Heading out on the open road and exploring the country always sounds like a great plan. Add a mininvan, two kids and one solo driver and it can be a recipe for disaster. Here are my 11 rules to live by for successful solo roadtrips with kids.

1. Buckle Up

Beach

Taking some time to hit the beach on a roadtrip. Photo credit: Sarah Pittard / Solo TravelingMom

When I get in the car with my kids, we always discuss the rules before leaving. Mine are ages 6 and 4 so our rules have evolved as they have gotten older but number 1 is always buckle up. Basically, no one is ever allowed to unbuckle their seatbelt unless I say so. This means the car is fully stopped and in park. Young kids are often curious about how buttons work and its important to explain that you cannot drive the vehicle and lean back to secure their seatbelts.

2. Quiet in the Back

We live in a major city and getting in and out of the downtown core is a nightmare. Due to the fact that there isn’t another parent in the car to answer questions and change radio stations, the kids know when I say quiet in the back I mean it. There are times where I simply need to concentrate, figure out where we are going and be attentive in major traffic. Once the situation is over I immediately strike up a fun conversation, thank them for being quiet and let them know we can get back to chatting.

3. Drop It and It’s Gone

Pretty self explanatory but anything my kids drop can’t be picked back up until I safely stop the car — sometimes hours later. The kids need to understand that there isn’t another adult who can reach their things and you can’t stop anytime their tiny hands drop something.

4. It Isn’t All About You

Road trips

Stopping at Pick Your Own Strawberry Fields. Photo credit: Sarah Pittard / Solo TravelingMom

This has been a big lesson for my kids as they have gotten older. Sometimes I would like to do something on a roadtrip that they may not think is fun. Kids need to understand that not every part of a trip is actually about them. Teaching kids to share time on a trip is as important as teaching them to share toys in preschool. It will make them better travellers.

5. No Buying Souvenirs

This rule is pretty clear cut in our travels. Every once in a while, I may succumb to buying a different or special souvenir but in general we take road trips to accumulate memories not keychains and snow globes.

6. You Get What You Get

Ice Cream Sign

Photo credit: Sarah Pittard / Solo TravelingMom

Another rule in our car is that you get what you get and you don’t get upset. This applies particularly to food. It is tempting for kids to want to stop at McDonalds or for ice cream every time they need to pee but road trips are best enjoyed when your kids are actually eating the food they normally eat. We usually pack lunches in a cooler and they eat what they are served. For something  to do, I will make up a game that if they can spot 10 ice cream signs we will stop and get ice cream. Sometimes that takes more than a day.

7. Its Okay to Be Bored

Kids no longer understand that its okay to be bored. With smartphones, tablets, handheld game systems and every other electronic on earth, kids don’t often get a chance to let their minds wander. If we are driving a long distance, I will let the kids watch a movie and then make them have non-electronic time where they are literally bored out of their minds. Its a important skill to learn. Being bored happens.

8. Look Around and Learn Something

Whenever we approach a new city, I make sure all electronics are off and books are put away. I don’t drive my kids places to just check out museums and aquariums, I want them to see what other cities are like. We always try and learn the history of the city and its architecture and then point out to each other interesting facts about that city. I also don’t just show them the tourist areas of cities. We just returned from a roadtrip to Detroit and they kids saw how different areas of Detroit have been affected by job loss and poverty — an enriching experience for all of us.

9. Know Where You Are Going

Maps

Photo credit: Sarah Pittard / Solo TravelingMom

These last two rules apply to the driver and not the precious passengers in the back seat. I have learned from going on road trips alone that maps and GPS systems are important. If you think getting lost alone is scary try doing it with two overtired and cranky kids in the back seat. When we are exploring an area, I will plan the day and map it out from destination to destination. We will often wander off the map a little to explore new things but generally have an idea of which direction we are heading.

10. Don’t Go If You Are Too Tired

This is a big rule to live by. You are alone with your kids and you are bound to be tired. There is a line where tired turns to exhaustion and a good idea becomes a terrible one. If you are too tired, become tired and seem to be drifting off or don’t feel well, stay another day wherever you are. It may cost you a little more than you expected for a hotel room but the safety of your family is far more important.

11. Have Fun

The kids exploring the Riverfront in Detroit, Michigan

The kids exploring the Riverfront in Detroit, Michigan. Photo credit: Sarah Pittard / Solo TravelingMom

There is no point on going on a roadtrip if you are not having any fun. My rule is that if we see a park that looks like a lot of fun, we stop if we can. Even 20 minutes outside of the car can change your kids perspective on being in the car. We also bring scooters wherever we go. We have fun scooting around parks and cities and it gets us places a lot faster. You can also use them on sidewalks making them a little easier than bikes in cities you don’t know.

Solo roadtrips with kids can be a lot of fun. Teaching your kids these simple rules will ensure your road trip is a smooth one. Before you go, make sure to download the 101 Family Travel Tips booklet from Traveling Mom and read this article on safety tips from She Buys Cars.