A Guide to Road Trips with Little Kids

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Save these hacks for your upcoming road trips!

 

My children have never been great sleepers and, no matter what I try, are the pickiest eaters. As a mom of three kids born within 20 months of each other, I quickly took a “chose your battles” approach to parenting, and my kids finishing their vegetables was never the hill I was going to die on. But for the last six years, I have nailed family road trips.

 

 

My husband and I first started taking our kids to Florida when our youngest was six months old, and our twins had just turned 2. Since that trip, we have gone back 2-3 times a year, and every drive, I stick to the exact same routine, and it goes swimmingly.

 

(*Disclaimer: None of my kids get car sick – I know this is an incredibly sensitive issue for many moms, and I apologize because I cannot imagine how difficult that is. Some of these tips are not likely to be helpful if your child suffers from motion sickness).

 

  1. Leave early in the morning. I wake up by 5:30, make our bed, get dressed, and get everything in the car ready (even my travel coffee mug). Then wake the kids, change their diapers or have them go potty and head straight to the car. Pro tip – Let your kids sleep in their “car clothes” the night before a road trip. If they get fully undressed and dressed, they are going to be wide awake and more energetic as soon as you back out of the driveway. That is not how I want my kids at the start of a 12-hour drive.
  2. The most controversial advice I give to parents about long-distance trips is around stopping to go to the bathroom. My husband thinks I’m absolutely ridiculous, but I don’t let my kids control their water bottles. I keep them up front and limit their water intake most of the drive. Admittedly I’m not a medical professional, but so far, they haven’t gotten dehydrated in half a day. The more stops you make, the longer the trip drags out and the more likely your kids are to whine, ask for junk at a gas station, want to keep stopping, and make you wish you shelled out cash for a direct flight.
  3. My best advice for packing snacks on a long road trip is to go to Target or Walmart and buy a plastic crate you can see through. This is where I put all my kids’ snacks and chargers so I can see everything they might ask for. I put it on the floor of the car so they can see all their options. I’ve found my kids ask for a snack and then 13 minutes later don’t want what they picked and ask for something new, so I fill small snack-size plastic bags with their favorite things and then dole them out as the day goes by. I’m aware this isn’t very eco-friendly, but remember – this is about surviving 12 hours in a car with little kids. Sometimes you have to cave for sanity’s sake.

 

Other fun tips that work well:

 

  • Go to the dollar store and wrap up $1 gifts for your kids to open every few hours. This worked really well when my kids were around age 3-5.

 

 

 

  • Let your kids pack their own backpacks with toys/lovies, so they feel like they have control of the day.
  • If you have a DVD player in your car, stop at Red Box and rent a random movie they have never seen and return it at the grocery store the next day.
  • Don’t try and make kids eat if you stop at a restaurant. Send them to the play area to get their energy out while you and your spouse scarf down a quick meal. Get the kids’ food to go, and they can eat in the car once you get back on the road.

 

Remember – it’s all about making it to your destination in one piece. If your kids know you are going to bend the rules for 12 hours a few times a year, they will look forward to the drive.

 

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Kate was born and raised in St. Louis and graduated from Washington University with a bachelor's degree in Political Science. She spent the next 8 years on the East Coast serving in various government positions where she met her husband Adam. They were married in 2011 and following the birth of their boy/girl twins in 2014, they moved to St. Louis to be closer to family. In 2015 they welcomed a 3rd daughter who was born with a complex congenital heart defect and would need life saving open heart surgery at 2 days old, 4 months old and again at 3 years old. Today she works for the The Ollie Hinkle Heart Foundation as the Outreach and Community Partnership Manager, helping heart families like her own and championing the future of pediatric heart care. She loves cold brew and chardonnay, is always listening to a podcast and can often be seen walking the streets of Kirkwood with her very naugty goldendoodle puppy.

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