Recently, I traveled 1500 miles round trip with my husband and 3 children to attend a family wedding. Now, I’m no travel pro but I did learn a few things about road tripping as a family of 5. Like everything with kids, and particularly with two kids under the age of three, there are a lot of variables.
My family road trip tips are tried and true, and hopefully, they will help you if you decide to hit the road with your family.
I strongly recommend taking your vehicle to a reputable shop to have it inspected prior to your trip. For me, this is a make or break detail for my peace of mind. I want my van running like a top for long trips. I’m talking new filters, tires rotated, all fluids filled, and everything tight and torqued to specifications. I have a professional background in auto mechanics, so this is good advice, and if you only take one tip from me, let it be this. This doesn’t mean nothing can go wrong (i.e. flat tire) but at least you know you’ve done everything you can to make sure your vehicle is safe and ready.
Packing the car:
Maybe I’m a little obsessive, but I strategically pack my van so every last little thing is exactly where I need it. If you have a diapered child, having the changing stuff handy is necessary. If you have a child (or 2) who needs a pacifier to be quiet in the car, have 100 ready to go. (I kid, 50 will suffice). Have them where you can reach them, whether you use a storage compartment, a purse, or anywhere else handy. Snacks, again, keep them where you can reach them, and hand them back easily to your hangry passengers.
Some helpful things to keep in the car are a first aid kit (including car sickness medicine if that’s a problem for any of your kids.) We also got an adapter with 5 USB inputs that plugged into our cigarette lighter. It helped for charging multiple devices at the same time.
Use what you know about your family to guesstimate the average miles you can make in a day. I say miles because hours are somewhat irrelevant. What is technically 4 hours of drive time can easily become a full 8 hour drive day due to all the stops kids require. For my family, the reasonable max daily distance covered was 300 miles. I came to that conclusion based on mostly my youngest child. My oldest was 8.5, my middle was 3, and my baby was a mere 9 months at the time of this road trip. My baby would be the make or break child in our scenario. I know he (and my middle daughter) do not do well at bedtime. So, if we could always leave in the mid-morning, then 300 miles with stops would put us at the destination a little before bedtime. The baby necessitated nursing stops every 2 hours or so. We broke up the longer stretches if we could. I only tried to do one 300 mile trip each way. Maybe your family can do more or less.
Driving and navigating- who:
This is well established between my husband and I. I enjoy driving and I am awful at navigating. I also don’t enjoy reaching into the back seat to assist whichever child with whatever they need constantly throughout the ride. My husband is a skilled navigator and a terrified city driver. He also doesn’t mind assisting our children constantly. (He’s much more agile than me for reaching back.) So, for us, me driving and my husband navigating/dealing with the children made the most sense. It helped to know this ahead of time.
We surprised each of our children with a new toy early on in our family road trip. For my oldest, that meant a new Nintendo Switch he had been asking for for months. He was SO excited! It was easily the most brilliant mom idea I’ve ever had. For my daughter, it was a set of Paw Patrol figurines. Her imaginative play is brilliant and she spent hours talking through her own missions and playing actively with the figurines on her lap. For the baby, I got him a new octopus stuffy with sensory toys on the tentacles. He honestly didn’t care. But hey, the general idea worked and I was 2 for 3, so I’m still calling it a mom win!
Depending on how you feel about screen time, this can be an absolute lifesaver. My best move was getting really long charging cords. I’m talking about an Ipad charging cable that reached the length of my van! None of our devices ever died in a moment of need. The app we used most for our toddler is KidloLand. It is educational and wonderful. Netflix also allows you to download items to a device for use without wifi.
For older kids who can read, books are a wonderful alternative. My oldest read an entire chapter book on our trip. Another great option is something like Pinna which is an audio streaming service and a great source for recorded books, podcasts, and shows for kids of all ages.
Expect the unexpected:
The things you count on, won’t happen. My toddler, who is a religious car napper and falls asleep in the car regularly around town, never slept once. Not one single wink of sleep for the entire 1500 miles. I was astounded. My 8-year-old however, slept for an hour at one point, and he has been done napping for years. My youngest once pulled a 3.5-hour nap where we logged some serious miles.
After 1500 miles, my sanity was somehow still intact. I’m an over-planner but it worked out for this particular family road trip. I thought after this trip, I wouldn’t want to travel ever again with my children. Turns out, I was so confident after we returned home that we immediately booked a flight for our next trip! Here’s to flying with 3 kids.