Are you hitting the open road with your kids this summer? Excited to cram as many destinations into your road trip as possible? Following are some tips to keep everyone happy and sane as you embark on the American tradition.
Encourage your kids to participate in the packing process before you leave home and, of course, each morning before you begin the next leg of your journey. Select clothing that is comfortable and easily coordinated, and layer clothing for warmth. To prolong the intervals between visits to the laundromat without overloading your vehicle’s axles, pack more under layers and fewer outer layers. Teenagers may refuse to repeat an outfit more than once on a two-week trip, but remind them that you’ll rarely be in the same location more than a few days.
Each kid should have her own “day bag” for ready access to personal electronics, toys, their lightweight outerwear and other personal items. Include a travel pillow for each child for long stretches on the road to encourage restful naps.
Soft-sided “duffel”-style luggage is easier to pack than hard-sided suitcases, and camping stores sell nylon drawstring stuff sacks in varying size that are perfect for organizing clothing by outfit or category. Some are treated with silicone for waterproofing purposes, and others have odor-reducing treatments, making them perfect for laundry or those “dirty-but-not-too-bad” items. (We all avoid having to spend valuable vacation time at the laundromat!) Opt for color-coded stuff sacks and work with your kids and spouse to develop an organizational system.
Whenever possible, maintain your family’s sleep schedule, allowing for late-night campfires or Independence Day fireworks. Children are highly adaptable but disrupted sleep patterns affect mood and stress levels. Remember that this advice extends to the adults in the family, as well. Some environments and activities—regardless of energy exertion—make people sleepier than usual, so don’t be afraid to take an afternoon off to lounge around the motel pool when your clan seems to be running a little on the ragged side.
Children and adults alike tend to have trouble sleeping away from home. Bring along everyone’s favorite pillow on your road trip or family vacay to increase the odds of a good night sleep, especially if some family members are allergic to certain materials or laundry products.
Plan some quiet downtime before lights-out so your family can relax and unwind. If you usually read to your toddlers before bedtime, continue with the routine. Give grade school aged kids journals, and have them use this time to record the day’s adventures. Encourage teens to read rather than play games on their personal electronics, as the latter does little to relax the mind before sleep.
Be sure to allow your kids to have unstructured free time throughout your road trip. Younger kids need to burn off energy, so set them loose at a playground for an hour. The opportunity to interact with children other than their siblings, to get involved in play time explorations of their own choosing, and of course, the chance for adults to stretch out and relax will refresh everyone’s attitudes and conversation topics for the next segment of the journey. Older kids and teens especially value their personal time, and as appropriate, give each a turn to pick places where the family can split up for an hour or so.
Meals are a major expense on a road trip and vacations. Besides the financial cost, junk food and commercially-packaged snacks cause energy crashes, upset stomachs, and downright bad moods. Take breaks at farm stands or farmer’s markets, and allow your kids to pick out healthy snacks for the road. Spend a little extra to book motels with kitchenettes, and prepare sandwiches, baggies of vegetables or chicken salads (grocery store rotisserie chickens are great for this) and other easy-to-fix picnic meals and snacks. Recruit your kids to help with shopping, preparation and with choosing their own daily snacks, and take advantage of reusable, inexpensive snack containers. Don’t forget to bring along a family-sized cooler and a few basic kitchen tools, and if you have room, stock up on flats of bottled water once in a while to save money.
Spend a little extra to book motels with kitchenettes, and prepare sandwiches, baggies of vegetables or chicken salads (grocery store rotisserie chickens are great for this) and other easy-to-fix, ready-to-eat favorites. Recruit your kids to help with shopping, preparation and with choosing their own daily snacks, and take advantage of reusable, inexpensive snack containers. Don’t forget to bring along a family-sized cooler and a few basic kitchen tools, and if you have room, stock up on flats of bottled water once in a while to save money.
Do you have a vacuum sealer at home? Many perishables do well when pre-portioned in advance and kept cool, though they may lose their shape a bit. Bring along peeled, hard-boiled eggs, pasta salads, cold cuts, fruit, and vegetables for quick snacks. Stock up on those unused, single-serving salad dressings and condiment packets for your trip, and keep them handy in your cooler. Let your kids pick out or even make their own trail mixes, and store them in plastic jars or large resealable freezer bags.
With a bit of preparation, you and your family will not just survive, but thrive on your summer road trip.