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Traveling Mom: Road trip tips

Posted June 3, 2012

Editor's Note: Seasoned traveler and Clayton mom Karen Dawkins will be sharing travel tips here on Go Ask Mom on Mondays in June starting today. Dawkins has traveled around the world with her family on a budget. She writes about her experiences and tips at Family Travels on a Budget.

Luggage loaded. GPS set. Kids buckled. Let the whining... errrrr, I mean road trip.... begin! Summer vacations are great, once you get there. It's the driving that's tough. But it doesn't have to be that way. With some simple planning and just a slight shift in mindset, the journey can be as much fun as the destination -- no TV or videos required!

Here are some tips I've learned through the years to keep our road trips fun and frustration free.

Involve kids in planning. Young kids might not understand everything, but talking to them before the trip helps build their excitement. Show them the map of your route. Involve kids in tracking your progress on the map or watching for landmarks (tunnels, rivers, major buildings) along the way. Older, tech savvy kids can research dining options along the route, check for highway construction that might interfere, and make playlists for each leg of the trip.

By the time our second son was three, he knew more than ten major "landmarks" between our home here in Clayton and Columbus, Ohio. As we passed each one, he would announce the next landmark to expect. Our oldest makes a "Name that Tune" playlist for our trips. He plays a short clip of a song and we have to name artist and/or song title. Whoever gets the most right wins. Surprisingly, his seven-year-old sister usually wins the game. We all "win," though, because the game takes an hour or more and the kids don't even notice.

Kids need breaks. Adults tend to think "let's push through and get there quicker." Kids don't understand that idea. Used to running and sprawling (their preferred video game position), they have no appreciation for the adult approach. Sitting in one position, locked in by seat belts, they feel trapped. Instead of pushing through, plan to stop every two or three hours along the way.

We stop at rest areas that offer wide open spaces to toss a baseball, throw a Frisbee or play hopscotch. When my kids were younger, we blew bubbles to chase and pop. It only takes 15 minutes, but the payoff of less whining is well worth the investment!

Pack healthy snacks. Adults can go hours without food, but our kids can't. They get hungry fast, especially when they're bored. However, sugary and salty snacks lead to tummy aches and sluggishness. Instead, pack healthy snacks that fill them without dragging them down. Dried fruit, bottled water, nuts, string cheese, bananas, apples and baby carrots pack easily without needing prep time.

Now that my kids are older, they make the snack food grocery list for road trips. Of course, they always add cookies, candy and chips to the list, and I usually surprise them with one or two. Generally, though, they choose healthier options. More importantly, they don't complain when they peek in the cooler!

Read all about Karen Dawkins, a Clayton mom of three, on her blog Family Travels on a Budget. For more tips and ideas, read Surviving Are We There Yet? for traveling with young kids and Surviving Car Trips with Tweens and Teens.


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  • jadelouisedesigns Jun 4, 2012

    Love them! I haven't ever included the kids in the planning before, because they were too young, but now they are old enough and I think it may help them be more excited for our trips.

    We often try to pack one fun snack and mostly healthy snacks, because you are definitely right, they always get hungry while they travel, even if we eat right before we leave. lol.

  • clisasmith Jun 4, 2012

    Great points! I took my kids through the northwestern states. We loved the rest stops. You are quite right about kids needing breaks! But mine did hang in there for long times. They had invented a fun game, and the scenery was amazing.

  • allilyn11 Jun 4, 2012

    Packing healthy snacks is a big one for us. Not being tempted by convenience store fare because we have food already packed is a huge help.

  • familytravelsonabudget Jun 4, 2012

    Here's a great ROAD TRIP GARBAGE CONTAINER: line a "tupperware" cereal box with a plastic grocery bag so it folds over the edges. Attach the lid. Now, you can dump garbage in the container through the opening of the container lid without risking having garbage spill all over the car!

    Happy travels!
    Family Travels on a Budget

  • jsalabsky Jun 4, 2012

    Have a variety of snacks available. And also have a readily available garbage container ready.

  • Twittyfan Jun 4, 2012

    Luckily I have always been blessed with a great traveler from the time she was a baby until now at 12 years old.. Now that she is older and she stays awake we always write down the crazy license plates we see and the different states.. It is fun trying to figure out what the license plates mean.. lol

  • kellypratz Jun 4, 2012

    I remember when my oldest daughter was only 2 1/2 and we made a car trip to WI for a family reunion. Well I had to sit in the back with my daughter to keep her company and I must have watched "Finding Nemo" about 10 times. My daughters are now 10 & 6 and for road trips they always take a good supply of videos, books and their Nintendo DS. Keeps them occupied for awhile. We are planning a Disney trip next summer so I'm keeping my fingers crossed on that road trip. :)