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We’ve all been on those fam­i­ly road trips. You know the ones. They start off pleas­ant enough. The win­dows are down, a nice breeze cir­cu­lat­ing. The Black Keys are churn­ing those good vibes and (mirac­u­lous­ly) no one is com­plain­ing about the music. Your hubs seems to know his way and isn’t argu­ing with you or Google about the direc­tions. Your kids are enthralled with the lat­est episode of Sponge­bob, head­phones on, not mak­ing a peep. You’re feel­ing good, relaxed. So you start to go for your Kin­dle, eager to dive into the juicy gos­sip rag pos­ing as Jes­si­ca Simp­son’s mem­oir.

And then, you reach the end of your neighborhood.

7 Tips for Surviving a Road Trip with Kids

Some­times not even out of the garage…

 

And the bub­ble effec­tive­ly bursts.

Your hus­band for­got some­thing so you have to turn back. Your data con­nec­tion cuts out, send­ing Sponge­bob into obliv­ion and your kids into a tail­spin. Your son already has to go pot­ty because he drank all of the Capri Suns before the car even left the dri­ve­way. And you’re try­ing to recall if you were med­icat­ed or slight­ly intox­i­cat­ed when you agreed to this trip in the first place.

Girl, we’ve all been there. And while we don’t pre­tend to be road trip whis­per­ers, we do have a few ideas for how to make your road trip with kids go as smooth­ly as can be expect­ed when you cram mul­ti­ple peo­ple into a sin­gle car for sev­er­al hours at a time.

 

 

Plan ahead

First off, think about cre­at­ing a pack­ing list. Then, go into Google Maps and map out your jour­ney in advance. Place pins where you plan on mak­ing stops for food and bath­room breaks. If you have tech-savvy or old­er kids, share the map with them so they can fol­low along on their phones or tablets. It’ll make them feel like they’re an active part of the trip and will at the very least save you an “are we there yet” or two.

 

7 Tips for Surviving a Road Trip With Kids

No. We are not there yet. Or yet. Or yet. Pho­to by Alex Jumper

 

But things won’t always go according to plan — so have a trusty “prepared for anything kit”

The uni­verse loves noth­ing so much as a good plan it can total­ly upend. So, accept the fact that no mat­ter how much you strate­gize and orga­nize, your fam­i­ly road trip will inevitably have those moments when you’re sit­ting in grid­lock traf­fic on the high­way and your 8‑month-old has a blowout or your fifth grad­er gets car sick.

That’s why I nev­er go any­where with­out a “pre­pared for any­thing kit” with a car trash bin, dis­in­fec­tant, paper tow­els, baby wipes, dia­pers plus an extra out­fit, band-aids, and Tylenol (for you, of course).

 

Be the keeper of the snacks

Unless you want to be stop­ping every half hour for bath­room breaks, con­trol the flow of food and drink.

We like to strike a bal­ance of healthy snacks and road trip clas­sics on our adven­tures — because, let’s be hon­est, half the fun of a road trip is the food. So, we take apple slices and mini cheeses, but we also take some cook­ie packs and Chex Mix.

If you want to save the uphol­stery in your car, maybe lim­it the snacks to exclude those that melt or are cov­ered in the unnat­ur­al look­ing orange pow­der that coats your fin­gers (i.e. Chee­tos, Dori­tos, and pret­ty much any Host­ess prod­uct). And pack more water than you think is nec­es­sary. With­out fail, that’s always the first thing we run out of.

 

7 Ways to survive a road trip with kids

Snazzy Snacks are a Sure Hit! Pho­to by Ella Olsson

 

Don’t worry too much about screen time

Screen time — is it a good thing, is it a bad thing? If my kids have too much of it, will they turn into veg­eta­bles and lose all sense of imag­i­na­tion and cre­ativ­i­ty? If they don’t have enough, will they fall behind in the world and not be able to func­tion in society?

That’s a much larg­er debate that we can’t even begin to unwrap here. But what I can say is, what­ev­er your feel­ings on screen time, con­sid­er fudg­ing the rules a bit on long car rides. There’s only so much you can do when you’re strapped to a seat and dri­ving through the flat, unend­ing corn­fields of Indi­ana for hours on end. It’ll keep your kids occu­pied, it’ll save your san­i­ty, and it will help keep the peace.

These days, there are plen­ty of edu­ca­tion­al options to make the screen time a lit­tle more ben­e­fi­cial, like dig­i­tal flash­cards, games for lan­guage learn­ing (Duolin­go is a fam­i­ly favorite), and word puz­zles.

 

7 tips for surviving a road trip with kids

Some zom­bies are peaceful.…Photo by Igor Starkov

 

But plan for some non-screen (or screen-lite) activities as well

If you don’t want your kids to be on their screens the whole time, plan non-screen activ­i­ties. Road trip bin­go or scav­enger hunts (with prizes) always fan favorites in our house and it’s a way to get the whole fam­i­ly in on the fun. Down­load clas­sic audio­books every­one will enjoy (think Har­ry Pot­ter, Nan­cy Drew, or some­thing by Roald Dahl) and lis­ten togeth­er. Bring along age-appro­pri­ate triv­ia cards and have a triv­ia com­pe­ti­tion. And you can nev­er go wrong with a good old-fash­ioned col­or­ing book.

 

Pack road trip goody bags

This was a tra­di­tion my mom start­ed when we were kids and I remem­ber always being so excit­ed for a road trip because of it. She’d pack goody bags, one for each of us, and fill it with some of our favorite things, like stick­er books, doo­dle pads, col­ored pen­cils, Poke­mon cards (because this was the nineties and I had broth­ers), and car-friend­ly games like Uno. In the morn­ing, when we were ready to leave, they’d be sit­ting on our seats in the car and we could­n’t open them until we were on the road.

I’ve con­tin­ued the tra­di­tion (though with a few turn of the cen­tu­ry mod­i­fi­ca­tions) because it’s a genius way to get my kids excit­ed about the trip, and also keep them occu­pied for at least a few hours.

 

7 Tips On Surviving a Road Trip with Kids

Bag of Knick Knacks…Photo by Han­nah Rodrigo

 

Remember that the journey (no matter how insane) is half the fun

As an adult, with a fam­i­ly of my own, I often reflect on the road trips I used to take as a kid with my par­ents and sib­lings. They were noth­ing short of a cir­cus, and with six of us crammed in a bright red Chevy Sub­ur­ban, with a Thule lug­gage car­ri­er on the top and a bike rack on the back, we cer­tain­ly looked like a Bar­num & Bai­ley car­a­van. We often did­n’t make it out of the dri­ve­way before we all want­ed to kill each oth­er. But look­ing back, some of our best mem­o­ries and amus­ing fam­i­ly anec­dotes came from those road trips. Our trips were nev­er per­fect, but they’re some of my most cher­ished rec­ol­lec­tions from my child­hood. And I sin­cere­ly hope in thir­ty years, my kids will look back and say the same.

So try not to sweat the mishaps. They will hap­pen. Laugh them off and remem­ber that twen­ty years from now, those moments will be the stuff of fam­i­ly lore, the sto­ries your kids will tell their kids. And maybe a ther­a­pist or two.

 

7 Tips for Surviving a Road Trip with Kids

First ones here!

 

 

Mor­gan is a brand design­er and writer who splits her time between man­ag­ing her cre­ative stu­dio, Atlas + Anchor, and writ­ing about her life­long love affair with trav­el. A wan­der­lus­ter at heart, she’s a big pro­po­nent of explor­ing the roads less trav­eled because they often lead to amaz­ing views, mem­o­rable sto­ries, and the most unas­sum­ing but life-chang­ing restau­rants. Orig­i­nal­ly from Ohio, Mor­gan now lives in the heart of Chica­go with her fam­i­ly and is quite pos­si­bly the only per­son with­in city lim­its who hates deep dish pizza. 

 

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7 Tips for Surviving a Road Trip With Kids

Dis­claimer: I just became an affil­i­ate for the Ama­zon web­site since, as a mom, it’s the most fre­quent way I shop now and it’s also how I rec­om­mend prod­ucts to friends that I’m using and love. You can’t hold back my love. Yet, I’m not an affil­i­ate of any of the oth­er prod­ucts I rec­om­mend­ed. See? Love.