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Road Trip Tips for Surviving Long Car Rides With Kids

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I have driven alone with my two young sons from Washington, D.C., to southern Vermont roughly six to eight times a year for the last eight years. The trip takes anywhere from eight to 10 hours door to door. We choose to do this because we love Vermont and the family we visit when we are there. We have never taken a road trip that we have regretted. That being said, long road trips with kids require planning, patience and perseverance: you must run a tight ship!

Here are my top road trip tips for surviving long haul rides with kids. Happy trails!

Departure Time

Plan around sleep schedules

A good rule of thumb is to always leave with children in pajamas. This occurs (a) when the kids have been taken from their beds in the early hours of the morning, or (b) at the end of the day, when you hope the kids will fall asleep during the ride. If morning or evening isn’t possible, try to leave around nap time, as long as the timing doesn’t conflict with my next tip.

Avoid rush hour at all costs!

Do some research and plan ahead. For instance, if you want to drive from Washington, D.C., to New York City on a Friday, your best options are leaving at 7 a.m., 10 a.m., or 7 p.m., in order to avoid the many city rush hours along the way. If you leave right after school around 3 p.m., you will without a doubt double your travel time.

Food and Drink

Consider Water Only

The boys are only allowed to drink water before and during our road trips. There is no need to have them fill up on juice, thereby causing unnecessary stops. On the other hand, I keep plenty of water available in the car so that no one becomes dehydrated.

Healthy, not salty snacks

I also keep a shopping bag full of snacks in the car, separated into single serving sandwich bags. The best road trip snacks are healthful, filling and not too salty. Salty snacks make kids thirsty, which leads to drinking more water, which means (you guessed it) more frequent bathroom stops!

Our favorite is a trail mix of dry roasted peanuts, cheerios, raisins and M&Ms; whole apples, grapes and prepackaged cheese are also great. If you are driving alone, avoid fruits that have to be peeled (e.g., bananas) or wrappers that are difficult to open. Pack enough snacks to hold you over in case it takes longer than expected before you can stop for a meal. It never hurts to have extra.


Don’t Forget the iPods and Chargers

I know there are families out there who have a wonderful time playing games together on long road trips. We are sadly not that family: confining my sons to the small space of our minivan for 8 to 10 hours is a sure path to brawling. So we enjoy individualized activities. The best bet for us is watching movies and playing games on iPods. My sons are 6 and 8, so I am the one who chooses the movies and games and downloads them in advance of our trips.

I make sure the iPods are charged the night before, and I NEVER forget the kids’ headphones. That way I can peacefully listen to NPR for eight hours in the car. Also, don’t forget the car chargers!

See our article on Great iPhone Apps for Kids While Traveling.

Unplug with Lap Desks

Another great tool is the lap desk with storage inside. Each of my sons has a lap desk with color pencils, sharpener, eraser, blank paper and doodle books. Mad Libs are very popular with the boys, as are Mandala coloring books. They offer many ways to be creative! The lap desk is also a great place for getting homework squared away before our vacation: I even keep a small pair of scissors and a glue stick (inside a Ziploc) in the glove box for elementary school assignments.

Bedtime in the Car

Bring the Essentials inside the car

Don’t forget to pack blankets and stuffed animals for the ride. Also make sure the kids wear socks, so their little feet don’t get cold.

Winding Down Time

At the boys’ normal bedtime, I confiscate the iPods and other toys and turn on soft classical music. They might not fall asleep, especially if it’s still light out, but I think it’s best to cut down on stimulation and noise anyway.

Make One Last Stop

It’s also a good idea for everyone to stop for a bathroom break right before bed; this avoids the chance of you having the urge once the children are asleep. No need to unnecessarily disturb a sleeping child!

Special Tips for Solo Drivers

Keep Everything Close

Before we embark on our journey, I carefully organize everything I might need during the trip within my arms’ reach in the car. It’s essential to have sunglasses, phone, iPods, chargers, headphones, snacks, tissues, hand wipes and water in easy reach. I also line up a sturdy shopping bag with a flat bottom on the passenger side, so I can toss trash into it as we go along.

Take Care of Yourself, Too

Don’t forget to bring snacks for yourself. My favorite road trip treats are delicious AND invigorating, just in case I start to get tired. I think chocolate covered espresso beans are the best, but gum, nuts and granola bars do the trick, too. As for beverages, it’s a scientific fact that ice water will keep you awake better than coffee; something to consider at the rest stop!

Keep Family Members Informed

Finally, make sure you have notified other family members of your departure time and the route you will be taking. And don’t forget your AAA roadside assistance card, if you have one.

Long road trips with kids can feel like a marathon, so pace yourself. Before you know it, the journey will be behind you, and a new adventure will have begun!

Planning a family road trip? Check out our other road trip tips.

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Our Hilton Mom Voyage team members live throughout the U.S. and have traveled by air and car all over the world with their families!

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