5 Tips For Road Tripping With Your Bored, Wiggly, Impatient Kid
Back in your 20s you loved just throwing some clothes in a bag, hopping in the car, and heading out on a road trip. But road trippin' ain’t as easy as it used to be. Now you have kids.
There are packing lists, timelines, and possible meltdowns to manage. Five hours in the car feels like ten. The phrase, “Are we there yet?” used to be just a funny joke but now you understand that it is, in fact, nails on a chalkboard. Road tripping sure can be a challenge, but it also offers family adventure unlike any other. We talked to a lot of parents about how they navigate a family road trip and here are some of our favorite tips.
1. Establish car rules: Before you let one little toe into the car, establish a Family Code Of Car-duct, rules that every member of the family agrees to abide by. Things like, not repeating the same line of a song more than three times, total silence during difficult left-hand turns, and absolutely no snacks covered in cheesy orange powder allowed in the car. Each family is a little different, so the guidelines that you land on could sound strange to everyone else. But, in the end, if you get to your destination with a car load of happy kids and adults, who cares right?
2. Manage expectations: Chances are, no matter how well behaved your children are, after a few hours in a confined space, they will find something to argue about. (For example, who gets to hold the old candy wrapper that was found between the car seats?) Accepting that back-seat bickering is likely to happen will go a long way in keeping the peace. But managing expectations isn’t just good for parents. If kids know what to expect, they usually have an easier time too. Looking forward to getting to stop at a park for lunch or listen to their music player after you hit the state line can do wonders for kids’ antsy legs and impatient minds.
3. Take lots of breaks: You may be surprised how enjoyable a road trip can be if you plan to get out of the car for a little activity every one to two hours. Before you even leave the driveway, have some spots picked out that don’t take you too far off course. Then, surprise your kiddos with visits to nature viewpoints, historical markers, and roadside attractions along the way. Not only do these stops give kids the opportunity to get their wiggles out, (ones they might otherwise channel into kicking the back of your car seat repeatedly as you’re driving), they can be fun and educational too. And seeing the world’s largest ball of twine through the eyes of a curious kid makes the added trip length well worth it.
For quick transitions, we recommend easy on-and-off shoes. For both big and little kids, two of our favorite pairs are the Moxie sandal and the Chandler shoe. For little kids, both styles come equipped with bungee laces and a hook-and-loop strap making them a piece of cake for little fingers to pull on. Plus, they look really good too, so kids look presentable when you pile out of the car.
On their way to the Grand Canyon, the Wong family stopped for roadside food and fun. Read about their adventure.
4. Make it special: Driving several hours to a beach or across state lines for some epic camping, a road trip is a big adventure regardless of where you’re headed. But three hours into the car ride, boredom can set in and kids may totally forget how excited they were when they first buckled up. To make the hours cooped up in the car feel as fun as the destination, put together a road trip goody bag. Fill it with a sweet treat they rarely get, a library book or comic you checked out in secret, or a sticker set of their favorite animal. As you pass certain mileposts, let them open a gift from inside the bag. Another great way to counteract car boredom is to find activities that everyone in the car can do together. Bring along an audiobook or podcast to listen to as a family or some road trip bingo boards (you can even make your own).
5. Give kids a project: We all do better when we have something to work on. Older kids especially enjoy having a job to do. Is your kid a rock lover? Make them the trip geologist and plan to stop at rock shops along the way. Supply them with a regional rock guide, and let them pick out a few stones at each spot. Sharing what they've learned with the whole family is fun for everyone. Or do you have a budding photographer in the family? Designate them as the trip historian. Give them an easy-to-use camera, and have them document the trip (complete with shot list and daily summary). Relive the trip through your kids unique viewpoint when they share the finished product at the next family gathering.
Sure, road tripping with kids has its difficult moments, but it’s also full of rewards. Your little ones will learn to love a good car trip, unexpected adventure, and time with their family. And hopefully, later in life you can continue to explore together like KEEN adventurer James Joiner does with his daughter. Just don’t forget the snacks.