How to Survive a Long Road Trip With Young Kids

How to Survive a Long Road Trip With Young Kids

One of my fondest memories of my childhood is when we took a cross-country road trip when I was fourteen.

We took a whole month and explored Civil War Battlefields, Washington DC, New York, and everywhere in between.

We started our trip in Oregon and drove all the way across the country in a big motorhome.

Ross and I love to travel and go on adventures.

We have done a fair amount of road trips back in the day, but going on a road trip with young kids is quite different!

We just got back from visiting friends in Colorado, and since this was our second long-haul road trip (multiple days of travel and multiple hours each day), I thought I should write about what we have learned road-tripping with two little kids.

How to Survive a Road Trip With Little Kids

How To Go On a Road Trip With Two Little Kids

1) Do Practice Road Trips

When we went on our first big road trip, our girls were 18-months-old and 4-years-old. We were excited to go to our friend’s wedding in Montana which was 10 hours from our house.

But Ross was terrified of the drive.

Both of our girls hated their car seats until they were old enough to face forward. And our youngest had a tendency to scream from the moment we put her in her car seat until the moment we arrived at our destination.

So to help her get over this, we decided to do several practice road trips. I took the girls up to my grandma’s house (3 hours away), we went to visit my parents (2 hours away), and down to visit friends in my hometown (2 hours away).

And the more we drove, the more she got used to it.

By the time we were ready to go, they were both enjoying being in the car.

2) Practice Having The Kids Close Together

Another thing we were a little worried about was the girls being in close quarters for so long. We wanted this to be an enjoyable experience and not have them bickering in the backseat.

So I decided it would be good practice to put both of them in the jogging stroller/bike trailer and go on runs and rides with them.

I would load them in with their Doodle Pads, some books, and their water, and we’d be off!

Then when they did have a disagreement, I would try to stay out of it and let them figure it out themselves.

And when I did need to help them figure it out, it was a lot easier to “pull over” a jogging stroller/bike trailer and teach them how to work together and negotiate with each other than it is to pull over a car.

This may not seem like something that would make a big difference, but I definitely recommend that you take this step (or find something similar if your kids are too old to ride in a jogging stroller together).

Because we had a LOT of opportunities to practice working things out during the one-hour long rides and runs… but by the time we went on our road trip, their disagreements were few and far between.

Coincidence?? I don’t think so!

3) Practice Sleeping in the Same Room

This is something I haven’t done before, but we will be doing it in the future!

This was the first time we have stayed in a hotel together as a family with two kids and the first time we have tried to have the girls share a room for 2 weeks in a row at our friends’ house.

(We do most of our vacations to friend’s or family’s homes so we often end up with a little more space than a hotel room provides. So usually we try to put the girls in separate rooms, and Ross will sleep in the same room with one child and I will seep with the other so that the girls will get the maximum amount of sleep.)

But since we were going to be there for two weeks we decided that the girls would sleep in the same room… and it definitely could have gone better๐Ÿ˜‚

One child tended to keep the other awake pretty late, and then one child would always end up waking the other one up in the morning.

So yeah… next time we will be doing some practice ahead of time so that they can learn how to be quiet while the other person is going to sleep, then be quiet if they wake up first in the morning.

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4) Give Yourself Plenty of Time

Now back in the day… when Ross and I were cool and we slept until noon on the weekends… the 19-hour road trip that we just did to Colorado would have been done in less than 24 hours.

But now that we have kids… bahahahahahahaha!

We decided we were going to break it up into 2 days of 5 hours, and one day of 6 hours.

And it was PERFECT!

5 hours of driving took us about 6 or 7 depending on how many potty trips we needed to make (oh so many potty trips).

We also tried to let the girls run around for a couple of minutes when we did stop so that they could stretch their legs.

So my advice is this: Don’t Rush the Drive!

It will be much more relaxing if you just realize that your drive is going to take much longer than you think it should and you just embrace it.

Trust me!

5) Get Some Games

If your kids are a little older (3 and up) you may want to grab a couple of games that will help pass the time.

For this trip, I grabbed the License Plate Game, Car Bingo, and a Maze and Dot-to-Dot Book.

For my girls, the license plate game and car bingo were games that we played multiple days and everyone had a lot of fun with.

The water pads entertained them for a short amount of time but were not nearly as captivating for them.

How to Survive a Road Trip with Little Kids

6) Essential Road Trip Toys

Buckle Toy

When we went on our first road trip and our younger daughter was 18-months old, the biggest life-saver we had on our trip was a little Turtle Buckle Toy.

She would buckle all the buckles then say “hep! hep!” and I would reach back, un-buckle them, and then she would do it all again!

I highly recommend this toy if you have a one to two-year-old that you want to keep entertained.

They have a ton of different styles, animals, and colors to choose from depending on your child’s preferences.

Doodle Pads

Our second favorite road trip toy is their Doodle Pads. We got these for them when they were each two years old, and they have yet two outgrow them even at 6 and 3.

I definitely recommend getting a doodle pad for each child. I know it isn’t the most minimal thing to do to get duplicate toys, but the Doodle Pads is one of the few exceptions to my minimalist rule!

Craft Bag

Our last absolute must-have entertainment is the craft bag.

We love having this craft bag both at home and on the road.

Before we got the bag the markers and crayons ended up all over the floor… almost every day.

I originally got the craft bag to solve the solution at home, but then it turned out to be an amazing road trip hack too!

We put the bag between their car seats and everything gets put away in the proper compartments when they are done… for the most part.

Now I can’t imagine going on a road trip without the craft bag.

Do a Dollar Store Run

After we were armed with our tried and trues… I made a dollar store run.

I got 4 small new items for each of them that I knew wouldn’t last any longer than the trip.

They were only allowed to do one new thing each day, and it just basically gave us an extra 30-60 minutes when they were getting fidgeting at the end of the day.

Then at the end of the trip, all of those little trinkets went into the garbage because dollar store things are not meant to be used forever.

Yes, I know getting stuff at the dollar store isn’t the minimalist thing to do, but since those things don’t last forever, they didn’t even make it into the house at the end of the trip. They took a detour right into the garbage. ๐Ÿ˜‚

7) Have Something Interesting to Listen To

The next thing you have to have on your road trip is some new stories to listen to.

Yes, music is great, but stories really help pass the time for everyone. Ross and I find the stories just as interesting as the girls do.

We enjoy The Bible on Living Sound and Your Story Hour, and there are so many great podcast options out there as well.

8) Plan Out Your Meals

Create a Meal Plan

Just as no road trip would be complete without meals, no post by Kassy would be complete without a meal plan. (Just kidding… kind of, but not really ๐Ÿ˜‰

Seriously though, if you want to keep everyone happy on your road trip, have an idea of what you are going to be eating when.

That way you won’t be frantically searching for a fast food restaurant once everyone is already hungry.

Have an idea of which meals you want to eat out and which meals you want to make yourself.

If the meal plan is already set, it will minimize negotiations when everyone has a different idea for what they want to eat.

On our last road trip, Ross and I actually decided which meals we would eat out on the trip and where we would eat those meals before we even left the house. This made it easy to know that there would in fact be a restaurant around when we wanted to eat from one.

(It is surprising how long you can go without seeing any restaurants when you are doing a long-haul road trip!)

Have Special Snacks

Normally our kids don’t eat between meals but on a road trip (just like on hikes) this rule kind of goes out the window.

Before our road trips, we load up with lots of fun snacks from Trader Joe’s and Costco.

Have an Awesome Road Trip with Little Kids

Have Special Drinks

Typically we just have our kids drink water, but sometimes it is hard for them to get enough when all they are doing is sitting all day.

So to solve this problem, we grab several coconut waters for the girls before we hit the road.

The first day on the road we made the mistake of giving each of them their own. And we might have had to stop 5 times in an hour and a half for potty breaks.

The next day we decided we would split the containers and that made for a much better drive!

9) Have Fun and Stretch Your Legs Along the Way

Back when Ross and I were cool and slept until noon on the weekends, we were all about the destination.

But now that we have kids, it’s much more about the journey.

Stop and take some hikes, go to a park, or just find a grassy place to let your kids stretch their legs.

If we can, we like to take a break about halfway through our drive.

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See you on the next one! Kassy

How to Plan a Fun Family Vacation When You’re on a Tight Budget

How to Plan a Fun Family Vacation When You’re on a Tight Budget

The Best Family Vacation Ideas When You're On a Tight Budget

After Ross and I paid off our student loans (more on that story here) we wanted to travel… but we didn’t want traveling to hurt our financial goals.

So we decided to go to New Zealand, Ross’s dream destination, and spend the least amount of money that we could. Think couch-surfing, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and sleeping in our car when we couldn’t find a couch to surf on cheap.

When we went to Europe (my dream destination) the following year, we carried our enormous backpacks everywhere we went because we were too cheap to rent lockers, we slept in train stations and on trains, we couch-surfed, we ate more peanut butter and jelly (but we did remember to buy trail mix this time for some variety!), and only paid to use a public bathroom once… because I was desperate (I still can’t believe they make you pay to pee in Europe! I’m over it, honest.)

When we had kids, we knew we still wanted traveling to be a part of our life.

But since I was quitting my job to be a stay-at-home mom, our budget was even tighter than it was before.

So we took what we had learned from traveling cheaply as a couple and figured out how to have a fun family vacation on a shoestring budget.

In this post, I’m going to show you how to set your vacation budget, give you some budget-friendly travel ideas, and tell you how to stick with your budget, even when you’re on vacation.

How to Plan a Fun Family Vacation on a Tight Budget

1) Determine Your Budget for the Vacation

The first thing that you need to do if you are on a tight budget is to sit down with your monthly budget and determine exactly how much you can afford to spend on this vacation.

Be sure to talk with your spouse or significant and come to an agreement on an amount that you are both comfortable with.

When you vacation shop first, you will probably be disappointed when you can’t afford your dream vacation. So always start with the budget… then look at which vacations you can afford.

2) Prioritize Your Spending

When you are on a tight budget, you have to choose where you want to allocate your money.

You won’t be able to afford spending a lot of money on eating out, fancy hotels, and exciting excursions.

But, you can probably spend more money on one of those things if you are frugal in the other two areas.

When we were traveling to our dream destinations before we had kids, we chose to travel, sleep, and eat very cheaply. That way we could spend more money on some fun experiences that we had always wanted to do, like skydiving and bungee jumping in New Zealand.

We wouldn’t have been able to afford to skydive or bungee jump if we hadn’t determined before our trip that we weren’t going to spend much money on meals and lodging.

So prioritize what you are going to use your money for before your trip to make sure that you spend the money where you want to.

Decide which of the three areas you are going to spend some money on and which two you are going to be frugal in.

How to Plan an Awesome Family Vacation on a Budget

3) Brainstorm Ideas for Your Vacation

Now that you know your budget, you can decide what type of vacation that you can afford.

Here are some ideas to get you started!

1. Visit Family

Visiting family for your vacation will save you a lot of money on lodging and food.

If you don’t want to be a financial burden to your family by staying with them, offer to pay for groceries! It will still be a much cheaper vacation that if you go to a hotel and eat out for every meal.

We are lucky enough to have family living in Hawaii right now and were able to have a really fun vacation while staying with family in a lovely tropical location.

Since we have family that live all over the US, we usually plan our trips to visit someone and do some sight-seeing at the same time.

2. Visit Friends

Just like visiting family, visiting friends is not only fun, but it will save you money on your family vacation.

A vacation doesn’t need to be far away from home. We love visiting friends that are only a couple of hours away just as much as we love visiting friends that are states away!

3. Go Camping

If you don’t have friends and family on the route that you want to take, bring your camping gear!

Not only is camping a great way to spend time in nature with your family, it is a lot cheaper than staying in a hotel or hotel alternative like AirBnB or VRBO.

Another reason I love camping is that campsites often don’t have WiFi or cell service. This forces everyone to put down their devices and truly spend time together.

If you want some help planning your camping meals, check out my post How to Create Your Perfect Camping Meal Plan!

4. Go on a Road Trip

Instead of flying to your destination, try taking a road trip instead!

We have driven a lot with our kids from the time they were tiny to get them ready for the bigger road trips that we wanted to take.

Neither of our girls was particularly fond of their car seats when they were babies, but we kept taking short 2-3 hour road trips whenever we could to get them used to it.

By the time our younger daughter wa 15 months old, we were able to go on a multiple-day road trip with happy campers in the back seat!

The only thing that we did to make them a little bit more excited about being in their car seats for so long is we got them each one new toy that we gave them for the trip. Our second daughter got a Buckle Toy, and our first daughter (who had just turned 4) got a Doodle Pad.

If you still aren’t sure about taking a road trip with your kids, check out the post How to Survive a Long Roadtrip with Young Kids for tips on how to make the trip fun for everyone!

Inexpensive Vacation Ideas for Families on a Budget Plus Plus How to Stick With Your Budget When You're on a Vacation

5. If You Need to Fly, Use a Credit Card to Get Points

When Ross’s brother moved to Hawaii and we knew that we wanted to go see them, we immediately got an Alaska Airlines credit card and began accumulating points.

Since we signed up when bonus miles were available, it didn’t take us too long before we were able to go to Hawaii with only needing to pay for 2 tickets (our younger daughter was under two, and our older daughter was able to fly on the companion ticket.)

If you know that you need to fly somewhere, see if you can find a credit card that you can earn miles with.

6. Have a Stay-Cation

If your budget doesn’t allow for you to do any of the above ideas, have a stay-cation with your family!

There are probably a lot of fun things to do close to your home that you’ve never done before. Are there fun restaurants that you have been wanting to try? Has a new water park opened up in your area? Are there gardens to visit or hikes to go on?

Take some time off work, put away your phone, and pretend you are on vacation with your family right in your own city!

4) Make Your Decisions And Begin to Prepare

1. Set Aside Money Every Month for Your Trip

It’s never too early to start saving for your trip.

You won’t be disappointed if you end up with more money to spend on your vacation than you originally thought, but you will be disappointed if you come up short.

You could even put a spare change jar in the kitchen so your whole family can see the goal and easily contribute to it.

2. Make Arrangements for Your Trip

This is when you want to check with any family or friends to see if they are available for you to stay with them, book hotels, book airline tickets, and anything else that you can purchase and reserve ahead of time.

Many things get more expensive as the date approaches and you can save money by booking in advance.

3. Meal Plan and Eat Out Sparingly

If you need to save money on your vacation, meal plan before you go.

Plan which days you will eat out and which days you will make your own food.

Do some research ahead of time on the local favorites so that you can be sure to go to the good places while you are there.

We have saved so much money on all of our trips by meal planning and going to the grocery store instead of just hitting the restaurants.

It’s not to say that we don’t go out to eat at all, but we plan on which meals we are going to eat out and we try not to impulsively go to restaurants just because it seems more fun at the time.

Check out How to Meal Plan for Your Road Trip for more ideas on creating your vacation meal plan.

How to Plan a Family Vacation When You're on a Tight Budget, Plus Cheap Vacation Ideas that Your Family Will Love

4. Research Free Things To Do Before Your Vacation

No matter where you are going (or if you are going nowhere at all!), there are free things to do.

There is no better way to make your budget stretch even farther than by taking advantage of cheap or free things to do.

5) Pay Attention to Your Budget When You Are On Your Vacation

If you are on a tight budget, make sure you aren’t overspending when you are on vacation.

It can be really easy to get caught up in #vacationmode and start making it rain everywhere you go, but all those little expenses add up.

If you don’t want to be paying for your summer vacation from now until Christmas, keep track of all of your spending either with pen and paper, through the Mint.com app, or by using cash for everything!

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  • Put Effective Routines in Place
  • Create a Set-It-and-Forget-It Meal Plan
  • Get Your Finances Under Control

Simply Streamlined walks you through exactly how to Completely Streamline Your Home in just 15 Minutes a Day!

Plus you will receive

  • Cluttered to Calm Lessons, Workbooks, and Spreadsheets
  • Put Your Home on Autopilot Lessons, Workbooks, and Spreadsheets
  • Set-It-and-Forget-It Lessons, Workbooks, and Spreadsheets
  • Master Your Money Lessons, Workbooks, and Spreadsheets
  • AND Weekly Live Coaching Calls!

I hope to see you inside the program!

(Or if you are more of a do-it-yourself kind of gal, you can check out my DIY Streamlining Resources!)

Want 7 Extra Hours Every Week? Grab the Streamline Your Home Quick-Start Guide!

You may also enjoy…

How to Have an Awesome Birthday for Your Kids when You are on a Tight Budget

The Best Intentional Gift Ideas for Kids

How to Create a Budget

How to Budget for Christmas

And

How to Hike with Little Kids

See you on the next one! Kassy
How to Plan a Family Vacation When You're on a Tight Budget
How to Afford a Family Vacation When Money is Tight