Travel Agent

The road always seems longer with children in the backseat, but there are ways to cope—and even have fun—on family road trips.     Photo: Noel Hendrickson/ThinkStock

Q:

How Can I Survive a Long Car Trip with Children?

A:Car travel is completely possible—and even fun—with young kids. However, a successful trip requires planning, flexibility, and a sense of humor. Follow these tips and you're sure to enjoy the ride.

Plan Ahead

Throw spontaneity to the wind, and plan ahead. Sorry, but you're no longer that happy-go-lucky couple that can afford to chance upon a gem of an inn. Book your accommodations in advance of your trip, and you might also call ahead to sweet talk the concierge into giving you an early check-in. 

Take Your Time

The temptation is to think of the car ride as the necessary evil before reaching your destination. Rather, you might conjure T.S. Eliot and travel by the adage: "The journey not the arrival matters." Besides, toddlers like to dawdle. And if you want to save yourself and your young'uns some frustration, you might try to slow your pace to theirs.

On a macro scale, this might look like breaking your long car drive into a couple of days or more. Splitting that dozen-hour journey into two days is much easier on little ones who aren't used to sitting still for hours. And you can even make your overnight stop(s) feel more like vacation by booking your hotel near a kid-friendly attraction like a zoo or a park. 

On a micro level, you might plan a couple of potty breaks at nice rest stops. Let the kids unleash their pent-up energy by running around in the grass. You might even run around with them: Releasing some of those happy endorphins could help you keep your cool on the next leg of your journey when your kids start going stir-crazy in the backseat.

Bring Your Own Food

A man cannot survive on Hot Tamales alone, and the same goes for children and kids meals. In fact, eating that way, especially if your bodies aren't used to it, is a surefire way to feel horrible in the car. Picture a whole family clutching their middles and being forced to stop at the first available gas station restroom. It's not a pretty sight. 

Instead, save some money and some potential stomach woes by bringing your own food. And bring fare that you're used to eating to avoid the same aforementioned stomach issues. PB&Js, apples (or applesauce pouches), trail mix, and granola bars all travel really well. If you've got a small cooler, you could stock it with cheese cubes, milk, and carrots. You can then restock your supply for the next day's drive at a local grocery store.

You might also pull off the highway, and plan on eating your packed lunch at a park or even just a rest stop with clean picnic tables.  

Pack Smart

Make sure you've got what you need in the car and in the trunk. Keep drinks and snacks, a few toys and books, your iPad (that's loaded with movies and kid-friendly apps), and pillows and blankets within arm's reach. And organize your trunk in such a way that diapers, pull-ups, extra clothes, a first-aid kit with medicine, and your travel stroller and/or baby carrier are all easy to locate. You might even designate a small space in the back of your trunk to change diapers if you're iffy about public restrooms.

Keep 'Em Entertained

Little people have short attention spans and if you don't want to be refereeing fights between your two-year-old and four-year-old the entire trip, you should plan some entertainment. So pick up some new books at the library, bring along a few choice toys, sing some songs together, look out the windows, play the "let's see how long you can be quiet" game, and when all else fails, prop up your portable DVD player (or iPad) and show them Frozen

Get Some Exercise

If you're planning on spreading your car trip across a few days, you'll probably stay at a hotel or two. And with young children in tow, a good night's sleep in a shared hotel room might be elusive. Try to go to sleep earlier than usual to get as much rest as you can. And in the morning, you might try and fit in a short workout. Achieving a "runner's high" isn't the worst way to begin another day on the interstates.

Laugh 

You could plan everything perfectly, and still the car might get a flat, the sky might pour nonstop rain, and the baby could choose to soil multiple onesies. You'll still (probably) survive, and one day you'll most likely even laugh at your foiled family car trip—so why not laugh in the moment too?

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