My husband's parents live nearly 12 hours away from us, in another state. The closest distance we've ever lived from them is 7 hours. It's all my three kids have known from the time they were babies. Fortunately, that means they are used to the long drive, and we've learned what works and doesn't work when traveling the miles with small children (and a dog!). Here are some tips for making traveling with small children easier:
Plan for Stops
For us, this means planning an approximate time to leave, and approximate times for bathroom breaks and meals. We've made the drive to my in-laws enough that we know which stretches of interstate have good places to stop (clean bathrooms!). When the weather is nice, we like to pack a picnic lunch and enjoy an outdoor lunch at a rest area. It's a good chance for everyone to stretch their legs, and enjoy a nice break from riding in the car. It also saves money by bringing a lunch from home. Occasionally we will break the trip up over 2 days, and we'll plan to stay overnight at a hotel with an indoor swimming pool – a really fun treat for the kids! Plus, it makes two smaller trips instead of one really long one.
Life with kids is often unpredictable. A nursing infant is going to get hungry,and it may not be at a scheduled stop time. A potty training toddler may need to use the bathroom every few miles, or at least it seems that way. Traffic jams happen. Allow time in your travel plans for unexpected stops or delays.
One of the best investments we have made is a dual screen DVD player. We only use it for long trips (anything more than 2 hours) so the kids know they can choose a couple of movies for the long drive to Grandmommy's house. We don't run it constantly, but we do choose longer movies and put them in at times when we want to drive a long stretch, like after breakfast or lunch. You also might want to consider getting headphones for the kids to use when watching their movies as well, to keep the noise level down, especially if you have a child who will need to sleep some on the trip.
Pinterest has a lot of great ideas for making road trips more fun. One of our favorites is an updated twist on the old favorite – The License Plate Game. We make it a little competition between mom and dad up front, and the girls in the backseat – each row has their own copy. You can get the printable here. Other families have made “road trip binders” for their kids filled with things to keep them entertained on the road: zipper pouches with crayons or colored pencils, coloring books, mazes, or word searches.
Family road trips don't have to be something you dread. By thinking creatively and planning ahead, you'll find that the miles will fly by, and you'll make plenty of new memories with your kids out on the open road.