Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Road Trip Travel Tips

In my humble opinion there are two types of travel.  Roadtrips and "get there as fast as you can" trips. I am definitely not an expert on the second type because let's be honest here....I go nowhere fast.  Nowhere.  I could probably crawl a mile faster than I walk.  And I am just never quite prepared enough to just get up and go.

But roadtrips.  We've done our fair share of these.  And quite well I think.  We've mastered what works for us and figured out how to make roadtrips (especially really long ones) enjoyable!  We've done roadtrips as a couple, with a 12 month old and with 3 kids 4 and under.

I've been saying I was going to do this for months and I finally decided I would sit down today and write out a few of my favorite tips!

Plan ahead.  No seriously, plan ahead.  That sounds like crazy talk.  Because who WOULDN'T plan ahead?  Me.  That's who.  We did a two week roadtrip this summer, covering thousands of miles, nine states, and I didn't even have a reservation.  Now to be fair I did have a Word document where I had figured out a "kind of" plan based on how many miles I thought we could cover comfortably each day.  And here is where the difference between the two trips comes in.  You can do a 10 or 12 or even 15 hour trip in one day if you really want to.  However doing 3 or 4 or 5 of these days in a row?  Crazy talk!  Unless you absolutely HAVE to I wouldn't suggest it.

So, here I am with this list of where we might make it the first few days.  We pull into the first town the first night and we don't have a place to stay.  That's where my first tip comes in.

Trip Advisor.  Here we have reviews on restaurants, lodging, things to do and sometimes even deals.  Get the app.  Use it!  Personally I read all the reviews of hotels we are considering to see if people say it is gross.  As long as there aren't any horrible reviews we stay anywhere that has a breakfast and gives a military discount.

Be prepared.  Ok so this sort of goes along with the plan ahead thing.  But it really does pay to prepare for some mild emergencies.  Pack a first aid kit.  Pack a couple blankets.  Pack a roll of toilet paper and paper towels and plenty of disposable garbage bags to take care of unexpected mess.  Or side of the road potty stops.  In the rain.  See above.  To clarify that picture it was taken after the potty stop.  Just in case you were wondering. Other items we brought on this trip.

-a small cooler
-a sharp knife (for cutting apples, cheese etc)
-small plastic plates and cutlery (we used ours from Ikea but if I could do it over I might use paper)
-an umbrella
-first aid kit
-foldup highchair (if traveling with a baby)
-a box fan to block hotel noise

I'm sure I'll think of more of these later and add to the list!

Kiddos like Surprises.  This is Stafford's face after we told him that we had "Jingle Bell Rock" on CD.  He knows all the words.  It's hysterical.  This was about 1/2 through our two week trip and at this point he needed something new and exciting.  Here are some things I do to help the kiddos

Goodie Bags
This is a family tradition in my family and I looked forward to these each time we traveled growing up.  I filled these with cheap, age appropriate toys, games, food and treats.  Some of the things in the boys' bags were--binoculars/telescope, Melissa & Doug Colorblast books (the marker only works ON the pages of these books), Melissa & Doug Water Wow (fill the pen with water and it colors the pages.  You can do them over and over.), a couple new videos, fish crackers, jelly beans, fruit snacks, a new matchbox car or two, anything else you might find that your kid will enjoy!

I don't give them the bag all at once.  Sometimes I let them chose something and sometimes I chose for them.  It's good to spread this out during the trip!

I also let them pack a small bag (very small) of toys from home.  They could take whatever they wanted as long as it fit into the bag.

Other items
Each boy was allowed to take a stuffed animal and a blanket from home.  We also packed books.  I love the Search and Find books because those will keep them busy for a long time.  If you kids are older you could also look into games from Melissa & Doug.  Their travel games are great!
Music & Videos
Have lots of music options.  Our kiddos like to listen to the same songs over and over and over.  So we make sure we have lots of choices.  We listen to their music sometimes and our music sometimes.
Mama needs snacks too.  Especially while driving to keep awake!
Other things you might want to consider for your kids include snacks, playground visits and seating arrangements.

Pack whatever your kids like!  We try to eat one meal a day on the road (either at a rest stop, local playground or other attraction).  We grocery shopped every 3 or 4 days at a local store and made sure to bring our cooler in every night with the food that needed to be refrigerated.  You might want to post a giant sign on your dashboard that says "don't forget the cooler".  I also packed other snacks I know my kids enjoy so we weren't stopping to purchase them along the way.

These were key for us.  Being in the car for 2 weeks straight is a long time for two little boys.  We made sure we stopped as frequently as possible at a restaurant that had a play area or an outdoor playground.  Because I was nursing we had to stop a lot.  So we'd grab a drink and maybe some apple slices or yogurt at McDonalds and then let the boys play.  If we had been traveling for a while or the boys were restless we would find a local playground at the next town and stop for 20 minutes or so just so they could get some wiggles out!  We did this at night too after settling into our hotel.  I think it definitely made the trip more fun for the boys!

Seating Arrangements
When we started the trip I wanted all three kids in the middle seat.  That way we could use the back for packing and it would be easy to hand the kids food or help them with something.  This quickly backfired.  The boys wanted to touch Kelsey all the live long day.  Poor kiddo.  Every time she would fall asleep they would touch her or yell something and she would wake up.  And then the kicking.  So much kicking.  I couldn't handle it.  Maybe your kids sit quietly in their seats for 6 hours at a time but mind do not.  So we made the switch a couple days into our trip.

Having one kid in the back definitely made the trip a little more challenging because I couldn't reach Stafford anymore.  If I wanted to get a snack to him I had to throw it.  Also if he needed to get out to potty and the others kid's were still in their seats it was hard for him to get out (since the middle seat was installed in the van).  We also have a hard time hearing him when he is in the back seat so that can be frustrating to both him and us.

We saw a lot of beautiful things on our trip.  One thing I wish I had done was given then kids one of our old digital cameras.  I would have loved to have "seen" the trip through their eyes.  Definitely on my list of things to do next time.


Packing is my worst nightmare.  Well, other than unpacking.  We happened to be going at a time of year when we would potentially be needing summer and fall clothes.  Check the weather ahead of time at various places along your route.  For little kids I always think it is better to overpack.  There were a couple of times we stopped at a playground and they got dirty enough to warrant a change of shirt or pants.  And you might want to do laundry while you are traveling but my guess if you won't.  

I suggest packing what I call "suitcase central" for everyone.  Pack enough clothes for 3-4 days for each family member in one suitcase.  Otherwise you are hauling in tons of bags each night.  Then you only have to do this every fourth night or so.  Depending on the length of your trip you could just pack 2-3 suitcases and then rotate through.  This really helps in terms of loading and unloading.  Our van was so packed that it took forever to re-organize each day!

This was our "don't judge a book by it's cover motel.  It had great reviews on Trip Advisor and was significantly cheaper.  The room was huge, the breakfast was sufficient and we didn't pay through the nose to stay there!

My best advice for LONG roadtrips is to be flexible.  There might be some days that you are so tired you just have to stop early.  We always add 1 extra travel day that we don't plan to use, but keep it just in case we need to.  On this particular trip I had to visit Urgent Care and so we lost some time getting prescriptions and waiting in the Drs office!  We also like to have some swing time just in case we see something really cool along the way and want to stop!

Take your camera and enjoy your trip!

What are some of your tips for long trips with little ones?


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