Road Trip With Kids

As a military family, it feels like we are constantly loading up the car for a road trip. Whether it is traveling home for a visit, a few hours away for a weekend trip, or one of our big PCS (permanent change of station) moves that happen every few years, we have picked up a trick or two that really helps us feel like we have the chaos under control.

Travel Bag

We have traveled from California to Indiana and back again no less than 5 times since our 8 year old was born. Between moving from California to Missouri and back, and all our visits to Indiana just to visit family, we have pretty much memorized the route (it is long and boring, just in case you were wondering). I pack a big bag with entertainment/survival things for my kids. With having such long stretches of nothing to look out the window at, I put together travel binders for my kids to help keep them occupied. I always tailor them to what is age appropriate to hold their interest at the time, and they are so easy to customize!

The current contents of our travel bag look like this. I have a zipper ‘travel binder’ for each kid, with a lap tray, and snack bucket. I prefer the zipper binders because I can keep all the pieces contained, but we have used the open sided binders previously and they worked fine.

Here’s a peak inside my 8 year olds binder. He has a workbook, a few card games, a small deck of cards (from Halloween), some Wikki Stix, chapstick (my kids have CONSTANT chapped lips), a tick tac toe game, a small lap tray, markers, and paper. I always scour the Dollar Spot at Target before a big trip because they always have a great (and cheap!) selection of things for the kids. The Wikki Stix, card games, workbook, lap tray, and tic tac toe game all came from Target!

Here’s the inside of my 5 year olds binder. It’s a lot of the same stuff, but she has her own set of card games (I’m sure both kids will be playing them together anyway). She also has a sticker face book in lieu of a workbook, she is absolutely obsessed with these books and it will entertain her for HOURS.

I found these large lap trays at Target (the Dollar Spot is my happy place) last year when they had their back to school things out. They were $3 each and we have used them dozens of times! They are great for holding drawing materials for coloring, building Legos, doing Wikki Stix…they are so great. And they are a really sturdy plastic so they don’t bend and they are so easy to wipe clean.

I bought these containers from our local dollar store probably 3 years ago. They have 3 compartments in them (1 large and 2 smaller). I usually use them for road trips (they fit a Happy Meal and drink perfectly!), but we have also taken them to the movie theater to help contain kid drinks and snacks.

Here’s how I load it up in my big ThirtyOne bag. In the past we did all of our traveling in my husbands truck or my tiny hybrid, so the bag would sit either on the floor at their feet or in the seat between the kids. We just traded my car in for a van this year (I love it) so my kids might actually have leg room for this upcoming road trip! That small round thing in the snack container is an inflatable solar light. We put it in the window while we drive for the day, and then we let the kids use it either as a car light at night, or as a hotel room nightlight. It has come in so handy so many times! We will also have the kids tablets and headphones in there. We don’t limit screen time as much when we’re traveling, but without any internet available in the car they’d rather color or do an activity anyway.

Here’s some old travel bag things from our PCS back in 2015 when my son was 4 and my daughter was almost 2. You can see Finn with his travel binder in the top left. I went to the dollar store and bought 2 sheet pans, various magnets (these I made from wal mart), window clings, and sticker activities. We also had the portable dvd player, which is a lifesaver on long distance trips! (I think we watched Mighty Machines on repeat for 5 days)

Car Emergency Kit

One thing you learn quickly as a mom, is that they are unpredictable. The one time you load up your kids for a quick trip and you forget the diaper bag, is always the day they decide to have a blowout. It’s like they can sense it. So, I have started keeping an emergency kit in my van. I keep things like chapstick, toothpicks, sunscreen, baby wipes…anything I can think of that my family will save us a stop at CVS along the way.

Here’s a quick inside view of our car kit. I have antacids, feminine products, floss, q tips, throat lozenges, baby wipes, chapstick, sunscreen, tissues, antibacterial wash, adult Tylenol, children’s cough n cold, bandaids, and these amazing things my good friend (who is an avid hiker) gave me that help women pee standing up. I figured the only chance I’d get to use it would be a side of the road emergency! Everything fits nicely in this small container and I keep it in between the front seats.

Organize, Organize, Organize!

I am a stickler for organization. When our house is messy, it makes me feel like I can’t function properly. Clutter instantly makes me uptight and cranky. So for me, when we’ve got the whole family of 4 (5 if we bring the dog!) practically living in our car, organization can make all the difference between success and chaos. I always have containers to sort and store everything, from the kids car entertainment to separating our suitcases, I need it to be in order to take one less stress off my plate. Organize your hotel clothes in a separate suitcase to minimize how much you are loading and unloading each night. In fact, we like to bring an empty bag or suitcase with us to keep our dirty clothes separate from the clean ones. This also helps when we reach our destination to make laundry so much easier. Store snacks in a designated container that is easily accessible. If you are traveling with pets, keep their water/food bowls and leash somewhere where you grab them quickly (the car door works perfectly if you have a cubby in it!). Bring a handheld vacuum to help clear away any messes or spills easily. I promise that taking a few minutes to organize as you go, it will make your trip will feel less chaotic!

Each kid has one of these seat organizers at their seat. The tray can Velcro up to save space, and there are so.many.pockets! We keep them in the van for every day, and I love that they can put their mess in the pockets and close it up to help keep the floor uncluttered.

My husband found someone giving away this hand held vacuum a few weeks ago and I am a little too excited to bring it with us when we travel across the country next month! A quick vacuum each evening as we unload for the night will help keep the crumb mess to a minimum and my sanity in tact.

Plan ahead

I am the kind of person who needs a set game plan before we travel. With our PCS moves, we like to have everything laid out before we leave. That means planning our route, picking the fun stops along the way, and booking our hotel stays. We also like to plan ahead for meals. We will book hotels that offer breakfast, pack a large cooler with sandwich materials for our lunches, and eat dinner at a restaurant before we hit up our hotel for the night. This helps us keep the cost down, and we use our lunch break as a time to let the kids run for a bit. There are lots of great rest stops that have small playgrounds for the kids, or we will stop at an attraction we want to see and have our picnic in the parking lot. This way we can bust some boredom, load up on lunch, use the restrooms, and (sometimes) fill up the tank before we start the next stretch of driving. Another tip for planning ahead, is our gas stops! Now, I don’t mean you should map out your gas stops ahead of time, that would be exhausting. What our family does as a general rule of thumb is never let our gas get below a quarter tank. Once we notice we are close to the 3/4 mark, we start scouting for gas stops. I ran out of gas ONCE when I was in college and I vowed to never let it happen again, so a quarter tank is always when I fill back up. Another part of planning ahead is planning for emergencies! During our last cross country PCS, I made small ID kit for each kid. There was a picture of each kid on one side and their personal information on the back (allergies, emergency contact numbers, height/weight, notable scars or birthmarks) that I laminated together. I even made one for our dog! I was not about to lose anyone along the way (I know…anxiety). But having that information just in case we needed it made me feel much better!

Here we are, stopping at Bedrock City outside of the Grand Canyon back in 2015. I’ve heard it has since closed down, but it was a fun spot to spend a few hours!

We were given these ID kits at a back to school event, and I held onto them for our upcoming PCS! It has a spot for fingerprints, a photo, medical information…even dental records! It may seem like overkill, but I truly feel it is one of those things that only takes a few minutes to put together and would be invaluable if I were to find myself needing it. If it’s not your jam, then don’t sweat it.

Do you have any tips or tricks that you have picked up while traveling with kids? I’d love to hear them! We are almost exactly one month away from our next big road trip (moving from California to North Carolina!) so I’m going to be pulling out all of these tricks and then some to help ensure my sanity survives the trip!

10 Tips for Surviving a Deployment With Kids

Being a wife and mother is challenging enough, but throw in having a spouse in the military and you get thrown a curveball every now and again. Just when you think you have a pretty good grip on things, the military will remind you that it is best to stay flexible. Semper Gumby, as they say. And in my decade-plus experience as a military spouse, there is no more humbling experience to go through than a deployment. I’ve been through 3 with my husband. Once with no kids, once with a newborn, and most recently with a 2nd grader and preschooler. Each deployment came with its own set of challenges, but having to navigate those challenges while making sure you are helping guide your children through all the emotions of a deployment is a daunting task to take on. Here I’ll share my 10 tips on surviving (and hopefully thriving!) a deployment with kids.

Plus there’s a bonus! Read below for an awesome discount for one of our families favorite deployment survival tools!

Set up a weekly countdown

Looking at a 7-12 month deployment on the calendar can be overwhelming. Not just for you, but for kids too. Breaking that time down into smaller, more manageable increments is what works best for our family. We made a poster board with 32 squares on it (7 months x’s 4 weeks per month, plus a couple buffer weeks) and numbered them 1-32. Each square represented one week. We made a note on each week that had a holiday during that week, and every week the kids took turns putting a big, fat, X over the squares as we finished another week. They loved being able to see how far we had come and it helped countdown to the holidays and trips we had planned while Daddy was away.

Celebrate the monthly countdown, too!

On top of our weekend countdown, we would also celebrate every month. The kids and I would go to dinner, our for ice cream, have a movie night in Mom’s bed (this one was a favorite-we called them Family Sleepovers and my kids still ask for them!) It doesn’t matter what you do to celebrate, just a little something to help the kids and yourself mark off a big milestone and cheer each other on that you are doing it!

Make care packages a family event

My husband will be the first to tell us that he doesn’t actually need us to mail him anything in a care package. My husband was always lucky enough to be sent to an already established base for most of his deployment times, and anything he needed he could just buy for himself at the base. The truth is, care packages were something the kids and I did mostly for us. Being able to pour love into a box to mail to my husband was my way of showing him how much we care and miss him. And my kids loved being able to make pictures or fill goodie bags to fill those boxes. The pride they took in hearing their Dad thank them for the things they made and sent to him made them feel closer to him, and that is so very important.

“Daddy Books”

This one is for your deployed spouse. My husband was lucky enough to have a small library on his base, and they had a small stock of children’s books! My husband would take a video of himself reading one of the books and then text it to me. The kids and I would watch the videos at night during our story time and it was always such a special treat. Also, the USO offers the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program, which is a great program that helps deployment service members record themselves reading books to send to their children. My kids each received a video of their Dad reading a book, and a copy of the book for them to be able to keep and read along!

Communicate with the school

Chances are, if your spouse is in the military you live on a base or in a military town. This is good because your child’s teachers probably already have dealt with kids going through deployments before and understand that this is a challenging time for them. Having that line of communication open between you and the school will only help your child have more advocates in their corner to help them through those tough days.

Let them cry (you too!)

Every now and then, you are going to have one of those days where you are struggling to see the light at the end of this deployment tunnel. Emotions are high and so is your stress level. And just when you think you’ve made it to bedtime and you can mark another hard day off the calendar, you have a kid crying because they want Daddy to tuck them in and he is still gone. They cry, those big hard tears, and you feel that lump building in your throat as you try to hold your own tears back. Let.them.out. Cry, and let them know it is ok. It’s ok to be sad and angry and worried, and your kids feel those emotions just as strongly as you do. Show them that it is ok to feel this way, and that tomorrow is a new day. You guys can get through this together.

When I needed a good cry, I could always count on homecoming videos and a glass of wine.

Make them feel special

Do something special for just them, for no reason other than to make them feel special. My kids LOVED ‘spa days’. I would pull out my nice lotion, nail kit, and a bucket of warm water and would pamper them. They would take turns soaking their feet and then I would trim their nails (I mean, I had to do it anyway, this just minimized any argument over it) and then rub their feet and legs with some lotion. They would always say how special it made them feel, and it was a nice treat. Now, I’m not saying to cater to your children every day of deployment-you WILL go insane. But a nice treat every now and then is just as good for their mental health as it is yours. Now go get yourself a nice pedicure as YOUR special treat!

Keep traditions (but give yourself grace)

Not having a key member of your family home for the holidays is hard. Try to keep them as joyous as possible by sticking with your families beloved traditions. I’m not saying you need to go all out and make every holiday a major event, but pick the ones you look forward to the most and stick with them. Now, not every tradition was kept exactly as before, and I had to give myself grace when things didn’t go as I would have normally done them, as you will see below. Our Elf wasn’t as creative, but at least he showed up. I made a full Thanksgiving meal, but the dog pulled the turkey off the counter. I made my kids their homemade birthday cakes, but forgot to buy candles. You know what? They still loved them all!

When Mom remembers your cake but forgets the candles…

Be involved

We have been blessed to make some of our best friends during our time with the military. Living on base or near a base creates a tight knit community that most civilians don’t get to experience. Be involved in the unit, go to base events, join a spouse sports team or club. These are the people who become your family while your spouse is away, and I have leaned on them more times than I can count. So go to the unit events, be involved with the other spouses, introduce your kids to other kids who are going through the same deployment or have been there before. The point is, find your tribe and hold on to them. You are all in this together and I promise you it is worth it to find those people.

And finally, the Daddy Doll!

You can’t go to a park on or near a base and not see at least one kid totting around their Daddy Doll. These things are cherished among military kids everywhere, and they offer so much comfort during those times when Daddy can’t physically be with them. Our Daddy was able to go to dentist appointments, haircuts, grocery trips, vacations, and even a show-and-tell or two. Daddy Dolls Inc is a fantastic company that makes these custom dolls and so much more, and for being a part of this blog they are offering you a 15% off discount! Just see the flyer below for details!

Remember, deployments are hard but they are temporary. Find what works for your family, and you will all make it out the other side of this relatively unscathed. So give yourself grace and a pat on the back, because cereal for dinner is still dinner, and that’s a win.