Are you going on a road trip with your kids? Does the thought of going on holiday with children fill you slightly with dread? Well, worry no more – I’m here to help you out! Our first family road trip was back in 2002 when our daughters were seven and four years old and we did the classic California route that’s become very popular recently: Los Angeles then travel along the coast to San Francisco; to Yosemite national park; through Death Valley to Las Vegas; to the Grand Canyon; to San Diego for Seaworld then back to LA for Disney Land. And that was pre Sat Nav – I can still hardly believe we did all that with paper maps! Anyway, since then we’ve done a variation of that loop three more times and several camper van holidays in the UK from long weekends to a three-week tour of iron-age sites. Last year we drove from Washington DC to Orlando via Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans. I feel that we’ve got pretty good at road-tripping by now……
- Supermarkets and snacks. Often on a road-trip you’re not sure when or where you’re going to get a meal, and that can lead to the need for some serious snacking to get you through. No-one wants to be hangry on a road-trip. So one of the first things you should always do is find a supermarket and stock up. This has actually become one of the most enjoyable rituals for us! Particularly when you’re in a different country and haven’t seen half the products before. Supermarkets will be your friend on a road-trip – not only do they contain snacks, but they have toilets and sometimes a cafe too. Put a time-limit on those breaks though – a Walmart in America can suck half a day easily!
- Entertainment. Kids tablets, (check charging cables etc) audio books and podcasts. Harry Potter, and His Dark Materials, to Serial and S-Town. Don’t feel guilty for the long periods of time you’re traveling and they’re possibly a bit bored. It’s more than made up for by the full attention they get from you when you’re visiting somewhere. And the snacks.
- Research places to stop, but also be spontaneous. Our best road-trip moments have been when we decided to stop for a few minutes at the nearest beach and watch the sun set. Or the crazy but magical Foamhenge in Virginia where we all saw fireflies for the first time. When we’ve asked the kids for their highlights of the holiday, it’s often been those short but sweet breaks that make it to the top of the list, and they’re the ones that don’t cost anything either. If you’re road-tripping in the UK, then a family National Trust membership would be a very good investment. Free car parking in beautiful quiet countryside locations. Plus there’ll be the all-important toilets and a cafe, and often an adventure playground.
- Loo breaks. Accept them, and then you won’t get so cross about them! It is inevitable that just as you get in the flow of driving and become comfortable again (quite possibly on the wrong side of the road), you’re bound to hear from the back, ‘Mummy, I need the loo!’ Just take a deep breath and pull in at the next service station or McDonalds. Have an ice cream while you’re there to ease the pain.
5. Don’t be in a rush. We once had to skip out a night in San Fransisco entirely because we came down the mountain the wrong way at Yosemite! We had fun instead imagining what sort-of lives the people led who lived in the really dodgy looking homes we passed! So be realistic from the start that you might not get to do everything you want to, particularly if something goes wrong.
6. Following on from that point, don’t always tell the kids exactly where it is you’re planning on going because on a road-trip plans can change. Our daughters were very disappointed when we didn’t manage to get tickets to go to Alcatraz, and sometimes they thought we were going somewhere really boring when in fact it turned out they loved it. Having said that, it has worked out well for us to know that we were going to end up at Disneyland no matter what. Or in the UK, ending up with a day at the beach is just as good (almost!) as these things give them something to look forward to during the bits that they may find boring.
7. Visit places for you as well. Don’t focus entirely on children-centric activities, particularly if you’re traveling an area it’s unlikely you’ll go back to any time soon, as you’ll regret not going to that art gallery later. Do some research before you go as the internet is a fantastic resource for useful information. Children’s audio guides; maps; activities like having a list of particular things to find in a museum can often be found and downloaded or copied out so the little ones are more engaged in the place you’re visiting.
Are you going on a family road trip this summer? If so, let me know where you’re going! And please share any tips!