Road trips and summer naturally go together. Almost every vacation from my childhood featured my sisters and I – sometimes grandparents and other relatives, too – crammed into our Volkswagen van. This was a long time ago, where it was okay to walk around the car while it was moving or even better, let your kids sit on giant coolers, allowing more people to fit into the van. The road stretched on forever, especially because not one radio station could be found on the four button manual AM radio in the car. Those were long rides, and while I remember being bored, I learned about geography and it helped developed an awesome sense of direction. Flying to destinations sure is convenient and my family travels that way all the time, but we add road trips into the mix, as the best way to really see the country and get to know a place. With two weeks of summer left, we’re loading up the car to head north up the California and Oregon coasts.
Here are some of our best tips for a road trip with kids:
1. Charge everything. Make sure phones, iPods, Kindles, Nintendo DS, cameras, and anything else that runs on a battery is fully charged before you walk out the door. Then pack labeled chargers (label them just in case…). Bring a charger that can be used in your car, too, if you have one.
2. Download fresh entertainment. Get some new music, a few new books for the kids (paperback and electronic), some podcasts, and games. Discovering new entertainment is something my kids look forward to, and when the road gets long and attitudes are stretched, it’s a great time to trot out the new stuff.
3. Clean your car before you go. This seems odd because your car is going to quickly get dirty. Most people factor in a car wash post trip, but not before. If you are going to be practically living out of your car for awhile, start with a clean car. My kids thrash things so quickly that it makes me feel more relaxed when my environment is clean, including my car. Also, think about whether it’s time for an oil change or any other maintenance before you go.
4. Don’t pack everything. This is difficult because it is so tempting to throw everything you just may need into your car. Don’t. It makes it difficult to get out what you do need, it adds to weight in the car which decreases fuel economy, and if you are like me and insist on not leaving anything worthy of being stolen in your car, it means you have to unload and load a lot of stuff at each overnight stop. Plus, you want to keep room for fun treasures you find along the way.
5. Map out your route ahead of time to search for points of interest or fun stopping places along the way. GPS is great, and while we rely on that, too, our friendly voiced lady doesn’t tell us about the gorgeous Elk viewing area, and it’s too late to stop once we blow by it at 65 mph. Last year’s side trip to a drive thru redwood tree is something my kids still talk about excitedly. It was five minutes off of the main road on which we were traveling, but had we not know about if before, we never would have stopped.
6. Wear comfy clothes. I always have the kids dress in comfy shorts and t-shirts, and I make sure to have a back up set that is easy to reach. Spills happen.
7. Bring snacks, but don’t go overboard. My family can remember the one trip to Tahoe where I was sure we’d get stranded in the snow for days. They remember because they were sitting, wedged between granola bars, peanut butter packets, water bottles, and so much more. When not going into extreme weather situations, I pack a few snacks in case it turns out lunch is farther off than we thought or we get stuck in traffic. I don’t over pack because we tend to stop regularly for meals and pick up local specialties to go. (My kids are already planning their purchases at Voodoo Donuts in Oregon.) Also, Advil, hand wipes, Kleenex, and sunglasses for all.
8. Arm your kids with cameras! This is the best electronics gadget to give them. My kids love framing photos and trying to take pictures of what they see from their backseat vantage point. Usually, these turn out as blurry landscape photos, but sometimes they get great landscape photos, or fun family pictures documenting the trip. Most everything comes with a camera. My kids used to shoot with their Nintendo DS, but now they prefer the cameras in their iPods. Cameras help make the trip memorable for them as they get to document it all from their perspective.
Next summer, if I’m brave enough, we may head out on a multi-week, half-country road trip. I’ve already chickened out twice since coming up with the idea three weeks ago.