On the Road with Kids

This past year, my husband and I had the pleasure of taking our children on a two-week cross-country trip. When I told inquiring friends and family of our plans to spend a week of the expedition at Walt Disney World, they quickly smiled (many offering stories from their own times at the Happiest Place on Earth). But reviews were nothing short of mixed when I informed them that we would spend the remaining week—three days before Disney and four days after—road tripping and hitting pitstop-worthy destinations along the way.

“Why would you elect to drive 17 hours when you could fly there in a mere three hours?” some wanted to know.

“You’re braver than I am!” others quipped.

“Bless your sweet hearts,” still more commiserated (which, if you don’t speak Southern, this translates roughly to, “Are you out of your mind?!”).

It’s true. Driving thirty-two hours in a minivan with three young children might seem like the ultimate test in patience, but our reasons for making the trek far outweighed the disadvantages. For starters, my husband had earned a sabbatical from work that granted him three weeks of paid time off. In no other circumstance could we say we had time on our hands, but in our given situation, we really did. Instead of just trying to get to our destination as quickly as possible, our priorities shifted. A well-known joke quips about needing a vacation to recover from your vacation, and the whole notion of rushing and cramming “all the things” into our days didn’t strike us as desirable. (Plus, we knew we’d do our fair share of rushing about at Disney. Why make that the hallmark of the entire trip?). No, it made sense to slow down, take in the scenery and view the drive as a bonus vacation of sorts. Second, making the drive into a celebrated road trip afforded our family the opportunity to see areas of the country that otherwise were foreign to us. Call us conservative, call us wimps. But in 10 years of parenting, my husband and I hadn’t taken our kids on a vacation beyond a six-hour drive (even most of those trips were repeat visits to favorite destinations like Branson or St. Louis). This change in scenery meant our kids would take in more than just farmland on either side of the highway. For the first time in their lives, they would view mountain ranges by way of meandering roads cut through the Smokies, find themselves dwarfed by the towering pines that flank the interstates of Georgia and sink their toes deep into Florida’s ocean-wet sand. For kids that had memorized their states and capitals the year prior, this was a field trip like no other, making places on the map come to life. And you know what we found out through it all? We had sold ourselves short. Our kids really were champion road trippers!

How to Rock a Long Car Ride with Kids

Reach Out to Seasoned Travelers.

It’s not beneath me to admit I’m a long-distance traveling newbie. So before we set out for our big adventure, I got all the advice I could from friends who were seasoned pros at traveling with kids. My friend Sarah, a mom of five with extended family in northern Michigan, is no stranger to long car trips, and she was happy to share things that worked well for her family (as well as things that didn’t). It’s because of her I learned tips about snack rationing and how to have media work for you, not against you, in the car (see below!).


Do Your Research but Be Flexible

In preparation for our trip, I began researching landmarks, historical sites, and award-winning restaurants that would be along the way. I had mapped out a very detailed itinerary for our drive but what I couldn’t foresee was that my husband would sustain a back injury that left him unable to drive the first several days of our trip. As you can imagine, many of our plans changed, but it didn’t mean that we didn’t have a great time. When planning trips, a number of things are simply outside your control: weather, car reliability, sickness and traffic (among many others). Just remember that sometimes the most memorable highlights of a trip can happen by accident.


Come Armed with Boredom Busters        

Perhaps the most dreaded refrain parents expect to hear on long car trips is, “Are we there yet?” Obviously, if kids don’t feel like they have anything to do, getting to an intended destination is all they can think about. One of the ways we curtailed the requests was by offering new activities, games and snacks in regular increments throughout our days. With something new to look forward to at every hour, everyone remained on their toes, and the focus was less on the final destination and more on what new thing was coming around the bend.


Ration Out the Special Treats

Before we hit the road, I built a collection of special new items to take with us, ranging from art supplies to small toys to audiobooks. But the only way for this collection to have any long-term appeal was if it remained fresh and new.  So, instead of giving each child a goody bag at the start of the trip, I held onto the bags and let them pick one new treat at the top of the hour. As recommended by my friend Sarah, we reserved snacks and drinks until the hour before we planned designated stops to avoid unnecessary bathroom breaks (snacks were all prepackaged items that could be thrown from the pilot’s seat to the back without any mess, and drinks all had straws). Perhaps the most coveted treat of all was movie time—nothing compared to it. For this reason, we always reserved it for the last leg of each day’s journey, because if we offered it sooner, requests for more movies would become the new “Are we there yet?”


---------------------------------Quick & Easy Car Games-------------------------------------

  • I Spy
  • Memory Game (Choose a place like a picnic, store or zoo and list an item that would belong there that starts with the letter A. The next player says the previous listing and continues with the next letter in the alphabet.)
  • 20 Questions
  • Name That Tune
  • License Plate Bingo


Lauren Greenlee is a freelance writer and Olathe boy mom of three who is already feverishly planning her next road trip with her crazy crew.

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