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Helpful Tips for Road Trips with Kids

Road Trips with kids

In times gone by a road trip was something fun to look forward to.  An adventure to be filled with snacks, chatting and singing loudly to Take That.  Now that we have 4 kids to consider it could be the stuff of nightmares and yet every year for the past 4 years we have piled the car high with stuff and people and made the very long drive to South West France.  We have learnt a lot from our mistakes and so I am sharing helpful tips for road trips with kids.

Why do we do it?

You would be forgiven for wondering why we put ourselves through this when there are perfectly good airports in France and plenty of other places we could fly to….  Well firstly I, irrationally, hate flying.  The fear and dread that it causes me is frankly a hindrance to all concerned so it is often just not worth doing it.  I will be stressed for weeks before – like I said irrational!!  Also flying with kids is not always the easiest thing to do.

More practically though there are some plus points to driving to your holiday destination:

  • We can easily and more cheaply bring all the gubbins that small children need.  Until recently we would have to travel with 2 travel cots, nappies, a double buggy and four car seats and that was just the minimum.  Of course we could have hired all the equipment, but this really does get very expensive so it is much cheaper to take our car
  • It is actually easier; dragging four excited children through an airport is just no fun
  • It gives us flexibility so we can do what we want when we want;  if we need to stop on the way we can which means we can be more responsive to the kids needs
  • We get to visit more than one place on each trip;   we always do a two centre holiday so we go to our favourite place to start with and then on the way back choose a new place to try out

So once a year we plan to drive around 10.5hrs with 6 people in a car.  So far we have done this without wanting to strangle one another so we must be getting something right.  Hopefully the tips below on road trips with kids will mean that you, my lovely readers, don’t have to live through the many mistakes we have lived through.  A 2hr stint driving in circles near Versailles at 1am that culminated in a very pukey little girl and a right mess still haunts me!!  Oh and make sure that you service that car before you get going!

Top Tips for Road Trips with Kids

  1. If you can stand it and if you feel it is safe for you to do so, drive as much as possible at night.  We leave mid afternoon and get an early evening eurostar then after a dinner stop the children all get ready for bed and it is sleep time
  2. Try to convince any younger (newer to being toliet trained) kids to wear a pull up for the journey.  They may not be happy about it, but it is better than the alterantive if they tell you they need the loo at the last minute as you can’t just stop on a motorway
  3. Allow extra time for stoppages;  it does take longer when you have kids in the car as you always have to stop for longer periods.  Again driving at night does help with this, but still we always add on a couple of hours to what the sat nav says when we start and that way we are not agitated when it is taking longer
  4. Plan out your meals – we try to think about where and when we will stop.  Lots of the French motorway stops have playgrounds or just large grassed areas where the kids can really burn off some energy, but check in the country you are visiting
  5. Invest in a plug in cool box so you can bring your own meals. The service stations do tend to get very busy especially in school holidays and even if they aren’t busy lets face it the food offerings tend not to be fantastic.  If you have a cool box you can actually bring your own food.  I pack a dinner and a breakfast for us all before we leave and then we know we can stop at any of the picnic areas (widely available on French motorways)
  6. Check out how the local motorways work;  we drive through France and they have toll roads so we have bought a French toll pass which means we don’t have to have cash to hand and can go through the fast lane at the tolls.  This genuinely does shorten the journey time
  7. If you have a roof box try to research any height restrictions on motorways before programming the SAT Nav.  We learnt this to our cost – see above about driving in circles and puke!
  8. Pack a surprise bag of activities for each child.  I tend to include sticker books, water painting, magnet building toys, small toy characters such as star wars figures and a magazine
  9. Snack pots – each of my kids have one of the skip hop snack post and this makes a huge difference when we are on a road trip as they make less mess with the snacks and are less likely to throw the snacks everywhere
  10. If you plan to drive through the night take it in turns to have a nap that morning so that you are as well rested as possible
  11. Even if you don’t normally like your children to have electronic devices I really recommend having something that they can watch a movie on.  Just think that is like 90 mins take care of
  12. Be ready to play games – you are more than likely to need to play i spy alot!!
  13. Pack a travel sickness bag;  I put in kitchen roll, wipes, dettol wipes, change of clothes, plastic bags, waterproof bed mats, waterproof apron and sick bags
  14. Don’t forget waterproof car seat liners.  You can buy these for less then £10 each and they will save you if anyone spills anything, has an accident or is sick.  No one wants to sit in a wet car seat so these are worth every penny
  15. If you have a child who is prone to car sickness (I have two) then medication may be an option, but it can have side effects so consult your doctor.  Other things you can do include training them to use a sick bag (our 3 year old can do it), getting them to wear a waterproof apron, making sure they look up as much as possible and again driving at night helps as they will sleep more

Good luck with your road trips with kids this summer.  Another useful articles I found is: Honestly it can be fun and if it isn’t then at least your holiday waits at the other end!

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Wanderlust Kids

50 thoughts on “Helpful Tips for Road Trips with Kids”

  1. Great tips! We used to take road trips with our 3 children when they were young, and invariably a fight (or 8) broke out. We use some of these tips when traveling with grandkids, and have a much more pleasant time.

  2. There are some really great tips here. We did a roadtrip with our two in 2013 to florida. we had a blast but it wasn’t without it’s challenges – we want to do it again – and this time can encompass some of your tips. #Dreamteam

  3. Great tips and just right for this time of year and oh the memories of accidents in the car and realising once I became an expert parent (tongue firmily in cheek) to have plastic bags to cover spillages if necessary. You will make some journeys this year so much more pleasant for families who read this post #DreamTeam

  4. We travelled around france a cOuple of years ago and got caught In the strikes at doVer with a one year old and 7 year old. 24 hours stuck in the car before even getting on the boat. I wish i had someone give me some of these ideas before that! X #dReamteam

  5. Oh! I love car games! We like to play the alphabet game and find all the letters of the alphabet in order. The first one to get to the end, wins. We also love slug bug, but that one tends to end in fights haha!

  6. Some useful stuff here, I especially like the “Surprise activity bag” – I normally have something in the car, including as you suggest the tablet with a few movies on it – but the added excitement of a surprise bag is something I’ll adopt in future.

    Some Ideas for travel games – easy to pack and good for both the journey and the destination – I’ve listed in “Great games to take on holiday” on my blog.

  7. Emma : Ettie and Me

    Some great tips here, a couple of times a year we have to travel from Brighton to Cumbria and with an ever growing family i’ll be keeping these tips in mind #dreamteam

  8. Our most recent vacay was a 9 hour Car trip down, and a 12 hour car trip back!
    We do a lot of the things you say. And oh, how i feel so sad for those that get carsick. My Big can so easily. <3 Great tips xoxo

    1. Last night we drove across France and I could be found mopping up sick from my daughter (I forgot to give her the medicine – ahhhh!) on the side of the road. Not my finest hour. Thanks for joining us on the #DreamTeam

    1. It definitely makes it much easier and when you get to your destination it can be the beer or wine fridge! Thanks for being with the #DreamTeam

    1. Im not going to lie I liked them better before the kids were involved 😉 Last night we drove from south west france to paris and around 5am this morning I could be found in layby clearing up travel sickness – grrrr!!

  9. Brilliant tips Kirsty. I love the idea of bringing breakfast and lunch, and also the goodie bags are a very clever idea to have up your sleeve. We’ve only very recently tried loading the ipad with a movie or two for long trips out – it really does help! Thanks for being such a fab #dreamteam host xx

  10. love this post. we normally fly for all our holidays but are thinking of doing the ferry/car thing next year and it will be the first big road trip since having our youngest. I’m going to pin this to look back on next year. #wanderlustkids

    1. Thanks Claire. We are now back from yet another long road trip and we all survived! I would totally recommend it as it is great to be able to take everything you need in the car

  11. These are all great tips. We did two x13 hour trips last year and our son managed them brilliantly (age 3). We drove through the day (once because of jet lag), and found it was helpful to stop every few hours to each, use the toilet and stretch our legs. We love road trips and plan to do as many as we can as a family!
    Thanks for linking up to #wanderlustkids

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