I heard on a podcast recently that trips with kids are adventures not vacations. Wise words, I think! Parents with little kids still have to deal with diaper changes, dirty laundry, and tantrums. It’s not really a relaxing break from ‘normal’ life, but it can be a great opportunity to make memories together.
We recently took our three kids (Isaiah – 3, Malachi – 1½, and Hosanna – 3 months) on a road trip from Hastings, Nebraska to Louisville, Kentucky. That’s 800 miles and 12+ hours in a car one-way with three babies. And we survived to tell about it!
We travelled to Louisville to meet our newest niece, as well as celebrate my brother-in-law’s graduation from seminary. With three young children, we knew that we would have to do some extra planning to help our whole family enjoy the adventure. It was definitely busy and crazy but so much fun! My husband and I want to be able to enjoy trips and activities as a family, even if it means dealing with some crankiness and temper tantrums along the way. (And we definitely experienced all of that and more!)
Here are the top 5 things that helped us survive all those hours in the car:
Besides watching ‘Cars’ and ‘Up’ a hundred times, our kids don’t generally have much screen time. We don’t own an iPad and our car doesn’t have a DVD player. However, we do have an old iPhone that has home videos and a couple of short movies on it. We turn on Guided Access so the boys can’t click out of the app or use anything else on the device (thank you, Apple!). This was a great distraction at the end of a long day of driving.
I had also purchased two toy phones that made noises and lit up. I thought these would be a great ‘last resort’ toy but when I pulled them out towards the end of our first travel day, Malachi (18 months) threw it after about 30 seconds of playing with it. Ah well.
Our boys love to read books, so I brought a lot of our favorite picture books with us. I read aloud to both boys and they also looked at books on their own. Malachi really likes looking at touch-and-feel books and finger puppet books. I also brought along some I Spy books for Isaiah. Search-and-find books are great for older kids because there are so many things to look at on each page.
3. Stickers and Magnets
Stickers were by far the best activity for our kids. I had found a HUGE book of construction stickers and thought it would be perfect for our trip. I would hand Isaiah a little notebook and a page of stickers and he would be occupied for a good 30 minutes. Malachi couldn’t get the stickers off by himself, so I gave him stickers one at a time and he put them on the page. I also brought a magnetic playset that turned out to be a hit. There were some pretty small magnets that were very easy to lose, but Isaiah enjoyed playing with the set.
Kids = lots of snacks. We went through vast amounts of fruit snacks, granola bars, crackers, Cheerios, and applesauce. Sure, it was messy. But totally worth it.
So what worked best for us?
1. Not being in the car at all
This felt counterproductive as we were traveling from Point A to Point B, but we tried to stop every 3 or so hours to let the boys run around. Allowing them to move and burn off some energy helped them stay calmer in their carseats. We also chose to make the drive in two days rather than doing all 800 miles in one shot. We stopped at a hotel and all five of us got a great night of sleep. Resting overnight made it much easier to do the second half of the trip.
There are a few things I wish we had tried. Travel neck pillows might have helped nap time last longer. Malachi usually naps for three hours, but I don’t think he ever slept longer than an hour in the car. Maybe a neck pillow would have made him more comfortable? I also heard someone recommend giving your kids a roll of Scotch tape to play with. I think our boys would have loved having yards of sticky tape to mess with.
What are your top survival tips for traveling with little kids?