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Have Kids, Will Travel

Dec 01, 2021 11:24AM ● By Matthew Jones

road tripThis Thanksgiving, my family and I spent the week in Nashville, Tennessee, with some old friends. Yes, that’s right, the Nashville that’s a 9-and-a-half hour drive away from Fredericksburg in the best case. Yes, that’s also right, we do have two young children. No, I haven’t lost my mind. We wound up making it work pretty well. There were no screaming fits and no children "accidentally" got left in a truck stop bathroom. I hope maybe my experience will help give you some ideas to make your travel with kids easier.


Let’s face it, packing for a trip sucks—especially with kids. You need to extract everything that makes your life function from your house and put it in bags. You need to scrounge up clean clothes and figure out what everyone’s outfits are going to be. A tsunami of diapers, socks, pacifiers, puzzles, coloring books, and shirts floods your dreams. How can you make this less of a nightmare?

One of my best suggestions for packing is to do it over several days, or a whole week, if possible. Taking an evening just to pack your adult clothes is a manageable piece of work. Packing the kids' basic outfits the next day is no sweat. It's waaaay better than the strategy of waiting until the last minute and trying to do everything at once and why can't I find any clean socks and WHERE did Benny leave his tablet and POW!—your head explodes.

But my number one suggestion for packing is:

Make! A! List!

clipboard with blank check list checked or ticked G1mkC4DMy brain is usually like Swiss cheese. I can't hope to remember everything that I need to pack. Making a list is great and serves a couple of purposes: 1) you can add to it over time as you think of different things you need to pack, and 2) when it's time to go you've got a nice little checklist to make sure you haven't forgotten anything. I usually use the Notes app on my phone, which has the nice feature of letting me share the list with my wife so she can add items as well. What's on your list is up to you, but it will probably include some of these highlights of my list:
  • Clothes for you. Clothes for the kids. Wherever you're staying, they'll probably frown on you being naked. If you're planning on some special occasion, don't forget to include a nice outfit on the list.
  • All your toiletries, medicines, books for leisure. Write 'em all out so you don't forget to pack them.
  • Is it going to be cold? Make sure you pack coats, hats, and gloves for everyone in the family. I put all of ours in one bag for easy access.
  • While you're checking the weather, see if it's going to rain. Bring those boots and raincoats, or at least cram some ponchos in your suitcase.
  • If you have a baby still in diapers, be sure to include all the necessary accouterments like wipes, poop bags, and extra outfits.
  • Toys, books, puzzles, coloring books, and other things to keep the kids occupied. This was necessary for us since we had a lot of downtime at our friends' house. If you're doing to be gone all day like at Disney World or something, this is less important.
  • Don’t forget bedtime supplies! Whatever your kids need for sleep time, make sure you pack it. If I have enough space, I put each kid’s stuff in their suitcase with their clothes. For longer trips when I don’t have the space, I pack a separate bag with all their sleep supplies together. That’s what I did on the Nashville trip.
  • Last but not least, I recommend including things to remember to do before leaving. Locking the doors, watering the plants, and all the little other things to batten down the hatches for an extended time away. Doing this really helps me avoid the last-minute anxiety of worrying about all those little things as we’re trying to leave. My brain is already fried dealing with the packing and the kids, so not having to worry about these little details is a big help.

Getting There

Okay, you're packed. Now you just need to drive ten hours in a car with two children. No, please come back! And stop screaming! I promise it won't be that bad. Probably. Some tricks that have worked for us include:
  • Have snacks and water at hand. Hangry and thirsty children don't make good car companions.
  • Give the kids something to do. For us, we temporarily waive screen time rules. Benny happily watched four Disney movies in a row on the way to Nashville. Also, make sure everything is ready to go. For us, that means charging the tablet, downloading movies, making sure his headphones are there and finding the little doohickey for mounting the tablet to the headrest in front of Benny. It wouldn’t be crazy to even do a dry run beforehand to make sure everything is ready to go. That would have helped me realize we didn’t have the mounting doohickey in the car. Luckily I was able to jury rig a mask’s ear loops wrapped around the headrest to hold the thing in place without having to go back home. Figuring that out was a really proud dad moment for me.
  • If they nap, time it around their naps. Maybe go even further and drive at night while they’re asleep. My mom says that on road trips when she was a kid, her parents would drive all night while the kids slept.
  • Pack all your activities for the car in one bag. On previous trips, I’ve had to spend 15 minutes looking for Benny’s headphones right as we were trying to leave. It’s much nicer if all that stuff is in one little tote bag all ready to go.
  • Manage your time. Do you want to take a leisurely pace, and stop off at some attractions or small towns on the way? Or do you want to just get there? Going to Nashville, we took the latter approach. We did our best to limit excursions to bathroom and food breaks and only a few of those. For lunch, we stopped by the Dairy Queen drive-thru. For dinner, we had a picnic we brought but ate it in the car since it was 33 degrees out. We made it there in about 11 hours.

I hope some of these points were helpful. If you're considering a road trip with your kids this holiday season, try some of them out, and maybe you'll have less of a headache. Safe travels.
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