Hitting the road for your next assignment — with your kids along for the ride? Traveling with your children can be a really fun experience, and it’s a great opportunity for them to learn about the bigger world. Your kids can be good company, too!

Still, traveling is hard work, and it can be even more difficult when you’ve got rowdy passengers with you. With planning, you can turn your travel nursing trips into efficient, happy adventures that your children will treasure. As with most things in life, preparation goes a long way toward success. Check out these tips for smooth travels.

Plan ahead.

Map out your route and decide where you’ll stay (if you’re making stops overnight). Try to avoid traffic congestion that will slow you down and make your little passengers grumpy. Book a hotel in advance to avoid having to scramble for a room. Add some fun by finding a place with a pool and a free breakfast!

Pack strategically.

You’ll want to avoid schlepping around unnecessary luggage, yet you’ll also need to pack all the essentials:

  • If you have babies or very young children, think about whether you’ll need special sleeping accommodations. Most hotels have pack’n’plays available for guests — just call ahead to confirm and to reserve one.
  • Bring a first aid kit — as a nurse, we’ll bet you’ve got this one covered.
  • Invest in a lightweight, collapsible stroller. The Maclaren 3D Lite convenience stroller is practically universally loved. For the more budget-minded, a simple umbrella stroller will do just fine.
  • Give older children the opportunity to pack their own belongings with the challenge of fitting everything into one backpack. They’ll have to make judgment calls, and they’ll likely enjoy the challenge. (For tweens and younger, make sure you check them!)

Keep them busy.

Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Banish those dreadful words by keeping your kids entertained during your drive. Here are some ideas for mess-free, portable toys and activities to keep them occupied:

  • Drawing alternatives. Choose creative outlets that can’t stain or mess up your car interior. The classic etch-a-sketch is great for kids over the age of 3. A magnetic drawing board, which is similar, works for even younger toddlers and babies. Another option? Try water pen books.
  • Wikki Stix. For another artistic option, check out Wikki Stix. Mess-free, they’re little straws that bend and twist to make small sculptures. Bonus: your children will get practice using fine motor skills, which is essential to their development.
  • Scavenger hunt game. Are your kids competitive siblings? Try out a card game designed to challenge them to spot items from their windows, or make up your own list.
  • Puzzles. Got brainy children? Keep them busy for hours with a puzzle, maze game, or classic Rubik’s cube.
  • Puppets. If your kids prefer imaginative play, finger puppets are a fantastic choice for a long car ride. Much smaller than dolls, they’re also a way to keep kinetic energy flowing, which reduces the need to fidget.
  • Goodie boxes. Toddlers can be the most difficult age to entertain on a long road trip. They’re super eager to get out of their car seats and explore the world. Keep them busy by wrapping up a dozen very small gifts, like candy, toy cars, or stickers. The task of unwrapping will keep their little hands occupied for a long time — and they’ll be delighted to see each new surprise.
  • e-Reader . . . a no-brainer! If your kids love to read, invest in an age-appropriate e-reader.
  • Screens. When all else fails, it’s no crime to do screen time! Research shows that exposure to quality media can actually be beneficial for children, in the right doses. Load up your device ahead of time to make sure you have appropriate, interesting, educational content on hand.

Take frequent breaks.

Yep, they need to use the bathroom — AGAIN. Try to avoid unnecessary stops and detours by taking regular breaks. Ask them to use the restroom, and let them run around a bit — you’ll all benefit from letting them burn off energy. Fast food chains with playgrounds are a good place to get some exercise while grabbing a quick meal.

Bring snacks!

Here’s an area where a bit of preparation goes a long, long way. Pack a small cooler with favorite drinks and snacks, and pass them out when your children are hungry. Small, regular snacks are nutritionally important. For a treat, consider offering a lollipop or other hard candy — the time they spend eating it will give you some peace and quiet.

Keep food bills down.

Traveling with kids can really increase your food expenses. Trim down your costs by following a few simple tips when you eat out at restaurants:

  • Order water instead of sodas.
  • Use coupons and rewards codes. Many restaurants have apps that offer special discounts and loyalty points.
  • Check out restaurant.com or groupon.com to buy discount vouchers for up to 50% off at fancier sit-down establishments.  
  • Look closely at menus. Ordering side items, appetizers, and children’s plates can significantly cut your costs. You can also consider sharing meals.

Bring supports.

If your trip is long, and if it’s possible, bring along another adult. A spouse, grandparent, friend or fellow travel nurse can share driving responsibilities and help you with childcare, too. You’ll also enjoy having adult company — especially if you’ve had an hour of Barney blaring from the backseat.

Explore your surroundings.

Last but not least — have fun! The opportunity to travel and experience adventure was likely a big part of what drew you to a career as a travel nurse. Bringing your children along for the ride is an awesome way to share these perks. Whether it’s scheduling stops during your drive or after you arrive at your destination, make the most of your opportunities.

  • Get out in nature. Explore scenery, see wonders, or go on a hike at a national park.
  • Find and explore a great children’s museum.
  • Locate a funky landmark. World’s largest hamburger? A “corn palace” decorated with a mural of Elvis Presley made entirely out of corn? Check out Roadside Attractions for a truly comprehensive directory of American weirdness.

Need more tips on how to staying connected to your family while your travel nursing? See our posts on tackling homesickness as a travel nurse.