We are about to hit the road later this week for our annual road trip to Michigan. We take a long time getting there, exploring several destinations on the way, and this year, we are extending it over seven days and adding an 8-hour detour to Iowa for a family reunion. Seven days with three kids at their prime argumentative ages may sound a bit like hell, but my anticipation for this trip rivals only Christmas when it comes to enthusiasm. For us, the path getting there is half the fun. After several years of completing this same trip, I’ve found so many tricks and fun ways to make it the best it can be, and my kids look forward to it as much as I do. This year, we’re so excited that Brett can make the trip with us, and if there’s one thing on my checked boxes of important things Brett shares with me, it’s the way he approaches road trips like I do–focusing on the journey, not the destination. “No rush,” Brett reminded me last week. “Like, we stretch this out and stop wherever we want to stop to have fun, right?”
Here’s a few things that not only have smoothed out the inconvenience of being stuck in a car for so long and making several stops, but have added meaning and fun to make this trip the most epic part of our summer every year.
Individual Kid Backpacks
I used to pack one big “fun bag” for the car that had all our entertainment, books, headphones, etc. but the kids are loving having their own little backpacks this year. Not only does it make them excited to pack it with their own things (books, activities, games, Kindle, toys, etc.), but it helps them be responsible to keep their things together and put away (plus, no fighting over stuff). And, the packs are great to have for excursions later on the trip. We use the Herschel Kids backpacks (super durable, we’ve had ours for years), but we also love the Skip Hop backpacks, suitable for little ones. Pricier, but great for frequent travelers (and come with rave reviews) are the Arrow Packs from Walker Family Goods.
I made these simple little luggage tags for their bags with wood tags (wood craft aisles at Michael’s). Google “blank license plate template” for the state you want, drop name text over it in any editing software, size it to your tag, print it, cut it and adhere with a few layers of Mod Podge (or you can add clear packaging tape around it to water seal it). The kids love theirs.
Every time we’ve ever packed nice solid kid headphones for a road trip, someone has stepped on them and broke them. These snug CozyPhones are so great, stay on my kids ears, and they’re so easy to roll up and tuck away in their backpacks (you can even tuck the cord inside the headband).
Pack Fun Car Entertainment besides Technology
As great as iPads are for car entertainment, my kids get tired of them, and we all love some good ol’ back-to-basics road trip entertainment. Some of our favorites are The Ultimate Backseat Book, Are We There Yet? Eye-Spy Game and Scavenger Hunt for Kids, Travel Bingo (we found ours in the dollar spot at Target this year), and these License Plate Stickers for tracking in a journal which plates we see along the way.
Kid Wallets with their own Money
In the kids’ backpacks this year are their own wallets with a little bit of spending money for souvenirs and snacks along the way. Usually, I just buy them little things along the way, but they are so excited to have ownership of it this year, and it’s added a lot of fun, especially for the little ones. How cool do you feel as a kid when you have your own wallet…with real money in it?!
Wear Your Enthusiasm
Ever stop at a destination and laugh at a family all wearing the same obnoxious vacation t-shirt “Arizona or Bust! Smith Family Road Trip 2015”. Guess who’s having fun? I’ll never forget a Florida trip we took with friends when I was little, and we all got matching hideously bright neon shirts for it. It added such a special touch to our trip, and I was so excited the night before we left to lay out my shirt for the next morning. You can pick up plain white tees and easily decorate them yourself with fabric paint, order a custom design from sites like Custom Ink (I make a “Camp Bliss” one for us every summer–fun keepsakes later), or you can tame down the obnoxious and order one of these cool road trip designs from Walker Family Goods. Might I suggest the Willy Nelson “On the Road Again” one.
Make Trip Passports
One of our favorite additions to our summer adventures this year is our Summer Bucket List passports. Basically, I just took our summer bucket list, added some specific things from our trip and had them printed in a passport book for each kid with a place to “stamp” each adventure they collect on the way. I used corresponding photos from our summer archives, but you could simplify it and skip the photos, add illustrations or clip arts or make a handmade book and staple it together. I printed ours from Artifact Uprising and used their 5×5 soft cover book. I figure these will be so much fun to look back on years from now. I have this rubber stamp set to stamp their passports, but these stamps from Amazon are similar.
Use Large Ziplocks for Packing
This makes finding things in a bag and keeping clothes organized so much easier. For the road trip portion of our trip, I pack one big bag for all the kids’ things, so we can go in and out of hotels without toting a bunch of bags. Keeping the kids things separated in Ziplocks with their names on them helps. I’m skipping the suitcase altogether this year and toting the rest of our things (that we don’t need until we get there) in a large laundry basket that will come in handy for dirty clothes once we arrive.
And now to get this house in order before we leave! Happy travels.