Traveling with our kids is one of the best gifts that we give them. Exposure to other people, places, and cultures is priceless. But let’s just be honest here: getting to where you’re going is more than half the battle. Today I’m welcoming Nate Alger from Live Outdoorsy to See Mom Click to share his tips (hard-won from personal experience) for surviving a road trip with the fam.
Surviving a Cross Country Road Trip with Your Family
Driving across the country can be a daunting experience and even more so if you have your entire family with you! I still remember my first cross country road trip from Oregon to Massachusetts almost 20 years ago. I was about to go into the 5th grade. It was just my parents, my older sister, and I. It was an unforgettable experience and often one I look back on from time to time as it helped shape my childhood. But the trip was not without difficulty as the long hours driving and constant time with my sister took a toll on my parents’ well-being.
You already know there will be plenty of complaining, tiredness, arguments, and that’s not even half of it. My goal for this article is to make sure your trip goes smoothly and as pain-free as possible. Follow these 7 cross country road trips guidelines to ensure that your long journey can be looked upon as a success!
7 Tips for Making A Cross Country Road Trip a Success
Keep the Kids Separate (Unless They Get Along Marvelously)
Most experienced parents know this one by now, so this is not exactly a revolutionary life-changing secret or anything. However, it is not a tip that can be forgotten. When I look back on my childhood road trips, I now believe this is the #1 thing that helped keep my parents’ sanity intact.
Since we were driving cross country with all our stuff, my father drove the moving van and my mom drove the old blue Dodge Caravan. Intelligently, my dad placed myself with him the whole trip while my older and often bothersome sister rode with my mom in the minivan.If you are doing a shorter trip without the necessity of 2 vehicles, my recommendation is to try and put your kids in different sections of the car and follow the following advice carefully.
Naturally, you can throw this suggestion out the window if you happen to have the enviable case of kids that get along with each other all the time. Do they even exist though?
If you are a parent, this is probably your first instinct. Have something to keep the kids occupied. Ask the kids to pick their own entertainment. Take them book shopping and let them get something they’re interested in so they will actually read it. Thankfully, in my day, I had a Gameboy and a couple books that kept me interested. These days, your average smartphone or iPad seems to do the trick just fine with the endless selection of games. If they are older, you can have them make a road-trip playlist for their iPod or phone.
Be Ready to Be the Entertainment
Kids can still get bored. I know I certainly did as we were driving through the vast plains and open territory of much of the Midwest of the United States. Be prepared to be their focus. Kids love to play the classic game of “I Spy.” Even if you are the driver this can easily be done without losing attention to the most important thing, driving safely. If it is a long trip, you could have the kids take pictures or write down all the different states license plates that you run into.
Finally, kids just want to know you care and will listen to them. Be willing to hear what they have to say. This is the greatest thing you can do as a parent, to listen to your kids. I still remember to this day sitting in the passenger seat, talking about life with my dad. No doubt, his willingness to listen had a profound effect on the quality of my childhood.
Plan Stops Ahead of Time
My dad has always been a great organizer. Before the trip, he intelligently marked out how many miles we were going to travel each day, what hotels we would stay at, and which of the top national parks we were going to make sure to spend time in.
They did an excellent job providing a mix of fun family destinations where we spent more time in like the “Old Faithful” geyser at Yellowstone National Park or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that we went to in Cleveland. It was truly a 10-day trip to remember.
Plan your major stops and where you are hoping to rest your head at night before you head out on your journey. Sure, you can make changes along the way and it is great to be flexible, but it is important to have a general idea of where you need to be and what you are going to do each day. Every “X” hours or “X” miles make sure to make a pit stop.
My dad had a common phrase that he said whenever we asked him how much longer until we get there. “Just 12 more minutes…” he would say. He still uses it this day when we ask him. When you make the schedule, show it to your kids prior to the trip so they know what to be excited about. This expectation makes them happier to be traveling and guides them as to when they will be able to stretch their legs, go to the bathroom, and maybe stop for a meal or do some sightseeing.
Have a Positive Attitude Each Day
I recently read about a Navy Seal who had some simple, but profound advice to his troops that were battling in some of the harshest and most stressful environments.Here are the three words that he said was the most important piece of advice he could give, “Calm is Contagious.”
If you keep your head straight there is a better chance your kids will as well. If you are panicking your children will feed off that panic. Remember next time you want to lash out on your kids that calm is contagious.
Keep Your Kids Hydrated and Well Fed
Hit up your local Costco or Sam’s Club and pick out the best snacks you can think of. It is okay to splurge a little bit as it is a family trip and you want your kids to be happy. Make sure there is plenty of food and drinks to go around and not just juice. Water, of course, will keep your kids healthy and hydrated.
Kids who are well hydrated and eating regularly throughout the day will have drastically different mood than those that become hungry. This is common sense to any parent. Eating well and feeling healthy is so crucial to your family’s overall mood! Do not overlook this one.
Plan A Short Trip Before Taking The Big Journey
Whether the kids are older or younger, plan to take a day to sight-see or explore a different city to test out the waters before you go on the long cross-country journey. This is a great way to see if your kids are ready for a longer journey. No point going on a week-long road trip if your family isn’t ready to do a simple 2-day adventure.
If your first trip was a grand success, why not try out a longer one! Make your kids a part of your planning process and let them be excited about the trip before you take off.
What Tips Would You Add?
Wherever your final destination is, half the battle is getting there. Even adults have a hard time staying sane during a long road trip, but if you come prepared and keep your sanity I have no doubt it will be a life-changing experience for you and your kids. I still have memories that I will never forget and it is 20 years later!
Your kids will have their moments and they won’t enjoy every second of it. Heck, I wish my sister and I didn’t get lice as we passed through Illinois. But hey, it was part of the process and made for more memories!
What tips would you add to the list to ensure a successful road trip with the kids?
Nate Alger is an avid hiker and traveler who writes insightful traveling tips and gear recommendations at liveoutdoorsy.com. His 10-day journey across the country with his family helped shape his childhood.