Making Memories Parenting Travel

Turn Road Trips into Family Fun

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

We love road trips. We’ve done two cross-country road trips for vacation (around a month long each) in addition to our five cross-country moves (just a road trip with all of our stuff in tow). In fact, a road trip can make a great vacation for families. We’re planning another one for next year, traveling West across Canada, down the West coast, then back through the middle of the states. While we are lucky that we can work and travel, since we own our own business and can work from anywhere, but even if you only plan a short road trip during your annual vacation, it can be well worth it. Our tips for success:

Get Your Kids Involved

To make your kids excited for the upcoming trip, let them in on the planning process. Give them a say as to where you will go on your road trip. Since you will make many stops along the way, you can accommodate your children’s wishes, as well as yours, when it comes to determining what places to visit. The more involved they feel, the more excited they will be about the vacation.

Drive Safely

Don’t drive away without first seeing your mechanic. Let him or her know what you’re planning, and have them give the car a once over. Get the oil changed, make sure you have a functional spare tire, and replace the wipers. For extra peace of mind, we have found it to be well worth the cost to be members of AAA. Their roadside assistance program is incredibly helpful. (Dead battery? Call AAA. Flat tire? Call AAA). And, your AAA membership works in Canada, too (they call it CAA). AAA also gets you discounts to many attractions and hotels.  [MomsGetReal has no affiliate relationship with AAA and is not advertising for them – this is just a personal recommendation].

Bring Snacks and Activities

While your kids will love visiting the destinations you have chosen, the time spent in the car between each new place can get boring. Our kids are great travelers, so headphones, music, and books keep them happy. Since we now have unlimited data through Verizon, they can keep talking, watching, and listening as we travel – even through Canada. [Nope, no affiliate relationship with Verizon either – just love the new unlimited plan and its spillover into Canada since we tend to spend a lot of time there]. To keep kids occupied and happy, bring some snacks for between meals. Water bottles, juice boxes, fruit snacks, and granola bars are a few essential items to have on hand that will not go bad if left in the car. Make sure to pack some age-appropriate activities, too. A portable DVD player can be a lifesaver, but be prepared – one time when we were moving from New York to Nevada, the kids watched The Incredibles the entire way there, over and over again. To this day, I can recite the entire movie.

Help Your Kids Learn

Whether you visit a local place or somewhere far away, your trip can be as educational as it is fun. A road trip is a great way to teach your kids about the places they are visiting as well as the history of the area. And let them teach you, too. We had no idea how much our kids knew about history and geography until we were on the road with them. They taught us as much as we taught them.

Get Directions

The first time we did a road trip, we didn’t have GPS and phones weren’t super smart yet. Navigating required an atlas and a familiarity with how to read a map. These days, all you need is your phone – but because road trips often take you into areas where you don’t have service, we’ve found it beneficial to either print maps or save maps to the phone. There are also some great apps that help you navigate cities and they’ll even work offline (we used one in Germany).

Don’t Push It

Don’t try to drive 12 hours a day. The goal of a real road trip isn’t the destination but the getting there. Plan your stops in places where you can explore and have fun along the way. We try to drive no more than 6 hours, so that we still have some daylight left to explore each town we stop in.

A road trip can be a family adventure and a memory maker. These tips can help make it more fun.

Making Memories

5 Kid-Friendly Summer Travel Destinations That Don’t Involve Disneyland

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

With summer quickly approaching, families are eagerly planning their next vacation. But when traveling with kids, all destinations are not created equal. If you want to enjoy some family time minus all the frustration, consider taking a kid-friendly journey:

Dine, Whale Watch and Sightsee on a Cruise

Alaska, Mexico, Greece, Hawaii — take your pick and instead of booking flights and hotels, choose to cruise instead. You’ll be able to enjoy family-friendly entertainment while on board and experience your destination city through daily excursions. Many cruise lines cater to families, offering onboard rock walls, miniature golf courses, bowling alleys and water parks. Though many cruise ships offer onboard WiFi access, pricing tends to be expensive. If you want to call home, remotely access your security system or check in at the office, wait until you disembark and find an Internet cafe instead.

Trek Through National Parks

With nearly 400 national parks across the U.S., there are many outdoor summer vacation opportunities to choose from. Explore the geothermal features of Yellowstone while waiting for Old Faithful to blow. Hike or ride horseback across the beautiful terrain, pointing out any wildlife you see. Or visit Yosemite and tour groves of giant sequoias. If interested, your kids can even become junior rangers (and earn a Junior Ranger patch) by completing a self-guided booklet.

Snorkel, Swim and Sunbath at the Beach

Besides hanging out at one of its many gorgeous beaches, San Diego has plenty of free fun for the whole family. Spend the morning sampling fresh produce at a colorful farmers’ market. Watch sea lions play at La Jolla Cove. Museum hop at Balboa Park — many of which offer free admission on Tuesdays. Roast marshmallows on one of the county’s bonfire-friendly beaches. And of course if you’re willing to spend money, there’s always Sea World and the world famous San Diego Zoo.

Museum Hop Around Washington D.C.

Rediscover history with your kids while exploring our nation’s capital by bike, bus or on foot. Wander through the Smithsonian museums, touching a moon rock at the National Air and Space Museum or seeing a recreated woolly mammoth at the National Museum of Natural History. Don’t miss other national monuments, including the Lincoln Memorial and Capital Hill. To keep the kids happy, stop off at the Hillwood Museum and Gardens or National Zoo as well.

Road Trip Across the Northwest

Stop your road trip in San Fransisco long enough to bustle through Fisherman’s Wharf and catch a glimpse of the majestic Golden Gate Bridge. Explore the city by cable car then travel down the coast stopping by the many famed beaches and eventually making your way through Los Angeles. A detour to Hollywood could keep you busy for a day, but after you’ve had your share of museums and amusement parks, head west to Las Vegas. Spend a night or two in Sin City, walking the strip and catching a few family-friendly shows. Drive four hours then hike your way to a campground in the Grand Canyon for the night. After a few days of roughing it, you could go home or continue north stopping off in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.

Let's Talk Travel

Traveling with Kids Made Easy

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce
Whether you’re singing “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go,” or screaming “Stop it right now or I’ll pull this car over!” traveling with kids is a challenge.

I should know – in addition to three cross-country moves, last summer we took a 35-day road trip with three of our five kids in tow.

If you want to survive traveling with kids, you need to ditch the car bingo and roadway i-Spy and get serious about entertaining the kids in the car.

It’s a vacation, so loosen up on video game and movie watching restrictions

I’d love to be able to say I’m one of those moms with pre-planned educational activities ready for the kids for each mile of the trip. While I do like Rand McNally Are We There Yet? (Backseat Books) the older your kid is, the faster they’ll lose interest. Worse yet, you might have a kid who gets car sick when reading. And traveling with puking kids is way less fun than traveling with whining, fighting kids.

The best solution for happy travelers is to provide them with electronic stimulation.

  • Portable dvd players allow your kids to watch movies to while away the hours. It makes it easy to answer the “are we there yets” with a “just finish watching ‘Madagascar 3’ and we’ll be close!”
  • Laptops, while slightly more risky depending on your vehicle set up, offer an even wider variety of options, from games to movie watching to surfing the net, provided you have a mobile hotspot (and if you’re traveling long distance, it is so worth turning on the mobile hotspot)
  • iPods are perfect for the music lover, but be sure to invest in some sound canceling headphones so that they can hear their music over yours without going deaf

The mess will vacuum up, so relax

When we departed in our brand new van last summer, I started the trip thinking that with a little care and planning, we could avoid messes, spills, and perhaps even eating in the car. And then the kids got hungry when we still had miles to go. It’s better to plan healthy snacks that won’t wind the kids up.

  • Kind bars are a great healthy choice for eating on the road. They can be a little sticky, though, so be sure you bring along baby wipes (another must-have when traveling)
  • String cheese is a quick and easy protein that will keep your kids satisfied between stops.
  • Water is a necessity, and a much better choice than turning the kids loose with soda or juice. Just watch how much you let them have, or you’ll be stopping far more often than you planned.
  • PBJs – or anything else you can pack from home – are a much better choice than fast food.

Stop and stretch

Unless your trip is short and sweet, somewhere along the way you should plan to stop, stretch, and let the kids go potty. Yes, it will add to the trip time, and yes, it can be a pain to haul everyone out, but it is the perfect refresher for everyone and can mend frayed nerves. It also helps the driver stay focused so you get there safely.

How do you survive traveling with kids?

Comment below with your suggestions, or tweet your ideas to @MomsGetReal!