I’ve written about road tripping often on my site because it is one of the most fun and money-saving ways for our family to travel. (You can read my post on Planning a Summer Road Trip for more on the logistics involved).
To some people who see the happy faces of my kids when we travel, it would seem like we’ve got this road tripping with kids thing down packed. And for the most part we do, but it wasn’t always easy. More than half of Americans are planning a road trip before Labor Day, and a third of those are headed to a new destination this summer.
We took our very first family road trip, which came about only after a nightmarish flight with a crying baby and hostile fellow passengers – something we didn’t want to repeat. Plus, limited funds when our little ones were still in diapers and drinking out of bottles and sippy cups made it impossible for us to afford plane tickets.
Our destination? Missoula, MT from NYC. The first day on the road was awful. The kids cried almost the entire way there and the rainy weather didn’t help much.
We kept going, of course, and made it to Wisconsin, a 15 hour drive, in day 1. In Wisconsin, we took a break with family and rested. When we hit the road again for day 2, we braced ourselves for the worst. But it never came. The kids didn’t lose it like they did that first day – they found their groove and sleeping schedules.
They made great little explorers and were funny and endearing and, well, just awesome to travel with. It was that very first road trip – what it did for our family and what we learned from our children and each other – that convinced us that road tripping is the way to go. Especially with how hectic plane travel has gotten lately. In fact, if we can drive to a destination, we will plan out an awesome road trip around it instead of driving straight there. The freedoms, flexibility, and lower costs (i.e., no baggage fees, no extra leg room fees, no meals-during-flight fees, etc.) involved make it all worthwhile.
If you have a family with small children, I’d encourage that you make turn your travel plans into a road trip. Here are some of my tips to help get you started:
It’s difficult for little kids who aren’t used to being in a car seat for longer periods of time to sit still and not get impatient. Plan the first day or two with small stops along the way to stretch your legs, grab a snack out of the car, or sightsee. In time, they will get used to it and find a routine.
In the meantime, breathe, find a way to keep calm, and try to remember that this too shall pass. How your vacation starts isn’t necessarily indicative of how the entire trip will be. This fear is what keeps a lot of families off the road and away from travel when their kids are little, but it gets better a lot faster than you would think. It’s important to keep a positive outlook, even when it all feels like it’s falling apart.
Preparation beyond the packing
It’s super important to take the car in for checkup before you hit the road. You just want to be extra cautious and want to avoid any car mishaps. On occasion, we’ve had to rent a car and leave ours at home, just because after bringing it in for service, it was clear our vehicle probably wouldn’t make it.
Let someone you trust know that you will be away so that they can keep an eye on your house…and your plants. We have a home security system in our house which we activate when we are gone, but we also let our neighbors know so that we have extra eyes on our place. You will need all your focus on the road and kids, worrying about your house is not something you want to also take on.
Disconnect to connect
Some parents might challenge me on this one, but I have tested this theory out for years now and it has proven to work: Disconnect your kids from electronics and you will find that they will connect more with their surroundings and with you.
Now, I have a teen and getting him to unplug from his phone has been hard. But, when we travel internationally, I limit texting privileges to whatever WiFi the hotel or restaurants might offer. We purposefully did not purchase a car with a video entertainment system in it so that our children would have to find other ways to entertain themselves (hopefully by talking to us or to each other), and we don’t bring video games systems with us on road trips. Though that’s not to say that we don’t let them play on our phones sometimes.
I will confess that the first couple of days of being disconnected can be really, really hard. But I also promise that once the withdrawal subsides, what you will find are happier, more engaged, more excited kids.
It’s been a rule of ours for years and we have survived it, but best of all, we have loved seeing our children grow up road tripping, already acclimated to what it all means, and just as excited and eager to discover what the journey will bring.