Monday, March 4, 2013

Road Trip Tip: Plan A Picnic

Many families I know are deep in the preparations for spring break road trips. Even if you're not heading somewhere in the next few weeks, perhaps you're thinking about hitting the highway this summer.

One of the most challenging aspects of a long road trip is that young kids (and even adults!) start to feel awfully cooped up in such a tight space. There are no opportunities to move or get the wiggles out while strapped in a car seat. And yet you don't want to waste too much time stopping for play breaks, when you'd rather be forging ahead and arriving at your ultimate destination as soon as possible.

Here's where the picnic pitstop saves the day. You've probably got to stop and eat and take a potty break at some point along the way, right? (If not, kudos for being a robot!) Instead of forcing your kids to continue to sit still at a restaurant, pack a picnic. Then they can run around, play on a playground, etc., while eating lunch or dinner.

This is also great if you've got a baby in the mix. A picnic is a chance to spread a blanket and let the little one roll around, lay on their back, and get a change in scenery from their car seat, even if they're not mobile yet.

On our 7 hour ride to Pinconcinng, Michigan this summer, we were thrilled to learn that a fabulous state park was just off the exit near the halfway point of our drive. There, our oldest explored the playground while running back to the picnic for spoonfuls of yogurt and bites of sandwich. Our youngest, then 8 months, jumped all over daddy and rolled around on the picnic blanket, and then enjoyed drinking a bottle in the great outdoors on a bench instead of crammed in a restaurant booth. In total, we stopped for 45 minutes. It was the only stop we had to make because we accomplished three essential goals: bathroom, lunch, and play.

A few tips for the perfect picnic pitstop:
  1. Pack your meal the night before. There are plenty of other things to do the morning you depart. You won't want to be making PB&Js, so do it the night before.
  2. Choose foods that don't require utensils. Or pack plastic ones like we did for yogurt. And don't forget the paper plates and napkins. You'll want to just toss everything in the trash when you're done eating, and not clutter your car with dirty items.
  3. Find a park if possible. Probably nicer than a rest stop, although that would work fine in a pinch. Research where you are likely to be a few hours into the trip, or where you anticipate being around a mealtime.
  4. Once you're on the road, apps like Road Ninja tell you what you'll find at approaching exits on your route, in case you have to make a change in picnic location on the fly.
  5. Get a waterproof blanket. Soft and cozy on one side, waterproof on the other. Perfect to spread if the grass is a little wet or muddy when you stop. It can then double as a beach blanket or fort-making device once you've arrived at your destination.
  6. Have a rain plan. Picnics can be tricky in inclement weather, but with a little planning, still possible!
    • Maybe there is an indoor play center along the way. My town has one, called The Commons, that's just a couple of miles from a major interstate exit.
    • Or perhaps the park you've planned on visiting has shelters you could use. Your kids could still run around under the roof. (And maybe pack bubbles and sidewalk chalk as an activity to keep them out of the rain.) 
    • Many museums let you bring in food. Even if it's not one you had on your must-see list, it likely has at least an exhibit or two that your kids could explore before or after eating.
We're embarking on another lengthy drive in a few weeks on our way to Lake of the Ozarks. I'm certain we'll be making another picnic pitstop, perhaps with the St. Louis arch as our backdrop!

This post is a part of Travel Tips Tuesday at Walking on Travels and Suitcases & Sippy Cups.


  1. The picnic is one my favorite event throughout my life calendar.. Organizing a picnic may sound easy but it is not so… these tips are remarkable.

  2. This is really great advice, wish I had read all these tips before my last road trip was a flop. The pictures here are so dang cute!

  3. I am always so happy when I have the forethought (or time) to pack a picnic lunch when we road trip. Thanks for the encouragement.

  4. We do this all the time - great way to feel more like a local in a foreign place, plus it slows the pace of travel and saves money. We've done this under the Eifel Tower (our fav), in StJames Park (next to Buckingham Palace) and a bunch of great places in the US.