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Realistic Road Trip Hacks for Parents

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If you have kids, like to travel and enjoy a moderate amount of self-punishment, a family road trip is the perfect vacation for you. It’s all the fun of a real vacation, but with extra driving and less downtime. Oh, and backseat fighting. There will be a lot of that.

But seriously, road trips are amazing and a great way to make lasting family memories with your kids. You get to explore different locations, take spontaneous detours and discover all of the in-betweens that are missed when you travel by plane or stay in one place.

You can create a full itinerary or play things by ear – whatever works for your crew. I recommend embarking on this type of journey before your kids are too cool to hang out with you, as road trips require a lot of time spent together in a small space. Or, go ahead and do it when they’re angsty teens or tweens, because you’re the parents and you’re in charge. Overwhelm them with your unconditional love and close proximity! They’ll thank you eventually (when they’re adults and/or you’re on your death bed, perhaps).

If you’re ready to hit the road, here are some tips for making the most of your trip.

Plan Your Packing

This may seem obvious, but making a list is the secret to proper vacation packing. Check the weather forecast, consider the activities you’ve planned and figure out what clothing you’ll need to get by. Make sure you have running shoes as well as sandals, and toss in a pair of flats or rain boots if you’re likely to use them. Make a checklist of things you can’t live without, like your phone charger, your beloved multivitamin and a book to read before bed. Make a separate packing list for your children and tick things off as you go.

Bring a Laundry Bag

Throw an empty laundry bag into your car and fill it up as you wear clothes during the trip. This will keep your dirty laundry separate from your clean, and make your suitcase lighter as the trip goes on.

Skip the Shampoo

Unless your hair requires the special, loving care of name brand shampoo and conditioner, save space in your suitcase and use whatever the hotel gives you. You’ll survive.

But Bring These Toiletries

Face wash (the hotel won’t have it, and nobody likes using cheap bar soap on their face), toothpaste, toothbrushes, a razor, tweezers, deodorant and sunscreen. If you wear makeup, just pack the basics.

Remember These Random Must-Haves

An umbrella, baby wipes, a first aid kit, Advil, Gravol (children’s and adult), Benadryl (for bad bug bites or surprise allergic reactions), a rain jacket, a cooler bag (for transporting food and keeping drinks cold on the road), a small pair of scissors, a Tide pen and a roll of paper towel (because if there are kids, there will be messes to wipe up – even in your hotel room). If you’ll be swimming, remember things like puddle jumpers.

Get a Comfort Item ‘Fake Out’

If your child has a special comfort item (in our house, it’s a stuffed lamb), consider bringing a “double” or back-up comfort item on the road. That way, your child can sleep with their favourite toy but you know that if it gets lost or left behind, the real deal is safe at home.

Kids Road Trip Entertainment

Bring a small but useful bag of items to keep kids entertained in the car and at the hotel. My 4 and 6-year-olds can be kept busy with colouring books and crayons, word searches and maze books, stuffed animals and a couple of fidget cubes. An iPad works, too.

Make a Playlist

Music is a key part of any road trip. The radio is great (and satellite radio ensures you’re never searching for a clear station), but a playlist of your favourite songs will keep the good vibes going. Load up your phone or iPod with classics and current hits, or go old school and pack a handful of CDs. Your kids won’t know what they are, but are sure to appreciate the nostalgia of your ‘90s grunge or boy band collection.

Be Snack Ready

Kids want food all the time, and if you stop to buy a muffin every time they’re hungry, you’ll be broke by day four. Pack a bag of snacks to have on hand in the car and at your hotel to avoid impulse buying. Foods that travel well include granola bars, graham crackers, bagged popcorn, nuts, apples and trail mix. (Just be careful about choking hazards for really young kids!) Bananas will last a few days, and apple sauce cups come in handy. Throw in some treats and remember a water bottle for each traveler. Stop at local grocery stores to replenish your stock as needed!

Cash Money

If you’re like me and never carry cash, take out a small amount before your trip. You may encounter a toll road or parking metre, end up in a ‘cash only’ small town coffee shop, or simply want to tip a hotel employee. Small bills and change work best.

Grab Some Deals

You probably searched for the best possible deals when booking accommodations, but don’t forget about activities. A quick Google search can help you find coupons for reduced admission or free kids passes to theme parks and historical sites – check tourism websites for promotions.

Bring Patience

Your kids are going to be loud and annoying in the car. Don’t worry, you’ll eventually erase the memory.

Prepare to be Abstinent

If you’re sharing a hotel room with your kids for a week or more, get ready to have zero sex. If they’re young, you can’t leave them to sneak off anywhere, and if they’re older, you risk scarring them for life if they catch you. It’s not “fun risky” when the people who might catch you are your children, whose therapy you’ll ultimately pay for. Like I said before, bring a book to read at bedtime. That’s all you’re getting.

Got another road trip hack or tip? Tell me in the comments!

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