18 Secrets to Surviving a Road Trip with Kids

surviving a road tripIt’s been two weeks now since I’ve been home from our seven-week road trip. There were good times, and not so good times, but I’m so glad I did it and I’m even more glad to be home. Sure, there were some not-so-great parenting moments along the way, but I learned a lot and am even looking forward to our next family road trip.

If you’re planning a road trip with kids and want to minimize complaints, whines and general bad behavior, take a look at my 18 secrets to help you survive a road trip with kids (when all you want to do is scream).

1. Be Savvy about Seat Assignments. There are just certain kid combos that cannot sit together in the back of my minivan. The laughing and playing can quickly turn to hitting and crying. Know who best sits next to whom in your car and you’ll thank yourself.

2. Book Hotels with Swimming Pools. Somehow when my kids are splashing and swimming in a hotel pool, the world is at peace. There’s no fighting or complaining. They’re just having fun together. That noted, a swimming pool is one of the first things I look for when I book a hotel room.

3. Make Sure Snacks are Easily Accessible. If no one can reach the snacks in the car, it’s like they’re not even in the car. Make sure at least one or two kids can easily reach them without having to take off a seatbelt or dig around other bags in the car to get to the snacks.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Leave Something Behind. After road tripping for a couple of days or weeks, you may realize that there’s just not enough space in your car. Something has to go. For us, that was our brand new cooler. We weren’t using it and it was taking up too much space, so we left it behind in Texas.

5. Store Chargers in a Central Bag. Each of my kids has an iPad Mini, so I kept all of the chargers in one gallon-size Ziploc bag. When we checked out of a hotel room, I’d collect all of the chargers and keep them in one place to help ensure that none of them got left behind.

6. Make Sure All Devices Get Powered Up at Night. Speaking of chargers, make sure that all portable electronics get charged at night, especially the night before a long drive. Hearing my son say his iPad was at 12% did not make for a stress-free drive to our next stop.

7. Don’t Force Early Wake-Up Calls. There’s a lot to see during a road trip, especially at national parks, but don’t have too many early-start days. I mostly let the kids get up when they were ready, or by 8:30 am, whichever came first. They’re definitely more manageable when they’re relatively well-rested.

8. Let Yourself Have Some Alone Time. It can be tough to live in one hotel room or small cabin day after day, so make sure to get some alone time, even just a short walk. It’s a nice way to recharge and prepare to re-engage after a little too much togetherness.

9. Have a Water Bottle with You at All Times. Kids are always thirsty, so I made sure to keep a reusable water bottle with us at all times during our road trip. I’d much rather have a water bottle with me that never gets used than have to listen to kids groaning that they’re thirsty. 

10. Be a Constant Shade-Seeker. Whether it’s 70 degrees or 90 degrees, my kids constantly act as if they’re melting. So, anywhere we go I’m always on the hunt for some shade, as well as benches whenever possible. My son, in particular, will just stop moving when he gets hot. So. Frustrating.

11. Inspect Shoes Daily. Have a good idea about what you’re going to be doing each day and know what kind of shoes will be required. If you’re planning for a hike, you don’t want your kids leaving the hotel room in flip-flops. That’s no fun for anyone, especially you who’s wearing proper shoes.

12. Clean Out the Car Every Few Days. One day during our road trip, my 6 y.o. son just started throwing Cheetos in the car. Seriously? For my own sanity, I’d clean out the empty chip bags, fast food drink cups and any other trash I could grab every few days.

13. Give Each Child $1 Every Day to Buy Snacks. Rather than subjecting myself to “I want, I want” as we passed every snack vendor during our trip, I gave each child $1 a day in a special wallet of their own. If they wanted something, I gave them their wallet and it was up to them.

14. Have a Glass of Wine. It’s okay, sometimes you just need a glass of wine. By the time we got to Chicago, about six weeks into our cross-country trip, I had had it with the kids. They’d pushed me past my limit. That one glass of wine went a long way toward just mellowing me out for a few more days.

15. Don’t Make Empty Threats. If you’re going to take the iPads away for a week, take them away for a week. Then you’re kids will know you’re serious. My son thought I’d give back his iPad after one day. Nope. As promised, I kept it for the rest of the trip (about four weeks).

16. Remember that Your Kids Aren’t the Only Misbehaving Kids. Some days I wondered if my kids were the only kids complaining and misbehaving. It was so frustrating, but I had to believe that other moms and dads were facing the same challenges with their kids while on vacation.

17. Just Buy Ice Cream. Some days I was exhausted listening to my kids complain. I’d just buy ice cream. I’m sure I was rewarding bad behavior sometimes, but really, I just wanted a few minutes of peace and quiet. The $6 I spent on ice cream cones at McDonald’s was always money well spent.

18. Don’t Be Afraid to Pull Over the Car. Sometimes you just need to pull over the car. I’d usually do so at a rest stop. Pull over, collect yourself, make seating changes, take away electronics, go on a short walk away from the car. Whatever you need to do. You’ll feel better when you get back on the road.

You may also be interested in learning these Tips to Manage Car Sickness for your road trip. I also encourage you to check out this post on How to Save Money on a Road Trip

Do you have any go-to strategies for surviving a road trip with kids? Let me know in the comments section below.