Road Trip Survival Guide: Tips for Traveling to the Smoky Mountains with Kids

You’ve booked your accommodations, planned your itinerary, and packed your bags for the ultimate family getaway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Now, you just need to make it from your home to your vacation digs.

Unfortunately, while rosy images of the classic family road trip prevail throughout our cultural lexicon, the reality rarely matches up. From bathroom breaks to car sickness and the inevitable “Are we there yet?” obstacles abound — to the point that you might feel as if you need a vacation from your vacation.

It doesn’t have to be this way. By taking a new approach to the concept of the road trip, it’s possible to make this journey more enjoyable for everyone involved. A little planning can go a long way, as can the right toys, games, snacks, and yes, mobile devices.

Keep these suggestions in mind as you prepare to tackle the drive to the Smoky Mountains:

Consider Driving at Night

Many parents swear by driving at night during vacations, and for good reason: you can reach your destination a lot faster if your kids are asleep and not bugging you every few minutes. Your mileage may vary both figuratively and literally, but this approach is definitely worth trying when traveling long distances with an infant or toddler.

Consider limiting your nighttime travel to six hours or less, as the sleep deprivation that comes with a full night of driving may prevent you from enjoying the following day. Chug plenty of caffeine before you leave, and, if possible, plan to swap out with another driver when you hit the halfway mark.

Keep in mind that, depending on your route, you may begin to encounter more road hazards as you approach the Smoky Mountains. This could be a huge problem if you’re tired after driving for several hours in the dark. Consider staying the night a few hours outside of the Smokies before finishing your trip the next morning. For example, some parents drive the majority of the way before stopping off in Knoxville at night.

Switch Up Your Seating Arrangements

In an age of voice command, there’s really no need to have another adult in the front seat. Sometimes, it’s easier for everybody if one parent switches to the backseat. This makes it easier to play games, read books, and distribute snacks.

Seating arrangements will vary, of course, based on how many rows your vehicle contains, how much space is taken up by cargo and whether any of your kids tend to argue when forced to sit next to each other for long periods of time.

As you get close to the Smoky Mountains, you may also discover that the windows on one side of the vehicle provide better views. Don’t be afraid to switch up the layout at this point based on the scenery or your kids’ boredom levels.

Plan Stops Along the Way

The Smoky Mountains may be your primary destination, but there’s plenty to explore on your way there. Why not check out a few attractions as you meander along your route? There’s no need to take breaks exclusively at gas stations or rest stops when parks or other outdoor attractions are available.

This approach may add several hours or even a full day to your journey, but it will keep everyone entertained. When you turn travel from an obligation into an opportunity, you may find that the time actually goes by faster.

The frequency of stops will largely depend on the ages of your kids and their energy levels. Parents with strict schedules tend to plan outings based on anticipated naptimes. In other cases, stops may depend on expected bathroom or lunch breaks.

If your kids are older, let them get in on the research. Show them a map of your route and a basic radius for your anticipated stops. From there, they can use search engines or look through guide books to determine which fun locations they might like to visit along the way. You may be surprised to discover that, when they’re anticipating stops they’ve selected, they’re less likely to act up.

Pack Strategically

No matter when you travel or how often you stop, you’ll want to come equipped with plenty of gear to keep your kids comfortable and entertained. Many of these items will continue to prove necessary throughout the remainder of your trip. Begin packing several days in advance so you don’t feel rushed when the big day arrives.

While packing needs can be quite different between families and even from one vacation to the next, this road trip checklist should provide a helpful starting place:

  • A mix of healthy and indulgent snacks
  • A cooler stocked with water and other beverages
  • Facial tissue and wet wipes, including both large containers and individual packs
  • Several sets of earbuds or headphones
  • Books or an e-reader with lots of kid-friendly material
  • Quiet, creative toys such as Etch A Sketch or 3D pin art.
  • Car charger and plenty of cables for devices
  • Pillows and blankets
  • Motion sickness medicine such as Dramamine
  • Clothing layers to keep kids comfortable as the weather changes
  • A playlist on your phone featuring both sing-a-long and relaxing tunes
  • First aid kit
  • Ice scraper and other cold-weather travel tools

Take Advantage of Mobile Devices

While some parents are strictly opposed to screen time during vacation, this may be a case of choosing your battles. A smartphone or tablet can be an extremely helpful tool for kids who might otherwise get bored or restless during long journeys.

Consider loading devices with games, movies, or TV shows to keep young travelers entertained. Kids might also enjoy following your progress on Waze or Google Maps. Geo Touch is even better. This educational app teaches kids all about the various states and their locations — information that can prove useful as you pass in and out of different regions.

A road trip to the Smoky Mountains provides a unique opportunity to bond with your kids as you take in the gorgeous scenery. Plan carefully, and you just might find that your journey is not only tolerable but downright enjoyable.