Do you have an upcoming event several hours from home or are you itching for the adventure of the open road? But are you concerned that perhaps road trips aren’t going to be as free and fun as they used to be with little ones? And do you not want to put a screen in front of your kids for hours? With a bit of planning, patience and kid-friendly places to stop, road trips can still be something that brings you joy and even closer as a family.
Recently I ventured out on a five-hour road trip solo with my two little boys. We were headed for the big city of Brisbane for the weekend. After a week of solo parenting, we were going to pick up my husband from his trip and visit some good friends in the city.
Initially, I was worried that I had made a big mistake to plan such a trip after such a full week of parenting, work and life. Wouldn’t I be too exhausted to do anything like that? While the week was busy, I was grateful to have an exciting trip to look forward to. The boys couldn’t wait.
Upon waking on Friday morning, my four-year-old turned to his little brother and said, “Do you know what we are doing today? We are going to Brisbane to pick up daddy and go see Opie!” Opie is their favourite dog, who just so happens to be owned by the friends we will be staying with that weekend. They were both very excited.
With some forethought, reminders of getting to see Opie and daddy, and not rushing, the road trip went beautifully. Here are my six key strategies that made this road trip with my little ones calm and enjoyable:
Get as much packed and prepared the night before. So in the morning, everyone just has to get ready and pack up the last few items. The boys fell asleep around eight pm, so I got the house tidy, packed up the bags, organized our snacks and water bottles and put most of it in the car. I even had breakfast prepped so the morning routine would go as smoothly and quickly as possible too.
I packed my boys' favourite fruits along with dried fruit and bliss balls. While I usually try to stay away from processed foods, this was a time I let this go and stocked up the healthiest options I could get: puffed cauliflower, seaweed, rice cakes and broccoli chips. The boys were stoked when they saw what was going into the food bag.
Eating in the car isn’t a great idea, but I find it very helpful on long drives. Pack minimal mess snacks that you know your little ones will enjoy and are safe to eat while driving. Have them ready and easily accessible.
To give me some time to get things organized and in the car in the morning, I gave each of my boys a little backpack and told them to pack whatever toys or books they wanted to take with them. Since my boys don’t use phones or technology in the car, I didn’t want to introduce that on this trip. So, I packed a massive pile of books, some magnetic building blocks and a car-friendly puzzle in addition to the toys they chose. A couple of talking games like eye-spy are good to keep up your sleeve too.
Pit stops have to allow the little ones ample time and space to release as much energy as possible.
Our drive was just short of five hours, so I planned our stop to be halfway. I could have stopped at a few different spots, but it was a farm that served fresh food to eat and healthy snacks to buy, had a great play structure to climb, outdoor space to roam around and even farm animals to watch. After eating some sandwiches and salads, the boys and I wandered the property looking at the chickens, pigs and cows. We lay down in the grass and enjoyed the sun. We wrestled, giggled and played. We climbed up ladders, slide down slides and balanced on wooden beams at the playground. It was the most relaxing and playful afternoon that we had had together in a little while.
While the drive was relatively long, this two-hour stop was the highlight of my week. While lying in the grass watching the boys screech in excitement at the cows, I thought about what a contrast this stop was compared to if we had simply pulled over at a fast-food restaurant surrounded by a busy parking lot. That would have been stressful and short. Whereas this was a beautiful memory I will keep.
Make it exciting and keep them focused on where you are going and why.
Sometimes it is hard to wrangle the boys into the car, but not on this trip. They were too excited to see our good friends, their dog and especially their daddy. So I used this to my advantage. I reminded them that we would see daddy very soon and that we had to get in the car and start driving first. They were in their car seats before I even had the car completely packed.
After at least two hours of rolling and running around the farm on our pitstop, everyone was ready to get back in the car. Before leaving the play structure, I reminded the boys where we were going and who we would see. They were excited and therefore, happy to hold my hands and wander back to the car. They had played so hard and gotten plenty of fresh air that both of them were napping before we were ten minutes down the road.
We had all day to get to the city. We left as early as I could manage while balancing getting ready, packed and keeping messes from the boys at a minimum.
Leave very early if you have to be somewhere at a specific time but ideally, go a day ahead so you can take the breaks that everyone needs and not be stressed at the wheel.
We pulled up at our friends’ place in Brisbane just as the sun was starting to go down. We had made it. No screens were used. All the snacks had been gobbled up. And while we were ready to stretch our legs again, it had been a fun, calm and bonding time for my boys and me. It was a success. With a bit of planning and patience, you too can enjoy plenty of road trips with your little ones.
Personal letters from Dr Hilary Claire delivered right to your inbox to help you do the best for your little ones’ health without burning out.
For a regular dose of useful resources and articles from Dr Hilary Claire delivered straight to your inbox pop your details below.