how to take a road trip with young kids: planning the itinerary.

Time for the next post in our Road Trip series! Let's talk itinerary.

 It has taken me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that 99% of you reading this have smartphones and Siri and other kinds of witchcraft at your disposal, so you may not need my old fashioned tips for planning the best routes and stops.  But as for me and my house, we will just continue to spend $25 a month on our ancient phone plan and use our crotchety old fingers to Googlysearch the cybernet for our trip planning.  Because YOLO.

All that to say, I've never used GPS or other technology on our road trips before, so I'm blissfully unaware of how much harder I'm making this on myself.  Just humor me; take any advice that might be helpful, and just smile and nod along with the rest.

If you are traveling with young kids during daytime hours, plan on stopping every two hours or so.  This year we pushed the average closer to three, but it was the first year we were able to do that.  We don't have any "questionably potty trained" kids at this moment in time, and Rocco eats about every three hours or so, so it just worked for us this year.  I would suggest ALWAYS erring on the side of stopping too frequently rather than not frequently enough. Stop before you feel like you need to, if that makes sense.  ("Kill it before it dies" is always my organizational mission statement, and generally how I try to live my life.) 

I will point out: this frequently means you should have planned in advance where you're going to stop, instead of just getting in the general vicinity of where you're hoping to stop and then crossing your fingers something worthwhile shows up before the kids start melting down.  Plan. It. Out. so that the trip doesn't get on top of you. 

Always, always make every single child go pee at every single stop. They will tell you they don't have to. They will tell you they haven't even had any sips of water since the last stop. Don't give in!! You are the grown up, and by golly, you know enough to know their acorn-sized bladder is already hatching plans to derail the whole trip. Don't fall for it.

For our first stop, I always just plan to find a nice, civilized interstate rest area. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, since we don't stop for long. We take the kids to the bathroom, feed them a snack, let them stretch their legs, and get back on the road.  I usually search the DOT site in advance for rest areas that have amenities of some kind that tell me it's regularly maintained and supervised.

The next stop usually falls around lunchtime, though, and this is where we pull out the big guns.  We stop at a park, do a full-on picnic lunch, and let the kids play to their hearts' content.  (And then, abviously, I make them go pee again. I don't mess around.). I plan in two hours for this stop, and we usually leave feeling revived, well-fed, and ready for naps.  Smartphones are probably great for finding nearby parks while you're on the road, if you haven't already put the legwork into making an advance plan, but I just use Google (again, I can't stress this enough: in advance) to look at city maps of the larger cities we'll be driving through, to find parks that are close to the interstate. Falls Park in Sioux Falls has become our favorite lunchtime spot on our regular route. 

We try to plan at least one fun or unusual stop into the rest of our day.  Sometimes state tourism websites will tell you what there is to see along a specific road. Other times, I use sites like and to find quirky places to check out (keeping in mind the distance between stops).

For dinner, we often stop for hot food somewhere. A hot meal just revives tiny people (and grown ups) like nothing else can.  To find good places to eat, I look ahead at where we'll be around dinnertime, and check TripAdvisor for yummy spots.  Sometimes you can find some great hole-in-the-wall places; other times you end up being like, 'meh.' But you're fed and everyone has had a break from the car (and, obviously, gone pee again), so you're still winning.

I usually spend an afternoon or so planning our whole trip- both there and back.  I like to have the planning done at least a few days in advance.  Then I print out our maps and directions (because, as should be clear by now, I live with abandon about a decade behind the times, so I can't keep any of this info on my phone).  I also print a shorthand schedule, mostly for my own crazy town brain to keep things organized.

I like to overestimate our times so that I feel awesome about making good time.  It's how I feel like I'm winning at life.  Which I will admit is a tiny bit sad.

And that's how I plan our itinerary to keep things running as smoothly as possible, and to try to provide opportunities for the kids to make some fun memories! If anyone has any other itinerary hacks, or even smartphone tips and apps for traveling that you'd like to share with other readers, post them in the comments!

1 comment :

todd said...

it's fun to look back on trips from the past. we've had a LOT of fun. i love the memories we are making. thanks for all the hard work that makes memory making possible (good memories, that is. i suppose trips would be equally memorable if you put ZERO thought into them ahead of time, but memorable in the wrong direction)