This last year, we accomplished something I wasn’t sure we would be able to, with three kids under the age of five. We drove to Orlando, Florida…all the way from Toronto, Canada. That is approximately a 21 hour drive. 21 hours, in a van, with three children, age four and under. Let that sink in.
I grew up driving to Florida with my family every year for Christmas because my dad’s parents and brother lived down there. So travelling in the car, for a long period of time, is something I am very used to. But now that I am the adult, responsible for three small children, the game has changed. And I really wasn’t sure how it was all going to unfold.
Have you ever heard the expression “Plan for the best, expect the worst.”? Well that was my motto when planning for this trip. I tried to think through every single thing that could go wrong and then planned my way around it.
I’m happy to report that we had an amazing trip down and back, incident free! And the reason for that is because I planned and prepared for it long before we left. And so today I want to share those tips with you: 10 ways to survive a long road trip with young kids. As we head into a season where many travel down south for the winter or home for the holidays, if you have young children, these are for you!
10 Ways to Survive a Long Road Trip with Young Kids
1. Pack Snacks
And by pack LOTS of them. Whenever kids (or adults, for that matter) are bored, they want to eat. As it stands, my kids are crazy snackers, so I knew I had to over prepare for this because I did NOT want to be buying snack food the entire way to Florida. But more importantly, you don’t want to be eating junk food the entire trip…so plan out some healthy snack options.
I bought snack bags and filled them with all kinds of healthy options: veggies, pretzels, cheese, ham, raisins/craisins and crackers. I also used the small baby cube containers and filled them with veggie dip and hummus. And I made a batch of mini muffins as well.
For drinks, I tried to limit those as I didn’t want the kids to have to go to the bathroom every five minutes, but we did juice boxes. While I don’t normally buy those, I figured it was the easiest thing to do for the drive.
2. Buy & Wrap New Toys
In a lot of my research before this trip, I had read this tip somewhere online and I thought it was genius. I went to the dollar store and bought all kinds of little trinket toys and activities for them to receive during the drive. I wrapped them all up individually, cause that added to the fun of receiving the new toy, and periodically throughout the drive down, I would hand them back another gift to be opened.
These gifts ranged from stickers/sticker books, silly putty, play-doh, small action figures/dolls, etc. One of my favorite gifts that I gave them was this Melissa and Doug Lace and Trace (which is actually on sale). They spent so much time weaving the laces in and out. It was (and still is) a super awesome toy for them to play with.
3. Coloring Trays
These coloring trays were an awesome tool that really enabled the kids to be able to color and do various activities right in their carseats. My son’s carseat was a little wide for the tray to fit around, but he figured out a way to make it work (as you can see in the picture). I did find the trays tricky to find in the dead of winter (apparently they are considered a seasonal item here in Canada), so I’ve found them HERE for you to purchase!
4. Bring Motion Sickness Medication
Although my kids are great travellers, they do, unfortunately, suffer from motion sickness (the older two). I have had to resort to giving my kids Gravol, which is an anti-motion sickness medication that you can find in Canada. However, they don’t carry this in the US and as far as I could see, they didn’t have any options for kids motion sickness medications. But then I found this amazing natural product called MotionEaze which has worked SO well for the kids. I actually stocked up last time I was in the US because we do road trips so often with the kids.
You never know when motion sickness will hit your child, even if they haven’t had it before, so it’s best to be prepared. Another tip that I have for this is to have a large ziplock bag beside each of their seats. If they feel like they might be sick while you are driving (sometimes there’s really no place to pull over), then they can open the ziplock, be sick and then seal it back up. This way it doesn’t get everywhere!
5. iPads & DVD’s
Ok, I know this might be a point of contention for some media-free households and I’m fine with that. If your kids can last 21+ hours in a car without media entertainment, that’s amazing! But mine cannot. Nor would I want to even try!
I am all for media in moderation. The first day that we drove, the kids hardly used the iPads. For my youngest, he wasn’t quite one yet and so he wasn’t at a stage where he could pick up toys and play with them or engage in many activities. He is also rear-facing, so it was hard for me to play with him. We rigged up a DVD Player for him and he was able to watch Baby Einstein while we drove.
For the older two, I made sure to download a bunch of educational apps before we left so that it wasn’t just shows that they watched but stuff that would engage their minds. One note I want to mention is about the kids cases that we purchased for our iPads, so that the kids could use it worry free. These Newstyle Foam Rubber Cases with handle are AMAZING! Honestly, the iPads have dropped, been thrown and handled pretty intensely by my kids and they have protected them perfectly! I HIGHLY recommend them!
Along with the previous point of iPads and DVD players, make sure to grab some kid headphones, especially if you will have more than one media player going at a time. Because we knew that both the older two kids would have their own iPads to play with, while the younger one watched DVD’s, we didn’t want chaos of noise in the van.
We bought the older each a pair of kids earphones and it was perfect! They make some amazing kinds out there, complete with kids characters, that are safe for their little ears. Check these Peppa Pig and Batman ones out!
7. Have a Potty on Hand
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been saved by having a portable potty for my kids in the van. But especially on long road trips, when kids seem to have to go to the bathroom a hundred times, they are gold! It takes so much time and effort to pull off the highway and find a washroom when you are travelling. However, pulling over on the side of road and having your kids be able to “go” on their potty makes life so much easier.
We have a van and were able to take out one of the middle captain chairs, so this allowed us to have a bit of room for the kids to stand and use the potty INSIDE the van, while parked on the side of the road. I simply had some toilet paper with me and would dispose of it once they were done. Then I had some Lysol cleaner and would give it a quick spray and wipe down afterwards. Quick, easy and convenient!
8. Rig Up a System to Get Snacks to Your Kids
I had joked with my hubby that it would be great to come up with a way to be able to get snacks and such back to the kids without launching it at them. He said, “I can come up with something!” And boy did he ever!
All you need are two pulleys, a piece of rope that is two and a half times the length of your van’s interior a basket of sorts (to carry the items), and a clip that will attach the basket to the rope. Using some of the excess rope, attach one pulley to a point at the back of the van (we attached it to a headrest on the back seat) and attach the other pulley to the rear view mirror. Then run the piece of rope through the two pulleys and join the ends. You’ll want to join it as tight as possible to eliminate as much slack as possible. Finally, attach the basket to the rope and it’s done. One of the greatest inventions ever!
9. Bring an Extra Change of Clothes in a Separate Bag
This one is a lifesavor. Naturally, there might be accidents, spills or perhaps motion sickness that you didn’t catch quite in time. Extra clothing is a must to have while you’re travelling. And while you might think it will be easy to grab out your suitcase and get it, it’s not. We actually had our largest suitcase with all of our clothing, stored away in our overhead bin on the roofrack of the van. It was not accessible on the side of the highway.
So what I did is planned out a few extra outfits for the kids and packed a separate “on the road” bag with their clothes close to me in the van. This made for easy access and quick clothing swaps whenever they needed them. (Note: it’s also good to bring a few spare garbage bags, just in case their ends up being soiled clothing that can’t go back into a suitcase).
10. Plan to Stop for Playtime
It’s a long drive for everyone and as much as you want to make good time and get to your destination fast, you need to enjoy the ride. My husband and I have been doing road trips since we were first dating and the drive can be just as fun, if you allow time for it.
When it comes to travelling with your kids, you need to make sure you plan some out-of-the-vehicle playtime. As much as we planned to have snacks along the way, we made a point to stop for all of our meals. A good time to stretch our legs and take a break. When we stopped, we would do a quick search for a playground and take 20 -30 minutes to let the kids run wild and free. I can’t tell you enough how great this was for everyone’s spirits…to get out of the van, stretch our legs and breath in some fresh air!
And there you have my top 10 ways to survive a long road trip with young kids. Travelling with small children doesn’t have to be stressful and chaotic. It CAN be easy and enjoyable, as long as you plan ahead of time. Our kids did so well travelling to Florida that we would (and will) do it again in a heartbeat!
Love & Blessings,