General Question

Cupcake's avatar

Any tips for a week-long car trip with kids?

Asked by Cupcake (16317points) March 17th, 2021
27 responses
“Great Question” (4points)

We’re moving to the Bay Area, CA! We’ll be heading on a 50+ hour car ride across the US and are seeking any tidbits of advice.

Two parents will be travelling with two kids between 6 and 10 years of age (boys, if that matters). Each parent will be driving a vehicle and the kids will likely be with me in a small-ish car (we’ll send our belongings by pod or truck). We will likely travel for about 9–10 days, with a 2-night stop to visit family in Colorado.

We haven’t been on a long car ride since we moved to FL about 5 years ago. To make things pleasant, I am planning on 6–8 hour driving days, with a long-ish stops and activities around lunchtime.

We’re leaving in late May, so I don’t know what the COVID situation will be like (e.g. vaccine availability, lockdown rules, feeling “safe” being around others, use of masks, etc.). We have all been working/learning from home for over a year with little interaction with others and are unlikely to be fully vaccinated before departure.

We also have food issues (multiple food sensitivities and various dietary needs). I plan on bringing what we need for 2 meals a day + snacks, researching local restaurants/menus and eating out once a day.

Likely states we will travel through: Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California.

Concerns: COVID, boredom, costs, must-see stops?, my plant collection

What advice do you have for us?

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Composing members: 0


RocketGuy's avatar

Utah: Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon. You can go to the N rim of Grand Canyon but that might require a lot of time.
Nevada: S rim of Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam
Calif: Lake Tahoe

Tropical_Willie's avatar

10 year old should old enough to read and understand maps. Make sure you have maps of your route that he can follow. Maybe use him as “GPS” for short periods of the time.

Games like license plate tag for different states (have kids keep track on sheet of paper with states printed on it) or “First person to see a red truck” gets a point even the 6 year old can do that. We used to take trips with grands and even the four year old would see the red truck or blue first.

Reading maybe problematic with car sickness; so activities outside the car are good.

I traveled three times coast to coast round trips before I was 13 years old.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Do your research on bathroom locations and peeing opportunities. Never let the kids get back in the car after a sightseeing break with a full bladder. Trust me on this.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Paper maps or an atlas will really help them – and you – enjoy the trip. They will be able to follow along.

Get a set of 2 way radios so you can talk back and forth from car to car. Get good ones using the FRS/GMRS channels. They will have a range of 10 miles or more. Also make sure it has 22 channels and 100+ privacy codes so you can make thousands of unique combinations. That way you won’t be bothered by other people and will always have a clear channel. A NOAA channel is also nice so you can follow the weather.
Spend $100. It is worth it.

Demosthenes's avatar

Nice, welcome to the Bay Area! I hear so many stories of people leaving, it’s good to know some are still motivated to move here.

I can only relate based on my own experiences. Do you let the kids use handheld games or an iPad during car rides? Those can help alleviate boredom although it may make it difficult to talk to them or point out the sights. When I went on road trips with my family, my parents would let me use a Game Boy on the most boring stretches of interstate (but when we were near a location to stop at, they’d want me to put it down).

I also agree about maps and following along; depends on the kids’ interest, but as a kid I loved looking at the map and seeing where we were, made it seem less long too. A book on CD can help if you can find something everyone would like to listen to. Adequate food in the car is important, and not refusing to stop if one of the kids has to use the bathroom (that’s something my dad would unfortunately do—he’d get impatient and refuse to stop).

Good luck, though, I’ve never been on a road trip that long (longest I’ve done was to Canada from Bay Area).

canidmajor's avatar

I haven’t done this for a looong time, it pre-dated smart devices and comprehensive internet. I used audio books for a lot of entertainment and to have some quiet time in the car (cassette tapes! Wow!) but I’m sure there are device alternatives (don’t forget car chargers!) we couldn’t do videos back then, but I would have loved that if we could have.

Good luck with this, keep us apprised!

janbb's avatar

Maybe separate the kids between the two cars from time to time if you can or trade off having both with the other partner. It will be a long trip! And I agree that audio books and music and videos on devices will help. Maybe also some simple art supplies for them to draw or color in the car.

kritiper's avatar

Nevada Northern Railway Museum in Ely, Nevada. And Virginia City, Nevada and site of the Comstock Lode.

YARNLADY's avatar

I am an advocate of e-gaming devices and video players. We got a disc player for each boy (2) and took about 20 of the pre-recorded discs we have for each one. One of them loves “How it’s Made” and watched hour after hour. They both love Tom and Jerry cartoons, also.

I suggest letting them spend some time in separate cars. My two argue when they get tired. We tried to choose motels that had indoor pools, and that worked very well. I seldom travel more than 300 miles a day.

I let them stay up late at night on their laptops, and they slept during the day.

JLeslie's avatar

Your route looks like you go through Chattanooga, and the thing to know is it is quite mountainous there, so I recommend stopping just before or in Chattanooga as your first stop or you will be driving through the hardest part of your first leg of your trip when you are tired and possibly during the dark. Don’t speed on that part of the highway. I say that for safety reasons not for ticket reasons, but of course you won’t want a ticket either. Possibly you were planning to stay just north of Atlanta, and then it would be a non-issue. Avoid rush hour in Atlanta.

When you plan your trip remember time changes for avoiding rush hour in all of the big cities.

If you have covid concerns I am not sure if you want to go inside museums, or are you trying to plan outdoor things to do? Near Atlanta there is Stone Mountain Park if you are trying to stay outdoors. Well, I will wait to answer more suggestions or my answer might get long and if you prefer outdoor only I can trim trim it down.

If you don’t have a plug in the back seat to charge their phones and ipads buy an external battery that charges fast. Maybe search for some games you can all play together. We used to play geography on some trips, but you can’t do that for 8 hours.

Maybe a book or TV series that you all can watch and listen to for part of the trip or a stand up comic you all like.

longgone's avatar

Wow. That’s going to be hard on the kids, but also on you!

If you’re willing to put some work into this ahead of time, you could make it into a sort of scavenger hunt. I might get each kid a travel journal or just a blank notebook with lots of space to draw/glue things like tickets, receipts, pictures, leaves. Then I’d prep it with prompts, just a handful for each day. Things like “Take a picture of your brother in front of today’s restaurant” or “Find five blue things” or “Take a picture of your teddy bear and a real animal.” Kids can get really into that sort of thing. If you want it to be a bit more educational, you could add research challenges about the state of the day in the specific kid’s areas of interest. If your younger son is into animals, for example, a prompt for Kentucky could be “Which green animal can be found in this state’s forests? Draw a picture of it.” If your older one is interested in space, maybe he wants to research “What famous astronaut was born in today’s state?” There are printable travel journals with more basic prompts, which would also work if your kids are generally interested in recording events.

I second the advice to separate the kids for part of the trip, if possible. That could even be a really fun bonding experience for all four sets of parent/kid. I also second trying to see Bryce Canyon and Zion’s in Utah. Especially Bryce, where just looking out from the parking lot is mindblowing.

I might try to keep some “fresh” media under parental control, to be handed out when you need to focus or people are getting cranky. Sticker activity books are good for this. There’s a German game that’s awesome for keeping kids busy in the car, I’ll see if they make an English version. They don’t.

Lastly, I think it works well to have a bit of structure. Young kids can get really overwhelmed if they’re in charge of keeping themselves entertained, but aren’t able to move around. For example, you could loosely split up the days in four slots – a family audio book you all enjoy in the morning, then reading/drawing until lunch. Family playlist after lunch (make a playlist that has lots of songs you like and maybe some you love to sing), then a prompt from a TableTopics Game, afterwards movies or individual audio books (podcasts for you?) until you stop for the night. None of this needs to be set in stone, but it might help make the day feel less like a gigantic blob of time.

I think if you prepare with lots of snacks and entertainment, you could have quite a bit of fun. Good luck!

RocketGuy's avatar

Maybe a bit obsolete, but we bought a cheap portable DVD player and a cheap attachment system for our minivan so that our kids could watch movies during boring parts of long road trips. That means you also need to bring DVDs, which is more stuff to bring and more stuff to risk getting stolen. (Our first set up got stolen when we parked at SeaWorld in San Diego.) The advantage is that unlike streaming, it works even when you have poor 4G/LTE coverage.

filmfann's avatar

Of course a tablet or portable movie player loaded with fun movies.
Portable games like Guess Who can take the edge off at times.
Bingo cards with different things they may see.

janbb's avatar

Twenty Questions is a good guessing game, as is Beaver (you have to say “Beaver” when you see a predesignated type of car.)

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

Friends of mine used to carry the sleeping kids from their beds at 3AM or so to the car. They would drive for 8 or 10 hours. Then they could have the afternoon and early evening to enjoy whatever town with the kids before repeating the process.

sadiesayit's avatar

Recommendation for how to get audiobooks (didn’t see it mentioned above, so I thought I’d mention it just in case it’s a new idea)—check your local library system’s ebook options. You may be able to check out some e-audiobooks on your phone. Libraries in my area use Overdrive, which has a really nice ebook app called Libby. You just enter your library card and you’ve got a whole selection of ebooks and audiobooks for free.

In-car games ideas:

g-h-o-s-t was a staple in my childhood. (The one that is a word-spelling hot-potato game—going in a circle, everyone says one letter to add to a potential word, but everyone is trying to not be the person that actually spells the word).

You can also play mental tic-tac-toe. Number the squares:

1 | 2 | 3
4 | 5 | 6
7 | 8 | 9

Two players. To play, you say the number of the square where you’re moving. Each person imagines the board as they play.

Another word game I played was called “Contact.” It’s simple game play once you understand how it works. Here are some instructions I found online that are basically how we played.

KRD's avatar

Always take a brake to stretch and see things. Make sure you have a good hotel for the night.

Kardamom's avatar

Don’t drive more than 2 hours at a time without stopping to get out to use the bathroom, and move around a little bit.

Make sure the snacks, with the dietary restrictions are in easy reach of the kids.

Have a code word that the kids understand to mean that you need complete silence. This will become necessary for dangerous or difficult driving situations, such as treacherous mountains, heavy traffic, bad weather etc. Practice the word ahead of time, and make sure they know why you might be using it, and why they need to remain quiet, without whining, or asking questions, when you use the code word. Explain that you will tell them when they can resume normal conversation. My friend’s kids are notorious interrupters and will shriek, “Excuse me! Excuse me! Excuse me!” Because they were told to say that, but not the context of why they sometimes need to be quiet.

Consider having Ann emergency bucket with a lid to use as a portable toilet, with toilet paper and plastic bags, in case you can’t find a bathroom.

Carry boatloads of extra baby wipes, and hand sanitizer.

Make sure you have cup holders, including the portable ones if you need extras, and make sure only sippy cup type of lidded drink cups are allowed in the car. Again, experience from my friend’s children tells me that they are almost 100% likely to spill something, unless you don’t allow loose drinks without lids.

Put snacks in ziplock bags beforehand. Trying to open bags of chips, and trying to locate twist ties in a moving car is a fruitless activity. Solve the problem before it becomes a problem.

Make sure each child has a pillow, a lightweight blanket, and their favorite stuffed toy in the cabin for easy access, for naps, and general comfort.

If you suspect one of the kids has motion sickness, give dramamine before setting out, and let that kid ride in the front if they are big enough to to do so. Less unnatural movement and view from the front, rather than looking out the side window.

Realize that kids get cranky and tired, and try not to let it get to you or cause you to argue about it. Stop the car if you have to. Don’t drive while the kids are unruly. Again, basing this all on my friend’s kids.

Have a great trip!

canidmajor's avatar

Oh, @Cupcake, I don’t envy you the long drive as part of a move, it’s a bit different when it’s a family vacation. I hope this thread was of some help, it seems that those of us with kids haven’t done it for a long time, and the others haven’t done it. Were we any help at all?

Best of luck with your move and with your journey! <3

Strauss's avatar

There are a lot in good suggestions already, but I’ve got my two cents worth.

We made a similar move in 1996 when we moved from the Atlanta area to the Denver area. I drove the rental truck, the wife drove the car. Since you’re traveling in May, you probably won have any snow or ice issues, maybe a thunderstorm or two. Of course that predated most tablet-type devices that are available now. I would suggest being flexible with riding arrangements, if needed. Your idea of 6–8 hour days with long interesting breaks is a good one.

Now let’s check your list of concerns.

COVID: Not much to add here, because we don’t know what the situation will be three months from now, especially traveling through different regions in the country. Keep up with local COVID alerts by location.

Boredom: Tablet games, old fashioned games like “I Spy” for instance. I like @Luckyguy’s suggestion for a two-way radio. It’s also indispensable in areas of any kind of emergency.

Costs: Sorry, haven’t traveled anywhere in such a long time I can’t help you there.

Must-see stops: Hiking in the Smokies; If you stop to hike in the Colorado Rockies be aware of hydration and elevation. If your traveling in the Denver area check out Lookout Mountain. If you’re more to the south, near Colorado Springs, check out Pikes Peak
Plant Collection: Don’t know what to say about that.

Anyway, look at it as a fun adventure for all. Above all, expect the unexpected, Dr. @Cupcake!

give_seek's avatar

To @longgone‘s point, travel journals can be a good idea. You can buy them online—already created with spaces for your kids to record /paste/tape/staple and write about their trip. Can they have polaroid cameras that print the pictures immediately when they are taken? Physical puzzle books could be fun. Count the mile markers is sometimes fun. No sugary snacks LOL! Good luck!

elbanditoroso's avatar

TO respomd to @JLeslie about Stone Mountain Park.

On the one hand, it’s fun (and strenuous) to climb to the top. My daughter and grandkids do it a couple times a year. Or you can take a cable car to the top.

On the other hand, if you’re wanting to be politically correct, don’t go there. Stone Mountain played a huge role in the KKK and white supremacy, and the carving on the side of the mountain is a commemoration of the COnfederacy – the carving depicts three Confederate leaders, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson.

If you want places to go in Georgia, there are better options. Try Warm Springs, GA, where FDR had his summer White House and where he swam while suffering from polio. Try the Butterfly Gardens at Callaway Gardens. and so on….

Cupcake's avatar

Thanks so much everyone! This is SO helpful… there are some really great gems in here I hadn’t considered. I’ll respond more soon, but I have a couple of updates.

The younger kiddo just broke both bones in his forearm. Don’t know if he’ll need surgery or how long he’ll be in a cast. Will hopefully find out soon.

Both parents are registered to get covid vaccines this week, which puts us at fully vaccinated by mid-May. I am SO relieved about this.

@elbanditoroso We had tentatively been planning on Stone Mountain, so I am interested in a longer list of alternatives…

@LuckyGuy (and others who agreed) Talk to me here like I’m not so bright. We both have cell phones, why is a 2-way radio beneficial? I’m open to it, I just don’t yet understand the benefit.

I’m soon to break up the trip into 6–7 hour day segments and then I’m sure I’ll have more follow-up questions.

janbb's avatar

@Cupcake Wow! The excitement of parenthood never ends, does it? Hoping for a speedy outcome!

Strauss's avatar

A two-way radio will still provide communication in places where cell service is spotty or non-existent, especially if your vehicles get separated out of sight.

Also, you can communicate while still using your phone to stream music.

JLeslie's avatar

@elbanditoroso Interesting.

@Cupcake You could stop where I live and have lunch, and your kids can see all the golf carts driving around, but it’s probably too soon for you to stop. I don’t remember exactly where you live. Maybe 1.5 hours from me.

I think there is a city in GA that is a golf cart city also. I’ve never been there.

RocketGuy's avatar

@Strauss is right – cell phone coverage along the interstates is not 100%, plus you might get charged per minute if you wander out of your cell phone company’s coverage. Walkie talkie is always free.

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