As you know, we live in the boonies, which means we drive anywhere from 2-4 hours to visit family and friends — or go on family field trips — at least once a month. In many ways, I think this is a blessing for our children, because they think nothing of spending that much time in the car, which makes them fairly good travelers on bigger trips as well.
We’ve never traveled internationally, but I’ve flown with a baby four times, and last December we took all four girls on a road trip to Florida. Over the summer and into the fall, we have quite a few weekend trips planned, and to me, planning is the key to traveling stress free.
Here are my top tips based on our experience, but be sure to read through the comments on yesterday’s question of the day because there are some experienced travelers sharing their tips as well!
1. Pack Ahead of Time
You wouldn’t think that when and how you pack for your trip will really affect your trip itself that much, but I’ve found that waiting until the last minute just leaves me stressed out and exhausted, and that makes a difference when we’re on the road.
The last time we traveled, I began packing a week before, using one of our kitchen counters to lay out everybody’s clothes, essentials and miscellaneous items so that I could see what I had out and what I still needed to get. Then, we just packed everything in bags and were ready to go!
I know it’s tempting to plan for every possible scenario when packing for a trip, but I’ll admit I tend to pack a little lighter. It’s not ideal to have to purchase extras while you’re traveling, but we’ve found that budgeting for anything we might need to buy is worth not having to take an extra bag full of “just in case” items.
For example, we all know that airports charge an arm and a leg for diapers, and it’s a good idea to take enough to last you through your expected travel time, plus a few extra for inevitable delays. However, I’ve never been one to stuff my bag full of diapers, even after getting stuck in Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving day with a six week old (or in Nashville this year after Blissdom because of the East Coast blizzard)! I figure that if I get stranded in an airport, I’ll bite the bullet and purchase the smallest pack of diapers I can while trying to ignore the exorbitant price, but I’d rather save space in my bag.
Similarly, think about how much stuff you really need to pack. Are there laundry facilities that you could use during your trip so that you only have to take half as many clothes? Are there grocery stores at your destination where you can replenish snacks and drinks?
3. Prepare Activities
Depending on the ages of your children, how you’re traveling and how long your trip will take, it’s always a good idea to have activities ready to keep kids busy and engaged while on the road. Some of our favorites include:
- Discovery bottles
- Mad libs or other activity books
- Magnets and a cookie sheet
- Road trip games
- Stories on tape
- Children’s music
- Magna doodles
4. Have Snacks
It’s not generally a good idea to eat to relieve boredom, but being stuck in a car when you’re hungry is a miserable feeling, so be sure to have plenty of healthy snacks that you can pass out while on the road.
5. Time Bathroom Breaks
Because we’re on the road so much, we’ve learned to tell the difference between, “I have to go to the bathroom because I’m bored and want to stretch my legs” and “I really, really have to go to the bathroom.” Our girls would stop every 15 minutes to use the restroom if we let them (while they can conveniently play for hours at home without needing to stop), and there’s nothing worse than just getting the baby asleep in her carseat only to have her wake up when we pull into a rest stop. Although that still happens occasionally, we try to time our bathroom breaks so that we’re stopping regularly and we ask them to hold it in between.
We always try to get everybody out of the car to stretch their legs and run around when we stop for the bathroom, which keeps them from getting too antsy on the next stretch of the trip.
6. Choose the Time of Day Carefully
You may not always have a choice when it comes to traveling by plane or driving long distances, but we prefer to either wake the girls up in the early morning hours or leave mid-afternoon depending on how far we’re going. The mid-afternoon departure gives me plenty of time to finish packing and cleaning before we go, while the early morning time means that we don’t end up distracted by other things at home or have the kids making messes that we’ve cleaned up the night before. I know other families who leave at bedtime so that their kids will get tired and sleep while they drive through the night. You know your kids — and yourself — best, so think about what schedule will work best for them.
What’s your favorite way to travel?