Road Tripping With Kids

Road Trips With Kids

I have written about tips for taking road tripping with kids before, but here are a few additional tips – and a giveaway for a fun book full of great ideas! Road trips are one of those things that get easier with practice, but there are simple things that make it easier from the beginning!

Invest in a Reciprocal Museum Membership

Did you know that many museums across the United States offer free or reduced admission to members of similar museums? One of my top road trip tips is to check if there is a local museum with a good reciprocal membership! We have used these types of memberships to visit all sorts of children’s and science museums across the country!

Use time wisely

Plan your travel so that you aren’t driving through major cities during rush hour. If hitting rush hour is inevitable, see if you can throw in a local museum visit (see museum memberships above). Mike and I prefer daytime travel, but several of our friends are big fans of driving into the wee morning hours, or leaving VERY early (3:30am).

Make it family time

Road trips make for get family memories – and they are a great time to tell family stories and create family traditions as well! Kids will remember the games you play and stories you tell forever, long after memories of the actual destinations have faded. I also love road trips as a time to connect with Mike and have discussions we haven’t made time for at home.

Pack smart

Now that we live in California, we can drive to Las Vegas (where Mike’s family lives) in one LONG day, or splurge and split the trip into two days, staying in a hotel overnight along the way. When we have only one or two overnight stays along the way like this, I like to pack clothes for the entire family for those days separate from our main luggage. That way the big suitcase stays in the back of the car, and we only bring essentials into the hotel.

For longer trips (our recent Massachusetts visit, and last summer’s cross country drive), the kids each carry their clothes for the trip in a backpack – a trick I learned from my own parents. Why carry your kids’ luggage when they can be in charge of it themselves?

Enjoy the journey

Focusing only on the destination is the easiest way to make a road trip miserable. Wherever possible, focus on the journey! Even when things go horribly wrong (say, vomit all over the car) see if you can see it as a family story everyone will laugh at later on rather than focusing on temporary discomfort.

It gets easier as they get older

A friend was over yesterday, marveling at how easily my kids entertained themselves and played together. While I do invest a lot of time, energy, and thought into raising kids who get along, a lot of the easiness has come form my children growing up and developing independence. My kids now understand the purpose of road trips and are more patient (hence no cactus rants). They can also follow the plots of audio books, read books, and play car games like the alphabet game and I Spy. They have also learned how to create their own down time in the car when we aren’t able to stop, and they can better control tempers from exhaustion – road trip issues I dealt with when the kids were younger.

And now for the giveaway…

Do you remember Loralee Leavitt’s Candy Experiments book? Now this engaging author has paired with Rick Walton to write (affiliate link) Road Tripping: A Parent’s Guide to Planning (& Surviving) the Annual Car Trip. This book is an excellent resource for families planning road trips – particularly extended cross-country trips! Mike and I have travelled quite a bit with our four kids, but this book still had some new-to-us tips and resources. We definitely learned that we need to do more to take advantage of National Parks! This book goes through everything – from choosing a destination to planning, preparing to leave, packing, food and snacks, last-minute tasks, managing the drive, stopping for breaks, sightseeing, and even things to think about that will need to be done when you get home.

What are your favorite road trip memories or tips?

MaryAnne lives in Silicon Valley with her Stanford professor husband Mike and their four children. She writes about parenting through education, creativity, and play. Mama Smiles - Joyful Parenting is a space to share crafts, hands on learning activities, and family outings that enrich lives and bring families together.

29 thoughts on “Road Tripping With Kids”

  1. We’ve done the Bay to Vegas road trip a few times (we usually fly). My tips are leave before rush hour (like 5am). That brings you into Barstow around lunch time. They have a McDonalds (and other food court-like food) at Old Barstow Station, an old train station (there are still trains that pass by). J loved seeing the trains and eating on an old train car. Gas in Barstow is much more expensive than other places along the trip. The cheapest is at a Pilot where you turn off of I-5 (cheaper than Bay Area prices too unless it’s changed in the past year or so), but you’ll most likely have to stop somewhere closer to Vegas too.

    I’ve also been on the road trip with an airplane fanatic. There’s an airplane graveyard of sorts in Mojave by Edwards AFB (seriously, the middle of nowhere). We called ahead and got a tour of the grounds. I think it was minimal cost (like $5 in 2007), but it’s fairly neat (even for non-airplane fanatics like me).

    You also pass Boron, CA – yay for Borax. Good luck with your trip! It’s also very hot most of the way this time of the year. Pack lots of water.

    We might try to roadtrip this fall to OR with the baby. I’ve never been on a long trip with a baby, so it makes me a little nervous. J was 2 before we went 6 hours at once in the car.

    1. Thanks for all of these tips! Some of our kids have done great in the car as babies, others not so much. It’s pretty miserable to be on a road trip with an unhappy baby!

  2. Elisa | blissful E

    Your picture made me nostalgic for the many American road trips I have been on with my boyfriend/fiancé/and now husband!! My favourite part is, like you said, having those adult conversations it’s hard to make time for at home. We enjoy road trips in Australia, too, although there aren’t nearly as many places to stop between destinations, and those places that are there are often closed! We have learned not to announce to the kids that we will be stopping at a certain place or in a certain amount of time, because we never really know!

    1. That would be a bit hard, if you didn’t know if things would even be open! I loved the photos of your Australia travels that you have posted on your blog!

  3. Packing separate overnight bags is great advice and focusing on the journey rather than the destination. I’d love to drive cross country and visit national parks. My favorite road trip was definitely our drive to Florida a couple years ago.

  4. Elisa | blissfulE

    I commented on my phone so I didn’t see the rafflecopter before…
    My favourite road trip memory is hard to pin down because there are so many, but if I had to choose, I’d say it was when I was in a 15-passenger van with a bunch of other uni students on a two-way road. The driver, Dave, pulled out into the oncoming traffic lane to pass someone, and he was getting close to completing his pass when another vehicle appeared on the horizon, quickly approaching. Dave yelled “we’re all gonna die!” just before narrowly completing his pass and getting us back to safety in the correct lane. It became a funny moment as soon as the danger passed!

  5. I love your comment about being aware of rush hour. We once drove from Las Vegas to California on New Year’s–the day all the party people were driving back home. We were stuck in traffic on the highway for hours, surrounded by cars that had “Happy New Year’s” crowns in their back windows.

  6. As a child, we often went to a resort in central Texas where we would rent a cabin for a week or so. We had lots of fun!

  7. My favorite road trip was as a child going on a six week trip from Florida up to Maine with my older sister and her husband. It was wonderful! Now I enjoy road trips with my husband and our three young children.

  8. My family took camping trips to explore the Midwest. My favorite by far was to Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, the thumb that sticks out into Lake Superior from the Upper Peninsula.

  9. Rebekah {McMama Says}

    Some of our best memories from road trips are usually the “disasters.” The many, many times the car broke down, the time we rode the Auto Train home from Florida because my sister got sick, the story of Mom getting stuck on a Graceland tour she wasn’t allowed to leave, the wrong turn that took us back to the Grand Canyon . . .

    My own little guys are 1 and 2 and I can’t wait to start road tripping with them!

  10. What would family memories be without Road Trips. As a grandmother we still retell stories to the youngsters and it makes them wish they had been around in our day.

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