Sometimes Single Road Trips -- My Tips for Newbies

Toddlers & Preschoolers 25

Road trip with kidsDear Kristen -- I'm going on my second week of parenting alone and I'd love to know if you have any suggestions for taking solo road trips? -- Caramama
There's nothing in the sometimes single mom rulebook that says you have to stick around the house while your spouse is gone. And in fact, enjoying a little jaunt away from home can do wonders in passing the time. A little change in scenery and routine will keep you just busy enough so you're not staring at the calendar, or worse, feeling overwhelmed by having to manage the house and your kid(s) alone.

But if you're not used to road tripping alone, even the shortest day trip can be a bit challenging. That shouldn't discourage you from going, but these helpful tips might at least prepare you a bit better for what's to come and truly allow you to enjoy yourself.

Day Trips

I realize that many of you have probably taken your kids alone to museums, fairs, and that sort of thing, so this advice might be completely redundant. But I still think it's important to see, even if it's a little pat on the back that you're doing it right. Keep in mind that these can apply to long trips (and vice versa), so consider them all when you're getting ready to hit the road.

1. Pack the night before

I tend to want to get as early a start as possible, particularly if it's a half day trip due to napping issues (see #3), so that means I'll spend some time the evening before packing a lunch, snack, sippy cup, and whatever else I might need. Sometimes I even load up the car because the less I have to do when the kids are awake, the better.

2. Occupy the kids while you pack

There's nothing more frustrating than trying to pack when you've got kids running around. So, if you can't pack the night before, then I'll often whip out a DVD or a favorite television show so that they're out of my hair and I can more quickly get things ready.

3. Work around nap time

Two of my three kids still nap and unless we're in the car for a long period of time, they don't really sleep well in the car. Actually, even if we are in the car for a long period of time, they don't sleep well. So, if I can, I try to plan for an outing that's in the morning and gets us home by noon. When you're parenting alone, the nap is a precious respite not to be toiled with. However, there are times where I do give in and just make bedtime early. Sometimes that's a nice little treat.

Overnight Trips

I've only ever taken two overnight trips with all three of my kids: a five-hour, two-night road trip to North Carolina and a three-day flying trip to Pennsylvania, both while my husband was deployed. Each trip presented some interesting challenges, but alas I didn't want my kids to miss out on stuff while their dad was gone, so off we went. Don't get me wrong. I was definitely nervous. But these tips really did help make the traveling much easier.

1. Give them each a bag

If they're old enough to carry a backpack, then pack it up and let them do it. You can place it next to them in their seat, or in front of them (hanging off the seat), and then they're not asking you for something to do every five seconds. I pack snacks, games, books, a few small favorite toys -- whatever will keep their interest. Of course, I still pack my own bag, as well as a big snack bag for them (and me), but giving them their own bag helps alleviate some of the weight of responsibility that lies squarely on your shoulders.

2. Prepare your kids

Whether you're in the car or in a plane, I take a few minutes to explain to the kids what's going to happen so they know what to expect. This is particularly helpful when you're flying due to all the security measures these days. But I give them travel rules, and also remind them of what's expected of them while we're away. This allows them to mentally prepare for the trip too.

3. Stock up on treats

I always pack candy. Whether it's jelly bellies or organic lollipops, pop some in your bag and have it ready for when things go terribly wrong. My kids don't generally get candy on a regular basis so it's a big deal. And it works wonders.

4. Invest in a DVD player

When I found out I'd be flying alone with all of my kids, I invested in a DVD player and some good kid headphones. I know that when we were kids, we didn't need such things, and to some extent I agree. But you want this to be an enjoyable trip, and if you've got a rambunctious child, or in my case, three kids, it can be the difference between arriving with your sanity or no hair left on your head.

5. Take it easy

Don't be in a rush to get somewhere and certainly don't over-schedule yourself. Lounge around, sleep in (if you can!), and take as many stops as you need. On a long trip from Mississippi to Philadelphia, we stopped every two hours. Granted, I wasn't alone on that trip, but having the built-in planned stops really broke up the trip and kept my then one child very chipper.

So, what are your tips for taking sometimes single road trips?

Photo from Flickr/meddygarnet

girls, travel, toddler activities, summer vacations, play


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sstepph sstepph

Good ideas! :) Pack ALOT for them to do in the car & snacks!

Phils... PhilsBabyMama

I would always leave about an hour before nap time.  Maddox would be happy in the car, talking to me, looking at books, etc for about that long, then pass out.    If I left too close to nap time and he was cranky, he'd sometimes get so worked up and ticked off that he COULDN'T sleep.  No fun.  I definitely agree with the DVD player.  We just took a road trip to San Antonio.  It should have been a 6 hour drive home, but with Labor Day traffic, it ended up being closer to 9 hours!  My 2 1/2 year old was AWESOME.  I don' t think he'd be nearly as happy if he hadn't been able to watch Cars. ;)

Peajewel Peajewel

I don't have any additional but all the ones you stated are great.  My daughter does not like to nap but put her in the car and she will be out.  We do have a DVD player in our car too which is awesome.  I also have a little crayola dry eraser board with dry eraser crayons and I keep a little snack pack in the car in case she gets hungry.  We will also stop at the rest areas and do a little running around in the grass to get some energy released after a potty break.  Just watch out for dog poo because not all dog owners pick up after their puppies!

Thais Penman

I take road trips often with my kids by myself. All of my family lives at least 8 hours away. So I always drive at night. I will leave right befor bed time and we will stop for dinner, change into PJs, change diapers, go potty, put a movie on and in a hour they are asleep and sleep the hole way. It makes for less stress and less stops. But it sucks the next day for Mom, but so worth it.

Donna Stachowiak Burns

I take frequent road trips with both kids, driving from Tampa to Atlanta and back. I like to pick up some small toys from the Dollar Store and hide them in the kids' backpacks. They love to discover new little toys when they get bored. We're going again for Thanksgiving and our dvd player is broken. I am trying to decide if we should buy a new one or just download a few movies onto the iPods.

nonmember avatar Kristen

Great idea, Donna. We need to get a better set up in my car - I'd say do the iPods. Separate movies, separate headphones - peace!

nonmember avatar caramama

Thanks, Kristen! These are great tips.

I called the backpack a "car bag" for my 3.5 yo, and I filled it with fun things she could do sitting down that weren't messy. I was sure to include a few quiet items that would hold her interest while her brother napped.

I packed everything up the night before and set it all by the front door. Then, I woke up at 4:30 (ACK!) to pack up the car. I got the kids, changing the 1 yo's diaper and sitting the 3.5 yo on the potty, and slipped them in the car. My hope was they would fall back asleep because it was so early and still dark out. They didn't, but the boy did get a nap after our stop for breakfast, when I changed them into their clothes and washed up for the day.

It actually went really well, and I'm so glad I did it!

Carey... Carey2006

Drive at night...less traffic & potty breaks

tazdvl tazdvl

great ideas!!

Sultr... SultryLadyBug

We haven't but they are great ideas. I usually travel during her nap times if I can help it...whether by car bus plane or train.

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