Driving/Moving Cross Country With Two Little Ones

Hi There, East Bay Community!!!

I am going to miss being part of this community, as we will be part of the statistical set of families leaving California :( That said, we are thinking of driving cross country (Massachusetts) with 5 year- old and 2 year - old who both have not had a lot of car experience. Are we bananas to think this is going to be fun or am I setting us up for weeks and weeks of no solid routine, a move away from everything that will equate to a lot of emotions? We have a camper van (Westfalia) and have driven at most 4 hours with my littlest and 8 -10 hours with my eldest. I hope, if we plan it right, we will visit with family along the way, stop and see some amazing sites, and take in all that is the West. I fear that a move, a cross-country road trip, and new schools will just rock their little emotional systems once we land. I would love to get any feedback, pros - cons, sites we should see, places to stay/camp in our van, or advice against the road trip altogether. We will be leaving the first week of August and will want to stop in Colorado and Iowa. Thank you in advance for your thoughts.

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My husband and I have been driving cross country every summer for almost 15 years, about half of those years with small children. My kids are now older than yours (we are leaving again on 6/1), and we do it pretty differently than most folks, but I would be happy to share insights and field questions if it would be helpful to you. You can contact me directly at rosekindness [at] gmail.com.

Warmly, Rachel

My first thought is, bring the porta potty. One that can accommodate adults and children. There can be long stretches of empty highway. It should be fine if you plan it well! Games with little prizes and plenty of healthy snacks. A few farm animal petting zoos along the way. Good luck and have fun!

My family and I moved from MA to Berkeley in january of last year but I did the drive by myself (with our dog) as I thought it would be hell with our 2 year old.  How many days do you want to spend driving?  If you were driving by yourself in theory you could do it in 4 days but those are super long days.  With two kiddos, I would double if not triple the amount of time.  While it's certainly possible to see the sites, there are large stretches of that drive that are super super boring.  Also, I'm not convinced there is a lot of stuff in between Iowa and Massachusetts that you'd be super excited to visit.  Personally, I think the time would be better spent getting your children acclimated to their new environment in Massachusetts by planning fun trips/activities in and around where you'll be living.

When I had to drive (MN to Maine and back) with my kiddo, 4 then 5 years old, I planned my stops at hotels/motels with pools with water slides. We had hours of excellent physical play every evening. I needed it, too. (Driving through Canada I found that indoor pools with elaborate water slides are a thing!) We drove 350 miles per day max, I allowed 2.5 hours of screen time on the road. We had picnic lunches. We borrowed the complete Hans Christian Andersen audiobook from the library and enjoyed the whole 15 hours, story by story. During her screen time with headphones I listened to a book on tape. It felt like privacy and luxurious  solitude! 
I’m an introvert so staying with different people, even loved ones, along the way is stressful for me when I can’t get time to myself after the kid is asleep. I feel obligated to stay up or go out with folks. Or maybe I’m just not good with boundaries. 
So find campgrounds with pools! Kids that age often have zero interest in “sights” Create an absolute routine and keep repeating it during the day: breakfast, on the road, screen time, naps, lunch, playtime out of the car, dinner, swim, bedtime. It these are constant it becomes instant routine and kids will adapt quickly. 
And my Americana road trip restaurant tip is: Chinese!! No, not orange chicken or anything fried and coated with sugar! Just about every independent Chinese restaurant (not Panda Express) makes fresh chicken stock/broth daily. I typically order a large wonton-soup-without-the-wontons and it comes with fresh veggies and other options. We ate that almost every night. Plain rice, too, fir the kiddos flavored with some broth. 
Iowa to MA stretch could be REALLY hot. Do you have good ac? August is heatwave time...

Last, from Iowa if you head north through Sioux Ste Marie to Canada it’s a bit out of the way but the Provincial Park Campgrounds are wonderful. Iowa to MA camping will be hot and it’s all lousy campgrounds. and it’s all toll roads. Being hot in the car with the sun on me is my worst childhood road trip memory.
Moving is super expensive, but if you price out having your camper trucked to MA and you fly you may have time to have a nice camping trip in New England, get to know the area. 

i wish you so much joy in your new life in New England. Good Luck getting there! 


I've driven cross country many times, but never with kids - I'm planning a similar trip this summer with my three-year-old though, so I think it COULD be a good idea. Based on my previous experiences, August can be really hot - even at night - especially once you get through the west part of Colorado and can't cool off with altitude as easily. After Iowa, Indiana Dunes State Park would be a fun place to spend the night. In preparation for our trip I've also looked at googlemaps and searched for playgrounds in random places - there are lots! We're planning on at least a few hours a day of running around. 

Moving cross country is going to be a huge transition for them either way, so I road trip probably won't make it worse. 

We did this drive last year Labor Day week with our then 6-year old. We were pretty COVID-cautious then, so we brought a portable toilet, our camping supplies, and most of our food. It took us 7 nights, but I'm sure could be a bit shorter. We rented a mini-van, which gave us a lot more space and comfort compared with our own station wagon. We left during a heat-wave / smoke, and our first two nights camping in NV and Utah were not particularly memorable (we weren't sure how far we could drive, so didn't make reservations, which meant we had to settle for sub-optimal camping spots over the holiday weekend). We found city parks to stop for picnic lunches and play time. We then ran into a snow/wind/rain storm, so spent the next 2 nights in (very deserted) motels (NE and IA). Our last three camping nights were the best - Indiana Dunes Nat'l Park, and two beautiful state parks at either end of PA. We started our days with small hikes to give us time to explore those parks and stretch our legs. Setting up and breaking camp, making meals, etc. definitely takes time, which is partly why it took us 7 days. Our longest driving day was probably 9 hours when we were hurrying to beat the snow. Otherwise, we took our time. 

A few things that helped: We planned ahead and requested lots of audiobooks from the library, and downloaded them to my son's tablet as they became available. He had headphones, but the only thing he could really do on the tablet was audiobooks. No videos, games, etc., which helped him not get carsick. Some of the audiobooks we listened to as a family over the car stereo. It's good to have a selection of audiobooks, as we found some were not good for roadtrips (couldn't understand the narrator over the road noise, etc.). We liked the Wild Robot books and Cricket in Times Square, and my son listened to a lot of Magic Treehouse and Ballpark Mysteries on his own. I brought a few small toys that my son could play with in the car and gave them out each day (book of mazes, scavenger hunt cards, etc.). He also had a box of legos and would take some out to play with on his lap each day. We got my son a clip on desk to go on his carseat that could hold toys, snacks, etc. - he didn't love it and only used it sometimes, but it was helpful when he did. 

We brought some sporty things to do on our stops (paddle tennis game, etc.), but what my son loved the best was bubbles. I would blow bubbles with the bubble wand and he would run around popping them. It was quick to pull out at potty stops and helped him use some energy. I highly recommend bringing bubbles if your kids like them!

Our trip went better than expected - my son really rarely complained and enjoyed zoning out with his audiobooks and toys, watching the world go by. He loved getting to camp and see new things. However, we just have one kid, and he's pretty mellow. Your experience could be very different.

Feel free to get in touch if you want more details. Good luck!