We just wrapped up a 6.5 week road trip around the United States with three kids ages 6, 3, and 2. The almost 8,000 miles of driving was definitely an education in what works and what doesn’t work for keeping young children happy on a long trip!
I thought I’d share a few ways we made it easy on ourselves and held onto our sanity.
Planning the Trip
For our trip of visiting friends, cities, and national parks all over the country, we planned our itinerary with our small children in mind.
We tried to make it as easy as possible on the kids by keeping the drives as short as we could. We aspired to:
-No days with more than 6 hours of driving.
-Few back-to-back driving days.
-Plenty of stops for snacks and bathroom breaks.
Preparing for a Driving Day
Before getting in the car we made sure everyone was full of good food (with some protein), had a water bottle for the car, and had used the bathroom just before getting in the van. We also tried to give the kids plenty of time to run around and get their wiggles out before they would be cooped up in the car for a few hours.
We usually started out with crayons and coloring books. We also printed out maps of each state we were driving through for them to color. Once they lost interest, we passed snacks to them in plastic bags.
If none of them had fallen asleep at that point and they were getting antsy, we’d stop to let them run around at a rest stop and get a bathroom break. (Usually this was about 2.5 hours into the drive).
When we got back in the car, it was naptime/quiet time for an hour and a half or so (the two-year-old and three-year-old always nap). And either during or after quiet time, we’ll bust out the audiobooks.
Audiobooks Are the Key to Your Sanity (Trust Me)
We discovered the first week of the trip that the DVD player we bought for the car was decidedly unhelpful in keeping the kids under control in the car. It just was NOT working. They would talk over it and bicker and it seemed to cause MORE problems.
Audiobooks on the other hand require you to really pay attention in order to understand the story because you have to listen and imagine the story in your head. So it requires concentration and QUIET which is your sanity in the car. No really. If you’re on an extended road trip with small children quiet is the golden ticket.
I wrote a pretty extensive post all about the best audiobooks for kids (and how to find them for free) so that might be helpful if you have a trip coming up!
Has your family ever tackled a massive road trip? What did you do to keep the kids happy and to maintain your own sanity with all the family togetherness?