A family road trip is easily one of the most memorable experience that people remember from their childhood, but ticking off this bucket list can quickly turn into a nightmare if you do not plan appropriately.
Ali Jennings is a freelance writer, house sitter, and teacher currently residing in the UK.
Going on a big trip usually takes quite a lot of planning, and if you’re traveling with children, preparation is even more important. When embarking on a long road trip with your young ones, it’s essential that you prepare well so your journey goes smoothly.
So whether you are traveling to Toubkal National Park in Morocco or driving from one side of the US to the other, here’s a guide to the common mistakes you should avoid making when planning a family road trip.
You might feel comfortable driving for ten hours straight, but you can guarantee that your kids won’t be happy spending this much time in a car. If you’re going to be traveling for an extended period of time, you need to allow plenty of time for breaks, whether that’s to grab something to eat or to have a toilet break.
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Yes, you will be planning to stop for lunch or dinner, but that doesn’t mean your kids aren’t going to get peckish while you’re on your family road trip. Making sure that you’ve packed some snacks, it will keep them happy in-between stops. Even more important is making sure you pack the right snacks. There’s nothing more terrifying than a child who has been told their favorite biscuit or fruit hasn’t been included in the onboard snack pack. Aside from getting their favorites right, you should also think about how well the snacks travel.
If you’re taking your road trip in the height of summer and it’s extremely hot, things that melt easily, such as chocolate, will get messy very quickly. Think carefully about how much mess you’re willing to deal with at the end of your journey and plan your snacks around that.
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Even if your children are very small, they’re highly unlikely to sleep the entire journey, and there’s only so many games of I-Spy you can play before everybody gets bored. It’s therefore vital that you pack various items to keep your brood entertained. For small children, this will probably include a bag of toys, games, and picture books. You may also want to make sure there is enough data on your phone so they can watch videos they enjoy or listen to songs they like; alternatively, you can bring some music to play on the car’s sound system.
For older children and teenagers, make sure that you have lots of books, movies, puzzle books, and music to occupy them. If you’re bringing electronics with you as part of your entertainment – and let’s face it, just about everyone does these days – make sure you also bring a portable power bank so you can keep everyone in a battery. Don’t forget to charge the power bank before you set off!
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Obviously, you know what your kids like and dislike, and it may seem much easier to get everything done yourself, but it’s a fact that children don’t like to feel left out of things. Give them the opportunity to have some say in what snacks to take, what games and books they would like to bring with them, and where they want to stop for lunch. This gives them a feeling of autonomy and makes them feel involved in the process, meaning they have a sense that their opinions and feelings matter.
Many people tend to faff around on the departure day of their holiday; unpacking and repacking their suitcase to double-check they have everything, then trying to fit everything in the car, and then doubling back to the house to check that everything is switched off. It’s a good idea to try and get as much done the night before you intend to set off.
Of course, there will always be the few things you need to pack on the day itself, but if you get the majority of the packing and organizing done the night before, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and stress when you get up in the morning. Another advantage of being organized in the morning is that, if you have small children, you won’t upset their routine too much; getting behind can mean their nap and snack are later than they would normally have them, meaning a very grumpy child for you to deal with in a confined space.
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It’s not unusual to feel a bit dodgy after traveling for a significant amount of time, and this tends to affect children more so than anyone else. Whether it’s the heat coming in through the windows, or the bad combination of motion and a few too many snacks, it’s best to assume that at least one of your children is not going to feel their best at some point during the journey.
Invest in shades for the car windows so it doesn’t get too hot side the car, bring thick paper bags for cases of nausea and/or vomiting, and if you know your child has serious problems with travel sickness, consider visiting your doctor for medication, or at least buy some acupressure wrist bands.
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If you were traveling long-distance by yourself, you would probably expect something not to run to schedule, so why would you think any differently when traveling with children? When on a road trip, you should expect traffic jams, your young ones getting grumpy because they are tired, hungry, or hot, and complaints that the food they get at the service station isn’t as good as the food you cook at home.
Expect this, and it will be much easier to deal with when it does actually occur. Traveling with your young ones is by no means as problematic as a permanent move abroad with children, but it can still come with a whole baggage of issues that you wouldn’t necessarily get if you were traveling alone. However, with a bit of forward planning, you should be able to make your road trip go as seamlessly as possible.