Well, this road trip was very pleasant and I say that with a surprising tone because we drove a total of 30 hours in 7 days with three kids, once of whom is 3. I thought about some of the tips I used to make it this way and thought I would jot them down!
1. Having the right luggage is absolutely necessary. I found luggage inexpensively and with different designs for each of the kids. A main area for their clothes (pjs on the left, day clothes on the right!), a pocket for undies, a pocket for socks, and a front pocket for toiletries. Every kid got the same number of each thing so I could make sure to keep up!
2. Always bring a laundry bag and do laundry at least once! I brought enough clothes for all of us to wear an outfit and change of underwear each day without having to change, but I did laundry on the trip to minimize the amount I had to do when we got home. It kept things very organized!
3. Vacuum out the car whenever you get a chance! I get high amounts of anxiety when I look back and see 45 jelly beans, crushed lucky charms in the seat, and dirt and sand all over the floor of the van, especially when pillows are also thrown on the floor as we travel (Like I want your shoe dirt in my face when I am trying to sleep!). We vacuumed our car out at least twice on this trip and it made for a very relaxing car riding experience!
4. Bring a power strip for a portable electronics charging station. They stayed plugged into the strip at all times and rolled up each morning. We only had to plug in one thing instead of 4 (we brought two strips, so we plugged in two things instead of 8.) It also helped us to make sure each thing was plugged in every night for fresh use the next day and also helped us make sure we didn't leave a charger in a hotel somewhere.
5. Book a hotel far in advance and read the reviews! I picked excellent hotels that saved us money and were in great locations because I took the time to read the reviews. I booked all hotels that you didn't have to pay for in advance, but still got a good price on. I didn't overpay by finding one last minute and every time, we got a great stay. If you liked a hotel, leave a review as well! It's incredibly helpful.
6. I like eating out at different places along the way, but if I shove my kids full of snacks and sodas the whole day, I end up paying way too much at each stop for gas and wasting money on eating out for kids who don't eat but two bites. I HATE wasting money on food that doesn't get eaten! We only got one snack per day and if was after lunch, it couldn't be candy. More often than not, kids aren't hungry on road trips, they are bored. So get snacks that aren't too filling and won't cost an arm and a leg! I also put a price limit on each snack, most of the time it was $1. With five of us, that saved us $5 on each stop, and for 7 days, that's the price of a restaurant meal!
7. Try and work out a budget in advance, giving yourself room for contingency. Nothing will kill a vacation with your family faster than worrying about money the whole time. I researched everything - every stop, every restaurant, and came up with a budget that I felt like was comfortable (and realistic) and wouldn't blindside me. A couple of times, I had to buy something I didn't think of ahead of time (sunglasses for two kids at a gift shop, long sleeve shirts for 3 at a gift shop). I hate spending money on those things, but sometimes it just happens. I would have had to buy a lot more if I didn't read the information about each stop. And just putting yourself on a budget doesn't mean you are being a cheapskate - and don't be a cheapskate if you can help it! - it just means you are prepared and what you think will be a $1,000 vacation won't end up being an $1,800 vacation. I also had to get over spending money on things like souvenirs and activities that we didn't plan on because I had to remember - this is our only vacation to this place and it needs to be fun and comfortable. If you have to buy it, then buy it and don't look back. However, don't blow money just because you can. There is a difference between spending extra money to enhance the quality of your vacation and spending $250 on one more movie for the DVD player, extra trips to the gas stations for unnecessary snacks, and a drawer full of shot glasses that will never get seen again. On a vacation, spend money with a purpose!
8. Leave time to just relax and enjoy! It's easy to plan every moment from beginning to end with driving or activities. I don't like pushing kids around all day long who don't get to rest and just "be" for a little while. If you get a chance to leave a couple hours later one morning and the hotel has a great pool, let everyone swim!
9. Don't throw bedtimes completely out the window just because you are "on vacation." I hate dealing with grumpy annoyed tired kids and especially hate dealing with them when it's my vacation too! We allowed for driving time but also allowed time to get to bed at a reasonable time as well. Some nights they did stay up, but knowing my kids wake up early no matter what time they go to bed, they had to be in bed with enough time to get some quality sleep. I don't mean 7:30 every night, but after 10 pm is always too late for our kids. It means whining and arguing the next day!
10. My husband got annoyed that we were driving through God's country and no one was looking because they were all too busy with their faces in their electronics. Getting an audiobook was an excellent idea someone suggested - they are listening while looking out the window and seeing the scenery on a road trip! My kids loved the audiobook the most - it's like a 12 hour long movie in your imagination!
11. I always got drinks with straws instead of drinks with tops. It never fails - my kids will lose a top then the whole thing tips over, spilling in my car. My 12 year old is fine, but the other two accident prone monkeys always got straws!! It's just one less thing to worry about.
12. I preprinted all confirmations and the budgets and kept them with us, so I could always have them handy in case I didn't have internet service on my phone. I also had all emergency services through my auto insurance handy, just in case of a, well, emergency.
13. I always get worried about only having money in one place, say, a checking account, so I made sure all credit cards were completely paid, so I had access to all of them in the event one was lost or stolen, and I made sure each of us had an equal amount of cash, in case of a lost wallet or a problem with the checking account. It is just something that gives me piece of mind, knowing that if by some strange situation all of the money in our checking account was wiped out (and having been through a recent identity theft issue, it's not an unlikely scenario), we had access to more money to pay for things.
The key to any long term traveling with kids is preparation, hopefully this will help you too!