Continuing with our traveling with children and toddlers series, we’re taking a look at what some parents dread doing with small children — the family road trip. Parents must be flexible when traveling by car because kids always have an uncanny way of having to use the restroom or come down with a severe case of, “I’m starving! I only have enough nutrient reserves to last me another 45 seconds before I go into full on annoying mode!”
Many families, including ourselves, are looking to save money this summer by taking vacations that are within driving distance. While this poses some challenges with small children, there are ways to break up the driving so that kids don’t get bored and get plenty of opportunities to stretch their legs. This makes the trips much more bearable for little ones who have a difficult time sitting for hours on end.
Our top 5 places to stop for snacks, food and bathroom breaks are:
1. Target Yes, Target, the store. Make use of your navigation system to find the closest Target — and if you don’t have one, you’re probably bound to stumble on one anyway. Many of the built in GPS devices allow you to put in the name of the store and will tell you how far it is. Target is a great stop to pick up snacks, and many of them have snack bars and even a Starbucks for mom and dad. The bathrooms are generally clean and without lines. Most have a grocery section where kids can pick up various snacks and you can even pick up a movie or allow your child a small toy if they’ve been good. (We, at Imperfect Parent, are not above bribing.)
2. Parks If you’re packing your own snacks or after you’ve already made the Target stop, the next logical place would be a local park where kids can get out and run off some energy. Most parks have picnic tables, but you can always open the doors to your minivan, SUV or car to let some air in and snack, plus nearby garbage cans be your friend when driving vacations turn into hoarding expeditions.
3. Hotels. We love stopping at hotels. Some of the more upscale hotels have beautiful bathrooms, the kind you’ll write home about. Many offer unique boutiques and sundry shops. A hotel lobby can be a nice place to sit in a cushy chair and grab snacks and who knows, if you and your kids cannot stand the thought of driving one more mile, a hotel with a pool just may change your spirits and re-energize you. Act like you belong there and nobody will question if you’re a guest or not. Just don’t get too bold and try and use the pool.
4. Coffee Shops A great place to get a pick-me-up and most of the national chains also have more substantial snacks and drinks outside the typical soft drinks. My kids always like to get hot chocolate with whipped cream on top. Many coffee shops also offer free Wi-Fi, so why not check email and let the kids check their Facebook, provided your in the fortunate position to have children old enough for that sort of thing.
5. Gas Stations But not just any gas station. Gas stations are as American as apple pie when it comes to creating memories on vacation. We always try to search out unique gas stations or gems with good delis and sandwiches. It may be worth checking out Oddee for a list of some of the most unique gas stations around the country. Don’t forget to check out the readers comments for some further suggestions. Gas stations can be a destination in and of itself. Have your kids keep a log of the gas stations you stop at and journal about what made them unique. Or if you have a little nerd in your family like we do, have them record how many miles you’ve gone since the last stop, how much gas was just used to fill up, and then they can calculate the gas mileage.
Read more about traveling with kids from our Family Vacations Tipster.