When I am in Europe, I utilize the affordable flights and comfortable train system regularly. In the U.S. those are not realistic options. In the face of Hurricane Florence and all of my friends evacuating with small children I thought I would share some road trip wisdom with you all. When you find yourself faced with a long road trip across our large country there are some rules of thumb that I abide by that help make those trips easier. I would love to tell you that there is a for sure cure for the road trip whoas, but in all honesty, the success of your road trip will be mostly dependent upon the stops you make. Let’s delve into some do’s and don’ts of road tripping with kids that will help fill your mama bag with useful tools.
Must Do’s on the Road
- LEAVE EARLY: I know, as moms, the struggle to adult early is very real, but you and all of your passengers will be better for the early start. The goal is 3 to 4 hours in between stops. Therefore, leave by 7. Morning snack in the car. Stop for early lunch.
- SCHEDULE STOPS 3 to 4 hours apart and 1.5 to 2 hours long. A great road trip looks something like this: leave by 7 am, stop for early lunch and/or sightseeing from 10 to 12. Back in the car for naptime covering approximately 4 hours. Stop late afternoon for sightseeing/snack. Drive another 1 to 2 hours before stopping for the night.
- Plan your route ahead of time and schedule fun sightseeing stops. If your children know what they have to look forward to down the road, they are more likely to keep the mood mellow in order to get there.
- DO LIMIT SCREEN TIME to late afternoon. In my personal experience, if screen time happens in the morning then we do not do well in the afternoon. If you use screen time in your traveling (we do not), but if you need to try to make it happen during the youngest traveler’s naptime. It will also make the last two hours of a day’s journey go faster for the younger members.
- MAKE YOUR STOPS COUNT. When you stop everyone uses the bathroom, everyone gets something to eat, the vehicle is fueled. In between stops do not happen unless there is an emergency. Make this your normal routine and after day two everyone will fall in line.
- PLAN FUN STOPS that require walking and are outside. Unless someone is suffering from pneumonia you need to force the fresh air on your travelers. Later I will touch on some fantastic outdoor stops that fit into your two hour stop window.
Things Not to Do
- AVOID EATING IN THE CAR. If you can manage a lunch stop for a full, out of the car, meal then do so. I suggest this for many reasons; first off when our children eat in the car we get stressed out about the mess. It is natural, we all do it but avoid it. Secondly, you will eventually have to stop to clean up children and/or the car. Lastly, if someone is going to be bathroom triggered by the food you are much closer to a restroom if you went inside somewhere to eat.
- DO NOT SIT THE TWO THAT FIGHT TOGETHER.
- DO NOT BRING SO MUCH “ENTERTAINMENT” that your children do not learn how to entertain themselves. It is easy to pack the toy chest. Try, to pack road trip games instead. Some tried and true suggestions are; I Spy, License Plate Bingo, Would you Rather, Car Color Competitions, Sing-a-longs, etc. Looking out the window is always amusing, in my opinion. To be perfectly honest, the less you pack the less stress you have and the less there is to fight over.
- BE SNACK PREPARED. I know I know, I said to avoid eating in the car. What I meant was to avoid eating meals. Snacks will get you to your scheduled stops more easily. Make them dry snacks that vacuum out easily for your sanity mama.
- AVOID UNPLANNED STOPS by magically foreseeing the future. I’m kidding, sort of. If you are prone to needing a 2 pm coffee pick-me-up then pick it up as you fuel up the car and kiddos at the lunch stop. Foresee the need so to speak. If you don’t then you will need to stop and that will cause kids to frantically vacate the car as well.
- DO NOT MAKE RESERVATIONS for your hotel until you’re 30 minutes to an hour away from your stopping point for the night. It is highly unlikely that every hotel will be booked and this gives you a lot of flexibility with your time. For example, if the baby takes a late nap and you know you can make it another two hours. If someone gets car sick and just really needs to not get back in the car today you now can easily stop. Stay flexible.
Best Family Friendly Stops for Sightseeing
The U.S. is a massive country and because of the extensiveness, at some point, you will find yourself in a barren landscape with no civilization in sight. I have made the cross-country pcs road trip twice alone with three children. Some of our favorite stops were in the areas I was hoping to avoid, but couldn’t.
Arizona: A stunningly beautiful state with lots of open roads. Many people drive through Arizona and stop at the Grand Canyon. Though the Grand Canyon is beautiful; you need more than two hours there. One of our all-time favorite stops is Meteor Crater. We all adored the museum and the landscape and there is plenty of room for kids and pets alike to run around. Also on my Arizona list is the Phoenix Zoo. Great little zoo to let the kids explore.
New Mexico: The New Mexico landscape and truck stops can be very intimidating, but there is a lot of cultural immersion and learning to be had here. One of the most magical moments of any road trip we have taken is when we saw the Acoma Pueblo (Sky City) emerge on the horizon. In order to do a tour and get access to the city you need to schedule a tour way in advance, but it is so worth it.
Western Texas: Once you leave Houston you have what I like to call “no man’s land” Texas. Full of Ranches, 80 mile an hour speed limits and tumbleweeds. There is not a lot going on out there, but if you search hard enough there are decent stops to be made. One of my children’s favorites was Cadillac Cemetary outside of Amarillo. Though I thought it was rather boring, the kids loved it and it allows for plenty of space to run without disturbing anyone else. The Guadalupe Mountains National Park also provides a space to stretch the legs and learn about the local landscape.
Becoming a Pro on the Road
A lot about road tripping comes with practice. Not all road trips are created the same, but they can all be fun. When you find yourself in need of space and stops just take them. Give yourself and your children some grace and go with the flow. The best way to ensure a happy road trip is to be flexible with your plans. As tempting as it is to stop at every advertised museum or “world’s largest ball of yarn” sign try to push forward with the promise of stops of outdoor space. The less complicated you make it the easier the ride.