How to Enjoy Road Trips With Your Kids
We did it again.
We took a road trip to California this past weekend. During the time of Covid, you’d think I’d be stressed and worried. I wasn’t. It was a straightforward, enjoyable journey.
The best way to enjoy a road trip when you’re traveling with kids is to go with the flow. Relaxing into the moment can be challenging for me under stress, and I managed to chill and have some fun for most of the trip.
I admit road trips are exhausting. I certainly don’t want to be a truck driver and drive across the country all the time. I do like hitting the road on occasion, though. We’ve moved a few times in my kids’ short lives, with my little red Honda Fit packed to the brim. This time it’s only for a visit. We have another move planned, though. And I’ll be prepared.
Why do I like traveling across the country by car? I feel free on the open road. I’m doing something with purpose. I’m always moving. I have a goal, and I always accomplish it. I’m in control, for the most part.
Now that I’m a seasoned road tripping parent, I can be sure our travels are smooth and kinda fun.
Here are a few things to keep in mind for a peaceful, easy feeling on your road trips:
Simplify and streamline
I packed our car with more than we needed, balanced with enough legroom. I felt satisfied and comfortable with this decision. We skipped restaurants altogether and instead packed an ice chest with pre-made salads from Trader Joe’s and other easy meals.
I brought utensils and bowls and other supplies we might need. Due to Covid and my sensitivity to fragrance, I brought our foaming Bronner’s soap pump into every restroom. It was convenient and healthier for us overall. I stashed toilet paper for any bathroom breaks in the middle of nowhere.
My kids didn’t have any devices and chose not to read or draw. My 8-year-old daughter Orion, gets carsick looking down, so she opted out of all of it. Both of them found things to occupy their time. They made up games, like searching for particular animals. Their imagination kept them busy.
I suppose it depends on the age group, whether or not less entertainment works. For them, it was ok not to have outside sources. When Noa, my youngest, was two (she’s almost five now), she napped for half the drive every day. She only slept an hour on this trip to California.
Go with the flow
When you expect the unexpected, you’ll have a lot less stress on the road and wherever you stay. It means you’re inevitably gong to ditch your routine.
It isn’t easy for me to go with the flow at first. It’s also liberating when I allow it. There’s a part of me craving change. It’s an interesting dichotomy. I typically eat the same things every day, have the same rituals, in the same order, most days. And I love to mix it up on purpose. Road trips help facilitate that. It’s one reason I love traveling so much.
Don’t impose timelines for arrival. Car trips take longer than you’ll expect. When I booked hotel rooms, I used a free cancellation option or waited until I was sure I’d make it to the next city.
I loosely plan how far I think I’ll drive. Because I’ve been on countless road trips in the last few years, I know I’ll likely drive roughly 350 miles a day, sometimes more. The key is to estimate, without holding onto anything. Construction, potty breaks, and need for rest outweigh strict rules.
Potty breaks vary. I learned to get up super early, drink my yerba mate right away, and get bathroom breaks out of the way before we leave. It was brilliant. Then I could drive for two hours before stopping. I went with my natural body’s flow.
Let go of parental restrictions
Let your kids watch TV in the hotel, eat junk food here and there, and skip a bath. They’ll probably go to bed late, depending on your travels.
On this trip, we all went to bed by 8–9 pm. It was glorious. We were all in a good mood after a healthy sleep. But if it doesn’t happen, it’s ok. They ate Panda Puffs (the organic version of sugared cereal) for breakfast, and they were satisfied.
Laughter is the best medicine
Loosen up with outrageous silliness. It helps the time pass and relieves whatever anxiety might come as a parent traveling alone with small children.
We sing songs and play games. We say goofy things to each other, and find humor in the absurd.
We have plenty of hilarious adventure stories to tell. One time, when Noa was two, she had to pee when I was driving on a mountainous road near Mt Shasta. I saw a port-a-potty next to a construction site and decided to stop. It was one of many unusual potty breaks on the way to Oregon. I grabbed her pink Paw Patrol potty seat in a tote bag and prepared to get out. Right then, I saw a guy in a tractor driving backward. I smiled and waved, and he smiled and waved back.
We ran over to the port-a-potty, and she peed as it rattled and shook. Then we ran back to the car as we watched guys in tractors leveling the road. I ended up stopping on freeway entrances for her to pee multiple times. She had been out of diapers for a short time, and couldn’t hold it as well back then. She was bold and unafraid of any of these potty pit stops. And talk about going to any lengths for a bathroom.
Bring on the gratitude
We passed a smoldering truck outside of Barstow. We had stopped a few more times than expected before returning to the road. I told Orion we were fortunate to stop so many times, or we would’ve been there during the accident. We said a blessing for the truck driver, hoping he made it out before his rig caught fire. We thanked the firefighters for their service.
Any time I felt anxious, as I often did in high gusty winds, I’d express gratitude for my breath, for the beautiful blue sky and the forest filled with trees. At one point, I sang along to an old George Micheal CD and felt welcome goosebumps. His music moved me to tears that day. I forgot I was anxious and handled the wind without as much fear.
When we train our minds to appreciate what we have, we redirect our energy. What feels like a problem fades for a moment or longer.
When challenged, find relief through a gratitude practice. When happy, sustain your happiness with gratitude. Take it on the road with you. Use it everywhere. Gratitude transforms everything in your life.
For single parents traveling, my proverbial hat is off to you. It’s already a task to drive long distances on your own. Bringing your kids adds a new element of bravery to the mix.
From my experience, road trips with kids can be fun. The most important lesson I’ve learned is to be flexible and let go of preconceived notions of how it’ll go. It does take some planning for your collective health and safety. Then you can embrace the adventure by relaxing into it.
You’re going to get tired. Your limits will be pushed. You’ll also notice your strength and resilience. You’re a rock star traveler. Own it. I’ll see you on the highway.