Road tripping with little kids is like spending a week in Tahiti, but it’s raining the whole time. It’s still very exciting and beautiful, and you don’t necessarily want to go home, but planning is key and let’s be honest, it’s at least a little more fun with clear skies. But what the hey, we’re here so let’s make the most of it!
My most recent road trip was 3,000 miles across the country, 3 weeks long, with a bird, a cat, a dog, two teenagers and an 8 month old who was just starting to walk and not at all a fan of car rides. Here is what I learned:
Do not book your hotels in advance
It’s very tempting to get so overwhelmed with anxiety that you plan every single thing down to diaper changes and bathroom breaks. But trust me, your infant doesn’t care about your plans at all. Not even an ounce. And if you show him your plans, he will just cry and throw them on the floor.
So be flexible with your stays. We planned to drive 6 hours per day, and I made some vague notes in my planner with cities and hotels on our route. I recommend downloading a hotel app that meets your general criteria so you don’t have to launch a full blown search every time your plans change. We used the choice hotels app because most of their properties allow pets and they offer lots of budget options while also maintaining pretty good standards. All in all, they were great experiences with an easy breakfast in the morning, so we could eliminate that first stop.
Hotel friendly gear
Loading and unloading your car means a lot of running back and forth, which provides ample opportunity for baby to fall head first down a flight of steps. We found that keeping him round up with a few toys gave us just enough time to put everything away before he had the chance to become curious of his new surroundings. This can of course be accomplished with a pack n play, but we found that the pop out type worked best for space and weight.
This Summer Infant model is available on amazon for about $70, but I recommend calling around to your local consignment shops to find a better deal. If you’re in the Bay Area, check out Mommy’s Trading Post. That is where I found mine and I still use it all the time.
Double the vehicles equals half the stress
This is kind of a stretch, but if you can pull it off, it is a game changer. Having two cars is a great way to keep the drivers sane. As I mentioned before, our baby did not like the car at all when we took this trip. So we made a deal that if the baby cried for 45 minutes, it was time to switch. It gave the baby a change of scenery, and it kept us from losing our minds.
For Teens: Good music/podcasts
I was really hellbent on spending quality time with my teenagers during this stressful but exciting trip. A great way to do that was by listening to podcasts that got us talking. Our go-to for this long trip was The Mortified Podcast. It’s a hilarious stream of adults reading their diaries from when they were kids, with narrated anecdotes throughout. This might be a given, but finding some interesting books on Audible, Podcasts, or albums before starting gives the big kids something to look forward to and a way to connect.
For Toddlers: Grab Bags
When my big kids were about 3 and 4, we took a long road trip on the Pacific Coast Highway; from Arizona, to the beaches of San Diego, visited Disneyland, and then continued all the way up to San Francisco. For this trip, I hit up the dollar store for a basket full of snacks and little toys, and then I packed them into a dozen or so lunch bags. For every minor stop for gas or food, the kids each got a grab bag. These were such a hit, and gave the little ones something to look forward to and kept the “are we there yet”s at bay. This was so successful that I plan on doing the same with my now toddler as we travel back to the west coast in a few years.
I would love to hear more road trip ideas from you, as I foresee many more in our future. Comment below with some of your favorite equipment, podcasts, and other killer ideas to keep the journey exciting. And good luck on your upcoming adventures!