Ahh… summer. I love summer!
For us, summer usually involves a long road trip, as we try to visit family in the south (and I currently live in the midwest). Maybe you also have a long road trip planned for the summer or in your future?
We drove all day Monday (from 4:30 am to 7:00pm), and were out of town last week. Because we have been taking these types of long road trips for several years now, I thought it would be fun to start off this week with a light-hearted post, and share some ideas for taking long road trips with kids.
Seven Travel Tips for Long Road Trips:
Tip #1: Leave as early as you can.
If you have little ones, it is worth the effort to try to leave before sunrise (or as early as you can make it), and get in a few hours of quiet, uninterrupted driving time before the kids wake up.
Another tip: if you do leave early, have the kids go to bed with their day clothes on– that way, when they wake up, they’re already dressed! We’ve done this many times, especially when they were younger.
Tip #2: Pack at least one meal in advance, to save travel time.
As you know, each stop takes time. And eating meals can take a whole lot of time. We found we could save a good bit of time by packing some meals with us.
Because we leave so early for these long drives, I pack breakfast in a thermos (sausages stay well), or I make bagels and wrap them in foil. If we’re leaving at 4:30 am, it does mean that I will need to prepare these in the morning and put them hot in the thermos (or cook the night before and re-heat). When the kids are ready to eat, breakfast is ready, no need to stop!
Also, packing sandwiches is easy, saves time and money, and is much healthier than stopping at McDonalds. Throw in a bag of chips, some apples or grapes, some cookies, and you have exactly what you need for lunch. If you don’t want to eat in the car, stopping at a rest area with picnic benches and pulling out your homemade lunch is a very pleasant break and feels like a picnic lunch.
If you need to microwave food, or have a bottle for an infant, some gas stations (such as Pilot or Love’s) have microwave ovens in their convenience stores. I have a child with severe food allergies on a special diet, and I have stopped several times to warm up his own food in microwaves. Just make sure you carry your own microwaveable containers or plates!
Furthermore, drink water (avoid soda). Drinking soda and juices means that you and your passengers will have to stop more frequently for bathroom breaks. I will freeze a few water bottles the night before to use as ice packs, and as they thaw we can drink the water, and as we consume the food, we no longer need the bottles for ice packs.
Tip #3: Plan to stop somewhere interesting along the way.
On the familiar 800+ mile route we travel, we pass through Chicago, Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville, and Chattanooga. Each of these cities could be a vacation stop in itself. But usually, we’re zipping through. We’ve traveled this route so often, it’s become so familiar. We’d pass interesting things and realize — we didn’t have time to stop. So last year we actually made a plan to stop and spend to spend a day at Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. It made our journey feel more like a vacation.
Now we have other things to see on the list, such as Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home in Kentucky and the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.
Tip #4: Pack backpacks or tote bags with activities to keep kids busy.
When my kids were younger, I’d pack a few surprises for the road trip with little odds and ends I found from the dollar store, or with anything I’d collected and saved for them. Now that they are older, my kids fill their own backpacks with books and other things to keep them busy.
If your family has an IPod or mp3 players, download a few favorite songs before the trip and take turns in the car listening with headphones. We have one IPod and the kids have mp3 players, and this is how we manage. They will download some songs on their mp3 players before we travel.
A few years ago I found a wonderful driving atlas for kids with games, puzzles and activities concerning the U.S. This is probably one of my most favorite “finds” for long road journeys.
Here is a game that was in the book that you can easily duplicate yourself– it’s a license plate game, with the license plate from each state pictured on 1-2 sheets of paper. While driving, cross off any license plate you see from that state. See how many different states you can cross off on your trip. My kids loved this game.
A few years ago we drove to Washington DC, and Williamsburg, VA, and on that vacation, they kids saw cars with license plates from all over the country. Therefore, it helps to play this game if you are traveling to a place that attracts visitors from all over the country.
To make this game at home, just make a list of all the fifty states on a sheet of paper, decorate as much as you want to (and use the back if you need to). Slip the piece of paper in a sheet protector. Give each child his/her own sheet protector with a list of the license plates, and an Expo marker (that way the game can be played over and over again.
Tip #5: Visit your library before your trip.
Our road trips aren’t complete without a visit to our library before we leave.
First, if you’re visiting someplace new, check out some books on the place you are visiting and read the books before you go. It makes the visit much more meaningful for the kids. Even if you are going camping, or hiking in the woods, check out books on these topics or the locations you are heading to. You will be amazed to see the enthusiasm of your kids grow by simply being more knowledgeable about what they will be seeing and doing. And you’ll be surprised at how much they remember and will repeat back to you when you least expect it.
Another important reason to visit the library is to check out books and movies for the long road journey. Having a few new and interesting books to read and new-ish movies to watch in a portable DVD player (if you have one) gives more options for things to do in the car.
We’ve also listened to some fabulous books on CD on long trips. Listening to books together in the car is a great way to spend family time in the car, and spurs interesting discussions. I’ll have a future post very soon on some of our favorite audio CD’s– both music and books.
Younger ones can also listen to their own CD’s– give them their own CD player with headphones, or put an audio CD into a DVD player and give your child headphones.
Tip #6: Stay in a hotel with a pool.
If you need to stop in a hotel for a night to break up a long trip, stay in a hotel with an indoor pool. This may go without saying, but it really does make the stay feel more like a vacation and less like a stop on the way.
Tip #7: Memorize scripture together in the car.
How, you may ask? Doesn’t sound like fun? But it can be — and it works well with audio CD’s that have scripture set to music. We’ve found a few that we enjoy with upbeat music. I’ll share some of these CD’s in a future post.
There you have it! I’d love to hear and learn from you. What tips have you found helpful for long road trips?