When I was two, we moved from Philadelphia to California. My dad flew cross country, and my mom decided to drive me and my older sisters. I was a toddler and my sisters were young kids, so this was quite the endeavor considering we had no cell phones, no Google, no navigation, etc. My mom somehow planned and mapped everything to a tea.
Fast forward 30+ years... we have everything at our fingertips. Somehow that go-getting travel gene runs in my blood, so my goal is to instill in parents to TAKE THE TRIP and surrender all fears of getting in the car and traveling with your kids. However, I do have some hacks I find helpful.
1. Use apps
If you’re traveling to national parks, there’s a really cool app called GyPSy Guide. The narrated driving tour app uses your location to automatically play entertaining and educational commentary about your location (for example, notable areas in Yellowstone, the Tetons, etc). It’s really interesting and great for truly learning about the areas you’re exploring. Also, for non-ipad entertainment, use Spotify for kid-friendly podcasts and books on tape. There are even chapter books everyone can listen to as you drive.
2. Go back to the basics
When we were young, we occupied ourselves in the car with a notebook and crayons. As simple as it sounds, get word search books, mad libs, crosswords, etc for kids… it’s easy and affordable.
Another idea: have a car schedule. I have three little boys and I’m admittedly not a fan of the iPad. I often drive 9+ hours at a time, so I try to create some sort of plan. For example, the first hour we listen to different genres of music, the next hour they watch a DVD, the next hour is quiet time, coloring time, etc.
And how about this… TALK! I love conversation starter cards for families. Check out Table Topics; they give families ideas/topics to discuss.
3. Prep a lap-desk
For comfort in coloring, get a cheap lap desk, making it easy for kids to write or even eat while on the road. I put a stickable white board on ours… kids love writing with erasable markers, and for littles, it’s a fun way to practice their writing/spelling skills.
4. Road trip toys
I’m very picky about the toys I bring on vacay. I’m all about versatile + compact entertainment that will occupy them for hours at a time. What I’m loving: the Plus Plus mini pack, “on the go” Lego sets, Kanoodle and Stickers by Number. I also suggest getting a travel journal for kids. For under $10, you can get a great one that doubles as a stimulating memento, documenting your family’s adventures.
Cinemood is another cool find, especially for RV’ers. It’s a little projector that turns any flat surface into a movie theater… and it’s stocked with Netflix, Disney, YouTube and more. And finally, bring games. Uno and Yahtzee to the rescue for family game nights in your hotel room.
5. Instill in your kids a love for travel blogging
V-tech has a great Kidi Cam that doubles as a selfie stick and all-in-one editor. My 7-year-old loves creating his own movies and always does hotel tours of the properties we visit. it’s a great way to encourage kids to document your family trips.
Reduce your carload by opting to rent along the way. Going to the beach? Instead of schlepping your chairs and umbrellas, most beach towns offer rentals, and many resorts offer such amenities for free.
Opt for laundry service. Can’t tell you how many loads we acquire along the way, and I just discovered a fantastic solution. There are many online services that offer pick up and next day delivery, even to hotels. Usually under $100 for 2-3 loads, it makes things a lot less stressful (and dirty!).
Plan ONE major activity per day. This way, you have one thing to check off your daily list while allowing room for flexibility. We often get caught up with schedules that vacations seem rushed… give your kids the time they want to skip rocks, collect shells, etc. Savor the simple things.
Do your due diligence. Covid has changed the travel industry, and while we’re getting back to normal, things have changed. For example, up until now, you only needed one ticket to enter Glacier National Park… now you need two, and you need to reserve them. Spend time pre-planning.
Start early and start them young. I’ve been road tripping with my boys since they were babies, and many people think I’m crazy as I often travel solo while my husband works. However, it’s important to instill in your kids a love for travel, exploration, and adventure… plus, it’s quality family time.
When all else fails, find a playground. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a new place, googled a playground, and became mom of the year by finding a hot spot for my kids.