Love to travel but have kids that prefer climbing, bouncing and perpetual motion to endless hours sitting in the car? Ok, I realize I just described most kids but if you have high energy kids you know this is even more of an issue.
My husband and I have three super active kids, ages 5, 8 and 10. We’ve taken a lot of road trips. And we have it down to a system now that is pretty smooth. We keep planning more road trips so either we have some sort of travel induced amnesia or we are actually onto something that works for our family. Maybe it will for yours, too.
Our Top Ten Tips for Smooth Road Trips With High Energy Kids
- Bring Scooters! They fold easily, don’t take up much space in the car and you can use them anywhere to get some exercise and burn energy. We scoot at rest stops, in the empty corner of a parking lot, at parks near hotels and down city sidewalks. Here are my kids scooting through the beautiful city of Savannah, Georgia, which is thus far our most favorite place to scoot. Although they prefer their bikes when we’re home, when scooters are their only option they are happy to see we’ve packed them (and their helmets, too).
- Have a night time dance party in the car. Break out the glow sticks, crank up the music and move those arms and legs. We get quite a few double takes from passing cars–Oh, who am I kidding, we are the ones passing the other cars because my husband’s #1 tip is “Drive as fast as legally possible.” (Ok, so I added the “legally” part. Please don’t leave me mean comments about how we are horrible parents.) Anyway, the dance party is fun and we are moving our bodies, which buys us more driving time.
- Travel at night for as many hours as you can possibly stand. We used to drive through the night but we just discovered another way that doesn’t leave one or both of us completely exhausted. We put the kids to bed at normal time, loaded the car, then we went to bed. We slept about 5 hours, then stuck the kids in the car and took off around 3:30 a.m. We missed all the traffic getting out of the major metropolitan area we live in. We thought the kids would go right back to sleep. They didn’t, so we had a dance party (see #2) and watched a movie, then stopped for breakfast around 9:00 a.m. Guess what? After that, they fell asleep for three hours! By then, we had almost reached our destination (where one of us napped while the other one took the kids to the pool-ahem, that would be me). Night travel for the win!
- Make shopping part of your travels, instead of buying a ton of special things for the trip ahead of time. Plan to stop at Target or Wal-Mart along the way to stock up on sunscreen, special treats, snacks, a new DVD, books. Let the kids run in the aisles, hop from square to square on the floor. Let them go as wild as possible without getting arrested. You’ll never see the people in this town again, you’re just passing through. These kids need to move!
- Stay at a hotel with an indoor pool. This has been a lifesaver. Doesn’t matter what the weather is, you have a great place to burn energy when you arrive, before bedtime or in the morning before getting in the car again. Even when we parents are tired, we can trek down a few floors to the pool for a bit. Once they’ve exhausted themselves in the pool, hanging out in one room isn’t so bad. Remember those books and stuff you bought at Target? Get them out now.
- Plan your stops strategically before you go using Google Maps. We chose three cities: 3, 4, and 5 hours into our drive so we had three options of when to stop and knew exactly what we could do in each place once we got there. We only planned to stop at one, but if the kids were asleep or engrossed in a movie around the first stop option, we powered on and didn’t stop until Option #2. Pick cities very close to your route so you don’t waste time driving to get to them and then back to the main travel route.
- Know when to cut your losses. Some trips we zing along and everything works. Others, it’s just hard. Kids are car sick or restless or fighting A LOT or they just can’t sit any longer. Traffic is bad. It pours rain for hours. Just stop. Find a restaurant or a mall or a shopping center or a tourist attraction or some rocks to climb or wildflowers to pick and just stop and regroup. For as long as it takes. Find a hotel for the night and try again the next day if you have to. This is usually an option we exercise more on the way home. Why does the trip home always seem so much looooonger?
- Keep ‘Em Busy. Give each kid a basket or box filled with the things they love to do. Art supplies for my little artist, transportation themed activities for my 5-year-old son and new music and apps downloaded on the iPad for my 10-year-old. Try our Are We There Yet? map game so they can see you really are making progress.
- Make it educational. I’m a homeschooling mom so you knew I was going to find a way to turn this into a learning experience, right? We look at the geography of our trip before we go, learn about the history of the places we are visiting as well as things we might see along the way. Which state will reveal the first palm tree or the highest mountain on our route? Make a list of rivers we will cross and check them off a list. Buy field guides before you go or as you stop along the way to learn about plants and animals of the region.
- “Electronic devices: The more the merrier. This is not the time to be the screen police. Relax your rules and pass out headphones freely.” This is in quotes because it is what my husband said when I asked him what his top tips were for traveling with high energy kids. He does have a good point here.
For more Family Travel ideas, you can find me pinning as a Brand Ambassador for Trunki US, maker of innovative travel products for kids.