10 Tips for a Screen Free, Happy Healthy Road Trip with Kids

Last week we took an all-day road trip, down to northern Arizona and then back into southern Utah. Whew, what a journey! The crew was me, dh, 6 kids ages 3 to 17, and grandma! As a veteran mom of many road trips, I pronounce it a success! Here are my 11 tips to having a healthy, happy road trip with kids, without even using a DVD player or tablet to entertain the munchkins.

This was our destination: water play in Zion Canyon with our cousins for a family reunion!

But before we got to play in the water, we had to do a lot of driving. Here are the tips for making road trips happy times:

1. Have a lot of yummy, portable, healthful foods. Balance the carb foods with some high fat foods. We left early in the morning, at 5:20 AM, and we wouldn’t get to our lodge destination on Zion’s East Ridge until dinner time, where my awesome sister-in-law who missed her calling in life as a chef had a gourmet grill night planned. So that meant I had to pack breakfast and lunch. I packed slices of my homemade sourdough bread that I toasted and lightly buttered before we left, fruit and homemade Larabars for our breakfast. For lunch we had carrot sticks, celery sticks, cheese cubes, more sourdough bread, and homemade beef jerky.

It was a great balance of fat, protein, and carbs. In my earlier days of a mom, for car trips, I used to pack granola bars, bagels from the grocery store with juice boxes and veggies. It was way too many carbs for me and left me feeling unstable with my blood sugar too high at the end of the trip. With my new food choices I felt a lot more grounded by trip’s end. Here are even more portable foods you can prepare before the trip.

2. Have plenty of water. 

This one seems like a “duh” point, but it can be easily overlooked. Assign one of the kids to fill up a bunch of water bottles before you leave. It’s amazing how awful I can feel if I am thirsty!

Here are two of my boys at our favorite pit stop on the drive to southern Utah: Cove Fort. The public restrooms are the cleanest you will find anywhere! Yes, those pretty buildings with flowers on the sides are the restrooms!

3. Frequent Stops

I know it’s tempting to just drive straight there, but a stop every 2 to 3 hours is very much needed for kids, and drivers too, to relieve all that water you pack. Hydration is good for you!

4. Audio goodies.  Within a week before you leave on your trip, grab some books on CD from your library. One year, on a road trip to Lake Tahoe, we listened to The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale on the way there and back. It made the trip on either side of the week were in Tahoe as fun as the stay. On another road trip to Palm Springs we listened to The Horse and His Boy. If you forget to go to the library before the trip, and you have a smartphone you can use audio files from the web. Librivox and Storynory are some great resources for classics and new stories, and both are free. You can even get all of the The Chronicles of Narnia over here on Ancient Faith Radio. You can also find some fun stuff on Youtube to listen to, like interviews with your favorite authors, like Tolkien or C.S. Lewis. I prefer books on audio instead of a DVD player because it’s better for the brain. It trains kids to listen better doesn’t overstimulate the brain like images on a screen do.

5. Pillows. They make sleeping upright in a car seat a lot more bearable.

6. Small toys and books in a bag. I like to pick up used Brainquest cards from my local thrift store for a buck and have a trivia game while we travel using the questions in the pack. Klutz sells some fun portable travel toys. This time around though I asked my 11 year old to pack a bunch of books and toys for the 3 year old and he just rounded up some books.

Here’s my daughter at Pipe Springs National Monument in Arizona. We walked in the footsteps of my maternal grandmother’s great-grandparents! I marvel that they were able to build this beautiful building and have a garden in the desert. 

7.  Have some diversion and culture along the way. Learning about the names of cities and where they come from, as you drive through them, adds color and meaning to the trip. We have been faithful members of AAA for all our married years, and I have enjoyed reading about the local towns we travel through in the AAA Tour Books. But with smartphones these days you can look up the names of cities and towns in wikipedia and learn all about them without getting a Trip Book. It’s fun to have mini-stops along the way of interesting things and not let the destination be the only interesting thing to focus on. In past years on our drive through southern Utah we have stopped at Cove Fort and taken the full tour. This year, we went into northern Arizona and visited Pipe Springs National Monument, as it was started by my ancestors, Anson Perry Winsor and his wife, Emmeline Brower. They were called by Brigham Young to build a fort over the spring that bubbled up there and manage a tithing cattle ranch. Emmeline made 60 lbs. of dairy products a day that was taken to the workers of the St. George temple. The spring provided cool water that they used to keep the products cold.  No wonder I like cheese and butter so much!

8. Leave early with a plan and maps. In past years, when it came to road trips, I have not wanted to set an early time to leave, as I have not always been a morning person. I have reformed myself and see the value of getting up early and leaving as early as possible. It means the kids sleep for a lot of the time and you have more daylight left after you get to your destination. We used to eat breakfast at home before we left but then I was left with cleaning up after breakfast at the same time I am wanting to get out the door. Now I just pack a breakfast (see Tip #1) and we can leave sooner! As for the maps, a lot of people like to rely on their GPS, but just in case it doesn’t work, have a map as a back-up.

9. Use Gas Buddy  to find gas stations with the cheapest prices. 

This was the deck of our lodge where we stayed. The kids had fun dining here with their cousins.

10. Change drivers at every stop. If you don’t have another driver to share the load, take long enough breaks and listen to exciting stuff so you can stay awake.

11. Be sure to stick some empty grocery bags in your food box to use as garbage bags. There’s nothing grosser than banana peels lying around, not contained.

Happy traveling!

This was our comfy and spacious lodge we stayed in. We had five out my husband’s 8 siblings, most of their, their mom, and lots of fun!

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