Welcome back to summer, the mystical three months of lawn mowing, grilling, and family vacations. After having kids and discovering the stress that is traveling, I cringe at the thought of packing up the car and heading out on the open road with my three kids but with the below tips, courtesy of my father, maybe you can squeeze a little more relaxation out of your trip. Whether you’re going on a one day excursion or a week long road trip, try out the following tips, and leave comments with any additional tips you have.
Get the kids excited
This tip is so often overlooked, but the older your kids are, the more of a say they want in the family trip destination. My advice: Either get their actual input, or artfully convince them that the destination was their own idea. Younger kids are a little easier to manage because you can excite them by just repeatedly talking about the vacation. Plant the idea of fun in your kids’ heads early on so they start off the trek with the right attitude.
Bring back up entertainment
Not for you, for the kids. Nothing can add tension to a trip more than a car full of crying tykes throughout the six hours to grandma’s house. We all know the attention span of a toddler can be that of a goldfish, so I recommend stocking up the family-mobile with extra puzzle books, boxes of DVDs, and quiet, shiny things. In the past, for one particularly brutal trip, we stopped at a toy store before leaving town, allowing each of our three to pick out a new toy to keep their attention. For older kids, audio books are a great way to keep some silence for a few hours, as are appropriate magazines or handheld video games. Remember, boredom leads to sibling arguments, so let’s avoid boredom at all costs.
Don’t over schedule
As appealing as it may be to schedule activities for every moment of every day, don’t do it. Everyone wants to get the most out of their hard-earned vacation time, but trips can be so exhausting, particularly with kids in tow. Plan for frequent breaks, naps, and temper tantrums. For long drives, allow an extra hour or two so everyone can get out at rest stops and run in circles for a while. Best case, you arrive to your destination earlier than expected, which is never a bad thing.
If your trip involves amusement parks or other activity destinations, ask guest services about family rest areas or the opportunity for family re-admission. Most parks don’t advertise it, but they will allow families with young kids to take a midday nap and come back later. If they don’t, the place likely has a cafeteria or family area to sit down for a while.
Schedule in some adult-only time away from the kids
This only really applies to multi-night trips, but it’s my favorite tip and also can be the most difficult thing to do. All the family bonding can be great, but it can stress us parents out. Try to schedule in some kind of parent-only activity, like a nice dinner one evening with your spouse. Trust me, your in-laws will understand and appreciate your night out of the house. If you’re vacationing somewhere else without free family members, inquire about childcare. Most cruise lines and other family-oriented travel destinations provide it. Sane parents = happy family.
Prepare for road blocks
Unfortunately, our world isn’t perfect and at least something will not go as planned on your trip. The best preparation you can do is research; memorize directions, pack snacks in case you’re caught in traffic during mealtime, write down emergency contact numbers, and get your mode of transportation checked out prior to leaving. The last place anyone wants to be is in the middle of nowhere lacking a GPS or cell signal with the check engine light on and Joey screaming in the backseat. Trust me.
Best of luck on your family trips this summer! I hope they are filled with more priceless memories than migraine-inducing stressors. Have any suggestions or personal family road trip mantras? List them in the comments.
About the Author
Julie S. is a native Chicagoan raising her three children in the suburbs. This summer they are visiting Washington D.C., the Wisconsin Lakefront, and Grandma’s house in southern Indiana. She writes on behalf of Allstate Motor Club, an auto club that provides emergency roadside assistance and a variety of other travel services. Visit their site for more on travel deals, driving resources and membership information.