Recently, my family had to embark on an 8-hour road trip, just to turn around and drive 8 hours back home two days later. It’s hard to find the words to describe how much I was dreading this trip, (and using words to describe things is kind of my specialty…). My kids are 6, 4, and 2. Spending 8 hours in a minivan with them sounded like a nightmare. This would mean multiple meals in the car, multiple potty breaks, multiple meltdowns.
I was wrong.
While it wasn’t the most exciting 8 hours of my life, it also wasn’t the worst. My family of 5 came out on the other side of the adventure fairly unscathed. No one threw any tantrums. No one cried for hours. My husband and I actually remarked that the trip went by pretty quickly, considering we had 3 little ones and a dog in the back seat. So here are my secrets to a successful 8-hour road trip with your kids:
I know we’re all very concerned about “screen time” and how it’s affecting our children’s brains, but the all-day-road-trip is not the time to be worried about such things. Thankfully, our van has a built in DVD player, so movies are easily played. But most kids have tablets these days anyway. Bring them with you! Download movies, tv shows, and games. The peace and quiet that comes over the car when you hand a kid an electronic device is magical. I’m not suggesting you give them the tablet for the entire 8 hours, but maybe give it to them on hour 2 and again after lunch or a nap.
One of my children is instantly satisfied if you give her a snack. It doesn’t matter why she’s having a meltdown… just give her a snack and she’s suddenly smiling and drying her tears. I packed enough snacks to hand one to her every time she got upset. Bonus points if you pack healthy snacks! Then you won’t feel guilty giving your kid something to eat every 20 minutes. This also saves you from spending money and time at the convenience store.
PACK YOUR LUNCH
In addition to snacks, packing your lunch also saves time and money. I made sandwiches for everyone and brought pretzels, cheese, and apples to go with it. Because the food was already in the car with us, we didn’t have to deal with cranky, hungry children as lunchtime approached while we tried to find a fast food drive thru line that wasn’t a mile long. As soon as they were hungry, I passed out sandwiches and they all happily ate while watching a movie. Money saved. Healthier food consumed. (We did purchase breakfast from a drive-thru, which was cheaper than lunch and satisfied the kids’ need to eat “road trip food”.)
CALM DOWN ABOUT BATHROOM BREAKS
Dads, I’m talking to you. Who cares if we have to stop at every other rest stop to go potty? Little kids have little bladders. (Moms that birthed 3 babies have little bladders…) Frequent bathroom breaks mean no accidents in the car and no one whining about how bad they need to pee. It also gives everyone a chance to stretch their legs and they’ll be less likely to feel stir-crazy.
During an 8-hour road trip, you will reach a point where tablets and movies no longer hold your child’s interest. Even a 4-year-old gets tired of a screen after a while. You need to pack other things to entertain them so you don’t have to start listening to, “When will be there?” every 5 minutes. And if your kids are as young as mine, the typical road trip games won’t work. (One of my favorite moments of this trip was when my husband tried to get them to play the Alphabet game… only the 6-year-old can read and even she wasn’t into it!) Pack toys, books, and art supplies. My daughter probably colored for at least half of the trip.
TUNE OUT THE INEVITABLE WHINING
This is easier said than done. The kids will eventually start whining about how long they’ve been in the car. I probably even whined about it towards the end. 8 hours is a long time! I find it best to just tune out their whining. Turn up the music. Chat with your spouse. They’ll eventually stop if no one is paying attention.
ENJOY TIME WITH YOUR SPOUSE
If you’re riding with your spouse, enjoy that time together! If your husband is driving, he’s forced to be cell-phone free. Put your phone down too and have a conversation. How often do you get uninterrupted chat time with him? If your kids are absorbed in a movie or game, this is the perfect opportunity to get in some quality time. That being said….
BRING SEPARATE ACTIVITIES FOR YOU & YOUR SPOUSE
8 uninterrupted hours is a long time with anyone. I guarantee you’ll want a break from chatting with your spouse at some point. When we needed a break, my husband listened to an audio book from his phone and I got out the laptop and got some work done, (perk of the remote job!). As the passenger, you could even take this rare opportunity to get in a good nap.
Family road trips do not have to be a nightmare. You may not call it “enjoyable” at the end of the day, but you can certainly try some of these tips to make things a little easier for everyone in the car.
If you’re preparing to fly with the family, rather than drive, check out these tips on surviving an airplane ride with little ones.