10 Rules For Road Trips With Kids

Road trip with kids
Surviving a road trip with kids
Aw…everyone looks so happy. This must have been before we started the road trip.

We are American, which means we drive approximately 14 hours every summer to get from our house to my parents’ house in Utah. Sometimes we spend the night at a motel halfway, nobody sleeps, and then we fight crying kids back into the car the next day. Sometimes we white-knuckle it through. There’s no great way to survive this trip, besides keeping a sense of humor.

I don’t know much for sure, but I know these 10 ways to survive a long road trip:

1. Bring backup. Do not make this trip alone. That is pure insanity. If the children don’t have another parent who can make it, BRIBE SOMEBODY. Or guilt a grandparent into traveling along with you. I actually know a person who did this type of trip alone with four kids because she is that kind of brave; however, I’m pretty sure she regretted it halfway through when a blizzard hit and the kids were screaming. And also every time they stopped at a gas station to pee.

2. Pack wine. Or beer. Or something that the person who is not driving can drink to numb the pain. I mean not in the car because that is totally illegal, but at some perfectly legal spot. If you don’t drink alcohol, I recommend obscene amounts of Diet Dr. Pepper and Twizzlers, which I’m pretty sure are the only reason my mother is alive after road trips with us. Or kombucha, if you’re healthy like that. The point is – bring a beverage that will lift your soul out of certain darkness!

Road Trip Snacks
Bring snacks. All the snacks.

3. In the front seat: have a bag of snacks that are easy to pass back, like crackers, cheese, fruit and fruit snacks. Do not rely on sugar because then your one healthy kid (the one that doesn’t have a stomach of steel) will puke up six packets of fruit snacks and six Twizzlers after you top him off with a strawberry milkshake. And then you will have pink puke in your car for the next 400 miles.

4. Each child needs his or her own water bottle. And you’ll need five more for good measure. Since when did they start hydrating like long distance runners? They are doing this just so you will have to stop so they can pee. But it doesn’t matter since you can’t deny a thirsty child water. (I think that’s a law. Or something.)

5. Speaking of things you need: take the number of kids you have, add 1, and that is the number of electronic devices you need to have with you. You only get to count your phone if you are willing to let a child put their sticky hands all over it for most of the trip. You need an extra because at any given point one of them will be out of battery. You DO have to count babies because any younger sibling worth their salt knows how to demand Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Even if he can’t talk yet.

6. Don’t stop at restaurants. It will seem like a good idea. You will think, “We all need a break, and we are hungry, and a restaurant is the reasonable solution to these problems,” but that’s just the stale air from the car rotting your brain. Do your children behave well at restaurants when they are well rested and have had plenty of exercise? No? Then WHAT MAKES YOU THINK THEY WILL SIT STILL AFTER BEING IN THE CAR FOR TEN HOURS?! In case you can’t tell, I haven’t forgiven myself for this repeated mistake. Pack food, or else drive through for fast food and supplement with decent snacks, or stop at a supermarket. Then search Google Maps for the nearest park that is right off the freeway and throw chicken nuggets in their mouths in between their laps around the playground.

Packing for a road trip
I am obsessed with these bags.

7. Speaking of which, try to find amazing playgrounds/spray parks on your route. Our saving grace has been a spray park off of a strip mall in Eastern Washington. Now we stop there for dinner on our way back every time (and if we’re out of food by then, I can get food from a restaurant and bring it over to the park). It doesn’t matter that it takes two hours…after those two hours, they are tired enough to sleep through till home.

8. Consider packing each child’s clothes and shoes in an individual color-coded bag. I am in love with these bags from Lands’ End. Does this take up more space than other options? Um, yes. But if you have the space in your van, go for it. I went crazy one Christmas and got everyone their own bag with their name on it, in different colors. Now even the youngest kid knows which one is his bag, and all his stuff is separate from everyone else’s. This way, when someone pees his pants at a rest stop, it’s easy to find his extra shorts.

9. Pack a zillion plastic bags. For wet clothes. Garbage. Vomit. You know, the basics.

10. Search Pinterest for cute road trip ideas, then discard the ridiculous ones. I have a tendency to fall down a Pinterest black hole…and suddenly it seems like a great idea to put ten different cute little snacks in a pill box or fishing tackle box. Do you know what my kids would do with a full multi-compartmented box of snacks?! Fling them at their brothers! Then grind them into their car seats. They can’t handle that kind of responsibility. YOU, and ONLY YOU, pass out the snacks. THAT IS A TRUE COMMANDMENT. And the best advice I can give you.