Preparing for a Road Trip with 4 Kids & a Dog

Preparing for a Road Trip with Kids at lifeyourway.net

We’re getting ready for our second 18-hour trip to southern Florida, leaving on Sunday at 4 a.m., and it seemed like a good time to repost this. This time, our big girls are already in Florida with my parents, so we’ll be making the drive down with 2 kids, a baby and a dog and the drive back with 4 kids, a baby and a dog. I’ve added a few notes in italic where our strategy is different for this trip!

We’re heading down to Florida soon to visit my parents (who recently relocated there from Maryland) and to attend the famed Disney Social Media Moms conference at Disney World, and we’re all over-the-top excited as we count down the days until we leave.

As excited as we are, though, I’m more than a little nervous about the 16-18 hour drive to get there, especially since we’ll have our 10-month-old Husky puppy with us and are planning to drive straight through!

The truth is I haven’t spent much time worrying about what to pack (we just need some clothes and basic toiletries since we’ll be at my parents’ house for the majority of our trip and have plenty of access to stores for anything we might forget!), but I’ve spent a lot of time planning out our road trip activities.

Our Road Trip Strategy

Our family spends a lot of time on the road anyway, regularly driving 1-2 hours to various destinations around our home, so our girls are good travelers. But our previous Florida road trips have taught us that there’s a big difference between a 6-hour drive and a 12-hour drive. And this one? Well, it will be our longest by far since my parents now live 2 hours south of my grandmother.

In the past, we’ve tried driving through the night, but that just left us exhausted. We’ve stopped overnight midway, but that just extends the misery into two days instead of one. And we’ve driven with exhausted-but-won’t-sleep toddlers screaming during the last stretch of the night, which we’d like to avoid!

Our plan this time is to stick with our favorite strategy — head to bed early the night before and then get on the road by 4-o’dark in the morning. That means we’ll need to be packed beforehand and we’ll load four sleepy girls into the car, but it should make for a relatively mellow start to the day and — hopefully — lead to plenty of sleeping in the car, something our girls have gotten pretty good at thanks to weekly trips to visit their “MooMoo” (Sean’s mom) and the hour-and-a-half drive home at night!

We’ll plan to stop as needed for bathroom breaks and playtime for the puppy, but our goal is to use that time wisely so that we don’t make the drive any longer than it has to be.

With a baby on this trip, my hope is that he will go 3-4 hours between feedings so we can stop for food/playtime/potty breaks all at once. Thankfully, he’s our best traveler yet, and with his sisters next to him, I think he’ll do just fine!

Activities + More

While I’m a big fan of boredom in childhood in general, my goal for this trip is to keep them entertained, well fed and busy. We don’t do movies in the car (because I know it could easily become a crutch for even our shorter drives, and it’s not a door I want to open!), but we’ll have plenty of activities, crafts and audiobooks. I thought I’d give you a peek into the bags I have packed for the girls. They know about some of this stuff, which my mom sent them for the trip, but a lot of it will be a surprise, which I’m hoping will up the entertainment factor.

Despite my protests, our new-to-us truck actually has a DVD player, and we’ve managed to strike a balance so that we use it only on very special occasions and not all the time. The plan for this trip is that they’ll be able to watch one movie after lunch and another one after dinner.

Audiobooks

We have several Audible-ready devices, including an iPad, iPod and an old iPhone that we use as an MP3 player. These devices have games on them too, but the girls will be limited to playing at certain times of the drive (I’m thinking after every meal just so they know and won’t keep asking!). However, I plan to let each of them pick out a new Audible audiobook the night before we leave because I know that will keep the older girls engaged for many, many hours.

Backpacks

Preparing for a Road Trip with Kids at lifeyourway.net

We packed a backpack for each of the girls with the fun stuff my mom sent and a few extra surprises:

  • cookie sheet for coloring, playing, eating, etc.
  • coloring book & crayons
  • blank notebook
  • headphones for audiobooks
  • finger puppets
  • cars
  • small toys
  • puzzle game

As you can see, I took pretty much everything out of its packaging because I know how quickly trash can build up in the car. I’m also thinking about offering the big girls an extra incentive to keep things neat and put away in their backpacks so that we can avoid a total disaster (and the dog chewing up things she shouldn’t!).

This year, the girls packed their own backpacks, including a couple stuffed animals, crayons, little animals, and the cookie sheet.

Special Surprises

Preparing for a Road Trip with Kids at lifeyourway.net

I also packed a bag full of special surprises to hand out throughout the trip. I haven’t decided exactly how we’ll divide up the surprises, but we’ll probably wait until after breakfast for the first one and plan on one every hour from there.

Here’s what the surprise bag contains:

  • activity books for the big girls, dry erase boards for the littles (Target Hot Spot)
  • giant pens (Easter clearance)
  • princess tattoos with a tiny sponge for applying them (Target Hot Spot)
  • glow stick bracelets for after dark (Target Hot Spot)
  • Melissa & Doug fashion sticker pages
  • princess play packs with crayons and stickers (Target Hot Spot)
  • stretchy bunnies (Easter clearance)
  • 4 snacks: Kashi Strawberry Bars, Annie’s Fruit Snacks, Clif Kids Zbars, GoGo Squeeze Applesauce

I also have a similar-but-different bag packed for the trip home with some more dollar toys, snacks and activities.

One tip: I read that the Melissa & Doug stickers sometimes tear when removing them from the pages, so I took a few minutes the other night to remove the white background around the stickers so that the stickers will hopefully peel right off the backing. This is a trick we always use when giving toddlers and preschoolers stickers, since it can be frustrating for tiny fingers to try to peel those off.

While I still think preparation is key, we did find last time around that we didn’t need quite as many activities as I had packed. This time, I have a dry erase book for each of them, a coloring book, a couple sets of stickers with blank paper and glowsticks (which were definitely popular after dark last time!). I skipped the chintzy toys.

Mile Marker Tracker

I also plan to do a simplified version of Tricia’s great vacation trip tracker. My plan is to attach a piece of velcro to the ceiling of the van and add mile marker lines for every 100 miles so that we can move a toy car along the strip to show the girls how many miles we’ve gone and how many we have left.

Our mile marker strip didn’t stay up, but moving the car along the ceiling to show how far we’d gone and how far we had left worked amazingly well. We would make a big production of moving it every 100 miles or so, and everybody loved it!

What is your best road trip advice? What’s the farthest you’ve ever driven with kids?

Mandi Ehman is the blogger behind Life Your Way. She and her husband have four beautiful girls plus one baby boy, and together they live, work and homeschool on a little slice of heaven in wild, wonderful West Virginia. Mandi loves coffee, chocolate, easy meals, beautiful things and minimalist spaces.
  • phoward336

    Great ideas. We also take frequent long trips (currently in FL after a 18 hour drive). If we have the time, we’ll break up the trip with fun stops. For example on the way down, we took two days, and one day spent 2 hours at an ice cream/ milk factory tour and the next day stopped to pick blueberries and peaches. We also always look for local restaurants on Yelp when it’s time to eat versus fast food. Yes, it takes us longer to get where we are going, but it makes the drive itself more fun and seem like part of the vacation instead of just something to get through.

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