Kids say the darndest things. You’d think after bringing my kids to Disney World without mom, they’d say it’s their favorite vacation. You, like me, would be wrong when it comes to my kids. My daughter says, and I quote, “My favorite vacation is at grandma’s house.” So we decided last minute to take a long weekend drive from Boston to New Jersey, which led me to wonder: when’s the best time to leave for a roadtrip with kids?
Like my past post about the best time to schedule a flight with kids, I don’t think there’s a hard and fast answer. Obviously, you have to figure out what works best for your kids and your family. Still, let’s look at the various options and the pros and cons of each.
Early Morning (right after breakfast)
I considered starting with my favorite time to leave, but I’ll start with my wife’s instead. To be fair, leaving in the morning probably works best for the majority of families. Just like for flights, leaving early means you and your kids are the most rested. That means less meltdowns and attitudes for younger kids, though some teenagers might be pretty grumpy. (They’ll sleep in the car anyway.)
The other major pro about leaving in the early morning is if anything goes awry, you have the whole day to make up time. Auto body shops are open, every food store is open unless it’s a huge holiday, etc. etc.
Some of the cons of leaving in the early morning are family specific – if you aren’t morning people (me) leaving in the morning can be tough. Specific to your location, you may run into rush hour traffic. Another con is you usually have to stop more during the day, since kids will have all sorts of needs and get bored along the way. Contrast that with MY favorite time to leave:
Late Night (after dinner)
I love departing at around 8 PM, especially if I’m making a 4 or 5 hour drive. You almost never have to deal with traffic, and I’m a night owl so I naturally have more energy at that time. Late at night you don’t have to deal with kids getting bored, they mostly will fall asleep. Since they’re asleep, you don’t have to stop as many times. Each stop for my family of five these days takes half an hour minimum – last time we drove down to NJ it took eight hours factoring in traffic and stops. So in terms of the actual drive, leaving at night presents a pretty choice scenario.
Of course, there are a lot of cons to driving at night. If your kids don’t fall asleep, that’s going to be rough. You obviously may be tired if you’re not a night owl like myself. If you do have to stop you will have very few options, and in the worst case scenario like an accident you’re sort of out of luck. Obviously, weigh these mitigating factors if you decide to drive at night.
I think a happy medium, especially regarding traffic, is leaving mid morning, like 10 AM. If you live in a big city (that’s not L.A. I guess), rush hour traffic dissipates by that time. You’re driving during the day, so you don’t have to worry about all those night time issues like finding food, open bathrooms, car shops, etc.
But if you’re making a 5 or 6 hour drive you’ve also got a perfect break point in the middle for lunch. Since stops with kids take awhile anyway, you might as well have lunch and give the kids a good chance to stretch their legs. If your trip is short enough, you shouldn’t hit too much rush hour traffic if you are driving to a city either.
For me, I want to spend the minimum amount of time in a car with my whole family. I love them, but that’s the kind of situation where people get annoyed and cranky. That’s why I prefer leaving late at night (everyone’s asleep), but any of these three departure times should set you up pretty well. But ultimately, the best time to leave for a roadtrip with kids is up to you.
So I’d love to hear it, what time do you like to leave home on a roadtrip? Let us know in the comments!
Also use this method to keep the kids entertained. It should work as well in cars as it does on planes!