When I am in Europe, I take advantage of the affordable flights and comfortable train system regularly. In the U.S., those are not realistic options. When faced with a long road trip across the U.S., there are some rules I follow to make those trips easier. I would love to tell you that there is a guaranteed cure for the road trip whoas, but, in all honesty, the success of your road trip will be mostly dependent upon the stops you make. Let’s delve into some do’s and don’ts of road tripping with kids that will help fill your mama bag with useful tools.
- Leave early. The struggle to adult early is very real, but you and all of your passengers will be better with an early start.
- Be strategic with seating arrangements. After a few days in the car, everyone is going to be high-strung and sensitive, but if you have two children who fight just by looking at each other, make sure they are far enough apart. You really don’t want to start a trip with a fight or an unplanned game of rearrange the car seats.
- Schedule your stops three to four hours apart and 1 ½ to two hours long. A great road trip looks something like this: Leave by 7 a.m., stop for early lunch and sightseeing from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Get back in the car for naptime, covering approximately four hours. Stop in the late afternoon for sightseeing and a snack. Drive another one to two hours before stopping for the night.
- Plan your route ahead of time and schedule fun sightseeing stops. If your children know what they have to look forward to, they are more likely to keep calm in order to get there.
- Limit screen time to late afternoon. If screen time happens in the morning in our car, we do not do well in the afternoon. If you use screen time in your traveling, I suggest using it during the youngest traveler’s naptime. It will also make the last two hours of a day’s journey go faster for the younger members.
- Make the most of your stops. When you stop, everyone uses the bathroom, everyone gets something to eat, and the vehicle is fueled. In-between stops do not happen unless there is an emergency. Make this your normal routine and after day two everyone will fall in line.
- Plan fun stops that require walking and are outside. Unless someone is suffering from pneumonia, you need to force the fresh air on your travelers.
Things to Avoid
- Eating in the car — If you can manage a full, out-of-the-car lunch, then do so. I suggest this for many reasons. First, when our children eat in the car, we get stressed out about the mess. It is natural; we all do it, so it’s best to avoid it. Second, you will eventually have to stop to clean up from the meal. And finally, if someone is going to be bathroom triggered by the food, you will be much closer to a restroom if you go inside somewhere to eat.
- Overpacking entertainment — One great part about road trips is that they force children to learn to entertain themselves. It is easy to pack the toy chest. Try to pack road trip games instead. Some tried and true suggestions are: I Spy, License Plate Bingo, Would you Rather, car color competitions, sing-a-longs, etc. Looking out the window is always amusing! To be perfectly honest, the less you pack, the less stress you have and the less there is to fight over.
- Hiding the snacks — Yes, I said to avoid eating in the car. What I meant was: Avoid eating meals. Snacks will get you to your scheduled stops more easily. Make them dry snacks that vacuum out easily for your sanity, and make them easy to grab.
- Giving in to unplanned stops — You know what is coming, you’re a mom, you can predict the future. I’m kidding, sort of. If you need a 2 p.m. coffee pick-me-up, then pick it up as you fuel up the car at the lunch. Plan ahead because a quick, unplanned stop for one ends up being a long, unplanned stop for everyone.
- Making reservations — Don’t reserve a hotel room until you’re about an hour away from your stopping point. It is rare that every hotel will be booked, and this gives you a lot of flexibility with your time. If the baby takes a late nap and you can carry on down the road another two hours or someone gets carsick and you need to stop now, you’ll have the flexibility to do so.
Best Family-Friendly Stops for Sightseeing
The U.S. is a massive country and because of the extensiveness, at some point, you will find yourself in a barren landscape with no civilization in sight. I have made the cross-country PCS road trip twice, alone with three children. Some of our favorite stops were in the areas I was hoping to avoid, but couldn’t:
- Arizona — It’s a stunningly beautiful state with lots of open roads. Many people drive through Arizona and stop at the Grand Canyon. Though the Grand Canyon is beautiful, you need more than two hours there. One of our all-time favorite stops is Meteor Crater. We all loved the museum and the landscape, and there is plenty of room for kids and pets to run around. Also on my Arizona list is the Phoenix Zoo. Check Groupon for last-minute deals on tickets.
New Mexico — The New Mexican landscape and truck stops can be very intimidating, but there is a lot of cultural immersion and learning to be had! One of the most magical moments of any road trip we have taken was seeing the Acoma Pueblo (Sky City) emerge on the horizon. In order to do a tour and get access to the city, you need to schedule a tour way in advance, but it is worth it.
West Texas — Once you leave Houston you have what I like to call no-man’s land Texas. Full of ranches and tumbleweeds, it boasts an 80 mph speed limit. There is not a lot going on out there, but if you search hard enough, there are decent stops to be made. One of my children’s favorites was Cadillac Cemetery outside of Amarillo. Though I thought it was rather boring, the kids loved it, and it allows for plenty of space to run without disturbing anyone else. The Guadalupe Mountains National Park also provides a space to stretch the legs and learn about the local landscape.
Becoming a Pro on the Road
A lot of road-tripping expertise comes with practice. Not all road trips pack the thrill factor, but they can all be fun. When you find yourself in need of space and stops, just take them. Give yourself and your children some grace and go with the flow. And, as tempting as it is to stop at every advertised museum or ball of yarn claiming to be the world’s biggest, push forward with the promise of stops at an outdoor space. The less complicated you make it the easier the ride.
Photo Credits: Unsplash