Ep 07 | What We’ve Learned After 50,000 Miles of Road Tripping with Kids, pt.1

We’ll start with a letter from one of our friends, one of MANY questions we’ve received about our month-long road trips, through the years:

“You guys are my traveling heroes.

Will you please tell me how you do this successfully? We’re doing a drive across the country this summer and you packing in bins is so inspiring! How do you do it!? Send me a video please!! And how do you deal with the whining and noise? Bright ideas?” 

In over 50,000 miles, we’ve been to 41 states, 23 national parks, and averaged ~5,000 miles while on 4-8 week-long-road trips, which we’ve taken annually for 7 of the past 9 years.

And nearly every year, when we are on the road with our kids for this amount of time, we get asked both the WHY and the HOW. And we get it, road tripping with small children is not always easy… but it’s also pretty awesome!

Let’s talk about THE WHY – 5 main reasons for us

  1. We believe planned adventures/trips/getaways are one of the main foundations of a family’s shared memory together. When you look at the limited amount of time you have with your kids at home, and ask yourself, “what am I doing to create times for bonding that will be standout family memories?” — for us annual trips are at the top of this list And since this is a foundation to our family culture we value + prioritize + budget for travel more than a lot of other things!
  2. Our kids are only young once! Over time it gets easier to travel, but harder to schedule.
    Some people looked at us sideways when we said this, but really – there was SO much freedom when they were even younger! No activities/sports to work around, not as big of a pull toward friends, etc. It has become a bit more challenging to work around these things, as they’ve gotten older, each year.
  3. We crave warm weather and adventure in the middle of a long winter! (and if you live up north, who doesn’t?)
  4. For us, it helps make up for our summer weekends that are filled with weddings — we realize we have a time luxury because we run a somewhat seasonal business and we’ve always worked from home and homeschooled our kids 
  5. Because, as photographers, we get re-inspired and fresh creativity simply by being in new places and seeing/experiencing new things.’


Start Small

  • We think it is best to think of this as a thing that starts small and grows a little in time and scope every year.
    • It can be easy to say, “we’ll do it someday!” when the kids are small. 
    • Our recommendation is to start road-tripping when your oldest is 4-5. It is doable when they are younger if you want, but 5 is the age when kids start adding the trip events to their long-term memory.  We believe when they are small you are creating building blocks for what you will do when they are older. 
    • Maybe don’t do a long trip right out of the gate. ;) Start with some amount of time that seems practical but maybe a little stretch. And then add to it in time/distance/budget/time-off every year.

Tips for the Road (and all of that time in the car!)

  • Ok first – What’s your packing style? 
      • The day Ray came home from the store with those bins I was so excited, because he is NOT the organized one… I usually tend to be… and I just couldn’t believe his organizational skills! ;) Those bins are our lifesavers! 
      • Clear, stackable, and labeled is our system. The ones we have are more limited as far as where to find them now, but we’ll link those and a similar version in the show notes.
    • When kids were really little, I used to pack outfits for each day, label and put in plastic gallon bags (H1, H2, H3, etc) – now they pack themselves and we kind of just hope they have enough of everything! ;)
  • No tech vs. tech guidelines?  
    • So this is just what worked for us — but we found that the less we used screens, the less they whined. The more we had them available, the crankier and more dependent on them they were. For years our vehicle didn’t have built-in screens, so that made it easy, now it does but we limit it to a limited portion of nighttime driving. 
    • We’ve told our kids this ever since they were tiny tiny – we don’t do screens until it’s dark outside! We were 100% no screens back when we had little passengers, we mostly still are these days, except when it’s dark outside while we’re driving, then we pop in a movie. 
    • Entertainment will vary for different ages, and I don’t even plan for this part of our travels any longer (wild!) but current faves for my kids’ stages include books, music, knitting, bracelet-making, drawing, and LEGO (we keep these in small Tupperware containers or gallon-sized plastic bags! They know it’s a risk that they could easily lose pieces, one certain child, especially, likes to take that chance ;) )
  • Whining and noise?
    • This a question we get basically every year and I feel like I have no real answers. We will say this, though – prepare and train for it in advance, as much as possible – then set your expectations really low and anything better is a lovely surprise. ;) A few ideas though —
      • Audio books – get your kids accustomed to listening to them before you travel and allowing basically anything (coloring, crafting, crazy movements, legos, etc.) but no talking over it, just whispering. Once this rule is in place, they’ll become pretty good listeners. Many times we choose books or podcasts we want to listen to with them (I can give you a list of our favorites if you’re interested) but sometimes we’ll put on our own headphones.
        • Stock up on audio books beforehand, download any podcasts, etc
      • Snacks – we hand these out hourly-ish; when we traveled by plane we gave the two older kids free reign, basically filled their backpack with choices and let them figure out what/when they wanted to eat. We’ve found that small children basically eat small amounts all day long on driving days. Whatever works, right?
        • If we gave suckers- we made a no biting! Rule so that it stayed quieter longer, haha!
      • Rewards system  + Make a “stop light” (green/yellow/red) for a visual reward system
        • we no longer do this with older kids, but we used to keep three clothespins on the passenger seat visor (imagine like a stop sign with three sections — green, yellow, red) — and anytime there’s an issue, I remind them that they could move over to the next stop (yellow or red) and then when the next reward comes (usually hourly, something simple like a snack or gum or sucker or new toy) they won’t get it, unless they’re on green. you can make up your own similar system but they catch on quickly that me saying “UH OH” means they might get moved to yellow or red.
        • We give treats/rewards every hour, on the hour, rewarding those with happy hearts. Nothing extravagant, just small treats like a @wholesomefoods Swedish fish, @chewiefruities, @gleegum or a @yumearthorganic sucker – perks everyone up a bit for another hour on the road!
      • Other random tips
        • Start with 10 dimes – pay to ask mama a question 
        • WRAP gifts, one for every stop – did that a few times in the early years
      • LAST (BUT NOT LEAST) – Headphones – two of our kids in our family crave the most stimulation/noise and if it’s quiet in the car they’ll (especially one) just create that. Makes me crazy! We have headphones for them and then Ray has his own earbuds and I have noise canceling ones. I use mine when they’re SO LOUD. I also have these noise-minimizing earbuds, one made by FLARE AUDIO and the other is Loop Earplugs. I haven’t decided which one is my favorite yet, but they definitely help lower my stress level! Fun fact , our youngest and loudest rarely every fell asleep in the car until he had headphones with his music playing, now he does it regularly and we have to lean over and push pause on his music pumping through his headphones. Ha!
    • Keep a small trash can in the vehicle and create a habit of passing wrappers, etc. up! Cars can turn into trash cans REAL quick – ask us how we know!
    • We have an emergency kit in our car – it has lots of odds and ends in it and I keep it tucked under the passenger side seat, in a plastic shoe bin
    • Bathroom breaks – Everyone is pretty much required to get out at the rest stop for a bathroom break. Our kids have incredible holding power, lol, so frequent stops aren’t an issue for us but, sometimes, they think they can hold it SO long that they don’t even need to get out when we stop… we make them.
    • We OFTEN go to grocery stores to get our food, and so it’s kind of like having a picnic on wheels, lots of picnic-like finger foods vs drive-throughs.
    • If you have time in your travel schedule, especially with littles, give space between driving days – personally we like to do a LONG, like 8+hr drive every other day, then take a day off 

… Part 2 to be continued in Episode 8!

Family Culture-Making, Podcast, Work/Life