travelingSpring Break is nearly here, which means for many of you parents out there, the next big trip with your kids is right around the corner. Yay! Vacation time!

Ok, let’s be real here – traveling with young kids isn’t the easiest thing to do (or, let’s face it – the most enjoyable. What’s a vacation??) But it CAN be done with less stress and more enjoyment all around. How? By planning and preparing (and planning and preparing again) ahead of time.

Before You Go

  • Prepare the Car. Don’t leave town without making sure your car is ready to roll. If you’re in need of an oil change, tune up or even just little more air in your tires, do it before you hit the road. You’re less likely to encounter car troubles along the way, and basic tune ups will keep your car running more efficiently. I like to wash my car and clean out the inside before leaving town too – there’s nothing like being stuck in a dirty car for hours to really raise the stress levels! I also like to take the chance to give our car seats a nice cleaning (aka, unearthing the thousands of Goldfish that have found new homes in the cracks and crevices). If you’re looking for someone who can do that for you, be sure to check out our friends at CleanKidzUSA.
  • Map Your Route. Make sure you know exactly where you’re going, and don’t just focus on the destination – try and figure out ahead of time where you’ll be stopping along the way. Does your route take you past anything your kids might love to see or do? When on long road trips, we like looking for places where we can eat outside – it gives us a nice break from the car, and allows the kids room to run around and be crazy without bothering fellow diners. On our road trips home to Northern Virginia, we like to stop at the rest stop on the border (off I-85) – there’s a playground and picnic area, plus clean restrooms. While you might have to stop more frequently than planned, or you might need a back-up plan in case the weather doesn’t cooperate, it does help to head out with at least somewhat of a “plan” in mind.
  • Give Yourself Plenty of Time. Accept that traveling with kids is SLOW. Accept that it WILL take longer than you’re used to or expect to to get from Point A to Point B. The sooner you just accept it and move on, the happier and less stressed out you’ll be!
  • Try Really, Really Hard NOT to Overpack. Easier said than done, I realize. But stressing about where all of your belongings will go – or having a car that’s so totally jammed that a diaper change is out of the question, or snacks are impossible to reach – makes road trips a lot less fun and a lot more frazzling.
  • Pack the Day/Night Before. As much as you can, pack up your car the day or night before heading out of town. This way you’re able to leave more quickly in the morning, without the stress or worry about forgetting things.

When You’re on the Road

  • Pack the Car. Luggage aside, some essentials we stock in the car head of trips include:
    • Diapers and wipes (and extra diapers and wipes because of course there will be a major blow out or three while you’re away from home). Wipes also come in handy to use as wet naps and to clean up any potential spills inside the car.
    • Trash bags.
    • Paper towels.
    • Snacks/lunch/drinks. My surefire method for keeping kids happy in the car (or just anywhere in general)? Snacks. Lots of ’em. There are tons of great “on the go” snacks you can load up on for your next trip – applesauce pouches, granola bars, fruit snacks, etc. And, you can seriously never have enough water (or at least, that’s the case on our house). Make sure you have enough water on hand for refills (inevitable). I like to pack our own lunch when we go on road trips too – this way we can avoid having to eat super healthy fast food, we can save a little money (feeding five people even junky fast food gets expensive!), and it’s one less stop to have to make.
    • Entertainment/books. In a perfect world, the entire car sings together or plays rousing games of “I Spy.” In reality, much of your trip will be consumed with kids complaining of boredom or getting fussy/fidgety. Get ahead of this by making sure the car has things to keep the kids entertained – lots of books (maybe even some new ones), small toys, MagnaDoodles, Water Wow! sets, crayons, paper, etc. Lots of cars come equipped with DVD players now, and tablets are also a great way to entertain on the go.
  • Take Breaks. Can’t be emphasized enough – it’s important to build in some time for everyone to get out, run around, and use the bathroom.
  • Enjoy. Road trips are big experiences in childhood. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I remember taking lots of them when I was younger – and I really don’t have any negative memories about any of them (and we used to drive 10+ hours to Florida every summer). Try not to let the little things stress you out, and just enjoy the time you have together as a family! It won’t be long before your kids are grown and out of the house and traveling is made much easier again (and you will miss these road trips like CRAZY).

Flying with kids? Check out Lexi’s tips on how to handle flying with toddlers and flying with a baby!