In the summer of 2014 Mr. O and I decided to drive out to see my sister, brother-in-law and their new baby.  I waffled back and forth between feeling certain we were going to have the best trip ever, to thinking we were all going to need therapy by the time we returned home.

Hitting the road for a family vacation? Follow these simple tips to have a safe, fun road trip.

Fortunately, we had a great time.  Of course we hit a few snags, but we managed to roll with the punches and have a lot of fun.

Here are a few things we did to help things go smoothly and keep 3-year-old meltdowns to a minimum:

1. Pre-make sandwiches (without soggy bread).  Make the sandwiches with just meat and condiments.  Wrap in plastic wrap, pressing down a bit in the middle.  Place your veggie toppings in the crevasse, wrap again.


2. The travel tray is a life saver.  Instead of watching movies for the entire 13+ hour trip, Miss O could color, read, play with small toys, or have a snack without making a <huge> mess.


3. Use paper bags in plastic ones.  They are sturdier, square, and will keep food from rolling around the car, and the plastic bags give you handles for easier carrying.

4. Store meals you make ahead of time in ziploc bags or disposable trays.  Once you eat them you won’t have to worry about lugging around empty tupperware.

5. Use 2 separate coolers.  We had a big cooler for long-term stuff, and a small cooler for things we wanted to eat or drink during the trip.  It saves you from digging around for what you want.

6. Wash fruit and veggies in vinegar/water solution to help it last longer.  I used this recipe and we had fresh berries for our whole trip.

7. New and “new” toys.  A while back I wrote a post about cleaning most of the toys out of Miss O’s playroom.  So while every site I looked at suggested giving new toys to kids in the car to keep them occupied, that seemed sort of counter productive.  Instead, I went shopping in my room and packed a few of the toys she hasn’t seen in a while.  They, along with some coloring books and some ultra washable markers did a good job of keeping everyone happy.


8. Use Roadside America.  I can not recommend this site enough.  During long trips, you have to stop.  Why not stop at a local dairy bar that has a giant T-Rex statue?  If you have children with you, plan stops that will allow them to run around.  I actually called the Fort Wayne, IN parks and recreation department for recommendations for family friendly parks close to our route.


9. You can not pack too many wipes.  Even if your kid is out of diapers, or if you don’t have a kid, pack wipes.  They are good for everything.

10. Melatonin.  By the time we got to our hotel the first night Miss O was so wound up she would have never gone to sleep.  I gave her a Zarbees Sleep Aid (1 mg of melatonin) and she got enough sleep to be agreeable the next day.

11. Have a plan, but be flexible.  No matter how well you plan, things are going to go awry.  Traffic, weather, and other people are all things that are out of your control.  What you can control is your attitude.  Relax.  It’s a vacation, not a military operation.  Sometimes the best memories are made when nothing is going as planned.

Travel is stressful, but it’s also an amazing way to make family memories.  In the end, we were really glad we decided to drive to Illinois.  We got to talk, laugh, and enjoy each other in a way you just can’t do in a plane full of people – I don’t think the other passengers would enjoy Miss O’s continuous rendition of “Let It Go” the way we did.

Have you ever taken a family road trip?  Share your tips and experiences in the comments.

Hitting the road for a family vacation? Follow these simple tips to have a safe, fun road trip.