Eight Tips to Planning a Road Trip with Kids

“You’re brave!” I heard this comment many times before, during, and after our five-day road tripping adventure. I’m pretty sure when people heard that I was traveling solo with a 5-year-old, 2-year-old, 2-year-old, and 1-year-old, “You’re brave” was code for “You’re crazy!” It was said in a variety of ways: sometimes with a tone of astonishment, sometimes admiration, and occasionally a tinge of judgement. I’m still not sure if I’m brave or if I’m crazy, but we made it to the other side and I am looking forward to sharing both our highlights and our low points along the way.

I’m going to break this down into three posts, naturally it will be: the beginning, the middle, and the end. The thoughts seem to divide themselves in this way and will hopefully provide different insights for others planning similar trips of their own. This first post is about what I did to prepare, the second includes all our stops, and the last post shares lessons learned.

There were a lot of reasons I decided to embark on this journey and part of the reason was to dispel the myths I was telling myself about what we were capable of doing. I get out with the kids almost every day, but I always have the feeling that while we may make it to local hikes or attractions, it seemed daunting to go anywhere beyond an hour’s drive home. I have never liked the feeling of external limitations and I don’t want my kids to grow up feeling that burden either. However, I also don’t want to be reckless with our safety. Therein lies the balancing act of life.

I’ve learned even more along the way, but these were the steps of preparation that helped to make the trip successful:

Detailed, color-coded road trip itinerary

#1 Detailed, color-coded itinerary with a flexible mindset. Laminated. I planned out in detail a possible schedule for the entire trip. I didn’t have my heart set on any stop along the way, but I wanted to have a planned path and make decisions to stay on or veer off that path. I also liked having one, color-coded sheet with all the addresses along the way. As a teacher, I’ve always been a sucker for school supplies and that has seeped into my parenting. It was like the cherry on top to use our home laminator to give our guiding plan the protection to weather the trip with us.  You’ll want the pouches too; laminating is its own wonderful addiction.

#2 Insights from Trip Advisor – The reviews and suggestions from Trip Advisor helped to brainstorm and plan to keep the trip interesting and safe. It also helped us find hidden gems we wouldn’t have known about through Google searches alone.

#3 Packing a separate bag for each hotel – The idea of lugging heavy bags while also wrangling the kids was a bit overwhelming. After comparing our agenda to the weather in that city, I packed a bag for each time we would need to check in. Each bag included jammies, outfits, wipes, diapers, socks, and undies. There were 2 smaller bags that came into each hotel. One included the paperwork, laptop, and chargers. The second had toiletries and I tossed in the remainder of that day’s snacks. I also labeled the bags clearly with city and day, so I’d easily know which one to grab.   

#4 Snacks packed for each day – We live off Costco snacks and I knew elements of familiarity would be hard to find on the road. Before the trip I packed a gallon sized plastic bag for each day of the trip. There was basically one of everything for each kid each day: applesauce, veggie straws, fig bars, raisins, Belvita bars (our new family fav), trail mix, and fruit leathers. I also packed a treat item like a Hershey kiss in case we hit any rough patches along the way.

#5 Picking hotels that include breakfast – After spending the duration of my childhood with a parent working at the Marriott, we have a bias to Springhill Suites and Fairfield Inns. The service is consistent and kind, the breakfasts are delicious and predictable, and the rooms are clean and safe. Starting the day with a hearty breakfast and grabbing some food for on-the-go helped to make the trip healthy and cost efficient. I also read the reviews of each hotel prior to booking them to ensure they were in a safe area and would be family friendly.

#6 Rhythm and Routine – It would have been impossible to maintain the same routines we have at home, but I wanted to plan for our days to have a similar rhythm. I tried to plan where we would wake up and adventure, drive during nap times, check-in to the hotel, and then do a second activity. It wasn’t always possible, but planning the trip around that structure was a goal to parallel our day-to-day lives.

#7 A packing checklist that I can revisit for future trips – It may seem silly, but to this professional list maker, a checklist is gold. I can look back at exactly what we packed and what we ended up needing. As we look forward to the next trip, I won’t be starting from scratch. Even though I assume I’ll always remember a tooth brush, it’s nice to take the weight of remembering out of my brain and give it to a checklist.

#8 A Travel Guidebook – I didn’t use a book to plan the travel this time because I couldn’t find one that fit our path, but I am a hold-it-in-my-hands kind of planner. As I look forward to traveling more with the kids, I think this book will be useful in giving the kids some control in the planning. I think their influence in choosing our stops will help to bring excitement, anticipation, and enthusiasm for all.

What else do you do to prepare for your trips with the littlest travelers?

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