Road Trip Tips for Parents
Need a vacation from 'Are we there yet?' Our expert tells you how to cope.
Amita Shroff, MD
One thing that's certain about road trips with children: They're an adventure. Just ask Colleen Lanin, editor and founder of the family travel web site Travel Mamas and author of The Travel Mamas' Guide. During one family car trip to Disneyland, her daughter (now age 8) suddenly awoke from a nap and sat straight up in her car seat. "She said, ‘Mommy, I don't feel good,' in a panicky way," Lanin recalls. "I emptied tissues out of a tissue box and shoved them under her face just in time."
Not every car trip with kids is destined to be dramatic, but there will always be challenging moments. To save your sanity on the next long car trip, follow this timeline.
Before You Go
Plan your route. Map your destination and figure out some good places to stop. For example, if you know your kids need to eat lunch at 11 a.m., look for a town along your route that has kid-friendly restaurants and a park where they can burn off energy.
Write up a packing list to make sure you bring everything you might need. Take lots of books, toys, and games as well as an extra box of diapers, food and drinks, a first-aid kit, pillows, blankets, and garbage bags.
Count the Hours
For long car rides, it pays to have an hour-by-hour plan to keep your children entertained.
Hour One. Start the trip with a fun activity. If you're traveling with older kids, play a book on CD. Let younger kids watch a movie, or read them a new story.
Hour Two. Break out the first round of snacks. Lanin suggests bringing several healthy choices, including whole-wheat crackers, fruit, and cheese sticks.
Hour Three. Take a break. Three hours straight in the car is the limit for most young children. Stop for lunch and a bathroom break. Ideally, also find a park where you can let the kids "get their wiggles out."
Hour Four. Have one parent get in back with the kids. The adult can break up sibling squabbles and supervise a craft or game.