6 Tips for Surviving (and Enjoying!) Family Road Trips

sleeping in the car
Photo by Jeanne Sager
When my husband decided we'd drive from New York to Florida for our Disney vacation, my friends started pulling out the sympathy cards.

A 2,000-mile road trip with a 4 1/2-year-old sounded ominous.

But I'd do it again. Yes, I said again.


Surviving -- even thriving -- on a road trip just takes a little planning:

1. Map your route. I don't just mean the roads you'll use but where the rest stops are, where you have friends with houses (and clean bathrooms) along the way, and where you can find kid-friendly eats.

Planning beforehand allows you to gauge whether your kids can wait for a potty break; but it also ensures you're stopping in safe neighborhoods.

2. Pack the car wisely. Put everything your kids will need for entertainment within their reach so you aren't constantly unbuckling your seat belt to grab the art pad or the packet of crayons.

Because of frequent road trips to see my in-laws several states away, I purchased two organizers that hang off the rear of the front two seats. I filled each before the trip with art supplies, her portable DVD player and DVDs, plus small travel toys like an Etch-a-Sketch.

Separating clothes for each leg of the trip into separate bags was a time-saver too -- rather than toting three suitcases into each hotel, we had one per spot.

3. Stock up on snacks. Unless you want to spend an arm and a leg on a lot of not-so-healthy fast food, you'll need to do some pre-buying. Our best purchase: a small cooler on wheels with two cupholders on top. Placed next to our daughter, it made her feel useful to access a soda to keep Daddy caffeinated (and awake) while he drove, and the cupholders were perfect for holding extra crayons.

We threw in a Ziploc bag full of ice, which we refilled at each stop (for free) along the way to keep everything cold.

4. Check hotels ahead of time to ensure they're kid-friendly. Attempting to stay in a New York City hotel awhile back, I learned that toddlers aren't always free ... or considered small enough to stay with their parents. Many city hotels informed us we'd have to get a second room for a child who was smaller than our luggage.

Also check the "kids eat free" policies; sometimes that means they eat free if Mom and Dad buy an expensive meal. Other times it's a buffet available to the whole family before getting on the road.

5. Suspend bedtime expectations. A long day in the car might tire you out, but your kids aren't used to sitting that long. Don't expect them to fall into bed straight from the car.

Ask the front desk if there's a playground around where they can run off some of that energy, or try the hotel pool -- some have lifeguards who can help you keep an eye on the kids while they swim it out and you relax.

6. Engage in family activities. Audio books downloaded to my husband's iPod helped the entire family pass the time on our 2,000-mile trek South and back. They're a great way to cut out some of the DVD-watching time. Search for your kids' favorite physical books in audio form, and they can page through the book to enhance their reading skills without you climbing back there for story hour.

Don't forget to take advantage of the time spent in the car to talk to your kids about anything and everything. You've got a captive audience -- it's a good time to get talking about the school, friends, and the other things that they might otherwise avoid.

What are your favorite on the road tips?

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