Guest Post by Ashlee Gecewich
I grew up going to the beach each year and knew I wanted my own children to have the same experiences I had as a child. However, living in Central Ohio, there isn’t exactly a beach close by. Knowing I wanted my kids to get to the beach and create their own memories, I knew we had some long road trips with kids in our future.
Road trips get me excited! A dream of mine is to take my family of five on a cross-country drive. I want to see everything, and I want my kids to see everything! I want to drive from coast to coast. However, time and money put limits on what we can do, so that trip will remain on my bucket list for now.
While my kids have not gone across the country (yet), they have become pros at long road trips. We have been fortunate enough to make a trip to Florida seven different times in my son’s eight years of life. With my first two children being born six and nine hours away from family, they have gone on trips their entire lives. It wasn’t until my third child was born that we lived within a couple hours’ drive of grandparents.
So yes, my kids have traveled in a car for hours at a time from a very young age — we’re talking 8 and 11 days young! They have been on 15-hour trips to Florida, 6-hour trips to Tennessee, 2.5-hour trips to Cleveland, and everything in between.
As my kids have grown up, our long road trips have changed with each phase. Here are some tips, tricks, and a few words of encouragement and advice for surviving road trips with kids.
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Drive While Kids Sleep
If I were to suggest the “easiest” way to travel long distances with children, the first thing to come to mind is to drive while your children sleep. My husband and I have pulled out of our driveway at 9 pm and taken turns throughout the long night to get the majority of our trip done while our children slept. We made the nightly drive twice since our secondborn was not as compliant in her car seat as her older brother.
However, while the late-night road trip with kids may have been easier on our ears, it was much more difficult for us to stay alert. The roads in the wee hours of the day can be very hard to focus on. We decided we needed to come up with a different way to travel with our baby, who was not pleased being in a car for long periods of time.
Our compromise with ourselves and our daughter was to leave for our trip in the early morning hours, such as 2 am. My husband goes to bed early the night before and feels he can drive us safely after a few good hours of sleep before hitting the road. Our children may not sleep through 10 hours of a trip, but still getting 5 to 6 hours of them sleeping was better than nothing.
Use Movies and iPad Games… or Not
Built-in DVD players in vehicles have become a very common accessory these days. If your vehicle does not have a built-in DVD player many, families have iPads or tablets with the ability to download movies and games for their children while traveling. Technology while on a long road trip is something many parents consider to help decrease the number of times they are asked, “Are we there yet?”
We attempted a portable DVD player when our son was just 2 years old. I anticipated him being bored in the car and chose to play a movie for him. Only 30 minutes into the movie, he became car sick. His 8-day-old sister was screaming, her brother was sick, and we were frustrated parents. While technology works for many kids, it can also cause car sickness.
We have not played a single movie in our car since. The lack of technology during our road trips leads to the rest of my suggestions about taking road trips with children.
Keep the Snacks Coming
Snacks have always been a huge part of our road trips with kids. When my children were babies, I bottle-fed them. I would oftentimes sit in the back seat with them so I could feed them easily while my husband drove. I had all my formula measured out, bottles full of water and easy access to the diaper bag. Breastfeeding mothers would need to stop for feedings, but these stops get less frequent as the baby starts eating solid food.
As my babies grew into toddlers, my snacks changed with them. Toddlers are by far the hardest age to travel with. Since we refused to give them technology in the car, I packed even more snacks. My go-to car snacks for toddlers were:
- yogurt bites,
- flavored puffs,
- applesauce pouches,
- and, for desperate times, marshmallows and M&Ms.
Now that my children are older (ages 4, 6 and 8), my snacks have once again changed. I fill plastic containers for each child with easy fruits, such as grapes and raspberries. I also have containers with dry snacks such as pretzels and Oreos. Each kid gets the same amount of food and has the freedom to eat whenever they choose in the car. They do not need to ask me like they do at home, which is a little treat. However, once their snacks are gone, they are gone.
I pack snacks for my husband and me as well. We drive a minivan and take out part of our middle row, giving us extra floor space in the car. I keep a medium-sized cooler behind the driver’s seat. We have tried a soft cooler but found once the ice melts it causes the cooler to leak. We use a Coleman 28 quart, hard plastic, cooler to store drinks, fruit and other snacks such as cheese and crackers for us. It’s easily accessible for the passenger to reach into and easy snacks to handle in a car. If you are not driving a vehicle with the added floor space behind the driver, the cooler may have to go in the trunk where you can access these items when you stop for fuel or restroom breaks.
Limited Drinks Lead to Limited Potty Breaks
Drinks are very limited on our road trips with kids! My husband and I have a little more leeway with drinks, but we are pretty strict with our children. As babies, there were no limits, and as toddlers, there were no limits.
However, as school-aged kids, our goal is to make no more “extra” potty breaks than needed. Each child gets a water bottle filled with fruit water. Just like the snacks, they are able to sip on their water bottle when they choose. However, they let me know when they are taking a drink. I try to monitor how quickly they go through their water because I want to limit those extra stops! Once their water is out, it does not get refilled.
Road Trip Games and Activities for Kids
Sitting in a single seat for hours upon hours is not exactly fun. However, since we refuse to give our children any form of technology, we have come up with other ways to have fun in our car. We play lots of games.
For example, we play:
- “I Spy”
- Finding different license plates on cars
- Looking for certain words on street signs
Our kids also get their own bag full of age-appropriate goodies. Again, as they get older, so do the contents of their bags. As toddlers, I would take turns sitting in the passenger seat next to my husband and sitting in the back of the car with my kids. I would do just about anything to keep my secondborn from screaming at us for hours and hours. So, I would sing to her, talk to her, shake, rattle and roll with her — any age-appropriate game or toy I could think of, I would play with her.
At the current age of our children, each kid gets crayons, markers or pens, paper, stickers, and a new coloring/activity book. This year they all got a new pair of headphones and had access to a device for music only. I downloaded an age-appropriate playlist off Apple Music for each of them so they could look out the window, listen to their music, and get lost in their own space.
Make the Road Trip Educational for the Kids
Our goal with our children when taking road trips is to see the world. We try to incorporate the different sights out our windows as much as possible. Rather than watching movies through the mountains of West Virginia, we want our kids to see the mountains.
Our youngest child, age 4, has made the trip to Florida now four times. This year, she grasped the concept of driving through a mountain and squealed “Whee!” during the entire tunnel. I loved it.
Our oldest is now 8 years old and pays attention to the road signs. He learned all about mile markers and now knows how many miles we have until we get to our next state. We make entering each state a game. We talk about the new state and count how many states we have left to go before we get to our vacation.
Our middle child, age 6, has started to ask more questions like, “Why are all those houses so far down this hill?” She’s referring to the hollers in West Virginia. These are all ways to turn your trip into a giant, fun game for your kids!
Train Your Kids to Overcome Boredom Before the Road Trip
One thing that I strongly feel has helped with our kids being such great travelers is the lack of technology they use on a daily basis. Screen time is a topic for another day, but while at home our kids do not get much iPad, TV or Video Game usage. They get bored, and being bored is important to their developmental growth. They have to overcome that boredom on their own.
When they tell me they are bored at home, my suggestion to them is to clean their room! They usually don’t want to do that, so they find something to do. Oftentimes, they find something within their imagination. Kids can take their imagination anywhere and everywhere! Their imagination keeps them going in the car. It takes their mind off of the fact they have been sitting in the same seat for hours and puts them somewhere else.
As I mentioned, we do play a lot of family games, but there are times my husband and I need a break and we just want to drive and look out the window. We think it’s great if our kids are bored and want to play with each other! Our car rides are loud. They aren’t filled with headphones and Apple Music for the majority of the time. But our kids know how to entertain themselves. They make up games for the car, tell jokes (some definitely funnier than others), or just fall asleep of boredom (which is OK).
If a parent rushes to find something for their child as soon as they say they are bored, such as taking them to do something fun or give them an iPad to play a game on, then that boredom in the car will be much harder on the kid and the parent. If you ask me, let your child figure out how to overcome their own boredom on their own, while at home, to teach them how to overcome that boredom when out.
Potty Breaks During Road Trips with Kids
Potty breaks are inevitable. We typically don’t need to make any more stops than filling up the gas tank or filling up our stomachs with something more than snacks. But we use the restroom once we’ve stopped, even if someone “doesn’t have to go,” because they can always “go” a little.
Our oldest child is a boy. He has always been great in the car and gives us ample amount of notice for his bathroom breaks. Our two girls try to give us enough notice. Yet, we always find ourselves rushing to get out to go potty with them.
So, I bought a little portable potty from Ikea. This little potty allows us to stop quickly. While we will still get off an exit and stop the car, I don’t have to take them into a gas station restroom and walk through all the distractions of the gift shop. They use the potty, we dump the potty, and we are on our way again.
Don’t Stop, Keep Going!
For us, road trips are fun but also necessary to get to where we want to go. Flying would be nice, but it is just not affordable for our family. As much as we love seeing the world outside the car windows, we also don’t want to stop. We want to keep going. So, for those who are still struggling with your kids on long road trips, you’ve got this! Don’t stop living life because you have to work a little harder to get to where you want to go — literally and figuratively!
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About the Guest Author: Ashlee Gecewich loves writing when she has time from her daily life of being a football coach’s wife, a mother to 3 children, and owner of her photography business, Ashlee G. Photography. Through her experiences, she loves sharing real-life stories with a comic twist. Life is crazy and loud and she embraces the imperfections through stories and photos. Please check out her photography website at Ashlee G. Photography or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for any photography needs you may have!