We take lots of long family road trips at our house- because it is the most economical way to travel with eight people! When we visit family in Michigan- it's a 12 hour drive each way, and when we head down to Florida-it's more than 18 hours each way! But of all of the things that I do to prep our car and ourselves for travel- the #1 road trip tip that I follow on EVERY trip we take- is to leave early in the morning!
Over the years we have tried many different approaches to handling these long drives with young kids- such as breaking up the journey into two days to minimize time in the car, but we found that all this does is shorten the number of vacation days on each end of the trip, and we don't arrive any more refreshed because we took our time getting there.
In fact, it feels as if the trip “took forever”.
We also tried leaving at bedtime so the kids could fall asleep as soon as we set out, but since it was also near the adult drivers' bedtimes as well, it meant one of us needed to sleep and the other drive right from the get-go- and I prefer to have both of us awake when driving at night when we could potentially become sleepy at the wheel.
The Road Trip Tip That Has Worked Best for Us: Leave Early in The Morning!
The method that we have found to work best for our family is to depart in the wee hours of the morning to get as many driving hours in as possible before the kids wake up for the day.
We try to leave for a long trip by 3 am, which means we are up and getting ready by 2 am. (Because isn't there always some last minute packing to do before you head out the door?)
Once we are almost ready to leave, we wake up the kids, have them use the bathroom, grab their pillows and hop into the car and buckle up. Everyone has a cozy fleece blanket to cuddle up in, and the kids typically fall back asleep within the first hour of getting on the road. (You can see a list of my road-trip “must haves” on my Amazon influencer page! )
And since we interrupted their sleep schedule coupled with the constant hum of the car engine- we can usually get them to sleep in a few hours later than usual too- which helps us to log those road-trip miles more easily!
I have a few suggestions on how to make my best road trip tip work:
1. Don't depart on less than 5 solid hours of sleep!
The adult drivers need to get at least five good hours of restful sleep before getting up for the day.
So if you are up late taking care of that last minute packing, or if you try to go to bed at 8 pm but are still wide awake at 10 pm- then move back your alarm time to make sure you get at least 5 hours of sleep before attempting a long stretch of night-time driving.
2. When it's dark- have two wide-awake drivers!
It's really tempting to allow one of the adults to go back to sleep when leaving at 3 am so the more rested driver can take over at 6 am, but night driving is tough (unless you are used to being awake at 3:30 am!) and the best way to tackle it is to have someone to chat with so that the driver stays awake and alert.
It makes the time fly by faster too! I have to admit- I really look forward to this quiet time with my husband when the kids are all asleep in the car and we have long uninterrupted hours to talk!
Once the sun comes up, then take turns napping in the passenger seat while the other person drives. Yes, it is harder to nap during the day, but you'll likely be tired from the middle-of-the-night departure, so you should be able to get in a few more hours of sleep.
3. Be prepared with warm caffeinated beverages and snacks
The right beverages and snacks are the key! Before we leave, I like to fill a couple of thermoses with tea (for me) and coffee (for my husband) that we can sip while we chat. Although take it slow on the sipping so as to avoid rest stops (see tip #5!)
I also like to pack some sort of a healthy snack to eat (we wait to make a breakfast stop until the kids wake up) so I take along granola bars, pretzel sticks, dried fruit and nuts to munch on. I find that often it's not that I am actually hungry, but more than my body is craving energy, likely because it knows it's really supposed to be sleeping!
And don't discount the treat of 4 am french fries, if you can find them!
4. Direct music to the front speakers and try to keep it low
Singing along to some tunes or listening to an audiobook helps make the nighttime drive more fun, but unless you want the kiddos awake at 4 am singing “Shake It Off,” it's best to keep the speakers turned off in the back of the car and the overall volume turned low.
5. Try to avoid a rest stop during the younger ones' normal waking hours
If the kids normally wake up between 6-8 am, try to avoid making pit stops during those hours. Otherwise, the stopping of the car engine will likely cause them to wake up.
We try to make a rest stop around 5 am and then wait again until after 9 am to stop for breakfast. If we managed to depart at 2 am- that's 6 hours of driving time behind us- before the kids even wake up for the day!
Do you find long road trips work best when you leave in the wee hours of the morning?
Planning a family road trip?
You might want to check out these other posts that offer tips and advice on planning and packing for road trips:
- How to Plan a Great American Road Trip
- Packing for a Road Trip: How to Pack the Inside of Your Car
- The Best Car Coolers for a Family Road Trip
- 8 Must-Have Road Trip Essentials!
And if you are looking for some cool family road trip destinations:
- 10 Great Things to Do in Atlanta with Kids!
- 8 Things to Do in Williamsburg VA with Kids
- 5 Reasons to Visit Mammoth Caves with Kids
- Washington DC with Kids
- 7 Reasons to Visit Lake Placid with Kids