10 Tips for Planning a Road Trip with Small Children

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We've traveled from point A to point B before, but this will be the first year my family attempts a fairly major road trip with young kids in tow. Their interest in hiking in desert heat and safety in rowing the rapids does not quite match that of their parents, so exactly what are we to do? Here's an outline of plans. I'm also interested in hearing from you venerated travelers out there!

The girls are now five and six. They are old enough to occupy themselves with art, games, movies. One is reading. So that all helps tremendously (two years ago we would not have ventured to travel so many miles). But they still get tired, cranky, and always seem to be hungry. We've also decided not to camp in the dead of Texas' summer heat.

Things to Keep In Mind / Look For:

1. Accommodations with a Proper Kitchen: We will save money and time if we can prepare food on a stove of our own, and have a refrigerator to store cold beverages and keep everything fresh. You'd be surprised how many accommodations do not have a fridge.

2. Proximity to a Body of Water: After a morning of hiking or sightseeing, a cold pool, river or lake seems imperative to keep spirits high.

3. Air Conditioning: Ditto A.C. We will need to cool off, and I don't want everyone to lose sleep because they are too hot.

4. Are Kids Extra? Many places consider small children count toward the limit of what is allowed in a hotel, and private homes may charge extra. Find out, and plan accordingly.

5. Pick One Place to Call Home Base: This was up for some debate in our house. Do we make the initial eight hour trek, and then stay in three or four different places once we are out there, or would it be beneficial to have one space, and make longer trips (up to three hours round trip) from there? We are likely opting to stay in two — but not four places.

6. Plan a Schedule, then Keep it Loose: Once you return from a vacation, you feel like you need another vacation to unwind, am I right? With little kids, I think it's important not to over tax the whole family. My goal is one big event in the morning, then return to home base for rest and relaxation. We are planning in breaks each day. Then we should have some cooler evening hours for a good meal and some light exploration. And if things don't go exactly according to plan? We won't let it ruin our day.

7. Book Early: Can't emphasize this enough. Even though I am booking this trip many, many weeks out, I was shocked at what little there was left from which to choose.

8. Bring Entertainment; Dole It Out Slowly: I cannot expect my kids to be as interested in Donald Judd as I am. They will need familiar anchors of fun. Books, art, and yes, the iPad, will help keep them entertained. (I do however expect them to be respectful and participate when we have a planned activity. No screen junkies here).

9. Trust Your Gut: I have a tendency to be overly ambitious, but some of my plans were making me nervous. Will everyone have fun? Will they be tired and irritated? Is this too much? Pare it down and go with the flow. Be in the moment, and it will not escape you.

10. Pack Properly and Early: Don't forget the sunscreen, mosquito repellant, favorite hard-to-find snacks, water, rain gear, first aid kit, and whatever else you will need to make your home away from home truly comfortable.

What tips would you like to share with your fellow parents? How do you optimize vacations with kids?

(Image credits: Elisabeth Wilborn)

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