Summer is in full swing and I am absolutely loving it. Swimming, beach days, BBQ with friends – what’s not to love?

One of my favorite things about summer is getting together with family for family vacations. My in-laws do a yearly trip to San Diego and my family goes to Lake Powell every year. My husband and I enjoyed going together to these annual family trips for years.

That is, until his third year in medical school hit. He went from his predictable schedule of classes and tests with weekends, holidays, and summers off to his unpredictable medical school rotation schedule. He worked nights, weekends, and most holidays with only two weeks of “summer” between school years.

Obviously with his schedule, he wasn’t able to go on these annual family trips anymore. I had a choice – do I stay home with my son and miss out on these beloved family traditions because my husband can’t travel with me? Or do I just suck it up and do the 6+ hour road trip with my toddler by myself?

I chose to just suck it up and do it. And I’ve been doing it ever since! I cannot tell you how many road trips, WITH KIDS, I have done by myself. It used to freak me out but now it’s no big deal.

And still, to this day, when people hear about how I traveled to visit family by myself they are shocked. “You did that drive by yourself with your kids?!” Oh yes I did and it is worth it, every time!! It’s just part of this doctor’s wife thing when you have a husband who works unpredictable, long hours.

So don’t miss out on incredible memories with family and loved ones. Use my tips below to do that road trip with your kids when your husband can’t come. You can totally do this.

road trip with kids when husband can't come

Just do it already.

Don’t be afraid to do that road trip with the kids on your own. It is easy? Haha no. Is it possible? Most definitely. Yeah it seems impossible to focus on entertaining your kids while ALSO driving and just keeping your family alive on the road. But before you back out and stay home, read the rest of these tips. Don’t be afraid!

Leave at a Strategic Time

If you are doing a road trip by yourself with the kids, the best time to leave is early morning or late at night. You can wake the kids up way early and put them in the car – they’ll most likely snooze for a few hours for you. Or you can leave later in the day and do the last part of your drive late at night. Just stop around bedtime, change the kids into PJ’s, give them their blankets, and you’re good to go. You’ll enjoy a blissful few hours of quiet driving.

Dress Comfortably

If you’re going to be in the car for a long period of time, dress yourself and your kids comfortably. A t-shirt, sweats, and flip-flops for me and pretty much the same for my two munchkins. Who cares what you look like? You’re driving for 8 hours and making stops at gas stations and fast food joints. Honestly, you’ll fit right in and be comfortable at the same time.

Arrange Seating

This probably sounds silly, but be smart about where your kids sit. Obviously don’t put two kids next to each other that fight. Split them up. Have the younger kids sit close to you because they will need more help. They will need to be close enough that you can reach your arm behind you to give them something they need – toys, snacks, drink, etc.

Snacks

Ah, snacks!! We all know that road trips are long, fun, and involve a LOT of snacks. My road trips are why it looks like a goldfish cracker tornado ripped through my car.

Bring snacks, and a LOT of them. And make it a nice variety of snacks. Not just a bunch of crackers, chips, and treats but bring healthy stuff too – fruit, nuts, yogurt, carrot sticks, etc. It will prevent it from being boring and healthy is always good.

Activities

Along with snacks, bring a bunch of different things for the kids to DO during the drive. Bring toys, books, coloring books, cards, games, audiobooks, music, movies, activities to do on the iPad….. you get the idea. Just like with the snacks – bring a LOT of activities and bring a good variety.

It’s also a good idea to bring some toys or activities that haven’t been used in a while that are JUST for the road trip, so it’s a new and novel thing. If it’s a particularly long drive I go to the dollar store and just buy some cheap toys and coloring books they’ve never seen before and they are so excited.

I will say this – save your screens (iPad games or movies) as a LAST resort! Have your kids do everything else until they assure you they are going to die from boredom, then turn on the movie. If you throw the screen at them right from the get go, they won’t want to do anything else the ENTIRE drive. This is something I learned the hard way. Save your screens as the last activity choice.

Put everything on the passenger’s seat

Now that you have the snacks and activities packed, how in the world are you going to make them accessible to your kids? You are only one person! You have to drive, remember? Calm down, I’ll tell you.

First, if you have older kids, you can pack a bag for each of them with snacks and activities and they can put it by their feet. Then they can get out whatever they want. Easy peasy.

But if you’re like me and you have young kids (mine are 3 and 1), then you are going to have help them a lot. What I do is I put everything on the passenger’s seat in a very strategic location. I have three reusable grocery bags – one with snacks, one with books, and one with toys and other activities. I put the snacks closest to me, then the other two bags next to the snacks. I am able to easily reach anything and pass it back to the kids while I’m driving.

Now, of course, if you can’t reach something or it falls on the floor, JUST PULL OVER. Or, if you are going to start a movie for your kids, PULL OVER. Pull over, get things situated, and then keep driving. You don’t want to take your eyes off the road or risk getting into an accident.

Stop Often

If you are doing a long drive, just plan on stopping often to keep your sanity (and your kids’ sanity) intact. Not only should you stop often but try to plan at least one fun stop along your road trip.

For example, on the way to visit my family I drive through my in-laws city. Sometimes I will plan a stop at my in-laws house for an hour so the kids can play and see Grandma and Grandpa for a bit. Then we get back in the car and keep going. The kids LOVE it, I love it, and it’s a nice break for all of us.

Another stop I almost always plan is a McDonald’s stop, but one WITH a PlayPlace. Now I think McDonald’s is nasty, but my kids love running around and burning off some energy at the indoor playground so I deal with it. It is so worth it.

If you go to the McDonald’s website you can browse by location, and even find ones that say they have a PlayPlace. But their information online isn’t always correct, so I end up calling the location and asking if they have a PlayPlace to confirm. I know, I’m crazy! But it is so worth it to let my high-energy boys just run around for 30 minutes. Then they get back in the car and take a nice nap for me, it’s awesome.

Plan on Extra Time

When you are doing a road trip with kids when your husband can’t come, just plan on it taking longer than usual. You are doing everything by yourself, which means the stops you make will take a lot longer than if you had help. For example, if I am doing a drive that usually takes 9 hours I plan on it taking anywhere from 10-12 hours. If I go into it KNOWING it’s going to take longer than usual, I’m not disappointed. I just know what to expect.

Break Up the Drive If You Want To

If I’m doing my 9+ hour drive by myself, sometimes it’s nice to stop somewhere and break up the drive over two days. Like I said earlier, I drive through my in-laws city on the way to visit my family and sometimes I’ll stay at their house for the night. Then we will wake up the next day and finish driving to my family.

If you don’t have family or friends you can stay with on the way, you could plan on staying in a hotel for a night. It will make the drive so much easier for you and your kids.

Bring Something for YOU

If I’m doing a road trip with my kids, single-mom style, I have to bring something for me too. Usually when my husband is with me we spend a lot of time talking or reading a book together. I love it.

But when it’s just me driving I get bored fast. I don’t have another adult to talk to and that gets especially hard if all of the kids are sleeping. I usually bring an audiobook with me that I checked  out from the library or I download a free one from Librivox. On a recent road trip I listened to a good chunk of Les Miserables and I absolutely loved it.

Listening to an audiobook helps me stay alert because I stay focused on something. I also love bringing my music and jamming out to old high school favorites while the kids are sleeping.

So don’t forget – when you’re packing for your kids and getting everything ready, bring something for YOU too that you will enjoy.

And that’s it! You can TOTALLY do a road trip with kids when your husband can’t come with you. It’s not easy but it is so worth it to still be able to visit family and friends like you want to.