How to (Happily) Day Trip with Your Kids

Heading on a day trip or weekend family getaway? Check out our tips on how to survive a day trip or road trip with kids and other family.

As a family, we are very, very bad at staying put. Even when we fly off to some faraway destination together, we have a tendency to hop into our rental car and go other places –  even if it’s only for a few hours here and there. To us, a vacation is an opportunity to really get to know a place – and in my experience, that often involves getting in your car and going off the beaten path.

That said, we do have two children. One is four, and the other is 1 ½, and trust me: plenty of our friends have expressed confusion about the fact that my husband and I actively seek out places to drive to.

“But Jordan,” they ask, “isn’t that…kind of…the worst?”

It’s not. (Or, okay, sometimes it is, but everything involving children is, from time to time, “The Worst.”)

The thing is, the hours spent driving from one place to another aren’t only a “necessary” part of any seriously cool adventure…they’re often the best part. Once you get the logistical issues (food and entertainment and basic cleanliness and such) out of the way, you can go ahead and see where the road takes you.

Here’s how to spend multiple hours in a car with children and still arrive (relatively) intact.

1. Pack Like A Pro. The goal: to keep the stuff that’s filling up the passenger area of the car to a minimum, while still making sure that those Goldfish are accessible like now. You already know to keep an assortment of toys, food and drinks readily available…but do you know what else you should have? A secret stash of more snacks and fun stuff to be revealed as necessary (like when you miss the exit and the very small people in the car need a snack RIGHT NOW).

Keep It Clean

2. Keep It Clean. Cars packed with people can make you stressed. Cars packed with people and garbage can make you crazy. When cereal and juice boxes are involved, things can get very bad very quickly, so maintaining some degree of order in your vehicle on an ongoing basis can help a ton. Keep a garbage bag tied to one of your rental’s seats, and swap it out for a fresh bag every time you stop for gas. Also remember to keep paper towels and wipes close by for spills, and give the car seat armrests and cup holders a little wipe-down at rest stops.

3. Make Gas Station Stops Part Of The Fun. To adults, gas stations are nothing more than boring-but-necessary parts of any car trip. But to kids they are tiny paradises filled with stuff to run around and look at. Gas stations are also an opportunity to pick up entertainment for the next stretch, so make your purchase wisely and pick a snack that takes a loooong time to eat.

Make Gas Station Stops Part Of The Fun

4. Have an iPad (or similar device)…But Keep It Hidden until the Absolute Last Minute. I am as big a fan of screen time as any other parent trapped in close quarters with toddlers for an extended period of time, but what I’ve discovered is that if you don’t even present a tablet as an option, your kids…do other stuff. Like stare out the window. And I am of the firm belief that a childhood is not a childhood if it doesn’t involve a solid amount of time spent counting how many yellow cars you can spot. (As a bonus, this situation results in screen time remaining special, which means that it becomes extremely effective in emergency situation. 8PM and stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic with only Michael Bolton on the radio? iPad time.)

Stop and Smell Those Flowers

5. Stop and Smell Those Flowers. Of course you’re anxious to get where you’re going, but remember: there’s no reason why the journey can’t be as awesome as the destination. If you see a cool playground, go ride the swings for a bit. Do a full-family primal scream in that massive, empty parking lot. Stop at that weird roadside attraction. You might arrive a little later than you’d planned to, but you’ll enjoy a way more memorable ride.

And when all else fails: lollipops. Have so many lollipops.

About the Author

Jordan Reid

Jordan Reid grew up in New York City, studied cognitive neuroscience at Harvard University, and worked as an actress for over a decade before turning her focus to fashion, beauty, entertaining, home decor, and DlY creating the popular lifestyle website Ramshackle Glam. A mom of two, Jordan is the author of two parenting and style books, Ramshackle Glam (2014) and Carrying On (2015); her third book will be released by Random House in 2017.