Going on a road trip is like going camping: you will either love it or you'll hate it. I fall firmly on the “this is not my favourite, please don’t make me” side of both activities, but even I can’t deny the appeal of having the whole family united in a quest for adventure, while mainlining junk food and 1980s tunes on our way to somewhere fun.
Travelling by car is economical and allows you to see and experience so much more than you would from an airplane seat, so it definitely has its benefits. On the down side, road trips mean a lot of togetherness. Like, a lot of togetherness. Not to mention the incessant “she’s touching me!” complaints that can have you switching to a travel rewards credit card faster than you can say 19 per cent interest.
So how to make the family road trip work? How to keep the kids happy and the parents sane? Start by making sure you’re scheduling regular breaks where the littles can burn some energy at a kid-friendly rest stop or green space, because no matter how many fun things you have to do in the car, those little legs still need to move.
As for what to pack, you probably have most of these things on-hand but your local book store or dollar store is a great place to stock up on road trip essentials. Give each child a new container or plastic bin to fill with items of his choice to help keep things organized and in one place.
Here's what you need:
- Games. There’s no shortage of tech-free games everyone can get into including “eye spy” and “would you rather?” You can also create a game of “road trip bingo” and have kids watch for things like personalized license plates, a purple car, or a particular road sign. Wrapping a few small gifts like pencil crayons, Mad Libs or an activity book and giving them to the kids every few hours will keep them happy and engaged.
- A Device. Some parents prefer to go screen-free for family trips but if you’re a “just in case” kind of mom, make sure you’ve got the devices charged and loaded with their favourite games, music, shows or movies. Long trips are a good time to surprise them with a download of something new, but don’t forget the car chargers and headphones!
- Music and Audiobooks. Have everyone bring their favourite playlist or choose new music for the trip. Let the kids listen on their own (again, headphones!) or take turns picking a song if everyone is listening together. Movie soundtracks are a great way to relive your favourite flicks and, depending on your kids’ ages, family-friendly audiobooks like the Harry Potter collection, the Roald Dahl audio collection and Judy Blume’s Fudge series will keep everyone entertained.
- Snacks can play a critical role in obtaining kid buy-in for any activity and the road trip is no exception. With a cooler and some ice packs it’s easy to keep healthy snacks on hand, like cut up fruits and veggies, cheese, yogurt, and cold water. Hit up the Bulk Barn for trail mix, dry cereal and nuts. If you’re open to treats, let everyone pick their favourite but beware the mess that is melted chocolate! Keeping kids hydrated on hot summer days is important but too much water can lead to frequent unscheduled stops and one very frustrated driver, so keep an eye on fluid intake.
- Comfort and Accessories. We love seat-back organizers like this one to help keep the car tidy. Stock it with handy items like tissues, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, sunglasses, headphones, chargers, Gravol, and colouring or activity books. Lap desks are great for in-car activities and window shades, sleep masks, pillows and blankets will keep everyone comfortable and, if you’re really lucky, encourage naps.
- Make a plan. As much as you can, plan your route, hotel/motel stops and rest stations to avoid unnecessary delays. Know if you’re entering a long stretch with nowhere to stop and/or nothing to look at so you can plan accordingly. If you’re not pressed for time, do some research on the local highlights in the areas you’re passing through. And be sure to let the kids in on the plan. Telling them what’s happening and how long each trip interval might take will help them feel vested in the journey and maybe, just maybe, cut down on “are we there yet?”
As the saying goes, it’s about the journey, not the destination which means the most important things to pack are your patience and sense of adventure.