Most of you that know me in real life think I’m a little (a lot….) bananas for taking as many road trips as we do. Wanna know the truth?! I actually hate driving, and I hate packing, and I REALLY hate unpacking, but more than any of those things, I hate not seeing my friends and family. Since road tripping with my littles is really the only way we get to see everyone, road tripping it is!
Although I usually drive everywhere, I’ve also flown with them several times. Even though these trips are exhausting, I hope some day when my kids are grown, they have the best memories of all the traveling we did when they were little.
Most of these tips apply to younger kids, but some are great for kids (and adults!!!) of all ages. I hope they help you on your next road trip, flight, boat ride, whatever it is you decide to do! And, in the interest of full disclosure, I will go ahead and tell you that my kids have always been good travelers, even as babies. They both are very used to being in the car, and are generally unphased by longer car rides. I DO think it’s more challenging if you have children that are not used to traveling, or if you have children prone to car sickness, but hopefully some of my tips will be help make your trip a little less painful!
They’ve both been travelers since they were babies!
WHEN WE LEAVE
I know most people like to get out the door first thing in the morning, but I’m almost always traveling solo with the kids. For me, I find it’s much easier to leave in the afternoon. I make the kids do something super active in the morning, and then leave right after lunch. Even if my kids don’t fall asleep (usually they both do, but at least one does every time), they are more mellow and relaxed. Sometimes we’re simple and just spend all morning at the park, sometimes we do something more exciting and go to the zoo or kids museum or something. For Bee especially, sleeping for part of it makes the ride feel much shorter.
One of my favorite road trips was a few years ago, when I drove the kids from North Carolina to Arkansas (and back). I pulled up Google maps, and picked a couple cities to stop in. I broke the trip in to 6-8 hour driving days, since 8 hours without stops is the max I’ll travel solo these days. I picked Atlanta (the Georgia Aquarium), Memphis (Memphis Zoo), Birmingham (McWane Science Center), and Charlotte (visiting my sweet niece!!!). We stopped in Atlanta and Memphis on the way out, and Birmingham and Charlotte on the way home. It was so fun to break up the trip like that, although my rotten kids both said the biscuits at the hotel in Atlanta were their favorite part of THE WHOLE TRIP. hahaha!
This rest stop in NY is the BEST!! What a smart idea!!
We do the same thing before we fly, as long as we can swing it! If we don’t have time to do something active before a flight, I do make sure we get as much movement as possible in after security but before boarding. Sometimes that means doing laps in the terminal, but it’s better than nothing!
WHAT WE DO
This summer, they started having a “best view” contest while we were driving. I don’t understand it, because there is no prize; but they LOVE deciding which window has the best view. They’re just getting old enough for other games, like the license plate game or car bingo. Keep your eyes on the Target Bullseye section – I’ve found car bingo in there several times!!
Both kids have iPads; we didn’t have DVD players in the van, although for a cool 10k our dealership would have happily given them to us. 🙂 For long plane rides (or car rides that are longer than usual), sometimes I’ll download a new movie (E) or a few episodes of a new show (Bee). I also got them Bluetooth headphones (Bee’s here and E’s here) recently, and they are OBSESSED. They were perfect for the loooooong plane ride to Japan (but I told them no using the lights on the plane 🤣). We don’t use their iPads during short trips, and they aren’t allowed to be on them the whole time even on our longest travel days, but they’ve been a great thing to have in our travel toolkit.
We love to bring non-electronic things too, of course! Magna Doodles and Boogie Boards are GREAT options. We also have these fabric play sets, that are SO adorable, but also engaging for kids.
Melissa & Doug water color pads are THE BEST for traveling. We’ve used them in the car, and I have a bunch for Bee to use on planes. E just likes crayons and a clipboard. I don’t love them having pencils in the car just to be safe, but he’s content with crayons, and I feel less nervous about him accidentally getting poked in the eye with those!
A few times I have felt REALLY WILD, and I let E color on table tops with washable markers. I know, so wild! Don’t panic; we cleaned the tables before boarding our plane!!
In the weeks or months leading up to the trip, I also hit up Target clearance/Bullseye section/Dollar Stores/5 Below for little surprise treasures to keep stashed away for emergencies. Sometimes they are just simply OVER the car ride, and don’t want to get back in after we’ve made a quick stop. It’s nice to have some enticements. It was more helpful when it was just E and he was little; they usually just go with the flow now, and Bee will do whatever E does. But, it does help to break up the trip a little bit.
Wondering what kinds of things I’ve picked up? small plastic animals/dinosaurs (before we moved we had a huge bin of plastic dinosaurs in my trunk, and I can’t even tell you how many times they were played with!!), foam stickers, small LEGO sets, small figurines from the kids’ favorite shows, books, small handheld games (not electronic), Crayola Color Wonder sets, magnetic play sets, paper dolls, etc.
For this long flight to Japan, I hit the jackpot with Target clearance! I found Colorforms sets for both kids, a Nella & the Princess Knight playset, some clearance LOL Dolls and Shopkins, Ready to Robot (don’t even ask me what those are, but E loved them, haha!), an Imaginext Jurassic Park play set, an American Girl sticker book, and some new reading and coloring books. These were great for the hotel once we landed, too.
WHAT WE LISTEN TO
Both kids like to listen to movie soundtracks and alternate who gets to choose the album. We use iTunes Radio for the soundtracks that I don’t have downloaded already. The soundtracks work better for us than letting them switch every other song, although sometimes we do that too. Their current favorite soundtracks in rotation are the Greatest Showman, Moana, Trolls, Frozen, all 5 (?) LEGO movie soundtracks, Teen Titans, and the Lion King (both versions). Bee also has a Princess Fairytale station she loves on iTunes.
WHAT WE PACK
I always keep a bag of snacks, napkins, juice boxes, etc. on the passenger seat so I can hand stuff back. Chris almost never travels with us, so I like to have everything within my reach. It’s much easier if you have older kids, but when both kids were still in 5 point harnesses, it was 100% necessary.
The other day, Chris asked me what the wad of paper was in the driver’s side door of my car. I told him it was napkins, in case I needed them while I was driving. He said, “why would you need a napkin while you’re driving?” And, that’s the difference between us in a nutshell!!
Our favorite travel snacks are: apples, applesauce/fruit pouches, fruit snacks, protein/granola bars, veggie straws, string cheese, rice cakes, and pretzels. I also bring bread to make pb&j sandwiches, or tortillas for “hiking pb&j” sandwiches – I usually prefer to just use tortillas since they don’t get squished like a loaf of bread does! We also love to make up a big batch of chocolate chip banana muffins, using the Kodiak mix, since they have a pretty good protein content for the kids.
Don’t laugh, but I also pack a pair of scissors. I know that sounds weird, but I can’t even tell you how many times my kids (and other people) have asked for my “car scissors”. I don’t technically “pack” them for each trip since they’re already there, but I do keep them in my car!
This summer, I started traveling with reusable straws too. Bee is not always the best when it comes to drinking out of regular cups, so having the straws came in pretty handy!
I also keep several large ziploc bags, a couple plastic grocery bags, some Clorox wipes, baby wipes, and sanitizer in my car (and in my carry on, if I’m flying!). You just never know what could happen 😳😂 If I’m driving, I usually carry a roll of paper towels somewhere in the trunk, too. Chris thinks it’s so silly, but he’s only dealt with bodily fluids while traveling a fraction of the time I have! The large ziploc bags are to hold any soiled items that you can’t toss, like special blankets, lovies, etc., until you get them to the laundry.
Finally, I always pack a hotel or “first night” bag. Since I leave later in the day, I usually get in fairly late in the evening. It’s so nice to be able to grab my purse and the “first night” bag and leave the rest in the car for the night. Of course, you’ll also want to grab any perishable or valuable items too, rather than leaving those in the car. I keep my first night bag where it’s easy to grab as soon as we’re ready to unload.
I only toss in the essentials – pjs for everyone (if the kids aren’t already wearing theirs; sometimes they switch to pjs at our last stop of the night!), clothes for the next day, toiletries, a blanket and stuffed animal for each of them, chargers, and then perishables/valuables.
A lot of times when the kids and I travel, we have several one-night stays on the way to our final destination. For those trips, I pack multiple “first night” bags. It seems like a pain when you’re doing the packing, but it makes my life so much easier, and I don’t have to make multiple trips out to my car, with the kids in tow, when I’m flying solo.
Don’t have that many extra bags? You can just keep a pillowcase or laundry bag in your trunk, and before you leave the next morning, just swap the clothes out 🙂
I hope your next trip goes as smoothly as possible! What are some of your favorite travel tips? Can’t wait to hear from you!