Road Trip Essentials with Kids

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As the days grow longer and the weather a bit warmer, family road trip season is upon us.  The kids just know the break is coming – the childhood craziness abounds with anticipation.  Now is the time to plan your next road trip.

Over our eleven years of parenthood, we’ve ventured out on the highway with our son on numerous occasions.  (Hope you have enjoyed some of my earlier posts.)  There have been multiple failures over the years.   What the hell were we doing wrong!?!  Well...we didn’t give up, took tons of mental notes and evolved our travel tactics.  Make no mistake, we still have hiccups on every trip, but the results have been exponentially better in recent years.

My other caveat…what we have found to be successful for us may not work for you and your family and that’s totally OK.  There really isn’t a one size fits all manual, but nevertheless, I wanted to share some of our top discoveries of road tripping with a young child.

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  1. Old School Maps – As much as I like GPS and the age of electronic apps, there is nothing quite like pouring over a map with your child.  It helps them develop the skill and find stops they find interesting.   As I’ve written in other posts, we get in such a hurry from point A to point B that we miss all of the other points in between…the good stuff.   Over the years, we’ve ordered maps through AAA, picked them up at rest areas when crossing state lines and even used some old USGS versions.  We have discovered some great detours and special places by going off the beaten path and hitting some gravel roads.

  2. Frequent Stops – “Are we there yet?” is about as common a phrase as you will ever hear during any trip over an hour.  We discovered by strategically planning stops over a day of travel, we were able to virtually eliminate the “nails on a chalkboard” phrase.  Getting out for ten minutes to stretch and walk around does everyone a little good.  Yes…it added extra time to our journey but was so worth not having the perpetual headache echoing from the back seat.

  3. Apples – “How do you like those apples!?!” I know this sounds basic and maybe a tad crazy, but there is nothing quite like picking up a ten-pound bag of organic apples as your go-to snack.  Eating healthy on the road can be challenging and apples can serve as the all-purpose, any time snack. They have staying power in a cooler and can be thrown in a backpack for your quick hike off the beaten path.

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4. Books/Puzzle Books/Games – Take a healthy supply of books, magazines and puzzles books.  We didn’t expect our son to read during the entire trip, but he enjoyed his time reading as well as word searches and other mind benders.  We even came up with our own games, “How many hawks can you find in the next 30 minutes?” was a great one.  The key is the variety especially on longer treks.   This is your chance to get your kids involved in the planning aspect as well.  “Which books do you want to read while we’re on the road?” starts the conversation and makes them a part of the planning process.

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5. Tablet/Laptop – It was hard for me to put this one on here, but I understand the reality of our age.  One thing we found about the age of electronics was the usefulness when driving at night.   This eliminated the “I’m bored” statements for the most part, but also…and I can’t stress this enough…eliminated early evening naps which disrupt  normal sleep patterns.  Going through various time zones is hard enough without taking unnecessary naps.  All I can tell you – be selective and monitor usage. 

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Every trip is going to be different – two hours, two weeks – you decide on your own adventure. You can minimize headaches and ensure your road trips are huge memory makers with a little thought and planning.  Sure…there will be a lot of trial and error, but the more you travel and the older your children get, you’ll figure out what works.  Focus on the successes and continue to build and foster the love of travel and exploration…and don’t forget the apple.

I would love to hear about some of your best practices when traveling with your family.  What works for you?  Be sure to share in the comments selection below!

Because Adventure Travel Feeds the Soul,
Jason M and the Hashtag 59 Team