How We Survived a 16-Hour Straight Road Trip with Three Kids

What’s the longest amount of time that you’ve spent with your kids in the car on a road trip? For us, six hours was the longest trek that we’ve made – a couple of summers ago when we headed out to Radium for the weekend. Until now. 

On a whim, we decided to up that record and drive the entire sixteen hours after unloading from the ferry at Prince Rupert from Haida Gwaii, back to Edmonton, in one day. Here’s how we Survived (thrived) a 16-hour straight road trip with kids.

Driver Switch
Even if you’re not napping (if you’re like Jamie, it’s impossible for you to nap in the car while someone else is driving) taking a break is imperative. Sixteen hours is a long-time, an excessive amount of time, for one person to be driving – and so having two drivers that are able to switch off and take a nap, or become the person who hands the kids charging cords and snacks, is imperative. Jamie ended up doing the majority of the driving, as he was more comfortable going at faster speeds through those winding British Columbia roads (I recently received a warning letter to ‘calm down on the speeding tickets’ in the mail), so I ended up took the wheel for about four hours of the sixteen hour drive giving him the chance to rest his eyes while we ventured home.

We were both pretty well-rested, as we travelled on the red-eye ferry, overnight in a cabin. As soon as we boarded the ferry we grabbed a snack and hunkered down in the BC Ferries cabin on the bunks for a night of sleep while we crossed the Hecate Strait from Haida Gwaii.

Get Netflix Downloads
Rather than using Apple iTunes for movies, we’ve started to heavily rely on downloads from Netflix while we’re on the go. We downloaded twenty episodes of Violet’s favourite television show, and it barely made a dent in the space on her iPad, compared with being able to only house a few episodes with the games that she regularly plays. Find something that your kid can binge watch, and use the recommended Netflix options that are similar to find things that you think they’ll enjoy. On the sixteen hour drive, Violet watched at least fifteen episodes of Miraculous – but hey, who’s counting.

Speaking of iPads, restrict all access and take them away at least a week before any road trips. The night before we leave, we let them choose new games and fill it up, but they don’t get to play the games until we’ve left the city. It’s like a brand new experience and the iPad novelty lasts through hours on the road trip.

Tip: bring additional power packs. About half way through the trip the electronics started to drain and batteries were getting critical. Vehicle chargers haven’t proven to charge very well (unless you’re driving a vehicle with an outlet in it – there was not one in our rental) and so having additional, charged, power packs was incredibly helpful.

Follow the Three/Fifteen Rule
Every three hours, get out of the car and make the kids walk or run for fifteen minutes. Plan your rest stops around parks and rivers, playgrounds and green spaces where they can run or kick a ball and get rid of that excessive energy that’s going to make you crazy while you’re in the vehicle. When the kids are out of the car, they’re not standing, they’re running. Use mind tricks like timing them to run between certain points, or bring a ball or something compact to get them moving while you’re out of the car. Stop at least every three hours and spend fifteen minutes outside of the car doing more than running to the bathroom.

Interactive Entertainment 
Hangman, or travel games that you can pass back and forth, helps to make the time pass easier when they’ve tired of watching six episodes of their favourite show. Find podcasts and stories that the entire family can listen to, and let everyone choose some of their favourite music so you don’t have to listen to The Greatest Showman on repeat.

Games that the entire family could play cooperatively, like the Knock Knock notepads, ‘Categories’ or dots and boxes, were a great way to mix things up.

Celebrate those Milestones
We used milestones for ‘treats’. The kids got to choose a treat when we reached Prince George (seven hours into the trip) and choose a treat when we reached Jasper (at around hour 11). This gave them something to look forward to, and something to keep the incentive for their behaviour to remain tolerable in the car.

Tip: When you do stop, if you are stopping somewhere for 15-20 minutes (like the indoor playground of McDonalds, bring in all of the devices and charge them while you’re there. The 15-20 minutes of charging makes a world of difference in the wall at full power.

Separate Your Kids
There is one thing that made a huge difference between the road trip there, and the road trip to come home. We had the kids right behind each other (just the way that we happened to load the vehicle) and they complained non stop about fingers or hands, or feet in backs, between the middle and third row. On the way home, we put them diagonal to each other, with Stella in the middle row on the other side, and the space was ‘just right’ to keep the peace but still allow them to pass games back and forth.

Limit the Drinks
Mean parent alert: we limit the drinks on the first half of whatever road trip we’re taking with the kids. We do very limited bathroom breaks because they’re so incredibly long when you’re getting everyone out of the car when one kid has to put their shoes, or the other has to put their pants back on etc. etc. For this reason, I limit the drinks during the first half of the road trip, giving them sips of drinks here and there when they’re thirsty.

Snacks though? Free reign. Snacking is what kept our toddler tolerable through the sixteen hour drive.

Get Comfortable
Let them wear their pyjamas, bring their cozy blankets and grab a pillow or two to come into the car. They’re going to use those to nap through the day, and if you’re leaving early enough in the morning, or driving after bedtime those comfort items are going to be key to getting them to sleep on the road. There’s a fine balance though, too comfortable and having them over-sleeping through the trip means that they’re not going to be able to fall asleep when you get home.

Using all these tips: stopping frequently, limiting drinks and having devices charged and ready to be swapped out, we arrived to our house, nearly eighteen hours after we started, amazed with just how easy it was to travel that long in the car with three kids.