I travel with my family every three months or so. My parents live almost 6 hours away so my kids have been hitting the road since they were infants. We also take family vacations via plane, short train trips, bike rides, long walks, you get the idea. We are a family that loves to travel and collect experiences. I wanted to share my family travel tips to save YOUR sanity, because it needs to be enjoyable for you as well! If mom isn’t happy…you get the idea.
Pack a Lunch
After my kids were old enough to eat in the car without fear of them choking, I let them have snacks. I used to pack a massive bag of snacks and upon request would dig around while driving. NOTE: Do NOT do this. It isn’t safe, and I realized very quickly that distractions while driving are incredibly dangerous.
I found that if I packed each of my children a lunch as if they were heading to school they could be more independent. I made sure to only include snacks that had a low-choke risk (no grapes, no hot dogs, you know the drill). Sure, we would stop at McDonalds on occasion as a treat but with a 6-hour trip I wanted the majority of the food to be healthy and accessible. I also don’t want to kill the Earth with a million single-use plastic bags. I tried many types of BPA-free silicone re-usable food bags and Stasher came out on top. They are easy to clean (dishwasher!), simple to open and close, are microwave-safe and work in the freezer.
I adore the PackIt Lunch Boxes because they have freezer packs built in. You simply toss it in the freezer at night and in the morning you don’t have to search for (or clean, ewwww) ice packs. They have cute designs, fold flat and are easy to clean.
Another of my family travel tips involves liquids. You need to find that perfect balance between dehydration and a million bathroom stops. I find that a kids water bottle filled about halfway up works for my children. In terms of the best water bottles, the Contigo Kids Gizmo is my top pick. It won’t spill, is BPA-free, features a handle you can attach to their backpack with a carabiner, and has a tethered straw that won’t get lost. I always bring reusable water bottles for my kids on vacation- they come in handy, even as a nighttime water source.
Keep Them Cozy
I LOVE when my kids nap in the car or on an airplane. For me, it means a better mood the rest of the day. We usually have to disrupt their sleep schedules in order to leave on time, and my children do not do well with a lack of sleep.
When they were babies, they would automatically doze off in the car because the rocking motion would lull them to sleep. As they became toddlers, the frequency of naps decreased and they wanted to chatter away or fight with each other. I would bring blankets and pillows with us from home, but they were often too big and bulky, taking up precious cargo space. Also, my kids would inevitably spill food/drinks on them!
A colleague of mine sent over Pillowie– part stuffed animal, part blanket, part pillow. This is the ultimate travel accessory, especially because it is machine washable and incredibly soft. I gave them to my kids on our most recent road trip to Michigan, and they fell in love.
The “pillow” creature is reversible, so any dirt and grime that gets on the outside stays off your kid when they sleep. It comes with a blanket that folds up to be stashed inside, securely staying put so you don’t have to worry about dropping it on the ground. It also has snaps to transform into a cape, because what child doesn’t love playing the super hero?
A convenient handle lets little hands hang on to Pillowie, or you can use a carabiner and hang it from their backpack. The fact that this product is three in one is a miracle. I allow my kids one stuffed animal in the car or on the plane, and they usually try to pick the most massive one of the bunch. Pillowie solves the stuffed animal issue, and provides a pillow and blanket as well.
Tip- when your kids goes on a sleepover, tuck their pjs, toothbrush and a love note inside the Pillowie instead of packing a bag! Pillowie comes in a variety of cute animals and colors so you can personalize it to your child’s preferences.
Take a Table
My son can be a procrastinator when it comes to school work (must take after his mom). It doesn’t bother him to complete math homework mere minutes before he has to dash inside the school doors. Instead of nagging him to work at night instead, I bought him a lap tray at Michael’s and keep it in the car.
I realized that this is a perfect item for hitting the road as well! This is one of my family travel tips that can work during everyday life in addition to road trips. The ones I have are often on sale at Michael’s for around $5, come in a variety of colors, and have storage on the side for pens/pencils. This is ideal when you have two kids that constantly lose writing utensils. There are some lap desks available that have device stands, zippered pencil pockets and water bottle holders. I like the one below because it has a dry erase table top and can fold up, unlike the one that I bought.
This has been a lifesaver in terms of allowing my kids to eat in the car! Finally, a space to steadily squirt ketchup that doesn’t involve a lap and laundry. If you aren’t a device family, this provides a coloring surface, a place for puzzles, and a dance floor for dolls.
Nix the Noise
Before I realized that headphones were a good idea, I would forego my own horribly inappropriate but road trip-worthy music so my kids could listen to their movies. Um…no. First of all, this is incredibly distracting for the driver. Ambulance or police sirens in the movie always made me jump, thinking that my lead foot ruled once again. Somehow my kids figured out how to crank the volume to max on the sly, and I wouldn’t be able to manage it from behind the wheel.
I was always nervous about pumping sound directly into my children’s ears. I was also (unnecessarily?) nervous about cords tangling themselves around my kids’ necks. I finally found headphones for them that were cord-free and truly volume-limiting- Puro Sound Labs BT2200. I also love the fact that there is an option for cords if my kids forget to charge them.
Warning: These aren’t inexpensive. They run around $60, but totally worth it in my opinion for the true volume-limiting capabilities. The company, Puro, tested many other kids headphones on the market and found that they exceeded the safe volume limit. Kind of terrifying, right?
Toss the Trash
Before I installed a trash can in our car, the floor of the back seat reminded me of road trips to Florida from my college days. Trash lingered a foot deep, half-eaten granola bars smashed into the carpet. Once I finally purchased and instituted a trash can, 90% of the mess was eliminated. The rule I put in place was if you toss food or food-related paraphernalia on the floor you don’t get to eat in the car anymore that day. This was pretty petrifying for my kids when their sibling was scarfing Pirate’s Booty by the pound and they were left hungry.
I tried keeping a random plastic bag in the car to contain trash- that didn’t work because I would throw it away and start from square one. Other trash cans without a tether would tip over, again creating the same mess we began with. I figured out I needed a trash can that could securely adhere to some part in my vehicle. It also needed to be waterproof (it gets super stinky and needs to be wiped down), fairly large capacity, and hold a garbage bag securely. I never thought a trash can for my car would be one of the family travel tips I would share, but it is a mandatory item in our vehicle.
Play a Podcast
Ok, your kids are set- they have headphones, a table, a trash can, and food. They can survive without your intervention for hours. How about you? What are you going to do to pass the time?
I used to listen to books on tape (is that an outdated term because cassette players are no longer in existence?). I have since made the switch to podcasts. This is one of my family travel tips that is for YOU, and yes, you matter. At first, I didn’t realize that podcasts were FREE. I still am amazed that they can broadcast all of this incredible information gratis to the listener. Yes, I understand the sponsorship and ad structure but STILL.
Here are a few of my favorite podcasts. Can you tell I am amazed by entrepreneurs?
- Second Life– chronicling female entrepreneurs who have made the successful pivot from one career to another
- How I Built This– this NPR podcast interviews entrepreneurs from all walks of life and businesses; hosted by Guy Raz who has an adorably eager-bordering-on-geeky voice
- From Scratch– another entrepreneurial podcast…still great
- Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations– Oprah interviews thought leaders and experts in all areas
- Unstyled– for all my fashion lovers, this show is hosted by the Co-Founder of Refinery 29. It tells stories of life, work and love with references to what we wear.
- Oprah’s Master Class– Oprah interviews some of the most famous people of our time as they reflect upon life and share personal insights.
- Up and Vanished– true crime, gripping and addictive.
- I wish I could list Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard but I just can’t. I do not understand the appeal but others seem to love it. So give it a try, then call an explain to me why it is so popular.
I hope you use some of these family travel tips to make your world a little more bearable as you navigate the wonderful world. Cheers to enjoying your trips instead of dreading them!
Disclosure: I received some of these items for review purposes. All opinions are honest and my own as always.