Traveling to the grocery store was daunting enough after my first born, let alone the idea of taking a road trip with kids. However, when you are a traveling family, having children doesn’t change your passion. Becoming a mom only further ignited my passion to find the best places to travel in and see the world through my kids’ eyes!
I will never forget some of those very first road trips with my newborn. Just 8 weeks after he was born, we hit the road to attend a wedding in Memphis, TN which is over 500 miles from our home in Northeast Tennessee. I was pretty naive about what was about to ensue, but after several hours (way more than the normal 8 hours), many shed tears, and at least 3 diaper blowouts later, we arrived in Memphis.
Twelve years later, I can laugh about this experience, but at the time, there was nothing funny about it. As a planner, I love to think I can plan for everything, but if you have kids you know this simply isn’t true. Traveling with babies, toddlers, and kids each brings its own set of challenges, but here are a few travel tips I’ve learned over the past 12 years about traveling with kids that will help keep your sanity and your family in tact.
1. Expect the Unexpected
As the story above illustrates, you can not plan for everything. We were once traveling to Florida, when a tornado warning was issued right for the interstate on which we were driving. I can vividly remember huddling inside a Wendy’s bathroom with my 4 year old and 3 month old infant while we waited for it to pass. Needless to say it was a scary moment, but the Wendy’s frosty that followed calmed everyone’s nerves.
It’s great to have a plan and I definitely recommend you at least have a loose idea of where you are headed, but you have to loosen up on timelines when kids get involved.
There WILL BE MORE POTTY BREAKS with kids
There WILL BE TANTRUMS (and not always from the kids)
There WILL BE BODILY FLUIDS IN THE CAR (sorry, but facts are facts folks)
You have to be prepared for the things you can’t prepare for by recognizing it as simply a part of life with kids.
These things will happen on the road just as they would happen at home. I learned quickly that I had better let go of that time line and go with the flow if I was going to survive mentally and if my family was going to continue to want to go on road trips with me.
My Medic has some handy first aid kits in all sizes to help you be prepared for the unexpected.
2. Your Spouse Is NOT The Enemy
If you and the spouse are going to survive, you have to recognize that you are not each other’s enemies in this.
Again, this is a life tip that applies to more than just family travel. My husband and I were married for nearly 11 years before kids were born. To say life with kids was an adjustment would be vastly understating it!
Life with kids ON THE ROAD was way more than either of us expected.
This is simply an extension of tip #1. Unexpected things will happen on the road. Throw kids in the mix and you have the makings of a full blown four alarm disaster on your hands.
My darling doesn’t like to stop much. You can imagine this has created some tension over the years, but at the end of the day, these things aren’t worth harming the relationship. He learned after a while that pressing on only cost him MORE TIME in a lot of cases and I learned that the kids CAN WAIT sometimes and they need to learn that mom and dad are on the same page.
Communicating before getting in the car can help, but again, flexibility and humility will go a long way at making the road trip (and the relationship) a pleasant one.
Coffee is our love language so pack your favorite mug or stop at Starbucks, have a good laugh, and trust that one day this will be a funny memory.
3. Don’t OVER PLAN . Slow Down.
Don’t over plan!
Don’t over plan!
Don’t over plan!
Repeat this to yourself until it sinks in. (Picture me doing this as I type because I still over plan). If I learned anything from our recent time on Anna Maria Island, it was that a trip with less to do is better for everyone.
It is easier to slow down when you stay in one place for the entire trip, but I love road trips and national parks. When you have booked airline tickets for 5 people and rented a car with unlimited miles, it is very tempting to cram as much as you can into the trip. Raises hand in shame! ?
Our first epic California road trip was 17 days, 10 hotels, and 15 cities long. It was fun and I don’t entirely regret it, BUT, my husband and I have to admit that there is much of it that is a blur. You know if it is a blur for us, it is a blur for the kids.
A better way is to pick one or two “base” locations and day trip from there. This is a great way to experience a lot, without the stress of moving from place to place so often you lose track of where you slept last.
4. Be Willing To Do Something NOT On The List
Are you sensing a trend here? This is a planners sermon for planners.
Listen up all you type A travelers, ENJOY THE DESTINATION as much as you enjoy the planning!
Some of our best experiences have happened when we discovered something that wasn’t on THE PLAN! For example, we had an amazing time at the Arizona National Monuments while on our way from Sedona, AZ to the Grand Canyon. I had no idea they were even there, until the night before when I was reading a TripAdvisor forum. They ended up being the highlight of our trip!
5. Plan Ahead…
Okay, by now you are probably thinking I’m nuts. This lady has just belabored the point that I shouldn’t “overplan” and that I should “be flexible” when traveling with kids and now she says, “Plan ahead”?
I never said Don’t plan for traveling with kids. I merely said, “don’t over plan” and I said, to be willing to “change plans” as needed.
But, PLEASE HEAR ME, you need to PLAN when you are going to travel with kids. At a minimum, you need to plan the following when traveling with kids.
- Pre Book Activities and Side Trips– At a minimum know where you are headed and what you want to do there so that you can book any tickets necessary. For example, we were unable to climb into some of the Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde because we didn’t pre-book our tickets 2 days in advance.
- Call ahead to restaurants if you have dietary needs or special requests- This travel tip may not apply to everyone, but we have food allergies so I have learned to plot out our stops for the places we can eat or to call ahead to our destination and have a list of safe restaurants. This is also helpful if you have an extra special “foodie restaurant” in mind and you want to ensure that kids will be welcome.
- Snacks, Snacks, and More Snacks- What more can I say? Bring plenty of snacks! As I mentioned, we have food allergies, so we even like to pack a cooler sometimes which can cut down on the time it takes us to stop and find a safe restaurant.
6. Travel Safety For Kids
Of course you should talk to your kids about safety while traveling. Teach them not to wander too far from you and not to be lured away by strangers or “older kids”. I always used an umbrella stroller with my toddlers as it just gave me peace of mind.
Be sure to teach your older kids your phone number and address. Kids as young as 4 years old should be taught how to call mom or dad should they get lost. (I don’t mean on their own phone, I mean if someone finds them or if they go to an authority for help, goodnes do you think I would give my 4 year old a phone? 😉 ).
For younger kids you could consider an ID bracelet in case your child wanders off.
In your phone you can put an ICE phone number. If you are in a car accident and you are injured with small kids, first responders can quickly find who they need to contact. There are also several apps now available to do this for you.
Here are a few tips to help you out if you are traveling alone with baby or toddler.
7. Talk about the trip with the kids
This is actually my favorite part of traveling with kids. Since we homeschool, I often incorporate educational travel into our road trips.
We planned an entire road trip to New England in order to highlight all of the historical sites during the birth and revolutionary time period of our nation. Visiting places like Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Virginia and the famous Old North Church from The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere makes traveling with kids a blast!
And you can’t forget the Junior Ranger program when visiting the National Parks.
8. Pack The Electronics…it doesn’t make you a bad parent
I know first time mom, you want to prove that you can travel like our parents did and go on that 12 hour road trip without the use of electronics. Yeah, and Santa Claus is real! Look, do what you like, but after 12 years of traveling with kids, my sanity is worth more than my pride in being “that mom”. (If you’ve never met “that mom” let me introduce you)
Seriously, I absolutely love that woman!! (Sanity note for mom: Pack the ear buds and watch Juggling the Jenkins while dad drives!)Join Amazon Prime – Watch Thousands of Movies & TV Shows Anytime – Start Free Trial Now
Okay, when your guilt over being an “actual mom” kicks in and you think you need to have them take a break from the electronics, load up one of these great Audible books. Right now if you try Audible, they will give you two free Audiobooks, but be careful, it’s addictive.
- Winnie The Pooh
- Beatrix Potter Books
- A Bear Called Paddington
- Frog and Toad Series
- Llama Llama Red Pajama
- Curious George Books
10. Do NOT…I repeat…DO NOT PACK NOISY TOYS!
PLEASE TRUST ME ON THIS. I know it will be tempting to pack that “ABC learning game” that junior got for Christmas because “you want his toys to be educational” but if you value your sanity and the sanity of your spouse at all, DO NOT DO IT!
I also recommend you avoid toys with small pieces and parts unless you enjoy picking them up EVERY SINGLE TIME YOU STOP!
Choose something quiet and challenging instead. Here are a few ideas to consider.
Travel toys for toddlers
- Travel toddler Sensory Play Montessori book
- Quiet Travel Busy Book
- CUSTOM Personalized Montessori quiet book
- Melissa & Doug Water Wow! Reusable Color with Water Activity Pad
- Magna Doodle (I’ve owned at least 3 or more of these…they are magical I tell you!)
Travel Games For Older Kids
What about the older kids? Well, mine obviously just want the electronics, but since dad has a time limit set on most of our longer trips, I have to come up with something. Recently I created several travel themed scavenger hunts to do with the kids in the car. That was a hit with all three kids! I will send them to you if you like!
Sign up here for a copy of road trip scavenger hunt! We have fun with these.
I also like brain teaser & scavenger hunt games for older kids. Here are a few my kids enjoy:
- Spot It! On The Road
- Rubber Necker’s: Everyone’s Favorite Travel Game
- Mad Libs On the Road
- National Geographic Kids Ultimate U.S. Road Trip Atlas
- D FantiX Cyclone Boys 3×3 Speed Cube
What sanity keeping tips for traveling with kids do you have? Leave us a comment and let us know what works!