There is nothing quite like the bond of travel. Experiencing a new place, adventuring together, trying new activities and foods. Road tripping can be just as magical and wonderful as you might imagine when daydreaming of hitting the road as a family. But as with everything involving littles, travel can also be really exhausting. Long days, hours spent in the car, small shared spaces, and my personal “favorite”: forgetting to pack something completely necessary. Each time I hit the road with my little family I realize even more how prepping and packing makes each trip even smoother.
We have family in two states and from the dawn of our marriage we have made the eight-hour trek to visit for holidays, weddings, and graduations multiple times a year. When these trips were just two grown adults, the ride was at times boring and tedious but also involved listening to podcasts, adult music, uninterrupted conversations and sometimes silence. Then, almost eight years ago, we added our first little travel buddy to our road trip mix and she truly changed the game. Two years later we added her sister and then not long after their brother. Now we conquer our eight-hour road trip regularly with three kids. While it seems as though our adventures are getting more pleasant with each passing year, we have done these trips through phases from nursing newborns, to potty training toddlers, to squabbling preschoolers, and those years were not for the faint of heart.
I would love to share some of my personal, hard-earned wisdom with you if you too are looking towards road-tripping with your little family anytime soon!
First and foremost I must sing the praises of a packing list. For the first few years we road-tripped with babies and toddlers I would not use a packing list. I would haphazardly pack suitcases – guessing amounts of clothes and essentials. As we continued to add members to our family I found it necessary to jot notes down about who needed what and in what quantities or else we would have ended up packing our entire house! A packing list saves time, space, and energy both in preparation and in coming back home. When you are tired and packing late at night before a trip a packing list will save your brain precious energy. I always print two copies of our packing list. One for the packing and prep before a trip and one to cross check for reference when coming home.
Here is the template I have created for our family packing list that you can use for your family travel needs!
Whether your trip is an hour or twelve hours, if you are traveling with small humans, you will need some sort of entertainment on deck for those moments where looking out the window or watching movies just doesn’t cut it anymore. Road trips are the perfect excuse to peruse the Target dollar aisle and stock up on those magnetic play scenes, Color Wonder coloring pads, or even blank journals and a fresh pack of crayons. I also love these clipboards from Target. They can hold a small pad of paper, crayons, pencils, etc. Typically when prepping for a trip I plan for a Target run 1-2 days prior to leaving to grab some new and novel car entertainment.
We have a DVD player in our van and use it on long road trips for 1-2 movies. I have rented DVDs from our local library or asked in my local Buy Nothing group to freshen up our travel viewing repertoire. Another genius idea when it comes to car entertainment is one that I stole from my friend Elizabeth who has instituted the use of the food basket. Whenever passing back meals or snacks on the road Elizabeth uses a short, shallow basket (like these from Target) to contain foods and drinks and make transporting travel sustenance to your fellow tiny passengers easier.
Preparing and communicating expectations with your adult partner is key when road tripping as a family. Who will be the lead driver? Who will manage entertainment and snack requests from kids? When will be stop for bathroom breaks? I think having low expectations road trips is key, especially when traveling with newborns, infants, and potty-training toddlers. For so many years our typical eight-hour trek to see family was stretched to 10+ hours with a nursing baby in tow. You may also have to change some of the ways you typically parent at home when you are in a car all day with kids strapped into car seats. Above all else, know that the car portion of travel WILL end. The light may be far but it is still at the end of the tunnel and eventually you will be at your destination.
I think quite possibly one of the most important pieces of traveling as a family is pre-planning for a re-entry day when returning home. I know it may seem backwards to plan for the end of the trip before it has even happened but that re-entry and re-adjustment day, blocking out time to actually unpack and re-adjust will make a world of difference for both you AND your kids.
In sum: You can do this! Traveling as a family is a very full endeavor. There are lots of needs, things to be packed, and unexpected moments. But even with all of the hard that has come from our family road trips (the unexpected blow outs, pulling onto the ride of the road to nurse, pumping at a gas station, etc) every trip was absolutely worth it. Looking back at pictures I don’t see the stressful drives and tired faces, I see the smiles of two parents trying their hardest to make lasting forever memories for their growing family. Those smiles will always be worth it all.