Pack the car.
Gas the car.
Buckle the kids.
Sounds easy enough, but the anxiety of the UNKNOWN and being UNPREPARED was crippling and stopped me from ever taking a trip by myself with my kids.
I’m not here to tell you that you *must* have skills to change a tire on the side of the road. I mean, you should… but I don’t --which is scary considering how many times I’ve road tripped by myself with my small kids!
Note to self: learn how to do basic car maintenance before taking next road trip.
At first the fear of driving or traveling by myself/just me and the kids limited me.
So what was I gonna do? Just not see family/go vacation/see my friends if my husband is deployed? Nah.. I can't do that.
Solo road trips are not a big deal now that I’ve done it several times with my little dudes in tow.
Here are some of my tried and tested tips for a low stress driving holiday:
1. Have a snack box
NOTE: THIS WAS BEFORE I STOPPED OUR FAMILY USE OF SINGLE USE PLASTIC, SO PLEASE FORGIVE HOW MUCH PLASTIC IS IN THIS PHOTO. THAAANKS! 😅I'm much more eco-friendly now!
Before your trip you buy car snacks, right? So you don’t have to stop every few hours because you’re hungry? Pack a variety of sweet, salty, soft, and crunchy foods before you head out.
THEN prepackage them into sandwich baggies so you’re not handing your three-year-old a full bag of chips and so YOU the driver don’t beast through an entire bag of tortilla chips within the first 30 mins of driving.
ALSO pack enough food for the trip back and put it in a small separate bag.
I put a blanket down so the box wouldn't slide, I used an old mailing box as our snack box. The plastic bag on the right side of the picture has snacks for the return trip. There are "car tissues" and "car wipes" in close proximity.
Here is what I pack for me and the kids:
Apple sauce packets
Seedless grapes cut in halves
“hard”, cut up, fruit in a container (strawberries, mango, blueberries, apples) – like, don’t pack raspberries.
White Cheddar Puffs
Kettle Cooked BBQ Chips
Chocolate covered blueberries
Yogurt covered Crasins
Hawaiian Bread Sweet Rolls
Sandwiches cut in half (turkey, hummus, hummus, and spinach OR PB&J’s are usually what we make)
Obviously some of this stuff won't keep on your trip back, so plan accordingly. Put the snack box in the passenger seat. Whenever a kid gets hungry, you have easy access to hand them a snack without taking your eyes off the road or your hands off the wheel.
2. Have a “GO” bag
A “go” bag when you drive is like a carryon when you fly. It’s ONE bag that you can just grab and GO if you’re in an emergency or short on time. Yeah it'd another bag, but it saves time rifling through your luggage for something. If you were ever put in a situation, you would grab your go bag and your purse/diaper bag.
Snack box on top, Diaper Bag and Lunch box of Sandwiches in the pink bag on the floor, "Go Bag" goes next to the diaper bag - closest to the driver.
Here’s what’s in my go bag (I use a backpack):
Toothbrushes and Toothpaste
Two changes of clothes (day clothes & PJs) for you and your kids separated into gallon bags
Laptop & Charger
Cell phone charger
Gallon bag of meds (baby Tylenol, kids Tylenol, cough and mucus stuff)
This go bag really came in handy we had an explosion of poo while on a 5 hour trip to Cali. Instead of parking, unpacking the kid’s luggage looking for a new outfit I grabbed a clean outfit in gallon bag from my Go Bag. I grabbed baby wipes and a diaper from my purse, wiped the baby, wiped the car seat up, and grabbed one of my t shirts from the go bag.
I put the tshirt on top of the wiped carseat, put the baby on top of the t shirt, buckled him in, and wiped my hands and bathed in hand sanitizer after I threw all the poo clothes, wipes, and diaper away. Boom. Seven-minute detour that would’ve easily took 20 mins if you had to rifle through your luggage in your trunk!
3. Prepare the car strategically
I don’t mean like… tetris strategy… I mean like, pack your needs strategically!
Stuff we don't need and will not touch goes in the truck of the car - I don't touch this stuff until we get to the destination.
All the luggage and stuff that you WONT be needing or opening immediately goes in the trunk.
Every kid gets their waterbottle in their cupholder.
Pack a small bag of toys/activities in a bag to keep by the kids. Sadly, my kids don’t use tablets/iPads on road trips because they get incredibly carsick. I would much rather hear complaining, the same song over and over again, or answer 27543908 questions than clean up car throw up.
Keep the trashcan accessible for the kids so they don’t have to keep handing you trash. I keep ours on the floor behind the passenger’s seat. Our trashcan is a paper grocery bag. It’s sturdy, can stand on its own, can hold a lot, and its big enough that both the kids and I can reach it.
Have baby wipes and tissues readily available. I made the mistake of not having “car wipes” and had to fish through my bag for some while on the road. That was pretty dangerous. Sorry mom and dad.
Snack box by you, obviously!
I like to use a brown paper bag as the trash bag, it stands up on its own and you just crumple it up and toss it when you get to where you're going. The cloth bag next to it has a bunch of books, and the blue paper gift bag has some action figures and other toys in it.
I like to start driving mid to late morning (like an hour before nap time). The kids get a good nap in and I get a few hours of quiet where I can listen to whatever I want to listen to AND I get to my destination before rush hour starts! WIN.
BUT JUSTINE! What do you do about bathroom breaks?! LOL. I suck it up -- put the baby in the carrier and bring everyone. Because PEEING IN PUBLIC IS ILLEGAL, yes... even if you’re a child. I know it’s easier to just pull off to the side of the road, make a little “stall” by opening the two car doors. I know. I know. But when you have two sisters that are lawyers and you know someone who GOT IN TROUBLE for peeing in public then you, too, will suck it up and bring everyone.
I stuff everyone into the handicapped stall and everyone takes turns going. My 6-year-old goes while I change the baby’s diaper. I throw the baby in the carrier on my back while I help my three-year-old go. Then everyone stands with their arms crossed, not touching anything, while I go. We wash hands, shove our hands in our pockets, and go back to the car to bathe in some hand sanitizer.
I drive an SUV so it’s easy for me to hand things to my kids. If you drive a mini van, I know it would be more difficult! I did use to drive a minivan and I kept telling myself to invest in one of those long armed claws.
Please make sure you have a phone charger and holder in the car. I know its 2019 and everyone should have one, but some people don’t.
Text SOMEONE or share your location (yeah it’ll fry your battery but that’s why you have your charger… right?) I always text either my husband, my parents, or my inlaws where I’m at or what the status of my driving is. They’re not usually at my final destination or even on a trip with me. But it’s just peace of mind for me and for them!
My kids are 6, 3, and 1 - so I have a big kid that is super helpful with his little brothers and will take something from them or give them something they need.
Be safe! Plan your playlist accordingly. Have some audiobooks on deck! Let me know what your road trip necessities are! Happy travels!