Author Topic: Cross Country Road Trip With 3 Small Kids - Tips and Suggestions?  (Read 704 times)

Socmonkey

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Hello all,

We are planning a road trip from AZ to Mass to see family, starting in about a week. Timeline is flexible as we are already FIRE.

I'm getting our 2007 Honda Odyssey prepped with maintenance for the trip, so that is fine. What I am really after is any tips or suggestions on a long road trip with small children. Ours are nearly 4, 2, and 2 months. I know we will have to stop for a bit at least every 2-3 hours to let the older kids stretch their legs and to feed and diaper change the young one.

Does anyone have any tips to keep kids that young entertained in the car for days? We have silly kid songs to sing along to and normal little toys for them to play with.

We are planning on taking a 'southern' route to Mass, going through AR, TN, NC, VA and then up. Coming back we plan on going a 'northern' route to Niagra Falls, OH, KY, MO, CO to Arizona. I also have a national park pass for free admission. What cities/parks/places would you want to visit along the way? (help me fill in my route :D)

Have a few friends to stay with along the way, but ways to save on lodging are welcome too. General road trip tips are always good as well.

Thanks!

CrustyBadger

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Re: Cross Country Road Trip With 3 Small Kids - Tips and Suggestions?
« Reply #1 on: June 07, 2019, 04:58:11 AM »
Have you taken long car trips with your kids that age before?   How many hours can they manage?

When my kids were that age we stopped taking road trips during the day and mostly drove at night because they weren't very good about being in the car for more than a couple of hours, but I have heard of toddlers who do well in the car so I know it is possible!

We would feed the kids and early dinner, put them in the car at about 5 PM and drive as long as possible at night until we arrived at our destination around 1 AM!  But I don't think you could do this multiple nights.

Edited to add -- oh gosh, you have a 2 month old as well!  Isn't s/he going to need a lot of stops for feeding? 

chemistk

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Re: Cross Country Road Trip With 3 Small Kids - Tips and Suggestions?
« Reply #2 on: June 07, 2019, 06:09:15 AM »
This is a huge undertaking - especially if your kids haven't been trained to enjoy the car for hours on end.

And to boot, each kid has their own set of age-related challenges!

First off - unless your kids are already allowed some screen time, or are aware that they will be getting to watch movies, don't use that as your first option. Pack a portable DVD player or download some entertainment to your phone to watch offline and only use in case of emergency. (As in, you're stuck on the highway in the middle of a huge traffic jam with no escape for hours).

Plan as much of your travel as you can while the kids are asleep. Leave at 4AM each morning (seriously!) and stop to eat breakfast after the kids are up. Make sure you're on the road while at least one of your older kids is napping (if they nap, that is.)

There are a ton of relatively inexpensive car seat trays that are great for snacks and activities. Pack a small bag of activities for each day's travel (crayons, legos, etc) so that the kids have a 'new' activity to look forward to each day.

Your kids are going to get bored of it fast. Like real fast. Day 4 will likely be an absolute nightmare getting underway. By the end of the drive you will probably have tunnel vision for your destination.

DON'T TELL YOUR OLDER KID WHAT THE NEXT STOP IS GOING TO BE. It's better for them to be surprised at each stop than to be disappointed that an expected stop is no longer on the docket.

Are your older kids potty trained? Are they girls? If so, a portable toilet is a must. If they're boys, just pull over and let them go out the side of the van.

Become familiar with some of the dead zones (long stretches with few/sketchy stops in between) and make sure you devote your energy to moving through those areas as efficiently as possible. If you're not prepared that's where you'll inevitably need to take an emergency stop. Every time.

Since you have a flexible timeline, and going back up to my point above. I'd stretch each journey into at least 5 days (~2500 miles - 500 miles a day give or take). Leave 4-6am daily, drive 6 hours (with stops). Break for lunch. Drive 2-3 more hours (through naptime), stop for the day. Repeat 5x. Maybe even throw a day or three of no travel in there.

On the East Coast side of things, Memphis, Nashville, Asheville, Pittsburgh, Hershey, Philly are all really cool places for your journey there. On the way back, Niagara, Buffalo, Columbus, and Indy are all interesting in their own way.

I assume you've ruled out camping? If so, a lot of times you can score great deals on hotel rooms by booking last minute late in the day. Hotels will usually offer pretty substantial discounts if you book same day, near the end of the day, because an occupied room at a discount is better than unoccupied.

Sorry for the scattershot. I have 2 kids and we go on 8-10 hour drives probably 6 or 7 times a year. Plus, i grew up only having flown on family vacations exactly once.

As far as saving on lodging - I assume you've ruled out camping. If

 

ubermom4

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Re: Cross Country Road Trip With 3 Small Kids - Tips and Suggestions?
« Reply #3 on: June 07, 2019, 12:05:07 PM »
OP -- all other suggestions are great. We have 4 kids (all older now) and did many long car trips. The combination of your ages is challenging. One  additional thought is to get some books on tape for their age, also have several tapes/cds of 'quiet time' music that should put them to sleep and help them to calm down. Lap desks might be helpful for them. I love the idea of different activities each day -- today is drawing day, today is sticker day, etc. Please take the most distractions possible -- definitely movies (maybe they are saved for afternoons which might be harder?) and other screen activities, sing along music, books, activities, books on tape, coloring books. You will need every type of diversion, none will be wasted. You might go to a couple of tag sales up north and get new toys that would be used  only on the return trip. Please remember to take care of yourself during this trip -- at the breaks stretch your body and move it -- jumping jacks, push ups etc. whatever you can do. Also remember to de-stress yourself each day. Get rid of trash from beloved Odyssey whenever you pump gas -- it is an easy trigger and will keep things more under control. Have a great adventure!! Hope this helps you.

Slow&Steady

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Re: Cross Country Road Trip With 3 Small Kids - Tips and Suggestions?
« Reply #4 on: June 07, 2019, 01:22:14 PM »
Start researching city parks or state parks that have playgrounds and hiking trails.  Make your stops somewhere that the "big" kids can RUN/SLIDE/burn energy and you can usually find a bench to sit with the baby.  Bring a ball or something that 1 parent can use to play with the bigger kids while the other parent takes care of the baby and a picnic blanket to eat outside (after being trapped in the car, being trapped in a restaurant booth will probably not be successful) and picnics are "so cool".  When you plan your route print out pictures of 2-3 park options and maybe neat facts about the area for each stop and spend part of the in car time letting the kids pick the next park/stop.  Facts could be things like, there is a pond/lake at this park I bet they have toads. These type of conversations can also need to a little treasure hunt at the park that is chosen.  I would plan on spend way more time that you would think you need to at each stop.

Book hotels that have swimming pools, to burn more energy at your destination.

Do you have enough time to spend 2 nights in 1 location so that there is a day that does not include driving?

Look for magnetic travel games/puzzles and new coloring/activity books.  My newly 5 year old loves to draw and "write" so we generally carry around a little notebook and a pin for her.  We also have a old tablet that we downloaded a ton of games and movies, that and the headphones come out when we run out of other options or when anybody needs to fall asleep but can't/won't.

Your 2 month old might still be small enough that they do not recommend staying in the car seat for more than an hour or two at a time.  I know some people do not like the mirrors but if I was going to take a long trip like that with an itty bitty I would want to be able to easily check to see how baby was doing. 

I would need to remind myself (many many times) that it is perfectly okay for the routine that the kids are used to, to be on pause and that it will probably take me twice as long to do ANYTHING while we are traveling (including the actual traveling part).

magnetic travel games: https://www.amazon.com/The-Purple-Cow-Magnetic-Puzzles/dp/B01MG7O0QH?ref_=Oct_TopRatedC_166265011_7&pf_rd_p=57baca5a-84d9-50db-bff9-479dc693993a&pf_rd_s=merchandised-search-6&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_i=166265011&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=W0B3MSXNYDQ6HQ5NV7V8&th=1

FireHiker

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Re: Cross Country Road Trip With 3 Small Kids - Tips and Suggestions?
« Reply #5 on: June 07, 2019, 02:03:12 PM »
We did a 6,000 mile, 18 day, 19 state road trip when ours were 2, 4, and 13. I planned out the trip in great detail; we had a cooler and other food with us and would stop to eat lunch at a park and let the kids run around, or sometimes the kids would eat in the car when we were almost to the park and then we would eat at the park while they ran around. Most of our hotels had pools; we splurged on night at a Great Wolf Lodge and the kids LOVED it! We usually stopped somewhere for dinner but a few times we would either pick up food at a grocery store or carryout and eat at the hotel so the kids could be less contained than in a restaurant. I brought some "treats" with me that I occasionally handed out to prevent the "I want xxx" at the gas station bathroom stops. Some states had really nice rest stops; a few in Texas even had playgrounds! We tried to stop and do something fun here and there as well. The City Museum in St. Louis, MO was super cool if it's along your route. We also worked in a few national and state parks; a quick hike is a great way to burn off a little steam or here there.

I had several small toys/items that I bought and had stashed for desperate moments when they couldn't occupy themselves; it really saved the day a few times. For drawing in the car I recommend the twist-up colored pencils that are erasable/washable. Markers are awful because kids lose the caps and they dry out. Crayons are awful because they melt, and getting melting crayon out of your car SUCKS (been there).

Kmp2

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Re: Cross Country Road Trip With 3 Small Kids - Tips and Suggestions?
« Reply #6 on: June 07, 2019, 03:26:56 PM »
We did this numerous time when I was a kid, a family of five, camping, all crammed into a car (once even with our 70lb dog on our laps!). Now I have 3 of my own 1, 3, and 6 and we are debating doing a cross country trip this summer, but I think I'd rather wait until my 1 year old is 2 or 3... 1 is tough.

My mom was masterful. She had a bag stuffed under the passenger seat with activities, for your kids ages I recommend the Melissa and dougs reusable water drawing books work well, new car tapes, treats and snacks. We especially like cereal, fruit loops, shreddies etc.   She would only pull out new stuff when needed and it averaged once a day. We would also get up really early, put the kids in the car, pack up the campsite and drive 1-3 hours before stopping for breakfast. We would have a huge picnic with eggs and toast with lots of space for us to run around. The most efficient travelled miles were early in the day when we were still sleeping, and during naptime. The hours between breakfast and lunch were often split into short driving trips between a hike or playground.  The after lunch we would cover a few more miles before stopping around 4 for the day to set up eat dinner and go to bed early :). I have added a portable DVD player to my emergency stash, but I have not pulled it out yet - it's for emergencies when we need to cover ground.  We averaged 400 miles a day when I was younger and we haven't done further then that yet with my kids either. Some days you go further (maybe at the beginning before they get bored, or maybe a few days in when they get in the groove), and some days you barely feel like you've gone anywhere.

Good luck, I have lots of good memories of our road trips starting when I was 4.

My 3 year old quickly discovered he could get the car to stop ASAP if he said he needed to go potty, so it was a stop and go road trip last time. If we had been doing multiple days we probably would have had to call his bluff a few times.

Cassie

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Re: Cross Country Road Trip With 3 Small Kids - Tips and Suggestions?
« Reply #7 on: June 09, 2019, 01:24:00 PM »
Twice a year we would make the 1600 miles road trip to see the in-laws with 3 kids. We stopped every 2 hours. Always stayed at a motel with a pool. Something to look forward to and to burn energy.   No electronics back then so played games like how many red cars do you see. At least once I would pay them not to talk for a hour:)). Summer was harder because we didn’t have air conditioning.

Socmonkey

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Re: Cross Country Road Trip With 3 Small Kids - Tips and Suggestions?
« Reply #8 on: June 10, 2019, 06:52:55 PM »
Thanks for the ideas!

I ordered two car seat trays. They have about a 3 or 4-inch high wall around the edge (to hopefully prevent a few dropped toys, etc) and a good sized area for drawing or playing. I also ordered a few of the water pen coloring books and a magnetic block shapes play thingy. For $1 a bag at the thrift store, I also picked up a grip of assorted toys like cars, minions, and action figures to give out at strategic times.

We are planning on taking 10 days to travel the whole distance of about 3,000 miles. The journey is part of the trip so we plan on seeing things along the way. Current plan is to leave early in the morning, 3 am or so, to get to Roswell NM for lunch and seeing the cheesy alien things. Then head to Amarillo to have dinner at the Big Texan Steak Ranch and stay at a motel nearby. Day two is heading to our first stop, the Stafford Air & Space Museum, and driving as much as we can towards Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas. At this point, we kinda wing-it for a few days until we get to drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway and stopping at Monticello. Then Harpers Ferry, WV and staying with friends at Chesapeake Beach MD. Since we are close, why not stop by the Yuengling brewery for a tour? :D

By then we are close enough to the destination we could get there in one day.

Trifele

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Re: Cross Country Road Trip With 3 Small Kids - Tips and Suggestions?
« Reply #9 on: June 11, 2019, 04:44:31 AM »
@Socmonkey — if you like breweries, you should go to Sierra Nevada when you are passing through Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a must-see.  Beautiful, modern, green, relaxed, and cool. EXCELLENT free tour, but you have to sign up ahead of time so do it now.  But go even if you don’t get on the tour.  There’s a lot to see indoors, and a huge outdoor area to hang out in with a garden, cornhole games, and walking paths.  Dog and family friendly. Good food too. 

NorCal

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Re: Cross Country Road Trip With 3 Small Kids - Tips and Suggestions?
« Reply #10 on: June 11, 2019, 11:38:44 AM »
Activities are great.  My five year old loves "I spy".

You can also find some road-trip games to print off for kids.  There's some road-trip Bingo games you can print off.

Kids audiobooks are also great.  My kids enjoyed some classic Roald Dahl books.

We did a three day road trip with my kids (4 and 1) last summer, and they actually did good.  It's good to plan, but don't stress too much.  Find places to stop where they can run around.  Kids can be adaptable.

margep

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Re: Cross Country Road Trip With 3 Small Kids - Tips and Suggestions?
« Reply #11 on: June 19, 2019, 07:45:46 AM »
Activities are great.  My five year old loves "I spy".

You can also find some road-trip games to print off for kids.  There's some road-trip Bingo games you can print off.

Kids audiobooks are also great.  My kids enjoyed some classic Roald Dahl books.

We did a three day road trip with my kids (4 and 1) last summer, and they actually did good.  It's good to plan, but don't stress too much.  Find places to stop where they can run around.  Kids can be adaptable.

Agree with printing games and activities. Another thing that helps for your 4 yr old and 2 yr old are coloring books—they get them occupied for minutes and even hours if you get lucky.

I know this can be frowned upon, but in dire situations, we have some iPads to calm down those kiddos. We also schedule regular stops to let them run around and wear them down a bit so they get to sleep better while on the road.

Have fun!