It’s hard to believe that the holidays are just around the corner. Many of us will be hitting the road to visit family and friends. I wish my kids were better road trippers than they are – especially given the amount we travel. My older son often asks if we’re taking a plane to places that are only three hours away by car – of course not! It’s a great time for family bonding, but can also test the most patient mom, dad and kid.
We’ve compiled some road-tested tips for car trips with kids during the holidays sure to keep everyone in the car happy and minimize the “are we there yets?”
1. Technology can be your friend.
Even though you’ve driven the 111-mile, 2-hour trip to your parents’ house countless times and you can almost recite the exits by heart the entire way, check the Waze map app to see if there are any detours, road construction or other delays along the way. Waze provides real-time info that is crowd-sourced from people that are driving just a few minutes ahead of you as well as GPS data. We’ve found that it is more accurate with delays, alternate routes and other information than Google and Apple map apps.
2. Don’t stress over a traffic mess.
Oh, you have to go through Nashville or Atlanta, even when it’s not rush hour? Plan extra time to get to your destination. And, it’s not just these cities, but it seems that there are inevitably traffic jams, weather (Ummm… snow storm in November!) and other delays during holiday road trips, but if you anticipate that it might take longer than normal, you might not be as frustrated when you encounter a delay. And, using Waze (see above) can help you avoid delays or at least help you plan an alternate route if you happen upon an unexpected stop. Remember: leaving an hour early is always better than feeling the wrath of Aunt Edna if you’re late for dinner.
3. Know your exits.
iExit is one of the very first apps I ever downloaded, and we still use it when we’re on road trips. If you’re traveling by interstate highway, it alerts you to what accommodations are at exits – restaurants, rest stops, hotels, gas stations (and even tells you prices per gallon!); how many miles off the exit they are; and which direction you’ll go to get there. It also gives you distances to those exits from your current location. Even better, it’s paired with Yelp so reviews for lodging, restaurants, and “other” (groceries, pharmacies, even veterinary clinics) are listed. It is a must-have when you’re driving in unknown territory and one of your kids has an urgent need to use the bathroom or when you’ve exhausted all the snacks in your car and your family is hangry.
4. Stop for the world’s largest ball of paint
Stopping at a fun or unique attraction is one of my favorite tips for road trips with kids during the holidays (or any time), especially when you will be in the car for more than six or seven hours. We usually try to make it about two-thirds of the way to our trip before we employ this tactic, but sometimes a really cool spot causes us to throw timing out the window (such as a candy factory or a photo opp with the world’s largest rocking chair).
We also like to commemorate new states that the boys visit by stopping at the first rest stop or visitor’s center along the highway and snapping a photo at the “Welcome to” signs.
Stopping at fun attractions breaks up the trip, lets kiddos expend some energy and is something to look forward to along the way.
5. Go for the whoopie pie or throwed roll
Checking out an area’s local food specialties gives you a break from eating too many Goldfish crackers, Combos and Pringles (three of our go-to car snacks). Finding whoopie pies in Maine was a great treat (although I don’t recommend sugaring up your kids for car rides — a brutal combination); pulling over for boiled peanuts in Georgia and North Carolina; fresh blueberries and cherries in Michigan; and other regional delights are great ways to get a taste of the local culture and fill up your stomach so that you can charge on to your destination.
Fun places to eat and regional restaurants are great finds, too – I mean, you have to eat lunch, right? Eating in a former firehouse? Sign us up! The home of the throwed rolls? Yes, please! The best BBQ in the Carolinas? Try and stop us. An authentic Amish restaurant for sugar cream pie and homemade noodles? My stomach is growling! Even better is that many of these places have food items and sauces you can purchase to bring a little piece of your road trip home with you.
Of course, there are always car games like 20 questions, the license plate game and auto bingo which pass the time and endear some fond family memories. And, I honestly do not know how my parents survived road trips without minivans with DVD players, podcasts and ipads with games and movies. Actually, I do: during one favorite family vacation, my best friend and I wrote out the beginning of a novel based on our trip to the Newport, RI mansions – nerd alert!
In any case, these tips for road trips with kids during the holidays will help you pass the time until you can sit down for some turkey and cranberries. And, really, they will work for any time in the car no matter when you’re traveling. And you’ll likely find, as we have, that they will help create some fun memories of their own.