Tips for Road Tripping with Little Kids
As a single mom of three littles, ages 5, 4, and 2-years-old, I wasn’t sure what to expect from our first road trip. I planned this trip for nearly 3 months and we were away nearly 3 months as well. We drove down the coast, hitting all my must-see spots such as Portland, Grants Pass, Napa, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Solvang, Santa Barbara, and Orange County. Phew! We then hit our final destination in Encinitas, a small city about 30 minutes outside of San Diego. On the way home, we went to Yosemite, Tahoe, Redding, and Eugene, and Ashland. In another blog, I will deep dive into each of our stops and what I recommend to families of similarly aged children.
There were plenty of hurtles driving down the coast to Encinitas, including a break in and needing to sell back by new SUV and purchasing a new one due to a recall, though by the time we headed back home, I had mastered all the tricks and hacks to driving hours at a time with three young ones. Here are some of my most recommended tricks, hacks, and products.
Snacks and Water // It seems like a no-brainer, I know. But trust me, snacks were a lifesaver. My three also drink a ton of water. The most convenient way to handle snacks while driving was to have a stash of them in my center console. Before our trip, I completely emptied it and filled it with fruit leathers, granola bars, veggie straws, gold fish, and even these awesome Froot Loop Jumbo snacks which they loved as they have never even had cereal like this before. Also, sugar free lollipops were a great choice when I just needed a break from the noise. As for water, they each had two of their own Camelback water bottles ready to so if one fell to the floor they had another one to grab. My new Honda Pilot has so many cup holders and I am so thankful they thought ahead. I kept disposable water bottles under their feet in the backseat and was sure to re-fill each of their Camelbacks every time we stopped. With snacks came inevitable garbage, I had a garbage bag ready to go in the backseat so they could each throw away their trash, which was a great way to give them some responsibility for their space in the backseat.
Go With The Flow // On the way down to Encinitas, I was so eager to get to each of our planned stops. What I learned was to avoid being on a time crunch. Being able to stop when the kids obviously needed a break saved us many times. Some of the best adventures we had were off the beaten path. I found that if we started the morning off with a playground, followed by one or two hours in the car, and another playground with a lunch break. They could then nap in the car for the longest stretch of the way. I was able to get about 5 hours of driving done per day, though I tried to aim for less than that when planning our stays. It was fun to look ahead at the best playgrounds coming ahead and wow them with amazing playgrounds. In total we visited 65 playgrounds.
Bathroom and Potty // If you have little ones under five, you know how detrimental it is to be without a potty and that every time they need to go, it is a full-on EMERGENCY. Well, I had a small potty under their feet in the backseat for emergencies when we were in the middle of the highway with nowhere to go quickly. Better there than in their underwear, right?! Otherwise, I would keep my eye out for the rest stop signs so that if I heard the dreaded “I NEED TO PEE,” I knew exactly how far we were from a bathroom. Some things that helped delay the potty breaks were limiting their water intake right when we took off again and making sure everyone had emptied their bladder right before jetting off.
Activities // The key to happy children in the car is to keep them busy. This works best if they start with something new at the beginning of each trip (or better yet, save the activity for when they start getting restless.) When packing the car, I ensured I had a small bin of new activities for when we needed them. Make sure that they don’t see you pack these up! Making them a surprise is a huge key to success – if you have the time to wrap them each individually in some tissue paper, that is a double win! Here are some activities I recommend trying,
1. Water Wow’s
6. Amazon Fire Tablets although we tried to use them sparingly, the tablets did save us from meltdowns on several occasions. Screen time is something I let go of as we were spending so much time outdoors. I felt like it was a win, though the detox when we got home was a bit of a struggle.
When planning out your road trip, I recommend researching different stops along the way. As I mentioned above, searching for playgrounds on google became something I got really good at. We found some of the most incredible playgrounds that way and planned our stops around them. When planning a day of travel, I highly recommend pre-packing lunches using bento boxes. Above all else, have fun, go with the flow, and remember to sneak in some stops for you too! Family-friendly wineries and breweries are a favorite of mine.