The Survival Guide to Family Roadtrips

As someone who tends to only choose vacation destinations that are within a three-hour drive of our home (or from the airport to our destination, if we’re flying somewhere), I am in awe of my adventurous, friends who manage to log long hours in the car with their kids year after year. So I asked the most intrepid family road-trip veterans among them—with the mileage to prove it—to share their best advice on how to survive and, yes, enjoy family life on the road.

DO AS THE LOCALS

“For pit-stops in towns you don’t know, ask the local stroller-pushers where to find the best playgrounds and swimming spots.”
– Jen, mom of two, drove 1,800 miles round-trip on a family vacation

“Plan your route to maximize active pit stops at parks and conservation areas. And when driving off major highways, research towns with kid-friendly restaurants in advance.”
– Patrick, dad of two, recently returned from a 1,250 mile trip with both kids

STEADY AS SHE GOES

“We keep the AC on high and give the kids ice water. I also recommend upgrading to leather seats if possible, or at least lining the floor and car seat with an old blanket to make clean-up easier if you have a child who tends to get sick often…”
– Grace, mom of two, logged 1,300 miles in 10 days

“I make a peppermint essential oil roller and the kids use it on the backs of their hands when they feel sick. It really works! Mint Tic-Tacs are good too, so I always keep them in the glove compartment.” – Jen

SNACK LIKE A CHAMP

“I like to keep snacks somewhere the kids can reach easily, like in a cooler in the back between their seats. My oldest loves being in charge of handing out sandwiches to everyone.”
– Lea, mom of two, drove 380 miles through the Rocky Mountains in one day

“I give them tiny snacks, like berries, to eat one or two at a time.” – Grace

LET ME ENTERTAIN YOU

“For young babies, try having one parent sit in the back with them while they’re awake to keep them entertained and happy. For older kids, we like to pack a backpack of favorite toys they can get into themselves. A little freezer bag full of Lego can keep them busy for a solid half-hour!”
– Abbie, mom of two, regularly drives 900 miles round-trip to visit her family

“Set aside any guilt you may have about playing movies for your kids in the car. It’s a survival strategy.” – Jen

“On long trips, it’s all about making any activity last as long as possible. I bring a box of random things to hand the baby every five minutes (from a whisk to an old-school radio), and sometimes even slide things down a rope to get to them.” – Grace

“Our rule is no kid music; adults (the driver, really) have ultimate DJ power. And to help avoid the “Are we there yet?” whining, I put stickers on the ceiling, with each sticker representing half-hour increments. If you’re stopping for lunch in an hour-and-a-half, put three stickers on the ceiling and take one off for every half hour. And when you do stop, everyone pees, no matter what.”
– Devon, mom of three, drove 1,365 miles in two days

BONUS ROUND: ULTIMATE ROAD WARRIOR

“We drove from our home in the San Francisco Bay Area to Death Valley and Zion National Park in Utah when our youngest was only four months-old and not a fan of the car seat. We ended up packing up camp and leaving everyday at 3 a.m.—a time when my husband had gotten (some) sleep but before the kids were awake. I would do a 2 a.m. feed with the baby as usual, wake up my husband, carry the kids into the car and go. No traffic, no fussing!  Now we always try to leave as early as possible to get some hours in before the kids wake up for the day.”
– Allison, mom of three, drove 1,400 miles in three days