From Halifax to North Conway, New Hampshire is approximately 950 kilometres – which works out to about a kajillion kilometres in small child time. We went on our first major family road trip vacation this summer (having never taken the kids on a trip longer than two to three hours in the car before) and my husband and I worried about the long car ride extensively, to the point of nearly cancelling the whole thing a couple weeks out.
Buuuut the kids did way better than we thought – in fact, not once did we pull over and threaten to turn the car around!
Based on our experience, here are our top dos and don’ts for road tripping with little ones.
Pack lots of snacks.
As in, pack all the snacks you think you’ll need, and then pack some more. I made a kiddie trail mix by throwing bags of goldfish crackers, pretzels, and teddy grahams in a big bowl, mixing it up, then separating them into little sealed snack baggies. I then filled a big box full of these little baggies, along with real fruit leathers, and granola bars. We drank water which was easily refillable at rest stops.
Plan lots of fun stops along the way.
We tried to limit car time to about three hours before we’d find a place to stop. We had our first stop at a friend’s house in Moncton where the kids played with their buddies, she served us a delicious lunch, and we were back on the road two hours later. We then stopped in St Stephen where we quickly googled a playground in Chocolate Park (which, sadly, had no chocolate) to let the kids burn off some energy. We only spent about 30 minutes there but it gave them a boost of fresh air and exercise they needed to be ready to go again.
Teach your kids it’s fun to pee on the side of the road BEFORE the trip.
I stuffed a bag to the brim with activity books, little toys and more and ended up really using only a few things from it. They had car seat trays which were a gift from their grandparents and which worked wonderfully for colouring, driving toy cars on and eating lunch with minimal mess. For play though they mostly played with a couple favourite stuffed animals and toy cars, looked at books, did the occasional road scavenger hunt, and were given a small amount of time each on the LeapPad every few hours. Kids have great imaginations and need very little to keep them entertained if you give them the opportunity to try.
Pull out the goodies too quickly.
We made it a rule that the first part of each ride they had to entertain themselves with the few items they had in a bin between their seats (a couple books, colouring, little toys and cars) and no snacks at the start of the trip. More often then not, they’d start playing or singing and lose track of time. Once they started to get tired of that play, then I’d pull out something special to switch things up. I learned that if I pulled new activities out too early I’d end up spending the whole time trying to up the ante as they wanted to see what else was available two minutes after getting something new. I also didn’t let them know about certain things I knew they’d really like in the bag so there would be some surprises along the way when we really needed a distraction.
As we learned, we often underestimate our kids’ abilities. Even at “almost 3” and “almost 5” they were wonderful travel companions and we are actually looking forward to future trips with them.
Good luck and happy road tripping!