Summer vacations are the high point of the year. They conjure thoughts of quality time as a family, unplugged from the workplace and making lots of awesome memories together.
Traveling with kids, however, strikes fear in the heart of even the most seasoned road warrior. It’s a whole different ballgame.
That old Boy Scout motto is true in most situations, of course, but particularly for traveling with kiddos: Be prepared. A little organization and forethought will go a loooong way to a happy, meltdown-free trip. Here are 10 travel tips for road tripping with the kiddos. Follow these, and consider yourself prepared. Scouts honor.
Make a List
Santa was on to something: Make your list and check it twice. Keep it near you as you go through a typical day at home, and you’ll realize that you might have otherwise forgotten little details, like your daughter’s vitamins or your son’s bibs.
Not sure what to pack for the beach or a different climate? There are lots of ideas and printable summer vacation packing lists on Pinterest, so you don’t have to start from scratch.
Pack in the Order It Is Needed
A common mistake – don’t ask me how I know – is to pack without thinking of the order in which you will need the items. If you are going to stop for dinner, change your little one into her pajamas and drive the rest of the way while she sleeps, then don’t pack her pjs at the bottom of the gigantic family suitcase, which is below the stroller and pack-n-play. Those guide books you were going to read in the car shouldn’t be in trunk, either.
Think through your first day, before you’ve unpacked everything at your rental, so you have what you need, when you need it.
Safety Is No Accident
Before you even pull out of the driveway, get your trip off right be checking your vehicle’s oil level, filling up the gas tank and making sure the inspection is up-to-date. Double check those car seats before you hit the road, too, as 1 in 4 car seats are not used or installed correctly!
Consider safety at your destination as well. Pack plenty of sunscreen and bug spray for outdoor adventures.
Avoid the Hangry Traveler With Smart Snacks
Hangry is the word for being so famished that you are grumpy with everyone around you. Babies, preteens and adults are all equally susceptible to the emotion – especially in my family.
Pack healthy snacks that will provide protein and fiber, not just sugar, to your traveling tribe. Think trail mix, fresh fruit, popcorn or beef jerky. And however tempting it may be to limit the liquid intake of your little ones, don’t forget drinks, because dehydration is way worse than that extra potty break would have been. Reusable water bottles are the best bet, since they can be refilled at rest stops. Mom and dad should probably keep caffeinated. Highly caffeinated. Just leave the sugary sodas on the shelf, since you will probably enjoy lots of vacation treats when you reach your destination.
Pick Strategic Drive Times
Being intentional about your drive times is a must. Leave when the kids are due for a nap, or wait and leave around bedtime so they will sleep for the bulk of the drive. Of course, you will have to stay wide awake for the nighttime sojourn, but your sanity will remain intact. If you’re flying, try to book a nonstop flight so you are not stuck schlepping car seats and luggage all over airports.
Booking Ahead Is Suite
When you and your man (or woman) were newlyweds, it might have been fun to play it by ear and see which adorable bed-and-breakfast had openings overlooking the lake. Those footloose and fancy-free days are behind you, friend. Now, booking ahead is the name of the game.
You’ll want to make sure you are picking a nonsmoking room, and be honest about how many beds you need. If you are traveling with an infant or toddler who sleeps in a pack-n-play, upgrading to a larger room, like a suite, will allow you to put the baby to bed in his own space, so you can shower and read guide books without waking baby. With older kids, adjoining rooms may be (see: is absolutely) a sanity-saver.
Pack One Extra
You packed one set of underwear for every day you’re away. Then your dear, sweet toddler – who was totally potty-trained – has an accident on the first night away from home. Maybe you packed the same number of diapers you always go through at home, but the different food your baby had on the trip resulted in a couple of blowouts. The solution is to pack an extra of everything, unless your rental has a washer and dryer. Then just bring detergent and thank your lucky stars!
Keep Games and Snacks in Reserve
Sure, this might sound like treating travel more like a battlefield, but parents have to be smart about rations. If junior eats through all of your healthy snacks and tosses the toys across the backseat within the first hour of the trip, you’ve lost both the battle and the war.
Instead, ration out snacks and games through the trip. Keep a few in reserve, out of the eyesight of your littlest copilots, so you can pull them out if a breakdown seems imminent. Also pack or download a few types of music: Lullabies and singalong favorites will break up long trips.
Can’t Escape Cleaning
Hopefully your child is not prone to being carsick, but we all know that nausea comes with the parenting territory. Perhaps something gets spilled, or markers leak, or the highchair at your beach rental is filthy. You know the endless cleaning possibilities that come with kiddos. So pack your trusted brand of wipes, keep some paper towels in the car and hope for the best.
Most of all, remember that this is the time to be together. Even if you are at a rest stop or stuck in traffic instead of at your destination, at least you are together. Go with the flow, be flexible and enjoy your family.
Whether you plan to visit an exotic destination or a familiar family home, some of our fondest memories are made on vacation. By following these tips for traveling with children, you can spend more time making those precious moments last.