We traveled from Wisconsin to Southern Nevada (27 hours) and on to Northern Utah (6 hours 16 minutes) and then back to Wisconsin (21 hours 30 minutes). Total miles was 3,656. It went much better than I anticipated, and I got impatient on our home-bound trip like I expected. I feared the trip with five children, two of which are ages 1 and 2, but we made it there and back in one piece. My experiences have culminated into this cross country road trip checklist.
I hope this post will help an apprehensive parent who wants to travel feel more confident in taking a cross-country trip with the family.
Things to Consider
1. Know Your Purpose. This may seem woo woo, but in the hard moments, I had my reason to persevere and it helped. This trip was four years in the making and there were a lot of things that our family did not want to miss including class and family reunions. My strong desire to be present with my family helped me in the preparation, during the long drive and even during the exhaustion of the trip. Remind the kids of the trip’s purpose when they are struggling too.
2. Prepare and Prepare some more: I talked with friends who had made the trip already, read blog posts and went to work. The four main areas I focused on before the trip were writing packing lists for each person in the family, deciding on food, getting laundry done and cleaning/prepping the car.
3. Plan some fun: I wanted to have a few stops planned that would allow us some time to get out of the car, stretch our legs and enjoy a diversion from the driving. I looked at a website called Roadtripper.com and mapped out the trip so I could see an overall look at the states and distances of our planned destinations.
One tip for those that will need to take multiple days to get somewhere is to push harder on the first day instead of the second because the kids will be less aware of what they are going to have to do on the first day.
Another fun thing that helped was buying toys and activities before the trip that the kids had never seen. At different points during the trip to and from our destinations, I had small gifts to help divert the kids’ attention away from being in the car. Some of the things I brought were sketchbooks, new movies, toys (cars for Beau, Polly Pockets, doodle board) and candy.
4. Flexibility: With little kids it is so important to be flexible about stops, restroom breaks and eating. Our longest stretches without a break were 3 hours and the rest of the time we had a stop at a gas station, rest stop or restaurant about every 2 hours. You will know when everyone needs a break by the crying, complaining and overall frustration.
We also had car repairs that had to be made before the trip, which was not part of the plan. We re-arranged seating on the way home to accommodate Beau (2) who was eager to sit with his sisters in the back. And I gave myself and everyone the space to rest when we got home from the trip. Again, be flexible before, on and even after the trip.
5. Comfort: Our older girls brought a stuffy and blanket, so they were able to sleep. Each baby had a blanket too. Have a screen for each child (if they watch).
Consider having Melatonin with you to help them during the trip. One day we left late at night to get to our first destination and Beau could not fall asleep and stay asleep. I wish I would have had a sleep aid for him so he could get through the night without screaming every 10-15 minutes.
I will also advise against bringing too many blankets. We ended up putting a lot of blankets on the top of the car because they were taking up too much space.
We bought a new DVD player, a new car phone charger and sun shields for the baby’s windows, all in an effort to make the trip easier on all of us.
Keep the food, snacks, and drinks accessible to whoever can and will distribute it. Food was the answer too many meltdowns on the road.
We also had Kindle Fires and I suggest making sure that you have movies, books or games downloaded ahead of the trip in case you don’t have access to wifi. The screens were a life-saver on the long stretches.
6. Buy Storage: We bought rooftop cargo (ours was a soft shell and it did amazing), ceiling storage and back seat storage. There was a place to put things so that the floor could be clear. Stuff still got on the ground, but it was much better than it would have been had we not had the storage space available. Here is a link to the rooftop cargo that held up so well.
May you have a fun and efficient trip! You and your family can do this!
If you have any tips to add, let me know in the comments.
If you would like ideas for having a memorable summer, check out this post.
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These checklists are just the start. Every family is a little different so the lists will change, but these are a good starting point.