Road Trip Survival Skills for Parents – Without Using Screens!
Does the thought of taking your kids on a seven hour road trip instill fear in your heart? It doesn’t have to – I promise. Road trips are a fun, inexpensive way to get to your destination. Traveling by car also saves you money on transportation at your destination and allows you to bring as much stuff as you need, which is great when you have young kids.
My dad’s sister lives outside San Francisco, so every summer, my parents packed up their three kids in the car and made the trek to northern California to visit my aunt. Since I’ve always been a bookworm, I usually read the entire drive back and forth. Remember, this was at a time before tablets and even in-car DVD players existed (um, or even DVD players).
We’ve successfully taken the kids on several two or three hour road trips, without the use of screens. This past spring break, we took the plunge and drove to San Francisco – a six hour drive with no stops (and no screens). Even more insane – my husband couldn’t get enough time off, so I made the drive with the boys (ages 7.5 and 3.5) alone. And, here’s where I show my real crazy: I was determined to make the trip without the aid of screens (although I did pack them in case of emergency – or tantrums).
So, how’d I do on my first long-distance road trip with my boys? We made the drive in seven hours and did not pull out a screen one time! The boys didn’t know I packed them so they didn’t think to ask.
Tips for Surviving a Long Road Trip
I’m pretty proud of myself for making the long road trip alone with my kids and not having one meltdown and surprisingly little whining. Here’s what worked for my family on our California road trip.
- Drive when the kids will sleep:
A friend told me that he always makes the SoCal/NoCal trip starting at 8 p.m. so that his kids sleep the entire drive. That wasn’t practical for me since I was traveling alone and was concerned about safety if we needed to stop in the middle of the night. Also, since I was traveling alone, when we arrived at our destination, I wouldn’t get to sleep but the boys would be wide awake.
Instead, I opted to leave at 6 a.m. (my kids are not early risers). They both fell asleep about 10 minutes into the drive and slept for the first three and a half hours! I distinctly remember my parents doing the same thing. We used to leave at 5 a.m. and my brothers and I slept for a large chunk of the drive.
- Pack food well:
I didn’t want to stop for breakfast and lunch, so I packed breakfast to eat on the road. I had a coffee mug for myself and bought oh-so-not-healthy donuts for the road. We almost never have donuts so no one was complaining about not getting to stop for breakfast.
I also had a refrigerated bag of perishable snacks (cheese sticks, yogurt, sliced apples and individual milk) and another bag of “fun” snacks that the boys don’t get often (chips, crackers, popcorn, granola bars and gummies). That being said, since the boys ended up sleeping for a big chunk of the trip, they barely had any snacks on the road. We did use the snacks when we were out and about in San Francisco, so they weren’t wasted. I kept the food bags in the back seat under their feet so that we could access them easily.
- Plan stops well:
I originally thought we would need to stop every two hours since I have two active boys. The plan was to stop at a rest stop and let them run around for 20 minutes before getting back on the road. Since they slept a big chunk of the trip, we stopped when they woke up (almost four hours in to the trip) at a rest stop for a bathroom break and a little leg stretching.
We stopped again after two hours (when the whining was setting in) to eat lunch. After lunch, I let them run around a bit before getting in the car and warned them that there were no more stops before we arrived at our destination. Thanks to our well-planned departure, we made the six hour drive in just seven hours!
- Don’t forget the entertainment:
As I mentioned, my goal was to make the drive without the use of screens so I needed other alternatives. I visited my local dollar store and book store the week before the trip to get supplies. I picked up coloring books and crayons for my youngest, as well as two new picture books. I also made sure the Lego kits from our recent flight were stocked and packed some of my youngest son’s favorite trains.
For my oldest, I picked up a few superhero activity books, a journal, three new books that he picked out and his Lego kit. I put all of their supplies in their own caddy (from the Dollar Tree) that sat next to their car seat. The kits were a success – they didn’t ask for screens on the drive home (which they didn’t sleep through).
I’m not super crafty and my oldest ended up being very sick the week before our trip so I didn’t get to create some of the entertainment I wanted for them. If you search road trips on Pinterest, there are tons of posts about road trip scavenger hunts and in car games. I definitely want to do those on our next trip, but it didn’t happen this time around.
While I’m not completely opposed to screens, I would rather my kids do other things during the drive. As I mentioned, I did pack them just in case but we didn’t end up using them. If you want to take tablets on your road trip, there are some great travel hacks on Pinterest to hang a tablet from the front seats using a belt.
- Comfy travel clothes:
One thing that is very different about road trips now versus when I was a kid is the fact that the kids have to be in car seats much longer than in the past. They don’t get to lounge in the car like we did – not even my 7 year old!
Since they were going to have to be in an uncomfortable car seat for such a long time, I made sure that they were wearing super comfy clothes (sweat pants and t-shirts) and I took their shoes off for the drive. I also had a tall bag (the food bags) under their feet so that their feet weren’t hanging for such a long period (their feet can fall asleep if they hang for so long). I will say, my three year old was definitely getting antsy towards the end of each drive, which is understandable since he is still in a 5 point harness.
I have fond memories of all of the road trips we took as kids – even the ones that didn’t go well. While flying will get you to your destination more quickly, when you drive, you can take what you need, you don’t have to pay for each traveler and you’ll have a car at your destination. Don’t fear the road trip. Even bad road trips make for funny stories. Get on the road and start making memories!