8 Tested Tips for Road Tripping with Kids

Ahhh...the open road.

Last year, right after Christmas, my husband and I decided last minute to take a road trip during his 10 days off. With a limited budget, two kids (one recently potty trained), and a vague idea that we’d always wanted to visit “the deep south,” we set off. And so, like two complete lunatics, we drove from Montreal (where we lived at the time) down to Savannah, Georgia.

Google Maps informed us that it was about an 18-hour drive, covering 1,164 miles. We had 10 days! Plenty of time! Let’s go to Charleston, South Carolina, while we’re at it!

A mere 18-hour journey with two small kids. Sounds like fun, right?

With that as our plan, we set off with our almost-3-year-old and 1-year-old. Also, big fans of German engineering and fuel economy, we drove our Volkswagen Rabbit four-door hatchback. Hippies, you say? Maybe… but not really. Mostly, we throw caution to the wind and really enjoy getting out onto the open road and seeing where the day will take us. Life is more interesting that way — especially as a parent.

It was a great trip (seriously), and here are my top eight tips for survival in the car, on the road, and in hotels. Here’s to staying footloose and fancy free as road-tripping parents!

1. For your listening pleasure

Get some good music and audio books for the car. This will save you when total hysteria sets in. Music and singing always calm the craziest toddler. Roald Dahl audiobooks are highly recommended. Brush up on your kid songs and get everyone to sing along.

2. Bring a potty

This one is pretty obvious. Still, it’s worth mentioning. Don’t forget it!

3. Freeway hotels can be great

Choose one with a pool! I see the logos for the Double Tree, Hilton Garden Inn, or Super 8 and I can almost smell the bleached sheets. You’ll experience a little slice of America in the breakfast room while you wait for your waffles to beep. Watch CNN guilt free, splash in the hotel pool, and then be on your way.

4. Bring your own bed

The Baby Bjorn travel crib is quite possibly the best investment we ever made when it comes to kid paraphernalia that you’re unsure whether to buy. You can set it up in literally five seconds, deposit your screaming child into it, and have her fall asleep while holding onto her favorite lovey. Ease of setup cannot be underscored enough here. You can risk it and use the hotel’s pack and play, but why would you want to fiddle around with it for 30 minutes while your child goes nuts? Just don’t.

5. Get a room

Hotel booking apps on your phone like Hotel Tonight, Trip Advisor, and Tablet Hotels are pretty great. Also, booking.com and hotels.com get you a very good rate with reviews you can trust. Many times we’d just let the GPS bring us to the nearest hotel, and one of us would walk in (usually late) and ask what rate they had for the night. Oftentimes, we got a very favorable rate as by that time they’d given up selling rooms for the night.

Stroller napping on New Year's eve.
Stroller napping on New Year’s Eve.

6. Naps aren’t going to happen… often

This is a reality of the footloose and fancy-free parent. If you’re in the car, naps could happen. When we were out exploring Charleston (one of the most beautiful American cities I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing), we didn’t bother going back to the hotel for naps because we had such limited time. Generally, this went OK, and the kids fell asleep early at night. Road tripping is not for the weak-at-heart parent. Naps will happen in the car or in the stroller or not at all and you have to be OK with that.

7. Say no to McDonalds

To Cracker Barrel as well. Hit up a supermarket, get some hummus, celery, carrots, and mini bagels, and voila, you have healthy car snacks. Fast food doesn’t make anyone feel good.

New Year's eve in Savannah, GA.
New Year’s Eve in Savannah, GA.

8. Make sure you have time, and then take your time

Relax. This is fun! Sometimes it’s not, but most of the time it’s worth it. No, we weren’t out at midnight in Savannah as the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, we were in our hotel room, drinking champagne and jumping on the beds (I’m not kidding) while the kids were passed out.