Recently our family went on our first trip outside our home state of Missouri since the pandemic. And when I tell you it was refreshing, I mean it! There’s something beautiful about shaking off the routine scenery and daily schedules in exchange for making memories and exploring some new surroundings.
When we decided to travel, we were between picking one particular place and staying there or doing a good ol’ fashion road trip i.e. staying a night or two in one place before driving a while and then repeating the cycle until it was time to go home. We chose the latter. A 2,000 mile trip through Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma with the bulk of our sightseeing and fun happening in Texas.
We aren’t novices to traveling long distances by car and even went on a 16 day, 8 states, 5,000-mile road trip back when our firstborn was 17 months old. Fast forward to today and add two more kids to our family of 5 with children ages almost 7-years-old, 4.5-years-old, and 21-months old. Times have changed. I’m sharing with you what worked on our trip. Although we’ve traveled long distances before we had been out of practice due to the pandemic. Hopefully, these tips will help you on your next family trip.
Plan your route/stops
This may seem like a no-brainer but this is road-trip rule number 1 with young kids. God bless my husband for planning our route and the excel spreadsheets he used to keep track of all our hotels. 🙌🏿 We’ve learned the importance of having a mapped route or at least a general idea of where you are going. Google Maps was a big help for us this trip, especially despite all our asking, one of the kids needed to go to the bathroom ASAP. 😅
It’s Okay to Use Devices
When we took our first road trip as a family of three, I did my best to plan out all sorts of activities for my one-year-old to keep him busy on our drive aside from tv. These days and especially going through a pandemic, I’m not as concerned about that anymore. My biggest concern was to make sure screens weren’t the only things keeping them entertained. My youngest watched his fair share of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse while my two “big kids” liked to watch the Mega Man cartoon from the ’90s. 🤷🏿♀️ We also have a Nintendo Switch and Switch Lite that our children enjoyed playing on the trip as well.
Books on Tape
Before we had kids, my husband and I listened to the book Song of Ice and Fire on a road trip. George RR Martin doesn’t cut it for trips with kids 🙃 but there are so many great children’s books “on-tape”. You can even download them digitally if you don’t want to go the old-school cd route. My kids’ personal favorites right now are the Magic Tree House series. We listened to 6 of those stories and a plus was that it put my 1-year-old to sleep several times on our drives. A great way to keep the kids entertained without using screens.
Visit The Dollar Store
Before my youngest was born, I would always take a trip to Dollar Tree to buy something to entertain them. They have so many great things to keep kids busy while keeping your budget intact. Sticker books, coloring books, and small toys are a few of my favorites. The best part is that if there’s a mishap with any of your newly purchased activities it was only a dollar. 😏
Have a Limit on Drive Time
This was a game-changer for us on our last trip. We knew from previous trips that our travel days needed to be no longer than 6 hours of driving per day. Our kids are great travelers but that’s when they reach their limit. The last time we did a long drive with them was to Colorado which is about 13 hours and staying somewhere at the halfway point seemed to do well for us. If you are planning a trip with kids, take into account their temperaments. The last time we went to Colorado our youngest was 3 months old and he slept great in the car. This time not so much. My husband and I decided that moving forward 4 hours of total driving a day might work better for us. Luckily, we only had one day where we drove 6 hours.
Break up the drive
After we decide on our driving per day limit, we do things to break up our drive. Meaning we find different things to visit while on our way to our day’s destination. Mapping out nearby parks and rest areas beforehand can be helpful. Find sights to see where you can get out and walk around, especially on long drive days. On our longest travel day, we stopped at the border of Texas and Arkansas in Texarkana. Half of the town was in Texas while the other half was in Arkansas. There wasn’t a lot to see but it was fun to get out take some pictures and announce to the kids that we made it to Texas (our main destination) as well as joke about leaving one of their siblings behind in Arkansas.
Be sure to bring snacks along. They are more expensive in convenience stores. Although you’re bound to run into a Walmart at some point it’s nice to not spend that time shopping for food but getting to your next destination. I did a big Aldi haul before our trip and we are still eating those snacks.
Go with the Flow
As much as I feel that successful road trips require planning there is also a need for flexibility. There are so many things you can’t bother planning for on a trip. Inevitably someone will go to the bathroom when you are miles away from one. Try and keep your cool and stay positive. (I didn’t always do this on our trip but I made sure to say sorry to my kids when I got really frustrated.) At least you are taking a break from laundry for a period of time.
Breaking routines & make memories
Normally, my husband and I read our kids’ stories and sing them a song before bed. We brought a book but our trip was so jam-packed, we never had time to read bedtime stories. On our trip, we sang them a song but by the time they went to bed, which was much later than usual, we had forgotten to read a story. And that’s okay. As much as I like to keep my routine in daily life, vacations are for doing things a little differently. Our third child missed many a nap. I think the kids had vegetables twice that week which they usually eat with their meals daily. But that’s okay. Those days come back. Once we got back home vegetables and bedtime were a part of our normalcy.
Anyone planning on a road trip this year? I’d love to hear where you are headed.