seats aren’t appropriate for extended sleep.
2. Let Kids Pack Their Own Activity Bags
Give kids a little control over the trip by letting them pack a backpack or plastic container with a few of their favorite toys and activities. You will need to supervise what younger children pack. Don’t allow them to pack toys with small parts. Encourage them to pack items like magnetic board games, coloring books and crayons, magnadoodles, dolls, and action figures.
You could also reward good behavior by seeking out a dollar store or toy store along the way and letting kids choose a few new things to keep them occupied.
3. Allow Some Limited Screen Time
Technology can make trips easier with kids, but movies and games should be used after other entertainment options have been used. Otherwise, it may be impossible to get them interested in anything else.
A dual-screen portable DVD player can be mounted to the back of the front seat’s headrest for watching movies. You can also download new apps on a tablet for them. It’s possible to connect your laptop to the internet while in the car with an upgrade to your internet service. This way, the kids can watch their favorite TV shows.
The Audible app can be used to download free books from your library and Apple’s iPad has kid-oriented ebooks and apps.
4. Play Some Old-Fashioned Car Games
The whole family can get involved in some fun car games. Classic games like Name That Tune, I Spy, 20 Questions, and Would You Rather are lots of fun and give parents a chance to interact with children. They stimulate imagination and are excellent for vocabulary development for young children. And don’t forget about the old tried and true license plate game. Kids can compete to find the most states or the state that is furthest away from their home state.
Make driving through the countryside more interesting by counting all the cows or other animals. Make it a contest by dividing it into the right and left sides. And if you pass a graveyard on your side, you have to “bury all the animals” and start over.
5. Plan for Breaks
Young children should be given a movement break around every two hours. While it’s necessary to make pit stops at a gas station, wandering around on concrete isn’t much fun. A grassy rest area with a picnic table is better, but local parks and playgrounds will really give them the opportunity to run around and get rid of excess energy. Simply Google “parks near me” on your phone.
Break up your trip by planning a few stops at interesting places along the way. State and national parks, museums, roadside attractions, or even wandering around a shopping mall gives everyone a good break from the road.
6. Don’t Forget the (Non-Messy) Snacks
Pack plenty of healthy, non-messy snacks for the kids in a soft-shelled cooler with ice packs to keep them fresh. Use ziplock bags or snack cups to pre-portion out some of their favorite snacks. Good things to pack include individual apple sauces, cut-up apples, carrots, granola bars, cheese, crackers, and frozen juice boxes.
Set limits on snacking with rules such as “you can have a snack every 100 miles or morning snacks and afternoon snacks.
Use snack cups or plastic storage bags to pre-portion out your kids’ favorite car-friendly snacks. Finally, throw in some special treats for yourself too!