What every mama should know to enjoy family road trips
If there is one thing I learned after having our first child, it is not to stop your life. Which includes getting away from the everyday monotony and going on adventures.
If you are like me, you are a wild woman at the core. Meaning you appreciate the freedom to explore, go to new places, experience new cultures and meet new people that open your eyes and expand your world.
But having a baby is hard because it can sometimes leave us feeling that there is no room for this type of freedom. That our responsibility is now being a MOM: looking after a new human being to make sure they are fed, healthy, safe and thriving in this new world. And this can often feel the opposite of free.
Which is why when we had our second child, I was determined to find ways to keep our life going in order to maintain that sense of freedom I cherish so much.
For our family that meant going on road trips. Personally, I love getting in the car and going because you don’t have to drive too far to feel you are getting away. Plus, you can take a break as many times as necessary (which with little ones can be quite often). And listening to great music and car games are so much fun, right?
Yet as much as I love road trips, let’s face it - when you travel with kids (planes, trains or automobiles) IT IS HARD WORK!
Thankfully I have had some practice this year and from my experiences (and lots of mistakes), I found a few tips and tricks that I wanted to share with you, mama.
Let’s start with my least favorite topic - packing! I am not sure about you but I have never enjoyed this part of traveling. And now that I am packing for more people it has become even more daunting (make me another cafe latte please).
Luckily I have had lots of practice this year and what I found was there are 3 things which are essential to packing success:
Compartmentalization is key! What I mean by this is to divide your suitcases into the different stops along the way. This is really a tip to implement when you have multiple stops along your road trip. Instead of packing one suitcase for each family member, you pack a suitcase with enough items for each family member for the duration of that stop. Oh how I wish I would have known to do this before our Grand Canyon road trip, which involved five different hotels along the journey. Since I packed separate for each family member, we had to lug all the bags into the hotels every single time. Talk about inefficiency. In fact, my hubby had a new business idea resulting from this mishap. Guess there is always a win from our challenges. And for anyone interested in the right number of diapers to bring - I packed 40 for each child. I calculated this by taking the average number of diapers per day (5) times the number of days we are on the road (7) and then adding an extra day buffer to be safe. And it turned out that this was plenty of diapers - we had about 10 extra by the time we got home! We love Nest Diapers because they are super comfy and compostable! Use code LauraK! when you order to get 20% off your first order.
Research before you go! I had no idea that it was monsoon season at the Grand Canyon in August and September. So I did not pack any rain gear at all! Funny, I did check the weather conditions before we left but there was no indicator of rain. Which is why I say do the research beyond just looking at the weather. Maybe this means internet searches or talking to people that have been there before to get their feedback. However you do this, it can make a big impact on how well equipped you are for the journey.
Snacks and comforts go a long way! You can pack a lot of stuff for a road trip but what I found is that having the right snacks and your comfort items are the most essential. What is the right snack? If you want peace on your journey mama, my advice is go easy on the sugar and processed foods. Instead pack the healthy treats that help maintain good vibes. We had a cooler bag filled with fruits and veggies as well as a dry bag filled with things like nuts, granola, pea chips, etc. What a difference this can make to the overall happiness of the family. The other key is to pack comforts. Things like the favorite stuffed animal or blanket help tremendously at nap time or in new places to maintain a sense of security and consistency. And things like the dehumidifier and oil diffuser for the hotel rooms. This was a life saver for us since we were traveling with our three month old, Riley, and going to places with high altitudes. Hotel rooms can be old, stuffy and musty and this has a huge impact on the amount of sleep and even the condition of our sleep. To me this was more important than having the right amount of clothes or diapers because those are things you can wash or buy along the way. I packed our Doterra essential oils and used them at every stop to help with things like breathing easier, relaxation and overall mood.
On the road
Driving on the open road (especially without traffic) is one of my favorite things. I love putting on a great playlist, turning up the volume and getting lost in my own little world driving for hours.
Well this ins’t exactly how it goes anymore with a three year and a four month old in the car. These days there is a constant demand for your attention and usually we have children’s music playing on the stereo (how many more times can I listen to baby shark without losing my mind). I am sure you are nodding your head in agreement.
Which is why I have found these three things helpful to keeping the tantrums minimal and the happiness high.
Know the limits of your children! When I was planning our road trip I knew what my children could handle in terms of the longest driving distance before a stop. For us, that meant as close to three hours as possible. I think our longest drive was 3.5 hours and even then we had to make a stop to break it up. In some cases this meant we would stay over for a night and in other cases it meant finding a good park or playground that we could get energy out before hitting the road again. Whatever your children’s limits are it helps to respect them in order to have happier kids which in turn creates happier parents.
Get creative with games! It does not matter the age - be prepared with creative ways you can entertain your little ones. For Riley, our three month old, this was with a rattle, or listening to baby lullabies, or playing hide and seek. With Aiden, our three year old, it was playing with his cars, reusable stickers, the “I spy” game, or even coloring. The more activities you have, the better. Especially since the attention span for one activity is generally not very long at such a young age. And one thing we tried to do is to only use the iPad as a last resort. Sometimes this works and other times an episode of PJ Masks was the only solution working. Trust your intuition mamas.
Routines still matter, to a certain point! Even though we were on the road, as much as possible we tried to stick to our normal routines for eating, sleeping and getting outside. Most children crave consistency and when you are out of rhythm it shows up in their behavior. This does, however, require flexibility and patience. Because you are on an adventure (something new and exciting), kids will want to push the routines. Sometimes this works without any hiccups (okay he took an hour nap instead of three hours but he still seems to be happy), other times it can be a nightmare (we were supposed to eat by 6 but instead started at 7 and this delay caused a cranky boy to have a break down in the middle of the restaurant). Either way, we use our best judgement as parents and try to navigate with grace. Be easy on yourself and know it is a constant learning process where each day will be different and we can only do so much. Sometimes letting go is better than trying to have too much control.
Funny how what I look for in a hotel has changed since having children. Maybe you can relate?
My top priority now is finding a kid friendly hotel. To me this means that there are activities that our kids will get excited about (e.g. a kids pool or a playground), the staff is welcoming and friendly to families and it doesn’t look like a museum (so I am worried about what my energetic three year old is going to break). I find these hotels by looking at their reviews from moms just like me.
On our road trip we stayed at five amazing places. In case you ever take this same trip I am providing the hotel information below along with the kid friendly highlights we enjoyed:
La Quinta Inn & Suites - Kingman, Arizona (great indoor heated pool)
KOA campsite - Williams, Arizona (amazing playground on site, every cabin has a campfire which makes for fun smores moments and they have a small indoor heated pool)
Sedona Summit Resort - Sedona, Arizona (lots of pools to choose from and a splash pad)
The Scott Resort & Spa - Scottsdale, Arizona (a rocky beach pool)
food and Things to do
Finding healthy options on the road is not easy. Finding healthy vegan options on the road is even harder. That is why I am thankful for the Happy Cow app, an easy way to search for options that our whole family can enjoy. One big surprise for me was that Chipotle has vegan options. If you are not vegan or vegetarian, other apps that can be helpful are yelp or even open table. Once you have found a good place to enjoy your meal, one thing that I always do is ask the employees for local hot spots for kids. Some of the best excursions we had came out of these discussions. If you like to immerse yourself into local culture this is the best way to figure out how.
Biggest lessons learned
Out of all the tips and tricks I have shared, there are some general lessons learned that might even be more important to ensure you really enjoy your family road trip:
Zero expectations - with all the inner work I have been doing with Soulciete and Dr. Erin, the biggest thing I have be working on is my expectations. Did you know that our suffering is a direct result of our expectations? Therefore, in order to have a happy road trip (or life for that matter), it is best to try going into it with zero expectations. I know this is a hard one mama but test it out and see what happens to your happiness vibe. It has done wonders for me in all facets of my life.
Communication is crucial - this means listening as much as talking. Be sure that the itinerary is clear with your partner and this includes how you are taking turns with each child. If you are looking to work on your communication skills in your relationship, take a few minutes to read my post “Three Keys to Getting the Love You Want.”
Everyone needs time to themselves - mamas this is especially for you. I know how easy it is to let ourselves believe that it is our job to be there for everyone else. The truth is, it is your job to take care of YOU first. Then we can show up more effectively for everyone else. Please give yourself permission to take at least 10 minutes to yourself every day.
Laughter is the best medicine - long road trips mean long days together in small spaces. When all else fails, find a way to laugh together. Personally, I have never thought of myself as funny. I tend to take things way too seriously. Thank goodness I married a man who is just a kid in an adult body because he encourages me to not take life (or myself) too serious. Do you need help too? There are actually laughter clubs all around the world that can get your belly going.
Know your health care network - It goes without saying that we hope for the best when we travel which means that no one in the family gets hurt or sick. However, by the off chance that you do need to find care, it is really important to know your health care benefits in advance. Going out of network can be expensive, so it is worth just taking some time to research what is in network where you are going. We had to take Riley to Urgent Care in Arizona and I was not prepared. We ended up going to NextCare Urgent Care in Sedona. She ended up being fine but it was a scary mama moment for sure. I was glad to find this NextCare because the service was great and affordable.
I hope you have learned a few tips and tricks for enjoying family road trips from my experiences. What else would you add? I would love to learn from you so we are even more prepared for our next trip away from home. Leave me a note in the comments below.
As always thanks for taking the time to be here and if you found this post helpful, please feel free to share the love.
P.S. Interested in the route we took and things to do along the way?
West Hollywood, CA to Kingman, AZ - This took about four hours. Kingman is along the famous Route 66 tour. There is a great car and train museum as well as a big playground.
Kingman to Williams, AZ - This took about two hours. Williams is about an hour outside of the Grand Canyon and offers more affordable lodging options as a result. We took the train from Williams to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. This is a two hour journey each way and has a lot of fun entertainment for the whole family to enjoy (including a fake train robbery and live music). It is also a cheaper way to enter the park, especially if you would have to take multiple cars.
Williams to Sedona, AZ - This took about three hours. Sedona is magical. There are so many amazing parks with creeks you can swim in. The center of town is filled with good food and fun shops.
Sedona to Scottsdale, AZ - This took about three hours for us because we stopped at a great place for lunch. Scottsdale is a great place to enjoy nature and also self care. Be sure to take advantage of a spa.
Scottsdale, AZ to Palm Springs, CA - This took us about four hours. It is the longest leg and required us to stop along the way. Palm Springs is filled with stuff to do. The aerial tram ride is a great way to go up the mountain and explore nature. There is also a fun library that offers great children activities. And of course to cool off, you should enjoy your hotel pool.
Palm Springs to West Hollywood, CA - This took us a little under three hours.