Road trips are basically a right of passage for kids. Who hasn’t spent a week crammed in their car with their family as they made their way across the states to some magical destination? While kids usually look back fondly on those memories, it is often the parents that have moments of what-did-I-get-myself-into doubt in those endless miles. Before you hit the road this summer with kids in tow, be sure to use a checklist to pack the essentials and then keep in mind some of our tips below to help keep everyone happy, entertained, and maybe even prevent some whining and help save your sanity.
Bring the Comforts of Home
Long road trips usually mean having to sit still in a perhaps not so comfortable position for a long amount of time. This can be hard to do for adults, so I don’t blame kids when they get squirmy. Obviously the best scenario is to have a comfortable vehicle, with lux perks to make the ride more enjoyable. We love the 2019 Kia Sorento for this reason. There are thoughtful perks scattered throughout the vehicle, no matter which seat you’re in and whether or not you realize they are even there.
The driver gets to enjoy creature comforts like Smart Cruise Control, which is amazing for those long, boring stretches where your lead foot could get you in trouble. Why smart? Well, it automatically adjusts speed and even braking depending on the vehicle in front of you. We had someone cut us off unexpectedly, and the Sorento sensed this, braked and put a safe distance between us – all on it’s own! Then there is the Smart Shift & Drive feature that automatically activates the optimum drive mode for you (Eco, Sport or Smart) based on your driving style. Not only is this done without you even knowing, but it also means a smoother ride and the best possible MPG. Of course, Dad is always happy about saving money at the gas station, so this might be his favorite feature.
As a passenger, my pet peeve on long trips is that I’m always craving a different cabin temperature than the driver. While the rear vents keep the kids happy, the dual-zone automatic temperature control up front doesn’t always do the trick for me. I’m that person complaining that I’m hot, but I don’t like having air blowing on my face or arms. In these situations, I’m thrilled we have heated and ventilated seats so I can create my own perfect temperature without even using the vents!
Kids always need anything to nap or rest within arms reach while road tripping. Make sure they have that favorite pillow or their blankie and keep it where they can grab whenever they need it. You can also get fun travel pillows for kids to prevent that painful dangling head tilt they do when they fall asleep, or, you’re lucky enough to have reclining rear seats like we do! If the kids are comfortable, chances are they will sleep a lot longer and wake up in a decent mood. (Hopefully – lol).
It isn’t easy to keep little ones entertained while they are strapped to a seat so make sure you have a wide variety for them to choose from, depending on your child’s personality.
Entertainment Sans Screens
If you don’t love the idea of constant screen time while traveling, consider audio books. Let the kids listen to them on their own devices or listen as a family and discuss each chapter. Here is a great list of family friendly audio books your kids and even you will enjoy. We got hooked on the Harry Potter series and actually looked forward to longer stretches of road so that we could hear more of the story. If you have a great sound system in your vehicle like our Sorento does, a cool 10-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system, it’s really easy to get immersed into the story and it makes the time fly by!
When your ears are tired and you need a break from listening to a book, let the kids get creative and do some coloring, journaling or even write postcards as you go. There are plenty of travel friendly activity desks to give them the room and stability to color, draw, and write. They can have their own little creativity station to play at their heart’s content.
Bring a Friend
If you have an only child, consider bringing along a friend or cousin on the trip. The kids tend to entertain each other, both in the car and out, which allows the adults to have a bit more free time. Having a buddy to catch grasshoppers with while you settle in for the evening or just someone to occupy the back seat with them is absolutely worth any squabbles they might get into.
While we aim to stay analog for as much of the trip as possible so we can use the time to bond as a family, sometimes everyone just needs some “me” time. For these we make sure to download plenty of movies, music, shows, and games before we leave the house so we can use our devices where and whenever, no WiFi necessary. We always pack a pair of kid-friendly headphones so we don’t have to listen to the same movie for the tenth time. For longer trips, this back seat organizer holds an iPad, as well as a variety of other items from drinks to toys and even has a shelf/desk. It’s like they have their own little entertainment station.
Since our 2019 Kia Sorento has a bunch of power options, (four 12 V outlets, two USB rapid-charging ports, one 110V inverter, and one AUX/USB port!), we are pretty much never out of power. I especially love that I can now charge my iPhone X wirelessly because I’m always forgetting that darn cable or I have to give up my only cable to my husband or son for their device. Now I never need to worry about not being able to charge my phone! In case your vehicle only has USB chargers up front or, gasp, not at all, be sure to invest in a multi-charging system to keep everyone happy.
I feel like this is a given, but pack snacks and lots of them! Bring a variety for everyone in the car, but be conscious of what you are feeding those kids. If you normally give them sugary snacks packed with empty calories, I promise you will regret it on a road trip. It is only going to make them go crazy in the backseat and drive you crazy in the front seat. Try give them something light that will satisfy hunger but not ruin their appetite at meal time.
We recently discovered Hippeas and found that are a great snack to toss in the car for a road trip. These yummy puffs come in five different flavors, and they are made from organic chickpeas. Hippeas are certified gluten-free, vegan, kosher, and non-GMO to accommodate most dietary restrictions. The company even partners with Farm Africa to help those in poverty build a better life through farming (delicious and environmentally-conscious). They make for an easy snack to tame hunger and hold off whining until the next meal. We also pack water instead of juice or soda, and fresh fruit that doesn’t spoil quickly like apples, oranges and bananas.
Learn Some Geography
Don’t waste a great teaching moment! Traveling is the perfect time to learn some geography and talk about the history of towns or states. If you’re taking a cross country trip, this scratch off map is awesome. Have the kids scratch off each state you drive through. For older children, go old school and give them a paper map with your route outlined and have them help you navigate. Sometimes allowing them to feel as if they have some control over the situation makes them more patient and understanding…Sometimes. National Geographic has its own interactive mapmaker which allows you to customize your very own map so your kids can help in planning the route and pick roadside attractions they want to see.
Our son has gotten into the habit of looking at the Sorento’s UVO Infotainment screen as we drive. He often calls out the city names we are approaching or asks questions about things he sees on the navigation map, so we’ve started using it as a tool to point out interesting landmarks or giggle at odd names.
When you road trip with kids, you have to accept that you will need to stop often. If you try to cram too much driving in at once, the chances of a melt down increase – which is going to stress you out and probably wreck your timeline. Give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination and include lots of stops. And not just meal or bathroom breaks, make sure you schedule a few active stops as well. Give everyone some time to get out and wander around, or experience an interesting road-side attraction along the way.
When I was a kid and we went on road trips, my father would always grumble and groan at each stop when it took us ten minutes to find our shoes in the clutter of the back seat and then put them on. Have the kids wear easy to slip-on shoes in the car (we like flip flops!), and make a designated spot to store the shoes in the car. It might help save some time and frustration with each stop.
Portable Potty…and Lots of Cleaning Supplies
Sometimes, you just have to go and there is no place to stop. If you have little ones that might not be able to hold it until the next stop, consider a portable potty. If they absolutely have to go, you can pull on the side of the road and use the portable potty in the back of the car. It might save you some major cleaning up. That being said, always, always bring a stockpile of cleaning supplies. From wipes, hand sanitizer, garbage bags, and a change of clothes, be prepared for every kind of mess. If you have kids, you already know this, there will be a mess.
Have Fun or at Least Make the Memories Look Fun
You might be losing your mind listening to whining or answering the same question every half hour, but try to capture the fun moments. Snap pictures of all the smiles, jot down notes about the funny moments or at least the moments that will be funny later. Give the kids a journal and have them document the trip daily with words or drawing pictures. You will look back at it one day and smile fondly at family memories you made.
We try to do at least one “big” bucketlist type adventure activity on any long road trip. Turns out, even if being on the road was full of arguing and just absolutely miserable for everyone involved, when you have an amazing cornerstone activity on the trip, that memory will often outweigh any negative ones. It can also completely turn around your family’s mood and give you a sort of fresh start afterwards!
This is a partnered post brought to you by Kia Motors America and Hippeas. All opinions remain my own.