Twelve practical tips to keep your sanity on holiday road trips.
Quality time is a hallmark of holiday bucket lists, yet most of us don’t include “traveling hours and hours together in a vehicle” as a desirable family activity. Yet the reward of the destination keeps us pressing the accelerator.
But is it even possible for road trips (with kids!) to be enjoyable? Or at the least tolerable? James exhorts us to count it all joy, but it’s awfully hard to find happiness with shrill screams of “she touched my seat” or a spill of goldfish crackers all over the floorboard, isn’t it?
Road trippin’ with kids is a situation where we really must draw into patience…and practicality!
With all four of our children, we began traveling early. We’ve even endured an eight-hour drive with a one-month-old. The destination was worth the effort of traveling with a carload. Plus, many of our most memorable conversations and laughs have been had during high-mileage excursions.
No trip is perfect, but twelve years of parenting four children (who now range from ages 12-2) has taught me tons about making trips easier.
Whether you are driving to grandmother’s house this holiday season or across cross-country to get to the beach or ski-slopes here are my top tips for travel!
Twelve Tips for Traveling with Children
The night before our trip, I go into the rooms of my sleeping children to pray for safe travels, good attitudes by all, and for us to each show kindness and patience with each other on our journey.
James 1: 2-4 says,
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Don’t provide unlimited access to drinks. Why do I do this? The effect of constant water is the constant need to start and stop for gas station restroom breaks. It’s a major problem with multiple children and a cringe-worthy issue if there is an emergency during a traffic jam. Our children get drinks at breakfast, lunch, and dinner; we make sure they are hydrated, but we don’t supply them with a drink to keep at their seats.
Pack each child a Ziploc bag of snacks for the time of travel. Plus, the bag serves as a personal garbage bag.
Keep an easy to access bag that includes baby wipes or sanitizing wipes. Spills happen! We also pack a real road atlas, so the kids can have a big-picture understanding of our trip.
Because my kids take off their shoes on long trips, I make certain they wear footwear that is easy on /easy off so during pit stops they can get themselves in / out of the vehicle with ease. They also wear outfits that are cozy for long periods of sitting.
Each of our kids has a bag for car fun: books and puzzle books, drawing pad, pens, pencils or crayons, stuffed travel animal, small blanket and small pillow, and any little toy(s) they want to play with in the vehicle. These bags stay in the vehicle when we reach the destination. We also make sure the diaper bag is well-stocked with diapers, wipes, extra clothes, and extras of favorites such as pacifiers.
Keep supplies at hand for easy diaper changes in the car to lessen the need for gas station diaper changes. Also, pack a little potty chair in the back of your vehicle if you are potty training a toddler. Sounds crazy, but this can eliminate scrambling when they scream, “I go potty, now!” Now all you must do is pull over and pull out the potty. Plus, you’ll have the potty-training potty for them to use at your destination.
Drown out the sound of sibling squabbles with music! Amaze your squad with a spot-on singing of NSYNC Bye-Bye-Bye or anything else equally embarrassing and nostalgic. We also DJ a good theme drive to introduce our children to genres and decades of music. Our oldest fondly remembers the 10-hour drive we took where he was introduced to 90’s Country. Exploring 80’s top hits is also fun! Will your kids roll their eyes? Absolutely. But that doesn’t stop the fun. Soon they will know all the Alan Jackson hits. We also enjoy listening to our favorite radio stations (hint, hint!)
DON’T EXPECT THE ETA:
Traveling with babies or toddlers? Prepare yourself for an unpredictable arrival time. Your estimated 6-hour trip will take anywhere from 5 to 12 hours. Abandon hopes of an exact ETA; exact times and children do not coexist. You have been warned!
Plan on a break at a quick, in-route point of interest. Halfway between home and our favorite destination is a country store on the side of the interstate. We always stop to browse and stretch our legs. Likewise, keep driving if you have a sleeping baby/toddler in your car. We never stop if the baby is sleeping.
In the middle of a long road trip, my husband leads our children into a gas station for each child to pick out a special snack. I often roll my eyes about his spoiling of the kids, but this solitary act keeps our spirits up. They get to pick out WHATEVER they want. Donuts? Sure. Popcorn. Why not? My kids think they get away with something because normal-day mom doesn’t let them have snacks, but road-trip dad leads them into the convenience store snack haven. Plus, they always bring me a Snicker bar. A gas station treat is one of our sanity-saving road trip secrets. We pull under those neon lights of a Seven-Eleven and the tears instantly dry.
We parents know that being in a car for multiple hours with children will test our faith and can be a trial of various kinds. When your faith is tested – rather it be from the scream of your inconsolable newborn or road rage toward a fellow human, we must pray to God for patience. Pray to God for help and praise Him that He has blessed you with a family and the means to travel to see family, friends, or a destination of choice.
The destination is always the goal, but be open to all the ways that road trips in and of themselves can be fun, teach patience, and are full of memory making moments.
Sarah Philpott, Ph.D, is the author of the award-winning book: Loved Baby: 31 Devotions Helping You Grieve and Cherish Your Child After Pregnancy Loss and The Growing Season: A Year of Down-on-the-Farm Devotions. Sarah lives in Tennessee on a cattle farm where she raises her four mischievous children and is farm wife to her high-school sweetheart. She doesn’t share desserts.