How to Keep the Kids Happy (And You Sane) During Family Travel

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Someday, you'll look back and cherish the memories you made on family vacations. But when you're 9 hours into a two-day road trip, you're just trying to make it to the next hour without pulling over, getting out, and walking away from the whole mess. There's no doubt that long trips with kids are challenging, but that doesn't mean you should skip out on family travel altogether. Rather, you just need to find ways to keep kids fed, entertained, and content along the journey.

Older kids are easy on long drives. They don't wait until the absolute last second to tell you they have to go to the bathroom, and they're pros at passing the hours on a smartphone. If you don't want teens running up your data, have them download music, audiobooks, and offline games ahead of time and turn off data while driving. If teens get tired of entertaining themselves, let them adopt the role of co-pilot while one parent power naps in the backseat. Most teens will enjoy the taste of responsibility, and they may even find some cool roadside stops to make along the way.

For younger kids, it's all about providing consistent entertainment throughout the trip. Load up a compact, kid-friendly laptop with movies and games, and your little ones will be quiet for hours (just don't forget to pack headphones!). The RCA Viking Pro 2-in-1 Tablet/Laptop is a great option, because it can be used as a laptop in hotel rooms or on flights, or the keyboard can be detached to use it as a touchscreen tablet, a more ergonomic choice in the backseat of a car.

Eventually, kids grow bored of staring at a screen. That's when you whip out the secret bag — the one you packed with handheld activities, snacks, and other supplies to buy you a couple more hours of quiet. This Mama Loves recommends packing puzzle books, a blank notepad for doodling and playing car games, and small treats like candy and juice boxes.

No amount of activities can quell school-aged kids' natural restlessness. Plan regular breaks at rest stops and roadside attractions so your kids can run around and burn off energy. Pack a Frisbee, start a game of tag, or play another quick but active game. Parents, don't sit out of the fun! A few minutes of physical activity will leave you feeling more alert and ready for the next stretch of road. Rest areas are also a great time to grab the cooler and enjoy the lunch you packed ahead of time. Kitchen Stewardship has great tips for eating healthy and cheaply on the road.

Babies are a different beast entirely on road trips. Rather than entertainment, long drives with a baby are about minimizing crying, diaper blowouts, and other backseat disasters. Consider driving at night to maximize the time your baby is asleep. When the baby is up, one parent should sit in the back to entertain, feed, and otherwise manage the baby's needs. Don't let babies and toddlers eat unsupervised in the backseat; the last thing you want is for your little one to choke while your eyes are on the road.

Finally, manage your expectations when you're traveling with kids. You might not cover as many miles per day as you'd like, and rest area pit stops may drag on longer than you'd prefer. Rather than letting delays stress you out, build a buffer into your travel schedule so you can take time to regroup without tanking your travel plans. It's better to show up a day later with everyone happy and rested than to arrive promptly with a car full of grouchy kids and parents!

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