I love a good day trip, for good reason. We have four small kids.
In case you’re wondering how this affects our vacations, my husband and I have adopted a mantra. It goes like this: “We’re not staying in a hotel again until everyone is at least in kindergarten.” Pretty zippy, right? #onemoreyear
Because if I want to stay up all night shushing everyone, I’d prefer to do that at home. For free.
We still like to get out and about though. To be honest, we’re total homebodies and it’s tempting for us to get pulled into weekends of nothing but yard work. Yet, man cannot live on mini-farm alone.
Besides that, living in North Carolina, we’re nestled in between the mountains and the beach. Both take about three hours to get to and both are on our list of favorite destinations. We try to get a road trip in about once a month. After MUCH trial, error and I wish we’d brought that regrets, here’s our fool-proof plan for family day trips.
How to pack for a day trip with kids
Tip 1: Pack the night before.
This way we get an early start, around 6:30 am. The kids get to bring a small “Fun Pack” which includes a couple of car-friendly toys and a book or two. If we’re going to the beach, this is where I fill my giant travel bag with towels, sun cream, etc. If it’s the mountains, we’re loading up with bug spray and so on. The kids set out their outfits too.
Tip 2: Bring a cooler with lunch & snacks.
The night before, we also fill water bottles and make a lunch for everyone. I find that individual lunches are easier to pass out than a bunch of individual sandwiches, etc. We’ve had a set of EasyLunchboxes for four years and they’re still going strong. This style of lunchbox stacks easily and of course keeps all the foods separate and dry. Nothing fancy here. I just make food that travels well: PB&J, a piece of fruit, string cheese, pretzels.
For snacks, my husband always throws in a bag of Fun Size Snickers. I bring a bag of apples. They’re my car fruit of choice because there’s no smell or mess, and unless someone drops them (not out of the question with my crew), apples stay in good shape. For something heartier, I like jerky and recently discovered *Chef’s Cut that’s made with real turkey, chicken or beef and without nitrites. (I’m linking to Amazon here so you can see the package but sure you can get a better deal at places like Whole Foods.) My nine year old loves the BBQ chicken version.
The last thing is key: fill a big thermos with water. Especially at the beach, everyone runs out of water. Now you can refill water bottles as needed throughout the day. Usually we fill up at lunch during our picnic (see below) and again on the way home. JUST BE CAREFUL that you aren’t filling too often during the actual road trip, unless you like stopping again and again and…
Tip 3: Eat breakfast on the road.
Since we’re packing lunches and trying to get out of the house quickly, we’ll grab a breakfast biscuit in a drive-thru. It’s a guilty pleasure that we only do a few times a year.
Tip 4: Have a picnic lunch.
Once we’ve arrived, we’re totally set for fun. We’ve hydrated, eaten snacks and focus on the activity of the day. Cut to lunchtime when we head to the car, pop the back open and tailgate. Everyone has their own lunch ready to go, plus all that extra water and possibly an extra Snickers. Who’s counting now? Then it’s back for the second half of our day of fun.
Tip 5: Eat dinner out.
We like to have an early dinner on the road, around 4:30 or 5pm, close to the destination and preferably a local joint with freshly made food. This is no time for fast food. Afterward, it’s nice to take a little walk around the area, go to the bathroom one more time, then settle in for the trip back home.
Tip 6: Bring screens.
That’s right. I said it. Our kids bring a couple of toys and a book or so, but they spend the majority of their time watching movies. It’s supposed to be a fun day out! Every kid has a Kindle Fire loaded with movies (downloaded ahead of time) plus a pair of color-coded headphones. The only rule is, you have to wait until we’re on the highway. That gives us time to settle into the trip again together, to talk about what was fun and set the tone for expectations when we get home. “Everyone needs to bring in their own gear: Fun pack, any garbage near your seat, shoes…” My husband keeps all the Kindles in a specific bag so we aren’t just hoping none of them get damaged or lost . This isn’t amateur hour.
The kids are EXHAUSTED after a huge day like this so it’s really key to coach them on what the evening will look like. That’s our best chance of making it home with enough energy left to want to do it again. And we always have.
*I was given a sample of this product but all the opinions are my own. This post also contains affiliate links to Amazon.com. When you make a purchase from any of these links, Foodlets receives a very small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support!