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It’s not easy going on a long road trip with kids. The miles drag by slower and slower the longer you’re in the car. The kids get more wild with every passing state. If I’m not careful, the back of my van turns into the pacific island from Lord of the Flies.
It doesn’t have to be like that though. After seven years of doing this, and adding one kid after another to the mix (we’re at three, and we are stopping at three), I’ve got some pretty great ways to make it a lot easier for you! The best part, it’s all DIY: from an oil change with Quaker State oil, to putting together busy bins for the kids. I’ve got you covered from start to finish with a printable checklist so you don’t forget any of it!
This year is actually the first (and only, please let it be the only) year that I’m taking the kids on a road trip to Florida all on my own. That’s right, me, on my own, with an 8, 6, and 3 year old. It’s going to be AMAZING (psst, that’s sarcasm). But, Bo’s got a new job and the vacation time just doesn’t work out. One of the main reasons I know I can do it though, is because of how well we’ve nailed down the drive there and back.
Don’t miss the FREE PRINTABLE CHECKLIST at the end of the post.
It’s my non-emergency “emergency” kit for the car to solve those kid problems you’re sure to have.
DIY Busy Bins To Keep Them Entertained!
The first thing I’ve learned is that in order to stay sane through a long road trip, you need to give the kids options to occupy themselves with. Organization is key though, because you don’t want your freshly cleaned vehicle (that step is further down) to look like a tornado went through it. You’ve got to make sure the kids know where to put things back.
I made these bins for them last year. Just some plastic tubs, a plastic over the door shoe holder, and a glue gun and you’re on your way (check out Canadian Tire, they’ve got lots of size options for the tubs so you can easily find one to fit your vehicle, and you can get the shoe holder there too). The best part is that when we got back home from vacation I just put the lid on them and stored them away for the next road trip.
I cut the the hanging shoe holder down to three-wide pieces (this will change depending on the size of your tub, fit as many as you can). Hot glue it to the side, and then fill them with crayons, markers, or even keep one as a drink holder! I put the kids tablets, colouring books, video games, etc in the tubs. They each have their own so there’s no fighting over colours, and there’s a place for them to put things back so it doesn’t get messy.
One more little trick: Put a bunch of pieces of plain paper and a box of crayons in a ziplock bag and keep it in your purse. This is great for restaurants when they start complaining that they’re bored!
Little Surprises Help the Chaos From Climbing!
Next up, I make surprise bags. I found these little knapsacks a couple years ago on clearance after back to school was over. Buy some little goodies, treats, toys, maybe a colouring book, and wrap them up in tissue paper. I try to have one surprise for every hour of the road trip. When the kids start amping up and getting a little bit crazy, I yell out “SURPRISE TIME”.
Each kid riffles through the bag, squeezing all the wrapped goodies, and trying to guess what it is, then they pick one to open. I try to do this roughly every other hour, so that they have enough to get to Florida, and back home. The last thing I want to do at the end of a vacation is have to shop for more surprises – I want to spend every last second by the pool!
Another thing I’ve done is bags based on the states we drive through. When you enter another state, they get that bag. I fill it with state related items, like the state fruit, or toys based on inventions from people born there. It takes a bit more time on your end, but the kids get a lot out of it. See, a road trip can be educational too!
Timing, Timing Timing.
So, this is the tip that you’ll read and go “ugh”. I’m sorry, but I promise it really helps.
Like, really early.
I pull out of our driveway at 2am. The kids go to bed as late as they want the night before (Bo puts them to bed, because I’m in bed and asleep by 6pm), and yes I drive first because I’m the morning person in the relationship. Let them be as tired as possible so they sleep in the car for as much of your road trip as possible. Best case, they sleep until about 8am. Our first day of driving is 13.5ish hours. By getting a good sleep in through the night, we’re almost halfway done the driving when they wake up.
The second part of this is to always book a hotel for your overnight stops that has a pool. My kids are so much happier knowing there’s a pool waiting for them at the end of the day. Plus, because I leave so early, I’m usually to the hotel by 4:30ish pm. We grab a quick dinner, then spend a couple of hours in the pool recharging before bed.
By putting in such an early and long first day, it means our second day is a lot easier. Only another 6.5-7 hours to go, so we get up when the kids do (which is usually around 6am, the buggers), grab a quick breakfast, and hit the road. We’re usually pulling in to our hotel in Florida by about 2pm. This means we’ve got time to unpack and spend the night either walking around the shops, swimming, or both!
Ok, but what about before you leave?
When I start thinking about how we’re going to get where we’re going, I never forget about the car. After all, if it’s not in top shape, we’re not getting anywhere. Here are a few things I do every year vehicle wise to make sure we’re good to go:
First up, clean your car
I always clean my van. Like REALLY clean it. This isn’t my typical as long “As I can’t see it, it’s clean enough” type of clean. I get under every seat, I take all the car seats out to remove whatever bio-hazards have been growing there for the last 6 months, I clean the vents, the cup holders… I clean every nook and cranny that it has, and you know what? It feels AMAZING to climb into it before we leave.
Don’t forget about the outside either, get a quick carwash too before the day before you go (and gas up, no one wants to gas up at 2am when they first leave!).
Don’t forget to change your oil
The next thing I do is an oil change. I don’t want any worries while we’re gone, and making sure all my oil is changed and my fluids are topped up (fill up your washer fluid and double check that your antifreeze is good), is top of my list. Being on a budget (because we have to pay for this road trip), we started changing our oil ourselves (We always use Quaker State® Advanced Durability™ Motor Oil).
You know what? It is not hard to do yourself, like, not at all! I’m not going to go into a full tutorial here because you can find them all over the internet for your specific car. If you’re wondering why we chose Quaker State Advanced Durability Oil over the other options, it’s because in testing, it delivered twice the wear protection compared to the industry standard. This just made sense to me when I’m driving so long. Plus, it’s always available at Canadian Tire for a great price (it was even on sale for me this week – woo hoo!).
Just please make sure you’re careful when you’re doing your own oil change. These are just a few things to keep in mind:
- If you’re using a jack and not racks that you drive onto, make sure that there’s something wedged behind your tires to block them from rolling, and make sure the parking break is engaged.
- Put a tarp on the group where you’ll be working to avoid stains, and make sure all your tools and lots of spare rages are within reach
- Keep the kids and pets away while you’re working
See, this is why I love Canadian Tire, it’s always takes just one trip to get everything I need to get ready – those car cleaning supplies, oil for the oil change, washer fluid, clean air filters, storage bins, shoe holders, my “emergency kit” supplies, and even some of the goodies for in the kids bins! I love one stop shopping!!
Finally, change your air filters
After we do the oil change I always change out my air filters. I actually did a tutorial for this last year before we left. It is seriously the easiest 5 minute job you can do, and it makes such a difference. I’d been complaining that the van smelled “musty” for months, and thought it was the air conditioning. It wasn’t, it was the nasty air filter that hadn’t been changed!
Can you tell which one was gross and full of leaves… I’m seriously so embarrassed I didn’t know this was something you were supposed to change this until last year!
“Emergency” Road Trip Kit List
I call this my “Emergency” Kit because it’s not for real emergencies, it’s for kid emergencies. These are the things I HAVE to have in the car for when someone starts melting down, gets sticky, or OMG, the batteries die in their headphones. I’ve even made it printable for you!