Explore America's Campgrounds
Tips for Tackling the Highways and Byways with Kids
Setting out with a full tank of gas, great music cued up and your favorite little people in the backseat feels incredibly thrilling. An hour later, when you've answered "Are we almost there?" for the fifth time and someone has to pee for the second time, the magic might have dwindled. Some parts of road tripping you can't avoid. But having a solid plan can help you minimize the rough parts and maximize the fun.
Referring to a paper map every now and then might help you feel like a navigational superstar, and it gives you an opportunity to teach kids a little about how to read maps. For the most part, though, relying on tech is a smart approach to road tripping. That's because apps can save you time, money and headaches.
Load your phone with traffic apps to help avoid construction backups and with hotel apps to help find nearby lodging and finally with gas station apps to help you find the cheapest places to fill up your tank. Take advantage of apps specifically designed for road trips, like RoadTrippers, which helps you plot routes and locate cool, off-the-beaten-track attractions along the way.
Build in Kid-Friendly Stops
Even if you don't have a clear picture of where you're headed, pick at least a general route ahead of time. Then plot out stops that kids will enjoy. A full day in the car is miserable for little ones, so aim to spend at least a few hours each day exploring a children's museum, amusement park or zoo.
If your kids are preschoolers or older, you may even want to let each child choose a stop along the way. Show them a map of where you live and the general path that you'll be traveling, then help them research kids' attractions in towns along the route. Spending hours stuck in the backseat won't seem so torturous when your kids are headed toward places that they've personally chosen.
Manage the Music
Your kids don't want to listen to talk radio, and you probably don't want to listen to Disney soundtracks on repeat. Make a plan for what you'll listen to before leaving home. You may want to buy kids' headphones for each child and fill old MP3 players with their favorite tunes, or create a music schedule so each of you gets a one-hour turn to play whatever you want through the car's speakers.
Audio books are also great for the whole family. Bring CDs of an audio version of a Harry Potter book or some other age-appropriate tale that everyone can enjoy. You may even find a children's podcast about science or storytelling that appeals to all of you.
Bring Boredom Busters
Even with a carefully curated route and plenty of kid-friendly listening options, kids will get bored—that's just a reality of road tripping. But you won't always be able to stop and play when they start whining. Hang car organizers on the back of the driver and passenger seats and fill the pockets with books, magnetic blocks, action figures and sticker books so kids always have activities within reach.
If you're traveling with babies or toddlers, be super mindful about choking hazards. Don't put anything small enough to choke on in your organizer pockets.
Stock up on small toys from the dollar store and make mystery bags for each kid. Stash a new toy, a small snack and a few crayons or stickers in each bag, and give each kid a bag every morning and every afternoon. This gives kids something to look forward to—and something to earn, because you can hold the bags back if kids aren't behaving.
Stow a few balls, chalk and outdoor games in the trunk so they can blow off steam at parks and rest stops during driving breaks.
Plan to Make a Road Trip Record
Want your road trip to be more about the journey than the destination? Challenge your kids to help you document the trip while it's happening. Give them an old digital camera so they can take photos in the backseat, ask them to draw pictures of what they're seeing out the window and ask older kids to write journal entries or short stories about each day of the trip.
Bring along a scrapbook or small box and compile the memories of the trip as you go along, so kids can see their road trip record coming to life in real time. If you have a small photo printer, you can even bring it along and print photos from the day at your hotel each night.
Cooking, travel and parenting are three of Kathryn Walsh's passions. She makes chicken nuggets during days nannying, whips up vegetarian feasts at night and road trips on weekends. Her work has appeared to The Syracuse Post-Standard and insider magazine. Walsh received a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.