Family Travel Stories

The Road Trip Chronicles – tips and tricks

-By Jeremy Milani
Used with permission from SNH Parents: Connecting Southern New Hampshire Families

Just under a month ago we took our first extended road trip with our two-and-a-half-year-old daughter. Before hitting the road we asked for tips and trips to help us survive. You delivered and in this post we’ll share the most popular tips. In future posts we’ll share specifics on some of the products we tried while on the road plus share links to online resources.

Have Car Seats Inspected
Sure you may have had your car seat for quite a while, but are you sure it’s installed correctly? Why not plan to have it checked before heading out for a long drive. Check out for more information and a directory of inspection station.

Allow Plenty of Extra Time
I was surprised by how much extra time we needed. It seemed like we were constantly stopping for one reason or another. Just accept that your trip will take much longer than your GPS or Google Maps says it will, particularly if you’re traveling with young children. And no matter why you’re stopping, be sure to let everyone out of the car as much as possible.

Know Where You’re Going
Again, this may seem obvious, but trust me when I say that the last thing you want to do is get lost during the middle of a tantrum. And there will be tantrums. Even if you have a GPS unit, make sure you have paper maps just in case.

We had a GPS, but we also packed a copy of Drive I-95. This unique flipbook let’s you know what amenities are available at each exit on I-95 from Massachusetts to Florida and also includes information on radar traps, select attractions and more. If you’re traveling on I-95, you need this book, it’s that simple. I’m a huge fan of technology, but when we needed gas or wanted to figure out which exit was best for the next rest stop, this book was simply faster to use than the GPS.

Pack Surprise/Activity Bags
This was the most common recommendation, and one that that my parents used when I was a kid. Basically you fill a bag with small surprises (think dollar store) for each child. These can be handed out at regular intervals or as rewards for certain behavior (“I need you to be quiet for the next 15 minutes while we get back to the interstate…”) Just be sure to choose gifts that can be used in the car. For example, books are a great idea, but only if your child doesn’t get carsick while reading.

Bring a Digital Camera for Your Kids
Many people suggested letting kids use a digital camera to create a record of the trip themselves.  One person also suggested using taking pictures of a favorite doll or toy in various places along the way.

While you may let older kids use your primary camera, you may want to pick up a “disposable” digital camera or find a used one on craigslist. There are also several “kid-friendly” digital cameras available for younger travelers. We took the V-Tech Kidizoom camera for a test run on our trip and will post a full review soon.

Portable DVD Players are Awesome!
OK, I could argue about the importance of quality family time, but there were times on the trip when the portable DVD player really helped calm our daughter down. She was most happy with familiar movies, a plus because she could still follow the movie even with the sound turned down fairly low. The low volume allowed us to continue to interact with her while she watched. Of course, you may also want to bring headphones along.

Bring Along Some Good Music
We had a lot of good suggestions on music titles and we tried them all. We’ll go into more details in a future post, but for now let me just say that you want to be sure that whatever music you bring won’t drive YOU crazy. And don’t be afraid to scour your own music library for songs; “Our House” by Madness is now one of our daughter’s favorite songs.

Play Games
OK, this may seem obvious, but how many of us tend to focus on the destination rather than the drive. Our 2.5 year old was quite capable of playing “I Spy” and we had a blast. If your kids are older, try the Alphabet game.

If your kids require a little more stimulation, consider age-appropriate travel games. For example, games like iPlay’s Tote-Along Travel Game and imaginetics magnetic Travel Picture Bingo are more involving than simple verbal games, but much more family-friendly than  portable video games. Just be sure that whatever travel games you choose are actually car friendly: Nobody wants to deal with a game that has to end because a piece is lost or the board gets bumped.

One last “game” suggestion that deserves mentioning is letting kids use Colorformson the car windows. What a great idea! I didn’t know you could still buy Colorforms, but it looks like there’s a whole range of products available, including travel sets.

Avoid Sugary Snacks
The only thing worse than a cranky kids strapped into the back seat is a hyper kid strapped into the back seat. So be sure to pack snacks that are nutritious but not loaded with sugar. Finding snacks that fit the bill and are also car-friendly proved much harder than we though. Sure, we had fruit and crackers, but we also wanted some variety. We took along some Fruitabü organic smooshed fruit (think healthy and MUCH less sticky fruit roll-ups) as well as a selection of Snacktritionnut products. Due to our daughter’s age, the later wound up being enjoyed by my wife and me. And while I liked all of them, the Snacktrition cashews stood out from the others. They are simply the best I’ve ever had, especially the salt and pepper flavor.  They’re also a great source of nutrients and are “health baked with fiber,” but when they taste this good, who cares!

For drinks we brought fruit juice to mix with water (does anybody buy the pre-cut juice?) as well as Horizon singles milk. The later are shelf-stable (no refrigeration required), single-serve milk boxes available in plain, vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate flavors.  Unfortunately our daughter proved that while she’s good at drinking from a box, she’s even better at squeezing or shaking the liquid all over herself, so it looks like we’ll be using sippy cups on the road for a while still.

Have Fun!
I originally added this so I’d have a nice neat list of ten items, but it really does have a purpose. Put more than one person in a small space for an extended period of time and it’s very likely nerves are going to get frayed. If there are family members in the group, then it’s guaranteed.  Making sure that there are fun things for everyone on the trip will help keep everyone happy. Just remember to enjoy the time you have and stay calm through the rough spots.

I’d like to thank everyone who submitted ideas, including:

Have more travel tips to share? Please add to the comment section.

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