A lot of thought that goes into planning a road trip with the kids and the task can be daunting. On our trip from Virginia Beach to Orlando, I just wanted to get from point A to point B with the least amount of stops and fussiness from my 9 month old. Going on a road trip isn’t as easy as just listening to the Serial podcast for 12 hours straight for entertainment when you have little kids. However, with a little forward thinking, long hours on the pavement can become more enjoyable, smooth, and even a little fun.
1. Car maintenance
A week or two before you leave give your car a little TLC by doing all the standard maintenance. The last thing you want to deal with is car trouble that could have been avoided. Some things to consider:
- Check brake fluid, coolant, and windshield wiper fluid
- Change oil and oil filter
- Check tire pressure and fill as needed according to the specifications of the car (this will be found inside the door jam or under the hood)
- Change the cabin air filter if needed
- Add an emergency kit to include: flashlight, water, jumper cables, blanket, energy bars, sports drinks, sunblock, deck of cards, battery powered fan, hand sanitizer, bug spray, antibiotic ointment, bandages, and road flares.
Unfortunately, despite our preparation, we ended up needing a new car battery on our return leg home. Lesson learned, plan as much as possible but be flexible for Murphy to show up!
2. Invest in a quality cooler
Stops can really add up when there are multiple people in the car. Packing plenty of snacks not only gives kids things to look forward to, but it minimizes how often you have to stop when people are hungry at different times.
For every 4 hours of being on the road, I plan to bring one main item such as a sandwich and one snack such as an apple or handful of almonds. There are many cooler options to store all your perishables but in consideration of space, I have found this cooler to be the most efficient and space-saving option.
It will keep your food cold forever, especially if you pre-cool. This means you put ice inside the cooler the night before to bring the inside temperature down. The next morning, pack the cooler with fresh ice right before you leave. There will be less stagnant heat contained in the cooler which will lengthen the cooling time.
A higher quality cooler is absolutely necessary if you are traveling with frozen breast milk. Our week away from home required 50 ounces of frozen breast milk. You must use breast milk within 24 hours if it starts to thaw. I used the pre-cool method and packed the milk under fresh ice. The milk traveled from a freezer in Virginia to a freezer in Orlando with no thawing issues.
3. Pack well in advance
The purpose of packing ahead for a long road trip is to leave room for error. It is difficult to pack clothing, toiletries, gear, food, and other essentials for multiple people without leaving something behind. Have the car mostly packed to have less to do the day of, which will leave time to grab last minute items.
It seems of course, despite our best planning, we either overpack or underpack! I am trying to get better with overpacking. All the baby essentials and things for a family piled up really fast and pretty soon we couldn’t see out of the rear view mirror. What is even more frustrating is when half of those things don’t even get used.
I have created a generic checklist for myself so I can remember the essential items to bring on a road trip. If you would like this checklist sent to your inbox, fill out the form below!
4. Leave in the middle of the night
As a parent you really have two options, be tired from getting up early or be tired from listening to kids whine. Pick your poison! We woke up at 2 am and were in the car by 2:45. This gave us 4 solid hours of peace where we could talk and listen to podcasts while our son slept. If you are reading this post then you know parenting comes with a continual state of exhaustion. Stress on top of exhaustion can compile things for the worse. Have the kids sleep for as much of the trip as possible and make a long road trips much more enjoyable for the adults!
5. Upgrade your car seat
For those with a child in between car seat sizes, this may be a great excuse to go ahead and upgrade. Make sure this seat is comfortable as your child will be sitting in it for longer periods. I love the brand Maxi Cosi for this reason. There is so much support for the little heads and arms of smaller babies. The seat is very cushy and the extra insert is removed easily to accommodate a growing child. There are many unique color options, making this a really fun buy for something you already have to have for your kids.
6. Give yourself extra time
Vacation is supposed to be fun. If you can break up the long drive into manageable chunks, it will be more fun for everyone. Strategically plan interesting stops along the way if possible.
Look for fun restaurants, attractions, or even rest areas with large picnic areas. The more active the kids can be at these stops the better. It will wear them out and allow them to nap when you get back on the road.
We added an extra day on both sides of our trip and it truly added value to the experience of being on the road. On our way back from Orlando, there was a quaint little Airbnb in South Carolina. We stayed the night, and enjoyed sitting out on in the owner’s gazebo and listened to the sounds of the frogs.
7. Don't forget the entertainment!
Kids have short attention spans. Providing things to distract them will allow for a little peace and quiet in an otherwise unenjoyable process. Small things can make a huge difference and provide not only entertainment, but also a educational experience for kids.
Overall there are plenty of things to do on a long road trip to make the experience more pleasant for the entire family. One key is to be flexible and always allow extra time. Our 12 hour trip from Virginia Beach to Orlando turned out really well. Try to think of the driving portion as part of the experience instead of something you have to get through and it will change the vibe.
If you are still nervous about taking a long road trip with your children it is completely understandable. Flying is always an option. When deciding whether to drive or fly, you need to consider your time frame.
If you are willing to suck it up and potentially deal with your kid flipping out around a bunch of people in a tiny metal tube check out my guide on flying with a baby. It is manageable and will save you lots of hours meaning you can spend more time sipping wine wherever you are going!