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How to Survive a Road Trip with Kids and a Dog

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This summer my family and I set off on an epic west coast road trip.  We did a similar trip two years ago (you can read about that here).  This time we wanted to check out a few places we didn’t get to explore last time and we wanted to bring our dog.  Since our other dog passed away in November we’ve felt like we should really bring this old guy along with us to help him recover from losing his bestie.  We were fairly certain we could all pile into a two door jeep with enough planning and commitment.  We’ve been on the road trip almost two weeks now, and I wanted to share what I’ve learned so far…

Survive Road Trip with Kids and a Dog

Planning and packing. These are key, of course, but it’s worth noting the attention to packing and layout. Be sure to take the time to figure out what you can put where.  For us, we knew we were going to have to put everything on top of the car or on the back of it.  We bought red bins (from the container store) to house our camping gear and backpacks.  Husband and I split the kids stuff up and share a pack. I pack all my clothes and my six year old’s in one bag and he packs his and the four year old’s. This way we can cut back on how many bags we bring. He also has a Trash-a-roo for the spare tire of the jeep which holds three sleeping bags, a tent and our dirty clothes.  We camp almost every other week, so these investments were worthwhile.  We also packed water jugs on top and used a net type system to strap everything down.  Inside the car, we each had an activity bag with our own personal activities and electronics. We can’t use our trunk space as that’s where our dog lays down during the drive, so everything has to have a space.

Survive a Road Trip With Kids and a Dog

Snacks. No brainer here; these are also crucial, obviously!  We used this great pineapple bag from Love Bags, because it has an upper dry storage section with lots of room for fruit, crackers, nuts and bread, and it has a lower insulated section for cooler items.  This saved so much space because ALL the snacks were in one spot that fit behind the passenger seat.  We didn’t have to bring bags of snacks nor a cooler, I also love that the bag is washable and made from recycled plastic bottles. 

Personal Electronics.  I highly suggest bringing individual electronics when possible. However, if you’re anything like me you might not have individual kindles or iPads per kid.  We use a Belkin headphone splitter that I’ve had for almost 10 years to split the sound from one kindle so both kids can listen with headphones and mom and dad get quiet time while the kids SHARE a movie.  You can find something similar on amazon like these.  And I highly suggest getting headphones that go over the kids head, not the ear buds – they will spend more time complaining about them not fitting in their ears than they will watching the movie.  Oh and if you don’t already have one, a portable battery charger, I would suggest one like this, because when you’re out of service range your battery drains much quicker.

On the note of movies, I should note that now you can download select Netflix movies before the drive.  And do a test run without wifi because, it wasn’t until about an hour into our trip that I busted out the kindle and realized the movies we bought were only streaming and had accidentally been removed from download.  It took a few days before we connected back to civilization to properly download the movies.

Speaking of downloads I also wanted to talk about playlists.  It is extremely beneficial to create a playlist with your kid’s favorite songs mixed in.  This allows for the majority of music to be of your taste or of the driver’s and then on occasion a kid’s favorite comes on. So instead of crying for you to put their music on you can simply remind them that their music is going to play and you can’t jump around. Of course they’re kids so they still ask for songs on repeat and you can totally use this to bribe them (no, I’m not above that).  If they’re being kind and their song comes on of course I’ll repeat it for them, ONCE!  

But this leads me to bribes.  I can not exaggerate how important it is to have a tool to bribe your children with. Some parents call these rewards.  I don’t care what you call it, but you need a toy or treat to hold over your children’s head to get them to cooperate.  My husband stocked up on a bag of lollipops before we left to give our kids at the end of a long drive. Anytime there was a conflict he would remind them to work it out to earn their treats.  It’s worked pretty well so far, but make sure you don’t give it to them early because once they get it they might lose motivation to behave.

Workbooks, Markers, and Quiet Time Activities.  My kids love drawing and coloring; they love reading and workbooks. I know some kids are too young for this but it’s literally kept them entertained for hours on this trip.  In an effort to keep the mess under control I pass one color marker back and then when they want a new color they have to give me back the old color with the lid on.  It’s a bit of a hassle to be the marker distributor, but I don’t mind doing it for a while because I know the flip side is dried out markers all over the car when we get home. I highly suggest against crayons since they are not as easily washable and they can melt in the heat if you miss one when unloading the car. (Zipper pouch available here.)

Survive a Road Trip With Kids and a DogExtra Gasoline.  On the first day of our drive it was getting late and all the gas stations were closed so we made it to our campsite on empty but would have never driven out if we didn’t have extra gasoline with us.  We bring about 10 gallons on the back of the jeep which is a little over half a tank in an emergency.

Self Care. This is necessary for mamas to keep their sanity.  I bring along my daily multivitamins and supplements along with my necessary beauty care products.  I love this daily vitamin container, so I don’t have to pack all the containers… just the daily dose for each supplement.  

Confidence, Compromise and Compassion.  I know a lot of people say, ‘my kids would never be able to do that.’  And we’ve had so many people comment on how crazy we must be to even attempt this, but I know that my kids will do fine, because I expect that of them. There really isn’t another option. As much as we might say we’re going to pull the car over, obviously we can’t just drop them on the side of the freeway; it takes me a lot of effort to remain calm and helpful, but it’s worth for all the memories we’re creating.  

Survive Road Trip with Kids and a Dog

Do you and your family do a summer road trip?  If so, what are your tips for making your road trip a success?

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