Long Trips with Little Kids

Mama needs a vacation.

I haven’t gone anywhere for more than a year (last one was BlogHer ’08 in San Francisco) and I just need to get out of here. So we invited ourselves down to Wilmington, NC, where the Jackson fam will be staying in the condo of my best friend’s dad (gratis) for a week.

As I contemplate loading up the car with two adults, a preschooler, a newborn, and all our accompanying crap, I freeze up. It’s an 11-hour drive (sans kids) from Cincinnati. That is a long way. How will we do it? How can we make it that far? Yet we must — I need the beach time, the friend time, and just a different scene for a few days.

Here’s where you come in, savvy WMAGs: What are your best tips for taking long road trips with small children? Please help! I’ll even turn it into a contest. I will randomly choose one reader who submits a tip to win a $25 iTunes gift card, courtesy of me. Enter by commenting with your tip no later than Sept. 11 at midnight. Thank you!

WINNER UPDATE: Congrats to AmyG, who was randomly selected as the winner of my little giveaway. AmyG, please send an email to workingmomsagainstguilt@gmail.com so I can send you an e-gift certificate to iTunes.

And a big thank you to all those who submitted your tips. They were extremely helpful in getting ready for this great family adventure!

13 thoughts on “Long Trips with Little Kids

  1. Marketing Mommy says:

    We survived an 8 hour trip from Chicago to Omaha by breaking it up. We took two half days of traveling on the way out and one very long day of travel on the way back. I researched sights and good road food (as opposed to generic chain restaurants) along the way so we had lots of interesting places to visit. Along I-80, we spent an hour at a beautiful playground an the Quad Cities and ate dinner at a great BBQ joint. We spent the night in Iowa City at a motel with a pool. Another hour or so west we stopped in Des Moines for cinnamon buns the size of our heads at the Machine Shed and a trip back in time at Living History Farms.

    If you're going to be in the car for stretches longer than 2 hours, invest in or borrow a portable DVD player. We had to bust one out for our trip back. And kid music and audio books, while kind of annoying, are way better than kid screaming.

    We also got a lot of mileage out of books, magnet sets and Happy Meal toys.

  2. We did a 7 hour road trip to Vegas a few months ago with my parents, husband, and 2 1/2 year old.

    What helped alot was a portable DVD player with some of her favorite shows. This tray that attaches to the car seat: http://www.onestepahead.com/catalog/product.jsp?productId=61&parentCategoryId=85184&categoryId=85218&subCategoryId=86220 that she used a lot for snacks, coloring, playing on. Lots of her favorite snacks. My daughter is not much of a napper in the car (she only slepts for about 30 minutes the whole time). We stopped a few times to stretch our legs and stuff. It helps if you can sit in the back sometimes to play with them and read a few books to them if you don't get carsick.

    It really wasn't that bad. Just relax, you guys will do great! But for 11 hours, you may want to split it into 2 days. Your preschooler will probably think the hotel is fun, especially if you let her jump on the bed a little.

  3. My husband comes home early from work and takes a nap. I pick up my son from daycare, give him a bath, put his pajamas on and leave early evening with his DVD player and lots of crayon, scissors and paper. We drive for a couple of hours, eat dinner somewhere, then get back to the road. By then my son is getting tired and has a full tummy. He falls asleep, I do too and my husband who is rested from his nap drives all night. It works for us and we don't waste a perfectly good vacation day driving anywhere. When we get to our destination my husband takes another nap and we are ready to enjoy our vacation.

  4. Overwhelmed Mom says:

    We drive several times a year to Hilton Head SC (12 hours each way) to visit my in-laws (just got back last week). Three tips we always follow:

    1. Drive overnight. Minimal stops, the kids sleep through most of it, no traffic. We trade off in 3 hour clips of driving. Yes, we are tired for a day or two, but we trade off napping to catch up. Usually after the next full night of sleep we are OK. Yes, it's hard, but it makes the trip faster and easier.

    2. DVD player in the car. With headsets.

    3. My older 2 (7 and 9) bring their pillow from their beds to lean up against. As far as our youngest, 12 months, I got some of those little pillow things to put on her carseat straps so her head doesn't fall too far to the side. Seemed to work well.

    Also, if the kids are sleeping/otherwise occupied, try listening to a book on tape with your husband. We've done this a few times and it's fun – the challenge is to find something you both will enjoy!

    Good Luck & have a wonderful vacation

  5. I am only 2 hours from Wilmington!

    We do multiple trips in the car a year, most 4 hours, but normally one long trip to Florida – 10-11 hours for us.

    We are kind of crazy though – we get going about 2am and take turns driving and napping. And DVD players as well as some really great toys and trinkets I get from the dollar store or the dollar bin at Target. I also invested in two lap trays for my kids as they like to draw and stuff.

    Good luck! Eat at Front Street Brewery in Wilmington, great food, relaxed atmosphere, good prices.

  6. I am going to advocate for driving overnight as well. We took a 13 hour trip with a 3 and a 1 year old last summer. We started late afternoon and drove until dinner time. We had dinner and ran around. Then got back in the car for the long haul. The girls slept most of trip, only waking up when we stopped. When we got there, my husband and I were exhausted, but the girls took early naps (about the time I was ready to pass out.) After a good night's rest, everyone was good to go.

  7. Make sure you stock up on snacks, some drinks (not too much or lots of stopping), dvd player, dvd's, books, drawing stuff and an open mind.

    Your 3 year old loves to find different colored cars while riding in the car(I know this for sure). Try to find red cars, then yellow cars, etc. Play eye spy – I spy with my little eye something that is x. Make up a story – you give one line, have her give the next.

    I would plan on leaving early afternoon – right before nap time. Try to get half of your drive in before dinner – after naps this is prime tv watching time, right? Stop at dinner time at a hotel that has a pool and a place for tons of running around fun. Have a nice dinner, relax, go to bed and plan on getting up EARLY – like 5 am. It will hurt, but it will be super worth it. Book out of the hotel and into the car and drive 3 hours until breakfast time (have a cereal bar handy). Stop for a breakfast break -we like McDonald's with a play area so we can get some easy play time in and then hit the road again and try to get to your end destination without too many other stops.

    Have a great time!!!

  8. We survived an 12 hour trip (from NC to VT) this past Christmas which included plenty of unexpected snow. With a 4 and 2 year old in tow, we find travelling at night to be the best for us. We usually leave late afternoon (around 4pm), let the kids watch movies in the car, stop for dinner around 7pm and change them into their pj's. Then, quiet time in the car until the kids fall asleep. My husband and I then take shift driving while the other one sleeps and we make sure either someone is at our destination to help with the kids while we get a few more hours of sleep or we rotate the first day.
    Hope that helps!

  9. One more comment…I remember reading somewhere that there was a Mom who found all of the Chucky Cheeses on route to her destination and stopped there. It was a rain/cold proof way to ensure that her young kids got to run around.

    I admire you for making the trip with a newborn. I think I would make the car ride itself part of the adventure rather than a means to an end.

    Finally, I learned with my girls that if I broke out entertainment too early then they would come to expect it, so I always tried to start off with nothing and then move to a game or song and only when push came to shove pull out the big guns.

    Good luck!

  10. @We have used a portable DVD player for our car trips with our now 3-year-old. We've also used books, toys, and a handful of her favorite snacks in a "special" bag for her.
    However, the two trips we've made were between 2-4 hours long…I would recommend driving overnight for a long trip, or staying overnight someplace. Those are our plans for longer travel in the future.

  11. Lois Lane says:

    If you insist on driving the whole way in one day the find a hotel about mid way through your drive and call ahead to see how much they would charge you just to let your kids swim for an hour or so.

    The kids get to work of some energy and will hopefully sleep for the next leg of the trip.

    Also, if your oldest is old enough to get it, explain to her that the trip is going to take a while. Sometimes my girls even now (ages 8 and 5) will expect to get in the car and just "be there" but it was difficult for them when they were small to understand the distance/time factor, lol.

  12. I've made many 7 hour trips with just me, Alyssa and the dog. And no DVD player. I go as long as possible before pulling anything out of the bag. Books, especially new ones from the library, keep her interested. Stickers keep her busy. Snacks keep her happy. Candy keeps her really happy. Anything new – a cheap new toy or activity book is always a good mood changer if she's getting antsy. Kids music is good if she likes sing-a-long songs. But sometimes then that's all kids want to listen to – and I'd prefer to follow the "I'm the driver I choose the music" rule. After 30 times of "and bingo was his NAME-O" I want to cry.

    If you have another person in the car it's great – that person spends time in the back coloring an entertaining. Our recent 9 hr trip to Michigan flew by since my Mom could service the requests!

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