Danny and I love taking road trips. It used to be something we really looked forward to, especially when we were first dating and, later, first married. Once Forrest was born, we definitely scaled back on the amount we spend driving every summer--but we still love taking a few road trips every single year!
This year, we’ve already been on quite a few road trips: we’ve been to Sunriver several times and Idaho several times. Coming up this summer, we have plans for a big trip to the coast, as well as some smaller trips to Portland, the coast, and Central Oregon.
By no means am I a road trip expert--but I feel like I do know how to do a road trip with an infant, a toddler, and now a preschooler in a way that keeps me from feeling like I’m absolutely losing it! I want to share all my tips and tricks for a perfect summer trip. At the end of this blog post, I’ll also have a FREE download with packing checklists, memory sheets, and much more to make your road trip go just a little bit smoother. I also have an exclusive deal for some Hungryroot snacks!
I’m a consistent overpacker. And honestly, I will defend my overpacking: sometimes, you just need extra stuff, especially with kids. The days of Danny and I breezing into hotels or houses with a bag each, and maybe a cooler, are over. These days, it looks like: a storage bin, a bag, Forrest’s suitcase, my bag, Danny’s bag, my computer bag (gotta work!), my tripod… It’s a bit like a clown car.
I just don’t like having to spend money unnecessarily on trips, especially if we are pinching pennies already. That means, I often try to pack anything I can think we might need in an emergency. For us, that’s extra medications, plus any kids medicine we might need (such as suppositories, cough medicine, Ibuprofen, and band ads), as well as a flashlight, some extra food, and a small stash of water.
Here’s a rundown of what my packing list often looks like:
Medicine: kids Ibuprofen, kids suppositories, band aids, antibacterial cream, sanitizer
Emergency kit: two gallons of water, extra food, extra clothes, matches, small candle, flare
Travel potty if your toddler is younger, recently potty trained, or just prone to accidents
That’s just a few extras I add alongside everything else we’ll need, like clothes, laundry bags, extra bags for souvenirs, our charging cables, and more. You know what you’ll need best on vacation, but it’s important to remember on road trips to prepare for what you think you’ll need. In case of an emergency, I prefer to have everything with me, including extra water and more.
A note on cleaning wipes: I know single use wipes have become increasingly unpopular--and I totally agree! However, if I’m traveling and staying at a hotel, I like to do a quick wipe on everything just for that extra level of clean. It helps me feel more at home and feel much better. I like to use the new Everspring line from Target; these wipes are compostable, cruelty-free, and ammonia free. They come in three scents: Lavender & Bergamot, Lemon & Mint, and Citrus & Basil. I like the Lemon & Mint the best. Even better, they are very affordable. You can find them on Target here.
One thing I also like to make sure I have packed? Plenty of snacks! I get bored when I’m driving, especially during long stretches where there isn’t anywhere to stop. When we go to Idaho, we cut through Bend and Burns to Caldwell. The stretch from Bend to Burns and then Burns to Ontario are absolutely grueling; each leg is only 100 ish miles each, but there is nothing between! Nowhere to stop, nowhere to go to the bathroom, nothing. So, snacks are important.
That’s one of the things I love about Hungryroot! On our most recent trip to Idaho, we took along a big box of Hungryroot snacks: the salted pili nuts, coconut cashew granola, crunchy bean toppers, superfood almond butter, and almond milk maca matcha. These were the perfect snacks to have on the road--much better than my usual Cheez-Its! Not only did we feel better about our snack choices, we avoided that nasty travel stomach that is so common from eating food on the road. Plus, all of these options gave us ways to customize hotel breakfasts: we grabbed a few extra yogurts to eat with the coconut cashew granola. Our hotel had a smoothie bar (!) and we used the almond milk maca matcha in our smoothies. Plus, the almond milk maca matcha made a great drink in the morning to get the day started throughout our trip.
If you’d like to stock up on some healthy snacks before your next road trip, I can’t recommend Hungryroot enough! And even better, you can use the code PAUSETRAVEL to get $25 of your first two boxes (that’s $50 total).
“But Michelle,” you ask, “how am I supposed to keep a toddler entertained on a road trip?”
You know those two 100-mile stretches between Oregon and Idaho I mentioned? Those are often our hardest on the road. So here are my tips:
Play car games. Whenever Forrest starts to get whiny or bored, I say, “I spy something… blue!” And we start a game of I Spy. Or, we’ll play Bingo. Car games seemed so lame to me when I was younger--my parents were not fans--but I totally get them now. This can fill up time and keep your little one from getting too distracted.
Get a travel DVD player. LISTEN! I know what I say about screens and we don’t let Forrest have a tablet… but I would literally lose my mind without our travel DVD player. It is perfect for when there is no stop along the way to stretch our legs. Pop in a Daniel Tiger DVD and hit play, then Danny & I can relax. You can find these for really affordable on Amazon and in stores too.
Look ahead and plan fun stops. One thing Danny and I do before any road trip is plan somewhere to stop for fun. Whether it’s just a cute shop we see on our route (such as the Crescent General Store after the Willamette Pass) or something bigger (like a rose garden), we try to plan a few short (like 15-20 minutes total!) stops to stretch our legs, let Forrest have a bathroom break, and break up the monotony of the drive.
For me, these things are all part of planning our trip. We aren’t just looking at hotels to stop along the way, but rather activities we can do together. This might include things like stopping at the Mount Shasta viewing area on the way to Disneyland (this feels like a lifetime ago!), going for a walk along the river in Bend on our way to Idaho, and more. If you’re staying a few nights at a hotel on your road trip, you can always look for places to go around it; you’ll have a few hours in the evening, of course, so you can always do some walking (to release pent up energy!) and find somewhere fun to eat.
One important aspect of planning your trip… is planning how you’ll pack your car. Danny and I like to pack the car in a way that makes sense to us, although we used to just throw things in and hope we all made it in one piece! Now, we arrange everything depending on what we know we’ll need throughout the trip. This means, our travel potty is in the back seat, along with some paper towels and a trash bag; our snack bag is within reach; our bag with activities for Fo is right in front of him where Danny or I can reach it. How you arrange your car is totally your preference, but this will save you so much hassle on the road! Basically: organize your car and keep it organized!
It goes without saying, but: on vacation, your child just isn’t going to sleep like they do at home. That’s an important expectation to keep if you’re staying at a hotel throughout your trip or just on a few stops on the road. They might get better as time goes on through the trip, but I think it’s so important to keep your expectations quite low when it comes to sleep when you travel!
When we travel, I make sure to bring two things to make it easier on Forrest: his sound machine and one of his blankets. Before, we would bring stuffed animals he had been sleeping with, but Forrest isn’t a lovey kid—he doesn’t have anything he feels particularly attached to. However, having a familiar blanket definitely helps with the sleeping. As well, the sound machine helps all of us sleep, drowns out noise from the rest of the hotel, and reminds him of home. He usually still wakes up at 3am on the dot in hotels, but it could totally be worse.
The sound machine we use is not currently made anymore, but this one is from the same company and looks like it has many similar features.
As I said in the planning section, doing something fun at the hotel when you arrive, even if it is perhaps a little later than usual for your family, can help little ones settle in, burn off some energy after being in the hotel all day, and sleep better. Here are a few suggestions:
Visit the pool to splash & play around before dinner.
Walk to dinner! This is a great way to explore the area, find somewhere interesting, and stretch your legs (as well as get some steps in if you, like me, are a slave to your Fitbit)
Visit a local attraction for a quick visit. A good option is a rose garden or an art exhibit.
Find a local ice cream parlor to take everyone to.
Once you’ve made it through the evening, grabbed dinner (I highly recommend getting pizza delivered if you’re absolutely exhausted, which kids also love), and slept (maybe), it’s time to think about breakfast!
Like I said, Hungryroot is a great way to augment a potentially lackluster hotel breakfast—if your hotel provides one. It might not, which is totally possible! Hungryroot can help there too. A great option are the Hungryroot oatmeal cups, like the Cherry Chia Maple Oatmeal; you only need to add hot water, so if your room has a coffee maker, you can easily use that to heat water and make oatmeal for everyone.
However, if your hotel does offer breakfast, you can use plenty of Hungryroot options to make it just a little bit better: adding some granola to those little tubs of yogurt makes it much more filling and delicious. Or you can add some granola on top of a waffle or eat with milk and any fruit offered. The hotel breakfast doesn’t have to be sad, cold bagels and bad coffee. A little planning ahead can make it much more filling and healthy for everyone in your family. Don’t forget you can use my code PAUSETRAVEL for $25 off your first TWO boxes of Hungryroot; that is $50 total.
Once you’re ready to head out, check your room for anything left behind and get on with your vacation!
Danny & I enjoy road trips. And even though I’m on record as saying I don’t love traveling, I do love giving Forrest memories that last forever. Road trips can be incredibly intimidating, especially if you’re a new mom or you’re just an anxious person (like me). I hope these tips help you make the most of this summer. And of course, I hope you take the chance to try some delicious Hungryroot snacks & food options to make your summer even better.
As an added bonus, I have an exclusive download just for you! This include itinerary planning for your trip, hotel information sheets, journal pages for your memories, and packing checklists perfect for new moms & experienced moms alike! Click the button below to download.
I’m turning it over to you! What are your big tips for traveling with kids?
Disclaimer: Products for my recent road trip were provided to me by Hungryroot in exchange for mentioning them, as well as a small kickback whenever you use my code. Posts like these have helped me keep Writing Between Pauses going! If you’d like to learn more about my disclosure policy, click here.