If there is anything us Canadians know how to do well, it would be taking LONG road trips. Now that we have kids, this looks a little bit different, but I have so much information to share with you, not only on how to keep the little’s entertained, but also how to best prepare to save you money as well.
It is possible to make road trips easier on the wallet, and most of those tricks could be summed up easily by planning ahead, pre-planning and packing your snacks before you leave, and being conscious about where you stay and how much it costs.
However, I have so many more goodies to share, so lets dive into eight ways you can stay sane on a long road trip with kids.
1. Pack your own food and snacks
This is a golden money-saver right out of the gate. It is astronomically cheaper to pack your own food and snacks on a long road trip. The average take out meal costs our family of 4 between $25-35 per meal – if you were road tripping and ate out for three full meals, that would be $75 just in food alone!
I will admit that our grocery bill does tend to creep up by $25-30 or so because we eat more packaged foods when we travel then we do when we are at home. It would be very easy to drop $20 at a single stop at a convenience store while on the road, so think ahead to your favorite travel snacks, and buy those before you leave home instead.
Pack your kids a “snacklebox”
I saw a Pinterest article, from busycreatingmemories.com of a mama who had taken a dollar store tackle box, and converted it into a multi-snack, snack box (read it here). Our family affectionately nicknamed this the “snacklebox,” and it has become a road trip life saver. I now use it on every single road trip that we take.
It seems to work to not only keep the kids happy munching snacks, but for whatever reason, they also find it so entertaining. I thought now that my kids are not babies anymore that the Snacklebox would loose its magical entertainment capabilities, but it this isn’t the case.
Fill with all your child’s favorite finger foods, and maybe a few things they don’t get to eat very often:
- sliced apples
- BBQ kernel corn
- sliced grapes
- cheese slices
- carrot sticks
- yogurt covered raisins
- chocolate covered almonds (only a few… or #sugarshock!)
- dried fruit
**A word from the now-wise, if you are travelling outside of Canada to anywhere that is tropical or warm, you are going to want to bring a large ziplock back where you can store your Snacklebox. We brought ours to Hawaii, and while they are closed containers, tiny ants can still get in. This is obviously not cool, and resulted in us having to toss all its contents before we came home.
**A second tid-bit of advice for the Snacklebox, is that you know your child best. Obviously ours are FULL of tiny little food items that would be a giant pain to clean up should the kids decided to toss it. Our kids have been really good with theirs, and if they started causing trouble with it, it was taken away immediately.
One water bottle per person:
I have hunted high and low for a water bottle that doesn’t leak, and I have settled on the Nalgene bottles, that have a little one way silicone valve that can be removed for easy cleaning. I kept buying the Contigo kids bottles for the kids with the flip up spout, but I wasn’t very long before they started leaking on us.
The Nalgene cups won’t leak as easily, which is ideal for road trips. Each of the kids gets one to tuck into their car seat cup holder for the drive.
The one water bottle rule also applies to adults. We will typically grab a coffee at Mcdonalds, and when we do, we take the opportunity to fill all the bottles up with ice and water from the pop dispensers. It saves us money from having to buy water bottles at every stop, and usually the water isn’t terrible. I will pack a lemon Mio to flavor our water if it needs some help masking a mineral taste.
Finger foods are the best:
Foods that you can eat one handed are obviously better than others, so wraps over sandwiches is ideal.
You can easily make freezer breakfast burritos, and pop them in the microwave prior to leaving the house in the morning. This is a hit in our house when we are really trying hard to avoid restaurants because they are so fast to heat up, wrap in aluminum foil and hand them out once we are on our way. It saves us from stopping at a drive through for food, and gets us on the road quicker.
Plus, if they are frozen they will help your cooler stay cold, and if you plan to be gone for a few days, its simple enough to make lots and just microwave them in the mornings before you start driving.
Bento boxes for the win!
A new addition to our traveling Tupperware are these Bento boxes by Sistema, they are easy to use, and big enough to load up, and have enough food for a day trip.
On our next road trip, I plan to load these up, one for each of us, the day, and then use the Snacklebox to round out the snacking when the kids get peckish.
I like that they they have a hard case, and that they are able to hold a lot of food, so I should be able to pack enough food to last us the 10 hour drive.
Tuck your cooler under your kids feet:
Our five year old his forward facing, but his legs just dangle in his chair, and he complains constantly that his little bum hurts. He has actually asked to have us turn him back around to rear face on road trips because his little sister taunts him with how comfortable she is. Turkey.
My friend Shelby (a road tripping master) told me that they take a cooler and always tuck it under the kids feet for road trips so that it elevates their legs up so they don’t dangle so much. I think that this is a perfect solution to this problem.
This works best if your cooler is a hard shell as opposed to a soft shell. If you don’t have something firm enough, you could always use a suitcase to achieve the same thing.
2. Each kid get their own back pack
We have a one pack per child rule, they are allowed to fill one back pack up with all the activities they would like to bring on the trip. Typically this is a book or two, something to color with, cars and a stuffie.
This year we invested in a boogie board for each of our kids at Christmas. They are kind of like a modern day etch-a-sketch that clears with a simple click of a button. They are incredibly thin, so even if they get tossed in their back packs, the kids still have plenty of room for their Snacklebox, plus toys. I am hoping that they outperform the Crayola Wonder books, which they already seem to be.
I pack them in my purse to everywhere and they are excellent quiet activities for church, appointments, and long waits in the car. They seem to appeal to even the adults, so I think that’s a good investment. They do feel a bit flimsy, so we shall see how they hold up over time.
Last year I bought a couple of those crayola wonder markers and pads for road trips, and I’m not sold. The problem was that the kids couldn’t get the markers opened easily on their own, the lids would inevitably fall somewhere that we couldn’t reach, and the markers would dry out. They did keep them entertained for awhile, but truth be told, I found them to be kind of an annoyance, and I was finding floating markers until I detailed my van.
3. Each child get’s a lovie, a blankie, and a pillow
I know this feels like a lot to bring, but if the kids are even remotely sleepy in the van, I feel like our nap time success rate quadruples if their “sleepy things” are close at hand. Keep in mind that our road trips range anywhere from 3-12 hours in length. We want them to sleep at least once!
I like the idea that I can prop their heads up with their pillows if they fall asleep in their car seats, and they don’t get that awful neck droop that looks so horribly painful. I can’t say that I have ever tried any of the specialty products out there for this problem, because a pillow seems to work about 85% of the time.
4. Be prepared for car sickness
Okay listen up VERY carefully because I am about to change your life for forever. You need pre-made puke bags and leave them in your car’s glove box as part of your emergency preparedness.
My dear friend Shelby (yep, the same one as before… I told you she was genius) taught me how to do this, and you will want to kiss her when I tell you about this hack:
- grab your normal “puke bucket” that floats around in the van on long road trips.
- Line said bucket with a garbage bag or large Ziplock bag. You want the bag to be high quality, with a low probability of leaking – otherwise this exercise is pointless. Make sure your bucket is small enough that your bag can fold over the edges, but big enough that you/the kids aren’t going to miss the bowl.
- Fold up several sheets of paper towel, and lay it down in the bottom of your puke bucket.
- Someone uses the puke bucket, the paper towel soaks up the liquid.
- Remove the bag, tie up the ends and toss into your nearest garbage can mess free.
- Keep a stock of these puke bags at the ready in your glove box, and re-line the bucket for the next emergency.
Last summer we did multiple trips through the Canadian Rocky Mountains, and the combination of the twisting turning roads, and the closeness of the mountains as we drove through the pass, led to multiple episodes of car sick kids.
I wish I had this tip then, and they will now go with us whenever we travel somewhere of any great distance… which, we are rural Canadians, everything is a great distance.
5. Download multiple podcasts
In this house we tend to follow “a few for them, a few for us” kind of rule, plus they are FREE, so that always earns extra brownie points in my books.
Kids podcasts get really old, really quickly, but the kids love them. We tend to pull them out when we hit a rough patch with our road trip, to get us over the hump. The problem is that once you start, they don’t want you to turn them off – so don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Here are a few of the grown up favorites:
- Dave Ramsey Podcast
- The Longest Shortest Time
- This American Life
- Stuff You Should Know
- How I Built This
- Sword and Scale (NOT kid friendly)
- Someone Knows Something (are you sensing a theme here…)
- White Coat Black Art
The final four suggestions are just podcasts I love, but may not be okay with kids (okay, most straight up aren’t), and if not they will do a “listener discretion is advised” warning before the episode.
The kids favorites:
- Stories podcast
- Little Stories for tiny people
*I was having some trouble finding great podcasts for the kids, you know the ones were the voices don’t make you want to lose your mind… but I found this article by Common Sense Media, that had a good list to get us started. It gave me a good ideas that I could test out before our next road trip.
6. Download Audible
I know that there are other free options out there for listening to audio books, some of which include library apps… but I am really partial to audible. I like that I can listen to our stories over and over again, and that even if we were to give up our membership, we still keep the books that we have purchased.
We always try to download a new book before we leave on a trip, and these were some of our favorites that we have listened to together:
- The help by Kathryn Stocket
- The Martian by Andy Weir ( some adult language, but had both of us laughing out loud, intrigued, and on the edge of our seat the entire book)
- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
- Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (about a tragedy climbing Mount Everest)
- Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
If the kids are not listening to something different in their headphones, then we really enjoyed listening to a Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron together. Our kids are almost to an age where we could do an entire C.S. Lewis series, or Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling and they could get into that.
When it comes time for audio books, our kids are typically listening to something on their own so we don’t mind listening to something together that might not be super great for the kids to listen to. We are lucky because our Honda Van has wireless headphones that pair into the DVD player in the car.
We do have a separate headphones should we need to pull out an iPad if the trip is reaching critical mass on the impatience spectrum. I try my best not to let the kids know that it is with us, because we do our best to keep them off the screens for as long as humanly possibly.
This is not a parental judgement thing, this is a “my kids start losing their minds when they get to much screen time” type deal. The longer we can keep it turned off, the more effective it is when we all need a break.
7. If possible take breaks
If you are doing a long day in the car, everyone’s butts are bound to get sore, and the kids are going to start getting a bit grumpy. Every time we have to stop somewhere to go pee, we attempt to make an effort to get everyone running around for a few minutes to stretch out.
If you can plan to grab a coffee or a drink somewhere close to a park, and let the kids go to town for 10 minutes it will help get the wiggles out. Those car seats get uncomfortable quickly for them.
Simon says is a great one to get the kids all stretched out. “Simon says stretch to the sky! Simon says chase mom around the car! Simon says touch your toes! ect..”
Some other fast games the kids like:
- play tag
- have a dance party
- play catch
- kick around a soccer ball
- throw around a Frisbee
8. Turn on a movie
I am doing my best to teach the kids how to enjoy a good road trip. I really love them, and there is something about a long day in the car, blasting the tunes that rejuvenates my soul. I have never balked at having to do a 12 -14 hour road trip somewhere because I am weird like that.
I want our kids to learn that same love of road tripping that I have, but I realize that they do not have quite the same stamina when it comes to tolerance of being strapped into the car.
Our strategy is this, we drive as long as possible without a single screen being turned on. We try to rotate through the toys they brought, coloring, drawing on the boogie boards, flipping through a book or two, listening to a podcast or a story, and when all else fails us, and we have run out patience, then we turn on a DVD.
Headphones are gold
Its nice when the kids can pop some headphones on and then we can listen to something that we want without being worried about grown up content or language… did you see my long list of crime podcasts? Yeah, they don’t need to be listening to those…
One thing that I don’t like about our wireless headphones is that there are no parental control settings on them, so we can’t keep our kids from deafening themselves as we drive. We try to be aware if we start hearing whatever they are watching we will turn it down.
This is the one advantage that the iPad has over the DVD player. We bought these Lilgadget headphones from amazon for our son. They are volume limited so that your child can only crank them up to the pre-set limit of 93 decibels, and they have a jack so that you can link two sets of headphones to them which is perfect when the kids need to share.
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How does your family stay sane on long road trips? Let me know in the comments below. If you found these tips helpful please share!