1.) Establish the Pit Stop Routine
We have a system we use each time we stop - the kids know what to expect and we can get it done quickly. For us, that means that we pull into a gas station, and ALL of the kids and I jump and run to the bathroom (whether they feel like they have to or not) while Dad gasses up the van. When I get back, I change the baby and help her stretch her legs a bit until he gets back. When Dad returns, we're out of there. If it's close to mealtime, we add on a quick run through a drive through (I write down what everyone wants ahead of time, so we've got the list of what to order ready.) Having the kids trained in "the routine" saves a ton of time.
We also give the kids an idea of how long it will be until the next stop. Obviously, sometimes additional potty stops are needed, but giving them a time to look toward helps minimize those.
2.) Choose the Seating Arrangement Wisely
Think ahead of time about who gets along best with whom, who is going to fall asleep and need someone or something to lean on, who is going to need to stop for an unscheduled potty break and will need to be near the door, etc.
3.) Have Some Entertainment Prepared
For us, we bring along a stack of DVD's, as our van has an entertainment system, which we use only on long trips. Variety is key for our crew. However, even watching movies can get boring, and not everyone has that option in the car. We also bring along audiobooks and inspirational talks, make some playlists of songs we like (which can be arranged by mood - fun, energetic songs, songs good for relaxing at night, songs good for singing along to, etc.), and even have quiet times on occassion so that the kids can fall asleep, chat quietly, think, etc. Switching things up keeps everyone happy - plus, it allows you to give the child that is grouching about the movie that's playing the chance to have something to look forward to in the near future. Most of my kids are no longer into games like the alphabet game, counting a certain color of car, or things like that, but enjoyed those when they were younger.
My older kids also like to bring along their iPods and headphones, so they can manage their own music or audiobooks, which is nice.
My kids like to munch on the way, so for road trips, we include a few snacks we normally wouldn't eat at home to make it fun. We keep a tall thin, laundry basket between my husband and I up front with individual bags of pretzels, animal crackers, beef jerkey, the 100 calorie packs of cookies, and stuff like that that can be tossed back to a hungry or grumpy child easily. Also, water bottles are always on hand. One child is designated the garbage bag manager, and everyone hands their trash in to them, which we throw out at each stop. (I keep a stash of garbage bags in the seat-back pocket.)
5.) Have a Small Medicine Kit Handy
Have a family member prone to carsickness? We've got a few. We keep a small kit with motion sickness medication, pain relievers for headaches, an antacid in case someone has tummy trouble, any daily medicines that anyone takes, etc. It makes it easy to take care of needs without stopping.
6.) The Overnight Bag!
I think this is the single best idea we ever had for our road trips! If we are going to be stopping for the night, I pack a small, separate bag with a change of clothes for each person, the cell phone chargers, and all of the toothbrushes and toiletry items we will need. That way, when we stop for the night, we only have to grab one bag. It also makes packing up in the morning a piece of cake. If our trip is more than two days, I pack two bags and simply transfer the toiletry bag and chargers when we get in the van before heading out on Day Two.
7.) Help the Baby Adjust Beforehand
If you will be traveling with a baby, help your little one make a few adjustments ahead of time. For example, if she will be sleeping in a Pack 'N Play instead of a crib at your destination, let her nap in it for a week or two at home before you leave to make the transition easier. Also, you can start adjusting nap and bedtimes to match what she will be experiencing on vacation. If she is old enough, show her pictures of relatives you will be visiting, and help her put names with faces so not everyone will seem brand new and scary.
8.) Don't Overschedule
We generally make lists of things we would like to do on our trips, but keep the schedule flexible and the "musts" few. This allows us to relax without feeling like we are missing out, and helps minimize disappointment for the kids if things don't go as planned. Every event is a plus, instead of every missed event being a bummer. Subtle, but effective, difference.
For example, right now, I am blogging from my in-law's house in Utah. We are not out "doing" anything today, as a few kids are down with a stomach virus. Flexibility is king, right?! The list of "want to's" is still there and will be revisited as soon as we are all up and running again. In the meantime, we're enjoying relaxing and being together (between dumping sick bowls and doing laundry...)
Hope you are all having a wonderful summer so far! We sure are. I love the time we get to spend together without heavy obligations. Happy travels!