This post about hacks for traveling with kids is sponsored by Pilot Flying J, but all opinions are my own.
Our family LOVES to travel! Oftentimes people are shocked to find out that we are traveling with 4 young kids (ages 6, 4, 2, and 5 months) but we aren’t about to let having young children or a baby keep us from enjoying something we love, especially when they love it too! This summer we’ve already taken our whole crew on a 14 hour road trip (each way) to Orlando, Florida and we have more trips planned for the summer and into the fall. I’ve learned a lot over the years, including a few hacks for traveling with kids that makes the trip easier and more enjoyable, so today I thought I’d share them with you.
Purchase Disposable Cameras
You’ll experience vacation differently though the eyes of a child! While I still bring my nice DSLR camera, we also give each of our kids a disposable camera and let them take their own photos. Just remind them that they are limited so they shouldn’t take them all on the same day. Let them know they should only take photos of their favorite things on vacation. If you have younger kids, try handing them the camera throughout the trip to snap one photo and then take it back. When you get home, you can have fun creating a scrapbook together.
Plan Ahead For Stops
When you have little ones, making stops during your trip is inevitable. Rather than getting into a “panic situation” when someone HAS to go potty that second, we schedule potty/rest breaks. By mapping out the Pilot Flying J travel centers along the way, we can stop for bathroom breaks, a gasoline fill up, and food for all of us as well.
Finding a nice, clean restroom when I’m on the road is at the top of my priority list, so I was excited to find out that Pilot Flying J recently renovated their restrooms (yay!). They also have fast, fresh meal options plus the snacks that keep my kids happy while they are in their car seats. It’s amazing how a 15 minute snack stop at Pilot Flying J can keep the moral boosted throughout the entire trip. You’ll find everything you need at Pilot Flying J for a successful trip from home, to your destination and back.
Oh, did I mention they have a really nice rewards program too?! This way you can get points and credits for all kinds of stuff, like coffee, birthday bonuses and other surprise rewards at their locations! I love it when companies reward me for frequenting their locations!
Entertainment is a Must
Kids get bored easily in the car, so you need to plan ahead, otherwise you’ll spend the whole time hearing, “are we there yet,” from the back seat. In-vehicle DVD and portable DVD systems are always appreciated by our kids, but we’ve found a few other things that they enjoy in the car that don’t take up a lot of excess room:
- Coloring books and crayons
- Small building block sets
- Travel card games
- Small action figures
Embrace The Blind Bag Craze
My kids are obsessed with “blind bags” – you know, those bags that have action figures inside them but you won’t know what’s in them until you open them. Everything is more exciting when it’s a mystery. Our minivan has a built-in DVD system which is great for road trips, but my kids used to argue and complain about the movie choices all the time.
Well, I finally found a way to fix it. On our last 14 hour road trip I decided to create my own “blind bags.” I bought a package of brown paper lunch sacks at the store (even found them in this fun polka dot print) then just slipped one DVD into each bag and sealed it with tape. It’s super simple and quick. Then the kids get to take rotating turns opening a DVD blind bag. They get so excited to open it up and see what’s inside that they don’t care what it turns out to be AND their siblings don’t complain because no one really “picked” it. I’ve found that this is also a great way to get them to watch DVDs that they would otherwise frown upon. Seriously, since I started this there are no more complaints about the movie. Everyone is happy!
You could expand this idea into all sorts of things, like snacks, car games, etc. for your next trip.
Organize Clothing By Day, Not By Person
I learned this on our last trip — when you have kids, it’s much easier to organize your clothing not by family member but by day. That way, if you are need to stop overnight at a hotel, you just grab a bag of clothes for the next day, instead of dragging everyone’s suitcases inside. Even when you get to your destination, it makes getting ready every day so much quicker! I also kept all of our toiletries together in one separate bag for easy access.
Consider a Luggage Rack
This was something else I learned on our last trip — consider purchasing a hitch and luggage rack for your vehicle. I had no idea that we could purchase a hitch and my husband could install it himself. The prices on both the luggage racks and hitches are reasonable enough and it saves precious room inside the vehicle. We did not have one for our last trip and my husband and I both agreed it will be worth the investment next time around!
*Update – we got one for our next trip and it was SO nice to have!*
Indulge in a Treat
Every now and then, stop for a surprise treat for your kids – it keeps the moral high and let’s everyone stretch their legs. Remember, it’s vacation. Your kids will remember that time you let them SKIP dinner and just eat ice cream instead! Most Pilot Flying J locations offer you a way to indulge in something sweet, because they feature more than 400 restaurants across the country. You could stop in for gas and then treat everyone to a cinnamon bun from Cinnabon or get one of their fresh fruit cups if you’re looking for something healthy. Their PJ Fresh Marketplaces even have M&M Hot Cocoa and Caramel Iced Latte! The convenience of having it right there while you’re already pumping gas means you’ll make one less stop too!