crossing the state line(s): Traveling with Kids


If you are traveling cross country with kids – you’d fly right?! Nope, not me! Flying sends me to a crazy place (only since I had kids, go figure!) and I over analyze the need to pay for every sock I pack into our bags…so we drive. We make an adventure of the journey, or at least try to!

 Honest confession: sometimes the travel goes like this: 

yes, this happens too!
yes, this happens too!

For our family, it’s more like this: 

happy kid
happy kid
happy kid
happy kid
I have been traveling from Michigan to Colorado and New Mexico for years, and have only flown a few times (when the littlest was only 4 months old). Sometimes, I have been 100% solo (no other adults), and others I have been with others (husband, mom who overcame her fear of flying to join me on a return from Colorado). No matter the make up of the car riders, traveling across country with kids under the age of 8 is not an easy job.  I give HUGE credit to my sons (4 and 7 at the time of writing this) for being rock star travelers. Probably due to the fact that they started making these car travel adventures at such an early age.  
you can rock the miles with some fun.,
you can rock the miles with some fun.,
The travel was the hardest when they were rear facing, and for that time period, I suggest books, board books – and toys. I kept a big pile of them on the passenger seat (I was solo traveling) and kept  handing them one – you know, with that super mom hand that reaches to far places from the driver seat…no wonder my back is trashed. At rest stops, I would gather what was tossed aside and start again. 
As the kids get older, the travel, naturally, gets easier and more fun! Personally, I love these trips. The travel TO the destination is always a little more fun; coming home, we seem to blast through the miles and make it bearable too. 

Ten tips for making LONG car travel doable. 

1. plan ahead
2. pack FOOD, not just snacks. 
3. books – new to their eyes
4. maps
5. atlas
6. activities
(notice we are tech free at this point?) 
7. points of interest – and potty breaks
8. hotel stay
9. plan b: dvd
10. new apps on the ipad
1. PLAN AHEAD: I don’t know how our parents did long trips without the use of GPS and estimated time of arrival. Even on trips where I know exactly where I am going, I use the GPS so I know how many more moments we are in the car! 
2. Doritos are NOT food. Would you fuel your car with the wrong kind of gas? No, it wouldn’t work! Aim for carrots, whole grain crackers, cheese sticks, real deal food. Yes, you will have to vacuum your car later, but you probably would anyway. By not stopping for McD’s and choosing to eat real food, you’ll be better off too. (savings on the budget too!) 
3. A quick trip to the library, without the kids if possible, before leaving yields a free collection of books and media to help keep busy bodies and eyes occupied. Try a book on CD too. Most libraries offer an opportunity for digital loans (check out overdrive on your phone) 
4. Maps – hand your kids maps. Paper maps! A road atlas. They feel empowered when they can follow along or even help plan the route. 
5. Atlas – my son LOVES his US atlas. It offers facts about the states, its fun to read, and a decent size for car travel. We take a few moments in each state we drive in to look up their facts. Sure, I can’t remember any of the details, but he sure does. 
6. A small clip board (or a regular size for that matter) and a pad of paper with some colored pencils (not crayons) is what my youngest LOVES. My oldest made lists of all the things he saw out his window. (hello red tailed hawk). 
7. Stopping at the TT’s (tourist traps) is awesome. Catered for quick visits and pee breaks. Corn Palace and Wall Drug come to mind. Watch for the signs, challenge the kids to find them. You don’t have to buy anything either. Snap a quick photo, pee and be on your way. 
8. A hotel stay is fun for kids and necessary to keep you safe and able to drive with a good rest (not great, but good enough). We pack a separate ‘hotel only’ bag so we don’t have to unload the whole car for a quick night stop. I try to find one that offers breakfast. On our last trip cross country, I tried room service for dinner and it was awesome. 

yes, it's ok to use some technology.
yes, it’s ok to use some technology.
9. Plan B: the DVD – this is sometimes just needed. It’s HARD work keeping kids occupied for hours on end, and a DVD is perfectly fine. I like to have picked a few up from the library that celebrate where we are going or what we are doing. As well as the favorites. 
10. iPad – plan B, part 2. See number 9, and consider adding a few new apps to inspire some solid brain power. It’s ok. At least, that is what I tell myself. 
Our goal is to only stop when the car needs a fill up and our bladders need an emptying. When the car stops, everyone pees – no questions asked. We have had to make a few emergency stops on the side of the road for the littlest to relieve themselves, (thankfully I have boys – not sure what to do with a little girl, other than introduce the art of a successful squat pee!) 
So, I challenge you – close the DVD player, put away the technology, at least for a few 100 miles….the conversations, the observations and the memories that come from this time will last a life time. Perhaps even inspire a new adventure that was unplanned, and off the beaten trail. 

Here is what my passenger seat looks like: 

the pile of treasures and tricks to help tick the miles off
the pile of treasures and tricks to help tick the miles off

Happy Trails and Safe Travels. 



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