Family trips can make you or break you… or both. As a naturally low-stress gal, I live most of my life very mellow. But travel? The days leading up to travel make my travel monster come out. Why can no one read my mind and see what needs to be done? During travel, it’s the parents who have to double check the details and contact reservations and make sure no children are lost or dead. It’s. Tiring.

You’re in rush to checkout of the hotel after the complimentary breakfast. All the luggage gets shoved in the car until you realize you can’t find that charger you might have left plugged into the nightstand… or is it packed in a bag ?Already having turned in your room key, you beg a new one from the front desk. A sleepy kid is fussing when you get back to the car, and now you’re all behind schedule on your day of fun exploring. Argh!

Despite what the movies show of happy family car sing-alongs, that image needs to be shoved way out of your head and replaced with sanity savers. No matter what we do, travel is stressful. No one enjoys travelling with parents who freak out. Let’s simplify to lessen the parent stress!

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Castillo de San Marcos Dolphin Watching in St. Augustine
Castillo de San Marcos Dolphin Watching in St Augustine

1. Stay in One Place

For my family, that means that we stay in one place for several days and think of it as a central hub. While there might be a little more time traveling to an outlying city, I’d much rather spend that time in the car listening to an audiobook than carting bags back and forth to the car to change to a different hotel. We all know that it’s one of the most stressful parts of road trips.

Learn to appreciate slow travel. See fewer places more thoroughly. Stay in one central location and commute thirty minutes to see the city and surrounding sights. Remember, you don’t have to see everything!

2. Stay in One Place

No, that isn’t a typo. I mean, pick a hotel chain that you like and stick with it.

I used to spend so much time clicking between the choices or hopping between hotel apps to see which one gives me the better deal. Or there was an error with the reservation. Or it says it holds six people, but they don’t currently have a fold out bed. Or the refrigerator hardly blows cold air, and now you have a cooler of food without anywhere reliable to put it. I’ve even left shady hotels and lost the payment over sleeping somewhere less desirable.

Booking one less hotel or VRBO means exactly that. That’s one fewer booking to make and a decision you didn’t have to add to your endless list of roadtrip decisions. With a larger family, it’s a pain to go through and click to see which hotels have a suite with a fold out couch. We love Home2Hilton, so it has become our go to because we know it will always have what we need.

3. Allow for Downtime

Another perk of staying in one place is you have more time to recuperate and catch up. Instead of driving to the next town, you can read your book while the kids play in the pool. Or wash a load of clothes in the hotel laundry downstairs. And, honestly, these days with travel work, downtime means Dad can pull out the work computer and finalize some items for the boss.

Keep your days similar to homelife to ease some stress. Meals don’t have to happen on the go when you have time to eat in your hotel room. Plan your days to include time for the kids to get to run around and be kids. Get to bed at a reasonable hour instead of driving until late; learn what you need to bring for a good night’s sleep in a hotel. Downtime is not a waste of precious vacation time but essential.

East Coast Beach Play
East Coast Beach Play

4. Know What to Expect

I have a control-freak kid. He wants to know where he’s going, where he’s going to sleep, will it have a pool, what’s going to be for breakfast, etc. The questions! All of these do not help a mom who is sitting in the passenger’s seat trying to navigate through rush hour for Dad in a strange city. If he knows exactly what to expect, it makes him less anxious; less worrisome kid means less stressed (and questioned) Momma.

Take the time to tell the kids the plan for the day. Minimize the questions by sticking with the familiar. Same hotel chain. Same suitcase procedures. (These backpacks are the best!) Same breakfast options. Same travel day expectations. Be flexible, but know when it’s okay to stay with the known.

5. Make Technology Your Friend

Figure out what works for your family not what you wish was reality. It’s okay to use technology to make your life easier! Our minivan has a built in DVD player, and each kid has wireless headphones.

For about 75% of our travel days, the kids are plugged in watching a movie together, and Just as my brother and I have shared memories of our favorite memories, my kids are bonding through their movie quotes and inside jokes. This is all the more special to them because the parents just don’t get it. Remember to put the biggest kid next to the DVD player and organize your DVDs to not just add to the clutter.

6. Prepare The Car

Now, travel entertainment was more difficult when my kids were smaller, but it was doable. More in their responsibility means less “Mooooommmm” coming to the front seat. Train the big kids to help the little kids before you are needed. Don’t forget mandatory nap time and car quiet! Just do it. Make sure you remember to pack:

Picnicking at Edison-Ford Estates in Fort Myers, Florida
Picnicking at Edison Ford Estates in Fort Myers Florida

7. Leave “School” at Home

If it is not required to stay up-to-date on a certain school schedule, just chill and leave your traditional school supplies at home. I’ve done the bag of learning books and maps for them to follow along and math worksheets – they never came out of the car.

Remember that travel is the ultimate learning experience without you bringing along busy work. Set a goal to listen to the family audiobook for an hour before turning on the TV. Utilize extra leaning opportunities at your destinations. Turn off the TV and make them look out the window while talking or singing along to your favorite songs. Embrace roadschooling and life learning.

8. Simplify the Suitcase

Take four or five days of clothes and plan to wash. Less to keep up with means less to potentially lose, and it doesn’t take up vital trunk space. Consider a compression bag if needed to take up even less space – this works great for bulky winter coats. I pack a dirty clothes bag and keep it simple for washing. Make life even easier by packing a one-night bag for a quick hotel stay without having to unpack the entire car. My favorite suitcase ever makes it easy because it’s a backpack for free hands for all… the… stuff…

9. Don’t Stress About Food

Ignore all the articles out there about “How to Stay Paleo While Traveling” or “Avoiding Unhealthy Car Snacks” because sometimes you just have to choose where to allow for some wiggle room. For me, it’s often bending from some at-home food rules. Sometimes a little ice cream stop at McDonald’s or an Icee from the gas station are needed on a hot day. Keep an apple in the car to pass out for snacks, but don’t worry ion you have to add a cookie to the meal. Yes, eat healthier when it’s available, but don’t let packing (and keeping cold) a week’s worth of snacks add worry to your day. A couple of weeks of less-than-ideal food is worth your sanity.

10. Keep the Driver and Co-Pilot Happy

If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. Right? No matter how great the rest of the trip goes, you will still have irritable unless you prepare yourself.

  • Instead of listening to the constant chatter, I am listening to my own book or podcast with my bluetooth headset in one ear (It’s safe!).
  • Minimize decisions while driving by preparing your phone. I save stops as a “trip” on my iPhone map for easy access. Preload your listening selections. Know how far it is to the next rest area.
  • Keep snacks that are for driver-only. It’s okay to keep candy for those sleepy Mom situations, and tell the kids they don’t get to have any.
  • Stop when you need to stop! Safely and sanity over some arbitrary goal you made for yourself.
  • Allow the kids to burn some energy – rest stops, hotel pools, McDonald’s playground – and use the time for some downtime for yourself
  • Get good sleep yourself. Choose the best bed in the room. Pack your sound machine or listen to it on your sleep headphones. Take some sleep medicine. You can’t safely get your kids anywhere if you’re exhausted.

Bonus Tip

I’ve finally figured out after all these years that the kids go bonkers when we get to a hotel room. It’s a given. No matter the time of day or the status of supper, they have to open all the cabinets and play with the safe. And no one helps as much as you think they should, of course. Know that this will happen and quit getting annoyed when it does. Take them to the pool, bring your book, and let them burn off the crazy. I know I’m not the only one, right?

Exploring the Bayous in Houston
Exploring the Bayous in Houston

What sanity saving procedures have you implemented for family travel? Let me know because this mom needs all of them in my arsenal for sure.

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