Every summer, my family makes our annual pilgrimage to the happiest place on Earth. My husband and I have been visiting Walt Disney World together since 2010, and the way we travel has changed quite a bit since then. Now that we have two children, it is much more cost effective to take the 1300 mile trek by car. We have experimented with departure times, stretch breaks, and stopping points, but, by now, I think we’ve gotten pretty good at this road trip thing. Although flying might cause a few less headaches, driving has become a money-saving, fun way to travel, and it doesn’t have to be nearly as nerve-wracking if you go in prepared!
Choose a departure time that takes advantage of your kids’ sleep habits. We choose to sacrifice a little sleep on our end to get a big chunk of the drive done while our little ones are asleep. I do know that this approach is not for everyone, but it works for us. We leave just before bedtime and drive throughout the night, switching drivers when necessary. By the time their little eyes are opening, we’re already 8+ hours in!
Stretch! We love taking advantage of fast food restaurants with play equipment for stretch breaks, but sometimes our bellies can’t handle one more chicken nugget. Restaurants like Cracker Barrel have ample room to roam, not to mention some pretty comfortable rocking chairs and a breezy front porch. We’ve also taken advantage of the indoor and outdoor spaces at rest stops. Fresh air does wonders for the soul when all you have in front of you is miles and miles of pavement.
Squirrel away little toys, books, activities that your kids haven’t seen before. If I’m out and about and spot something my kids would enjoy on sale, I buy it and add it to our Disney bin. The dollar section at Target is a great place to find activities that work well for long car rides. I also buy each kid a new set of crayons and markers and a few activity books for them to enjoy as well. We avoid games with small pieces at all costs, but magnetic games/activities are perfect for the backseat!
Load your car up with all the snacks. As much as I’d love to say that our snack choices are always healthy and nutritious, sometimes a good, sugary treat is just what you need to reward your kids (and yourself!) for riding long distances. We pack a variety of snacks that can serve double-duty if we choose not to stop for a meal.
Have a road-trip plan, but expect it not to be followed. We usually know where we’ll be stopping for sleep, but sometimes the ride doesn’t always go as planned. There are times when the kids are doing great and we choose to drive a little further before stopping. Other times, you need to stop after three hours for a swim and an early bedtime. Because, life happens. Kids (and adults) are unpredictable. We all have goals and dreams to see all the sights and do all the things, but sometimes a break is necessary. And that’s ok, too. You’ll get to your final destination at some point.
Enjoy the ride. An hours-long car ride can seem daunting (and even downright awful), but this is our opportunity to spend quality time together, so we choose to make the most of it. We play games, sing songs, tell jokes, and enjoy each other’s company. And that’s worth its weight in gold.