Road Trip Tips – for Traveling with Your Grandchild

My family has kind of a tradition of Grandparents taking grand-kids on trips. Mom started it, taking my son to Boston when he was 9. My aunt and uncle took each of their 4 granddaughters on one trip – one at a time after they turned 8.

We took a whole family vacation a couple of years ago (2012) – paying for a road trip for our two sons, their spouses and children to Yellowstone National Park. It was one of our best ever vacations.

This year, we plan to continue the family legacy by taking our oldest grandson (almost 10) on a road trip from the Midwest to Colonial Williamsburg and the Historic Triangle.

I’ve planned out the structure of the trip and the dates are rapidly approaching. Knowing that road trips with kids can be chancy at best, I decided to do a bit more research on traveling with grandchildren and thought I would share my findings with you.

I had a few things in mind already (such as packing healthy snacks and drinks, more than one swimsuit, games and electronics as well as making sure things are planned for kid and elder friendly activities), but I’ve learned a few more tips during my research. Here are all of my tips for traveling with your grandchild.

Get parental permission and share plans before talking to your grandchild.

Long before I said anything to my grandson, I coordinated the trip with others. First, of course, I spoke with my spouse to see if he was willing to spend 10 days in a car with a kid!! He was eager, so then I asked the parents for permission to take our grandson on a trip and coordinated the best dates (considering their schedule) with them. After that, I did some trip planning and shared the plans with the parents to make sure they didn’t object to anything we would be doing. Only after that did I start sending things to them to share with our grandson, or start talking with him about the trip.

Give the parents your plan.

Once you finalize your plans share what you have with the parents. Let them know the route you plan to take, where you plan to spend the nights, what you will be seeing each day and how you can be reached in case of cell phone failure. It’s not a bad idea to make sure the parents have the license plate number of the car you will be driving either.

Get official proof and documentation – you aren’t the parent!

Get a notarized letter from the parents – signed by both – giving permission for you to seek medical care for the child during the vacation time.

Get copies of the medical and dental insurance cards, prescription cards – just in case.

If you are leaving the country , you will need passports (and in some cases birth certificates) as well as (potentially) a limited power of attorney over the grandchildren.

You will also need a (notarized) document showing that you have the parents permission to travel with the child – most especially if you leave the country, even if it is just to dip over the border to Canada or Mexico. It is a good idea, in these times, to have this even if you are just traveling across state lines.

My grandson’s other grandparents took his cousin to Canada last year and the border patrol quizzed not only them, but also the kid – asking if he was traveling with these people under duress and if they were really his grandparents!

Make sure the kids are old enough.

I’ve always heard that there is a travel ‘sweet spot’ for taking grandkids on vacation – old enough to be self sufficient yet still young enough to be interested. Typical ages quotes for the sweet spot are between 8 and 12. Kids this age don’t tend to get homesick, can typically handle most activities, don’t get as tired as younger folks and yet haven’t yet reached that teen stage where they no longer want to be seen with anyone in the family! Better still (for grandparents) they don’t ever have to be carried around!

Our grandson will be 10 this summer, 9 when we leave for the trip – just the right age.

Be sure you outnumber the kids.

I’ve held my Grandma Rie’s Money Camp for the past 3 summers with between 2 – 3 kids and it is no picnic for one senior to keep up with that many kids. The more kids you have along on the trip, the more fights you will get!

No one in my family has taken on more than one grandkid at a time and we plan to continue that vacation tradition. We’ll take our grandchildren on vacation one at a time. That way they get our full attention (and we adults can switch off and rest up if we need it).

Know their allergies/health issues/medial history.

You will be away from their own doctors and care facilities. Have the parents give you a list of any medications, allergies, heath tendencies, their medical history, including shots (especially tetanus) and things for which you should watch (like do they constipate easily, how much time do they need in the bath, will they get queasy reading in the car and etc).

Get an approved and preferred food list from parents.

You might be tempted to load them up with junk food and sweets – after all, they will probably love you for it, but don’t. You are going to be the one dealing with their body’s reaction to all that sugar and salt and grease. Keep them on a regular food schedule. Let the parents tell you what the kids should have, what the kids will eat and what to feed them when they are feeling a bit off. Then follow the schedule without a lot of deviation (hey you are the grandparent, so you do get to provide a treat now and then!).

Follow routines.

Talk with parents before leaving to understand the normal household and bedtime routines, if you aren’t up to speed on the latest and greatest. When do the kids usually spend quality time in the bathroom, what time do they usually eat, and play. When is bedtime, how long do they usually sleep and what is the night time routine. Is there a sleep aid they need to take and use (like their own pillow, books to read, some music or a night light).

  • Plan for plenty of bathroom time – at the right time of day – for all of you.
  • Feed them the right kinds of food to keep their systems humming.
  • Give them plenty of water.
  • Follow their normal routine (and yours!) as much as possible.
  • Give them time to run around, time to unwind.
  • If possible, let everyone have their own bed at night.

I like to reserve the hotel room in advance – making sure I can cancel if need be. That way, we are assured of a place to stay and have a destination for the day. When my own Mom and Dad took me on vacations as a child, they would just drive until dark and then start looking for a room. There were many nights that we looked a long time and settled for pretty nasty looking rooms.

I also like to stay in one place for multiple nights, when the schedule allows. It’s just easier than moving beds every night.

Psych the kid up for vacation.

Share the planning so the child feels invested in the vacation. Talk about what you hope will happen on the trip, share the planning you have done and let your grandchild make some of the decisions. Write up a travel itinerary with pictures so they know what to expect.

I emailed a document with highlights of what I had planned and lots and lots of pictures to my son and my son printed it and had my grandson read it aloud to him.

Soon, I will ask our son to help our grandson select some things he would like to see and do while we are at Colonial Williamsburg. He will also get to decide on things to do (most of the time) in the evening. He can choose between swimming, put-put golf, table tennis and more. I’ll also ask our son to start talking about some of the history we will experience with our grandson – to make sure he knows the difference between the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and the Colonial period.

When the dates get closer, I’ll talk to my daughter-in-law to get her into the psych up act (she does it naturally so I just need to check in with her). She will talk up the trip and pose questions to my grandson about the trip – what will he want to take, what he will be doing, etc.

Do all the normal trip safety stuff.

Make sure your car is in good shape for the trip and that your insurance and registration cards are handy. Do the normal stuff like making sure your car fluids are good, having emergency supplies available (flashlights, tools, food, water, extra oil and coolant and etc).

Take along all contact numbers.

Make sure you have all of the parents contact information, plus any emergency contact numbers (maybe the child’s nearest relative, babysitter and etc) and medical numbers needed (doctor, dentist, etc so if the worst does happen, the doctor on the trip can consult with the child’s own doctor).

Check in with parents once a day.

Let the parents know that their child will be calling them once a day at a certain time (and make sure to inform parents of any deviation from this so they don’t worry). Make sure you have all the numbers you need – work, home, cell and etc. as well as a general idea of which to call when. Parents will want reassurance that their child is OK and they will get much more information about how much your grandchild is enjoying the trip if they talk each day.

Make the drive time more enjoyable.

Pack your own snacks and drinks to have along the way. I’ll be taking a cooler which we will restock here and there.  That way we can have something without stopping.

Stop when needed to stretch legs, empty bladders and enjoy the countryside. Let your grandchild run off some energy. Some folks pack jump ropes, chalk (for hop scotch) or look for playgrounds for some of the stops.

Use electronics – but with a plan.

Our grandson would spend both of the 8 hour days we will be traveling playing on his tablet if we allowed it. The parents don’t want that to happen and neither do we. Our son will set the device so that it can only be used for certain things for certain lengths of time at certain hours and set the expectation that our grandson will be spending a lot of time unplugged.

Don’t forget chargers. There’s little more frustrating than lugging around an electronic item that is useless because you forgot the charger.

Prepare for road games.

Puzzle books; family road games; sharing stories about family members and family history; discussing what you will be seeing and doing and tracking expenses and trip progress are all activities that work well with the sweet spot age group. I hope to let our grandson track the trip on a map and to make sure he has a camera all of his own to use to document the parts of the trip he wants to record. A blank tablet for him to use as a journal of the trip may also be an option.

What to take.

Of course you’ll want to make sure you have appropriate clothing, including shower/beach shoes, a couple of swimming suits each (in case you need dry time between swims) and all your swim paraphernalia (goggles, nose plugs, water wings and etc), but also consider health and safety items like these:

  • Adhesive bandages, in various sizes
  • Antibiotic cream
  • Children’s pain reliever/fever reducer
  • Thermometer
  • Lip balm
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Wet wipes (among other things to wipe down those nasty toilet seats before your precious sits on it)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Kid shampoo
  • Toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss

Most of all, enjoy your grandchild.

Don’t let the vacation schedule, stress or activities get in the way of the real purpose of your trip – which is building that good relationship with your grandchild, enjoying each others company and building memories together.

Have you traveled with your grandchild? How did it go?

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