Top 10 Way to Keep Your Sanity While Traveling for the Holidays

Living far away from family can be very challenging during the holidays.  Our kids every Christmas holiday in a hotel or the home of a family member until we moved to Central IL in 2016. Whether we traveled four hours or twelve we found that traveling during the holidays added to the stress.

Travel is always stressful. However, traveling during Christmas seems to include additional stressors. You need to remember to pack everyone’s gifts which requires strategic car packing. With trunk space devoted to all the goodies for everyone else, you’ll also need to pack carefully. I’ve learned over the years that you need to prepare for the car ride as well as your time with family. And sometimes that means preparing a few weeks ahead of time for your holiday travels.

Here are 10 Tips to Keep your Sanity While Traveling For the Holidays

  1. Find a box that fits in your trunk. Several weeks before we head out for a trip I find a box that will fit in our trunk and I start placing items in it that I know we will take on our trip. Gifts, a dish or container that will be filled with food, and even special entertainment or snacks for the car. The box will ensure there is space for the items you need for your trip and contain all those random extra things that could get lost in the car.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ship gifts ahead of time. If you know you are going to buy something that is difficult to transport ship it ahead of time and wrap it when you arrive. If you’re concerned that someone will open a gift ahead of time arrange for a neighbor to hold the item.
  3. Head to the dollar store. Yes, I know your kids are about to get a bunch of gifts and it may seem like overkill, but there’s something special about having a few items to open in the car that will keep kids from fighting on those long rides.
  4. Plan a trip to the library. Check out a stack of books, movies, and music. If you have tablets you may find that it’s easier to load up ebooks, audiobooks, and videos to increase the space in your backseat.
  5. Invest in extras. Buy batteries, headphones, kleenex, and hand soap that stay in the car. It never hurts to have a first aid kit and a flashlight for emergencies. We also keep individual allergy pills, pens and pencils as well as clipboards. These items enable us to keep going when someone loses one of those key items that would otherwise frustrate a trip.
  6. Consider bringing along a car outlet. A car travel charger for road trips will help those kids who forget to charge electronics still enjoy the ride. If you pick one with standard plug outlets (e.g. for laptops) for convenient charging on the road, you can even squeeze in some work along the way!
  7. Download a podcast series. Road trips are the perfect time to check out longform journalism like The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. Of course, depending on the age of your kids this may not be appropriate for whole car.
  8. Pack healthy snacks and individual trash bags. This is a great way to use some of those plastic shopping bags. Pack a bag with fruit, apple sauce pouches, water, trailmix, and fruit leathers. Include an additional plastic bag for trash. As long as your kids are snacking on fruit let them munch away!
  9. Build in breaks with run around options. Whether you take a break at a rest stop or find a park to run around at for a few minutes, it’s always helpful to move around for a few minutes when you’ve been sitting for long stretches. You’ll help your digestive systems move and reduce emergency stops in the long run!
  10. Plan something fun. Our family traditions have included checking out the latest Star Wars movies, heading to museums, or going to a musical. We’ve spent plenty of time time at Dave and Busters letting the kids just blow off some steam. One year the boys went to a Bulls Game and the girls went out for chocolate fondue. Planning an event other than opening gifts allows the adults to relax and catch up and gives the kids something to look forward to other than Christmas day. If you have to break up your travel to include an overnight stop building in fun with a pool at the hotel is a great way to get out the wiggles before bed.

Holiday travel isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t need to be miserable. Watch the weather, pack strategically, and above all, enjoy your time with family. For more tips read my original post over at All Mom Does!

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This article was originally written on November 24, 2015, and has been edited and updated for freshness and accuracy in November 2021.