This is the third summer we’ve packed up Robbie (5 year old) and Anna (3 year old) and road tripped from the middle of Texas to Pennsylvania to visit my in-laws, a 24 hr drive with no stops. Over these years, we’ve made lots of mistakes and lots of good memories. Here are ten lessons (not in any particular order) we have learned about traveling with young kids.
1. Take your time
The first year we packed the kids into our minivan, my husband, Matt, had very limited vacation time. So the plan was for him to drive me and the kids up to PA over a long weekend, fly back to Texas and vise versa for the drive back. We started driving right after Matt got home from work on a Friday night and drove in shifts through the night and the next day until we got to Roanoke, Virginia with a break in Knoxville, TN. The idea was, drive while the kids slept.
We made it to PA in one piece, and kept the crying and potty breaks to a minimum because the kids slept through most of the drive. We on the other hand, were completely spent. We thought we could take turns driving and sleeping, but we were so tired, we had to both stay awake to ensure the driver stayed awake. We’d drive by these car accidents and pinch ourselves to wake ourselves up. There was one accident where it looked like one semi had rear-ended another. And as we inched by, we realized there was a car smashed in between. The drive back from PA wasn’t much better, and we vowed never to do all-nighters again.
2. Pack a Potty
Yup. I’m going there. Between the ages of two and five, there is lots of “I have to pee” and “I have to poo!” I dread taking my kids to gas station bathrooms because my kids touch everything! Robbie’s a boy, so we’ve taught him to pee in a bottle. Anna’s a girl, and the bottle just won’t cut it. So a kid’s potty comes in really handy especially when we are driving on long stretches of highway and we just past a sign that says “next gas stop, 38 miles.” This year, we’ve managed to not use the potty so far, and there has been minimal screaming in public bathrooms. (Me screaming, not the kids.) Perhaps we won’t need it next year. *sigh* Our kids are growing up.
3. Limit screen time
It may seem like the easiest solution to keep the kiddos entertained, but between the ages of two and five, my kids has zombie brains whenever they watch TV. They are all happy and content when the show is on, but the moment it is turned off, they whine and cry like the world is ending. Anna describes it as, “my body doesn’t know what to do.” We still let them watch some TV especially on really long stretches of the drive, but we just know we’ll have to pay a steep price for those hours of peace and quiet.
4. Let the kids jump on the beds
My kids love hotels. It is a whole experience for them. They love running down the hallways looking for our room number, they fight over who gets to slide the key card into the lock, and they LOVE jumping on the beds. I’m always amazed that my kids are entertained by the most mundane parts of our trip because I always forget that every part of the trip is a grand adventure.
5. City Parks Rock!
After that first road trip, we took a much more leisurely approach to traveling between TX and PA. We would drive between 5 to 8 hours a day, usually in the afternoon when it is hot outside. In the mornings, we’d try to find a good park for our kids to burn some energy. Some of our favorites are:
- Little Rock’s Julius Breckling Riverfront Park would have to be our all time favorite with a splash pad and a rockscape with tunnels! Robbie’s true cheetah comes out. It also has a farmer’s market on the weekends and lots of food options close by. We try to go through Little Rock every summer just for this park.
- Raleigh’s Pullen Park was this trip’s win. It has a great playground, and you can purchase very reasonably priced tickets for carousel and train rides and paddle boats.
- Indoor playgrounds at churches. We discovered these in Indianapolis on a hot day. Just google indoor playgrounds and whichever city you are in. Here’s the one for Indianapolis. A church in our hometown, Bryan/College Station, TX just opened one as well. And when the temperature is over 100 degrees for ten days straight, you bet we are taking advantage of indoor air conditioned space where our kids can burn some energy! These indoor playgrounds seem extravagant, but we really do feel blessed and ministered to through these playgrounds, especially on a hot day.
- Swim bag
- Overnight bag for pjs and next day’s clothes
- Laundry bag,
- A bag of clean clothes for each person we keep in the car
- Toiletries and medicine bag
- Electronics bag
- Games bag
- Snack bag