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Traveling with young kids is like swimming with a cat . . . but it doesn’t have to be!
I might be certifiably insane or just plain stupid. Hmm, maybe a bit of both. I know my friends all thought so this past June. I decided to take the kids on a cross-country road trip for the whole month of June. By myself! Yep, my last marble must have rolled away when I came up with that idea.
But, you know what? We did it, and it was AWESOME! Not only was it awesome, but the kids did so well! I was so incredibly impressed with them. We went all over the place. We traveled to Arizona, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Texas. The kids were so good, despite the long hours on the road.
As I look back over our trip, I realize there were some key things I did that helped make the trip run so smoothly, and I wanted to share those thoughts with you so that maybe your next road trip can be so much more smooth.
Before I go into anything else, I want to talk about the most important advice I can possibly give you. If this is the only thing you take away from my entire post, I will consider the writing time well spent.
LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS!
Do yourself a huge favor and go into your trip with low expectations. Remember, you’re about to travel with young children caged inside of a van for several hours. Children have the fortitude of a squirrel on red bull when closed in small places for long periods of time. A lot of interesting things are bound to happen. Expect there to be crankiness. Expect there to be a lot of arguing about who’s looking at who and who’s touching who. Expect the van (or car) to get messy. Expect that you are going to get tired and frustrated and not be Mary Poppins the whole time. When you expect less from your kids and less from even yourself, you are more relaxed to begin with and when things start to get a bit crazy, you’ll be able to deal with it more clearly because you are not already uptight.
PACK CLOTHES IN LABELED BAGS
This turned out to be one of the best things I could have done. Simply put each outfit in a ziploc bag (quart size for smaller, gallon size for larger) and label the bags with the child’s name. This made getting them dressed in the mornings so much easier and also cut back on packing space in the suitcase.
INDIVIDUALLY PACKAGE SNACKS
Yet another awesome idea that saved me so much sanity! I pre-packaged all the snacks in portion sized baggies, so that when it came to giving the kids snacks in the car, they were already portioned and ready to hand out!
Also, if you want to go the extra mile and save on eating out, pre-make sandwiches (like homemade uncrustables) and freeze them. Then, put them in a small cooler the morning of so that you have lunch and maybe even dinner all ready to go!
PRE-PACKAGE DIAPERS AND WIPES
Cut out the middle man when it comes to diaper changing while on the road. Put a couple wipes in a small baggie. Also, grab a diaper for each diapered child and put those diapers plus the baggie of wipes into a ziploc bag. Makes several of these, so that when you stop to change diapers, you can just grab one of those bags (instead of a full diaper bag) and you have everything you need in one small hand-held bag.
GET OIL CHANGED AND CHECK FLUIDS
I can’t even begin to stress enough how important it is to check your fluids and get your oil changed before any trip you take! Even if you aren’t quite yet due for an oil change, get it changed anyway if you notice you’ll come upon the mileage marker while traveling.
I am pretty much a major amateur when it comes to cars, so I always take my van to the Walmart Auto Care Center to get my oil changed. I love that I can leave my vehicle in trusted hands and know that they will always do a good job!
Because my van has well over 140,000 miles, I exclusively choose to have Pennzoil® High Mileage Vehicle® oil put in my van. Pennzoil highly recommends that any cars over 75,000 miles should use High Mileage Vehicle oil. All growing up, I remember my dad stressing the importance of this, and that’s one thing that I’m glad I listened to! (If your vehicle is under 75,000 miles, then Pennzoil Platinum is the oil for you.)
When I got to Walmart, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Pennzoil High Mileage was on Rollback, so I was able to have my van’s oil changed for $35.88 instead of $39.88! This special is running until September 28, so if your car is due for a high mileage oil change, I strongly recommend taking it to Walmart to have it changed for you.
I was also able to kill two birds with one stone and go shopping for things I needed for the trip while I waited for my van to be finished. It was wonderful because by the time I was finished shopping, the van was done, and I was able to even completely check out at the Auto Care Center and go straight out to my van.
The other nice thing about getting your oil changed by car professionals is that they always go ahead and check the rest of the fluids in your car. So, by the time you pick up your vehicle, you can rest assured that your vehicle is ready for your upcoming trip.
I can tell you right now that pre-planning your hotels will save you a lot of headaches and money. Before you leave for your trip, check your driving route and estimate a smart amount of driving time for each day. I recommend not traveling more than 8 hours of driving time in one day. Keep in mind that having kids will make the trip much longer, so you don’t want to push it and try doing anything more than that.
So, keeping the traveling time each day in mind, look for hotels along your route within your estimated time. Then, go on to hotwire.com and see if there are any hotels that you can get deals on. I will tell you now that I saved hundreds of dollars by doing this! On top of that, my destination was already decided upon. So, there was no temptation to try to drive farther than necessary, and it gave me something to look forward to at the end of each day that was full of driving.
PACK AN OVERNIGHT BAG
If you know that you’re going to be staying at hotels for the first night or two, pack a separate bag with enough clothes to last you through those hotel nights. It is completely unnecessary to take all of your suitcases in with you. You can save yourself a huge headache and time if you simply pack what you need in a separate bag. For example, if you are staying at a hotel for one night before getting to your final destination, you would only need to pack the following:
- pj’s for each person
- clean outfit for each person (don’t forget underwear!)
- an extra outfit for any child that might end up having an accident or something over night
- 2 diapers and wipes for each diapered child
- toothbrushes, toothpaste, and other toiletries
TAKE YOUR TIME
There is no need to rush when traveling. The whole point of vacation is to enjoy yourselves. Allow yourself to enjoy the trip and not stress out over the little things. Be safe. Take your time!
I’ll never forget trips with my father. I love my dad to death, but I swear he had an ongoing competition with himself to see how long he could go without stopping for the bathroom despite us kids dying in the back with our eyeballs floating around in our heads because we had to pee so badly.
Remember, your kids do not have the same fortitude and ability that you do! They need to be able to get out of the car as often as possible. Along with taking your time, make sure you stop often and let your kids get out and spend some time running around each time you stop. Let them explore and run on the rocks, climb trees, sprint through the grass (if there is any), etc. Some of the Texas rest areas that we stopped at even had playgrounds!
You’ll be amazed what simply 30 minutes of running around outside of the vehicle will do for your kids’ and your own spirits! You will all feel rejuvenated and able to get back in your car or van without a lot of dread.
To reiterate everything I just said, here are the tips I recommend following if you want to make traveling with young kids fun and successful with few meltdowns and less stress:
- lower your expectations
- pack clothes in labeled bags
- individually package snacks
- pre-package diapers and wipes
- get oil changed and check fluids
- pre-plan hotels
- pack an overnight bag
- take your time
- stop often
Some of these things might seem time consuming. But, trust me, the effort is well worth it, and you’ll reap the benefits of all your hard work during your travels.
Traveling with young kids doesn’t have to be like swimming with cats. You can, indeed, have a fun and awesome time!
What are some other ideas you have for making traveling with small children fun and stress-free?