5 Tips for Surviving a Long Family Road Trip


Planning a long road trip? Check out these ingenious tips!


For three years, I’ve been telling myself that I was going to take my kids to sled on the sand at White Sands National Park. For three years, I’ve found lots of excuses to not do that. 

I had plenty of those excuses ready this year, too, but I did it anyway. Why? Because there was never going to be a time when the drive wasn’t too long, when I didn’t have too much work to do, and when it wouldn’t be an inconvenience. If I was waiting for a perfectly clear calendar and no obligations, I’d be waiting forever. 

So we went. And it was GORGEOUS. I’m posting a picture here, but it doesn’t do it justice.


wavy lines in white sand in the foreground with a blue sky in the background


Trust me. It was worth every bit of the inconvenience of an 18-hour drive. Coming back to the real world and thinking about the journey, I’ve got some tips for other families who might be embarking on a worthwhile inconvenience of their own! 

(Caveat: My trip was done with two adults who could trade off driving duties. We made our way to our destination with two overnight stops and our way home with one.)


Tip 1: Headphones (for everyone)

Perhaps you have visions of playing wonderful car games and bonding with your family during this drive. Save that for the three-hour trip to grandma’s house. 

There is only so much “bonding” you can do crammed inches from one another for hours on end. What you need is an escape, but the literal escape will delay your trip and make it take even longer before you can truly spread out and stop annoying each other. 

The answer is headphones. The driver can have control of the car’s audio system (podcasts, audiobooks, and music were all in rotation there), and everyone else can retreat into their own private oasis of personally selected noise. 

Bonus Tip: If you’re the non-driving adult, try out some binaural beats when you want to close your eyes! It makes sleeping (or at least resting) a lot more likely. 


Tip 2: A Winter Hat (even in the summer)

Sleeping is a great tool for a long trip. If you’re not the one driving, you might as well be sleeping! Rest up for the adventures yet to come and recover from the ones you’ve already had by leaning back and getting some shuteye. 

For me, though, sleeping in the car has always been really hard to do … until I tossed my winter hat on over my headphones (see the note about the binaural beats above). I could pull it down to cover my eyes while still breathing easy, plus it kept my headphones in place while I tossed and turned. Ah … sensory deprivation bliss. 


Tip 3: Curbside Pick-Up

I packed the prerequisite snack bag that must be taken on all road trips over one hour in length per the Parenting Bylaws, but we needed actual meals. Sure, I could have packed a cooler full of picnic supplies, but we had plenty of opportunities for that once we actually made it to our destination. This was about efficiency. 

Still, a bunch of drive-thru fast food options didn’t seem appealing. Greasy burgers and fries seem like the primary road trip option if you’re in a hurry, but we started scouting out curbside pick-up we could order from our phones and time it out to be ready when we got there. It worked out perfectly with no more waiting than a drive-thru would have taken and much better food. McCalister’s was our go-to because they have options everyone likes, pretty healthy selections if you want them, and an easy-to-use mobile app. 


Tip 4: A Big Empty Cloth Bag 

I don’t know what it is about traveling that makes laundry an incomprehensible mess, but that’s what happens for my family. By day two, all the clothes are somehow jumbled together, and no one knows what’s clean. 

I solved that this time by packing a big empty cloth bag and insisting that anytime anyone took off any clothes, they went into the bag and only into the bag. When we got to our rental house, I dumped a load of laundry in right away. It meant we didn’t have to pack as many clothes and it just made things run a lot more smoothly. 


Tip 5: Embrace the Mess

Look, there’s not really an easy way to drive for 18 hours with kids, but if that’s the best choice to get to see some of the world and experience the things that make life worth living, well, we just have to do it anyway. 

I had the tendency to keep saying “someday” as if when the current problems cleared, there wouldn’t be any new ones. “When the kids are out of diapers” turned into “when the kids don’t need bathroom stops so often.” “When the kids are older” turned into “when the kids don’t have so many sports activities.” “When I have a break from work” turned into “when I have the house clean,” which turned into “when I have a break from work” in an endless cycle that was never going to get me to White Sands. 

Sometimes you just have to go, mess and all. 



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