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Lazy Mom’s Guide: Roadtrip with Small Children

My kids were watching an episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood the other day about Daniel taking a trip to visit Grandpere, and Daniel had this neat little map his mom made of things to see and do on the way to his grandfather’s house. This blog is being written by a mom who doesn’t make such maps. Just wanted to set your expectations appropriately. 

Now that we have that out of the way, let me say we are a family who road trips often and usually enjoys it! And not just a few hours at a time. I’m talking 10+ hour driving days with two kids. Road tripping has allowed us to visit my in-laws on the beach in North Carolina frequently, make a last minute trip to my parents in Colorado, and, while we lived overseas, the chance to see the Italian Alps in ways that we would have missed from an airplane. It’s not because we are adventurous and like to just throw our stuff in the van and go at the drop of a hat, and the good Lord knows I’m not camping anywhere along the way; it’s generally because it’s the most affordable and practical way to get all of us with multiple suitcases of junk (I pack ALL of the things) while having the convenience of our own vehicle.

Some people are great at planning out a route that is exciting and has lots of things to look forward to. I generally plug our destination address into my GPS sometime the night before so it’s stored in my phone and that’s about as much forethought I put into our route. Despite my minimal effort, we still make it to our destinations in good moods and with everything we need for a comfortable vacation. So if this sounds like your kind of trip, here are some tips that have gotten me through over the years!

  1. Super Walmart/Kmart are your new travel oasis. I know, they aren’t my go-to shopping places most of the time, but hear me out. The bathrooms are almost always in good shape with plentiful toilet paper and a diaper changing area, and you don’t have to get a key from the cashier to access it. No matter the weather, the kids can squirm and burn off steam freely for an hour as you wander every single aisle without anyone giving you side eye- hello, toy and bike department! You can restock on the supplies you forgot to pick up (I actually have stopped buying snacks for the trip beforehand because I know we’re going to stop at Walmart anyway) and let the kids choose one $1 or less toy that will hold their attention for at least 20 minutes when you get back in the car. And, since these are usually close to the interstate, you won’t add more time to your trip just looking for a place to get out and stretch your legs! Bonus, pump your kids with water a half hour before the stop, let them use the bathroom on the way into the store AND an hour later on the way out, and they are less likely to deal with trip constipation resulting from you withholding fluids. We all know it happens. 
  2. Eat on the go. We used to make the restaurant our stop, but when I realized that we were getting out of the car to sit some more and it just didn’t make sense! Unless you pack meals beforehand (and as I mentioned, I’m lazy so of course I don’t) lunch is probably going to be some sort of fast food. Even if I find a mysteriously empty Chick-Fil-A with a play area, which let’s be honest is unlikely, I don’t really want to spend my stretch time sitting and stopping my kid from licking the slide. So get some steps in at Walmart, then spin through the drive thru and hand out food after you get back on the interstate (that’s assuming you are traveling with a partner, when I’m alone I just pull into a parking spot and distribute before leaving). You’ll burn 30 minutes of “Are We There Yet?”  time just having lunch. Of course, there will be spills, but don’t you have to vacuum out the car at the end of the road trip anyway? I know I do. 
  3. Determine your best drive window. For us, it’s 3-3.5 hours at a time. With potty training kids, it might be less, and longer with older kids. Knowing that it’s going to be predictably 3 hours every time we get in the car lets me plan the distractions accordingly and gives my little time teller something to watch on the clock. Hour 1: Sing songs, play I spy, read books, tell “when you were a baby” stories, eat the lunch we picked up, just generally interact as a family. Hour 2: Put on a movie and regain our patience. Ommmmm. And inner peace. Hour 3: Snacks (I have a no M&M rule because those little suckers are the WORST to get out of car seats), snacks, snacks. I also like to mix in stickers here, as well as the little $1 toys they picked up at our stop. If you’re traveling at night at all, glow sticks and light up balloons are pure, priceless gold. But if I have to, I will feed them nonstop for hour 3. Also, my M&M rules don’t apply to me, and I for sure sneak that little caramel filled balls in my door cup holder. 
  4. Role call for the important things as you leave every stop. Write them on a sticky note, put it on your dash, and do it every darn time. Wallet? Phone? JOEY’S FAVORITE STUFFED DOG? Well crap. This rule was clearly made after a tragic incident with our BowWow dog. Make sure your checklist has the items that can fall out of the door as you close it- nothing is accounted for until the doors are closed and locked.
  5. Fill your gas tank at every stopIt feels like this should go without saying, but I know it’s tempting to just get back on the road, especially if you plan to stop again in 3 hours and you know you have enough gas left in the tank for that. But imagine the horror you would feel should your child fall into a deep, glorious nap and you have to stop for gas. We all know they aren’t sleeping through that, and it would be totally tragic for everyone involved. So while your spouse wanders Walmart with your little darlings, go fill up the gas tank and enjoy a little alone time-seriously, we take turns with this on our stops, it’s surprising what a mental lift 20 minutes alone can provide in the middle of a very long day of driving. 

So that’s it for my tips! Now make the most of your spring breaks and hit the road to somewhere new! Parent at an alternate location for a few days, and who knows you might just find the inspiration to make a map of the sights you will see on the way home in a few days!

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One Response to Lazy Mom’s Guide: Roadtrip with Small Children

  1. Leslie
    Leslie March 21, 2018 at 12:23 pm #

    Great tips!! I love the Daniel Tiger reference too haha. Every time we see that episode I feel like my oldest gets very unrealistic expectations of what a road trip is really like.