How to Keep Your Holiday Road Trips from Becoming the ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’

Don’t get caught in the crossfire of excess sugar and cramped conditions. Prepare yourself for holiday bliss with PLN’s guide to a better road trip.

The holidays can be a challenge for parents with small kids. After all, we want them to enjoy this special time of the year, but it is one that is filled with challenges. Increased sugar intake, loss of routine and social activities with relatives sometimes rarely seen can cause holiday meltdowns. Yet the real challenge comes before you even get to the holiday party.

That’s why we have put together your definitive guide to overcoming something that strikes fear in the heart of many seasoned parents: the family road trip. Whether you are travelling a few hours or a few days, we have everything you need to get there with your sanity intact.

Plan your Route

When it comes to travelling with kids, one of the questions that every parent hates to hear is, ‘Are we there yet?’ Consider planning a route where your kids have several different stops to look forward to. For example, halfway through the trip, you can plan a stop to their favourite restaurant for a meal. Double points if it includes a play place. Are there any fun points of interest along the way? A 15 minute stop could be enough to save your sanity.

Time it Right

The time of day you travel can also have a great impact on the success of your trip. If you are planning to travel a few hours to grandma’s house, for instance, consider leaving at bedtime and arriving late in the evening. This way the kids can enjoy a comfortable sleep on the way and you can avoid hours of whining. If you don’t like the option of driving at night, you can leave at nap time. Do your little ones hate to sleep in the car? Try packing the car the night before and leaving first thing in the morning. Your kids won’t have the energy to fight.

Don’t forget, a soft blanket can make all the difference. Kids will feel comfortable, be able to sleep if they choose and then they also have something comforting once they get to their destination.

Pack Properly

Just because your kids are stuck in the car for a few hours (or days) doesn’t mean that they have to be bored. It can be a great opportunity for the kids to do some quiet activities. One of the best tips I ever got from a fellow parent was to pack backpacks with toys and activities that are specifically reserved for the car. Here are some great options:

Magnetic Blocks

These are a great investment to keep kids content while also developing great skills. These are also a toy that they aren’t going to quickly outgrow so it can be used for years. Buy a big set and split it between your kiddos. Because they are magnetic, they are easier to keep in little one’s laps.

Magnetic Drawing Board

Colouring is an awesome quiet car activity, but your sweet ride and a set of markers are probably not the best match. A magnetic drawing board can be a great idea to keep little hands busy. For the older kids, I love this line of art supplies by Jac Jac Bird. They combine vinyl (available as a colouring book) and markers or chalk that are easily wiped away with a little bit of water. The markers can also be dipped in a little water if they ever ‘dry out’.

Travel Games

Older kids can also be kept busy with a variety of travel board games or activity pads. If you want to get everyone in on the game, why not pack a game good for the whole family? My family enjoys playing games like Rubber Neckers. Any game that involves the whole family is sure to be a winner. Kids love to play with mom and dad.

Set the Right Soundtrack

While the thought of singing Christmas favourites on the road is a great idea, it’s probably one that might go south pretty fast. After all, we are inundated with the sounds of holiday cheer for the better part of two months, so it tends to lose its novelty pretty fast. So what should would-be road-trippers do? Elect one member to make a killer playlist, but when that gets old, bring out your secret weapon: a book on tape. Yes, you read that right. First of all, when your kids are listening to a story they need to be quiet. It’s a great way to keep you and your kids entertained. You can even visit your local library to choose some titles for free or invest in a series that your kids will request time and time again. There are also several fabulous kids’ stories podcasts that can be easily downloaded onto your phone before you leave.

Snack Sensibly

One of the reasons that kids can find the holidays such a challenging time is the lack of a healthy diet. Excess sugar can trigger hyperactivity and meltdowns. While it is tempting to pack sugary snacks or stop for fast food while on the road, packing healthy snacks and stopping for low-sugar choices can help to derail the spikes in blood sugar that can trigger poor behaviour. Let your kids help choose some healthier options to have on the road. Choose to stay hydrated with water instead of sugary pop or juice.

Choose a Sweet (and Comfortable) Ride

No matter how well you prepare, if you are not comfortable and safe during your trip, it won’t make a difference. I had to learn this the hard way after my husband and I drove to Florida in a small car with three little ones. There wasn’t enough room for the car seats, let alone the luggage, diapers and essentials that come with kids. Luckily, we have since learned our lesson. By choosing a vehicle that marries the need for space, comfort, and safety, we were able to find the perfect fit for our family.

The 2018 Honda CRV has all that our growing family needs to make everything from a quick trip to a long haul a breeze for our family. As a nervous winter driver, I chose to get the all-wheel drive trim with the multi-angle rearview camera to feel safe no matter the weather. My husband loves the available heated steering wheel and we all love the space it allows us. The best part? Lots of room to store all the presents that Santa is sure to bring us this year!

What do you think PLNers? What are your road trip secrets? Let us know in the comments.

Melissa Robertson

Melissa Robertson

Melissa Robertson divides her time between writing her for the Parent Life Network and wrangling her three children that have lovingly helped her earn the title 'hot mess mom'.