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Summer is in full swing and there’s nothing better than packing up the car for a weekend trip from DC to escape the city life. There are so many amazing places to visit for a weekend trip from DC that’s just a short drive away and where you go depends on what you are looking for. In general, our weekend trips from DC center around getting away from the city and heading out to the beach anywhere near water.
How to Take a Road Trip with Kids
When we were single and carefree, it was easy to just hop into the car with a few clothes and drive off. These days with a toddler in tow, we’ve had to adjust a plan for weekend road trips. But with the amount of road trips we’ve taken this year, we pretty much have a system that works really well for road tripping with a toddler.
Packing For a Weekend Road Trip when You have Kids Everything You Need
Having gone through lots of trial and error where I couldn’t distinguish what was clean or what was dirty or where my daughter’s underwear was, I have honed in on a system for packing that works and is super easy.
The Perfect Weekend Bag
First, the bag. When I fly I’m a carry on with wheels kinda gal. But when I road trip I prefer soft duffle bags – CHECK PRICES. Foldable carry on sized bags are perfect for road trips! They fold up super tiny so they take up no storage space when you are not using it. I usually pack my clothes and my daughter’s clothes in one of these bags for our trips. This duffle is also super light and comes with a shoulder strap so it’s easy to transport it from the car to the hotel.
How to Organize Your Clothes
Second, use laundry bags, zip lock bags, or packing cubes to keep it organized. Because I’m packing for myself and my toddler in one duffel our clothes easily get jumbled and messy very quickly! I used to just fold clothes into the bag and hope they would stay in neat piles, they did not. The moment I needed to find some socks or a tee the whole bag got messy.
This is where laundry bags come in. I usually use these laundry bags – CHECK PRICES for washing my hand wash only items in the washing machine. The bags protect the clothes from snagging on each other. Then I discovered they make amazing organization tools for packing!
I pack based on clothing type. For example, I’ll put all of my daughter’s dresses in one laundry bag, then underwear and socks in another bag, my dresses in another bag, and so on. This system works really well because I can find exactly what I need really quickly without messing up the entire bag. Some people back by an outfit in each bag, but I find this leads to another unorganized mess when you just need one item from an “outfit.” Also I’d have a hard time remembering what I put in each bag for that “outfit.” As a mom I have a hard enough time remembering everything I need for a trip let alone what exactly is in each bag based on the outfit.
Using laundry bags also creates separation between clean clothes and dirty clothes. This was another issue I had when I packed. When I wore something and it was dirty, where could I put it so I didn’t mix it up with the clean clothes. Well the easy answer would be to bring a plastic bag, which I often forget. But with the laundry bag method, I could easily distinguish the clean from the dirty. Everything that was in a laundry bag was clean and unworn, while anything that wasn’t was dirty.
Keep a Ziplock Bag of To Go Toiletries
One of the reasons I’m able to pack so quickly for trips now is because I have my toiletries already packed. I keep a ziplock bag of my toiletries already stocked with everything I need so when I pack I just drop that bag in. When I say everything, I mean everything. I have toothpaste, floss, all my skincare, deodorant, and even sunscreen. I used to spend so much time trying to figure out which toiletries I needed and how I could get them into small bottles that packing was a huge pain in the butt.
Now that we take so many weekend trips, I just have this little bag ready to go and it makes packing so much faster and easier. I also do the same with make up!
What to Have On Hand in the Car
When you are traveling with a toddler, they are going to need snacks and water on a road trip. I’ve found the best way to pack healthy snacks is with an insulated lunch bag – CHECK PRICES. These lunch bags don’t take up much space and keep healthy snacks like fruit and cheese cold for munching on while in the car. Along with the cooler, I’ll also keep a bag of dry snacks like bread, crackers, and chips for snacking.
After all that snacking your kid is going to get thirsty! Instead of wasteful water bottles that we never fully drink and have to throw away because we left it in the car we’ve opted for this 32 oz Cold Water Bottle – CHECK PRICES. I usually fill it with water and a few ice cubes to keep the water cold. I’ll bring her a little tumbler cup – CHECK PRICES and just pour water into it from the big jug.
This method allows her to drink without spilling because she’s drinking from a smaller cup. We are also able to leave water in the car on hot days without it turning hot or worrying about the plastic leaching into the water.
How to Keep a Toddler Entertained on a Road Trip
You will need some activities to keep your toddler occupied for that 3 to 6 hour drive. And this will require some sacrifices on your part, as you will need to part with control of your radio!
The best way to keep your toddler occupied is playing children’s music. I’ve found it to be universal that children love music made for them. My daughter loves Disney songs! She could listen to the soundtrack of Coco for hours on loop!
Another way to keep your toddler busy during a long road trip is with new toys. Now I’m not talking about expensive toys like LOL Dolls or anything. Go to the dollar store and raid their toy aisle. I’ve gotten everything from stickers and crayons to place mats with Elsa on it that she loves. Usually I’ll keep a “surprise” bag at home just to bring along for road trips. As soon as she seems bored in the car or at a restaurant I’ll take out a shiny new one dollar toy for her to play with.
I’ve also kept a stock of those capsule toys you buy from vending machines that are fifty cents each (also from the dollar store). My daughter is absolutely fascinated with them! For each trip I’ll give her just one and she will play with it for the entire trip!
My last method for keeping toddlers occupied? Give them a device. Yes I know this is not ideal. But sometimes I just give in and give her the iPad so she can watch Coco when I want the radio back so I can listen to my favorite podcasts!
Weekend Trip from DC Destination: Assateague Island
Distance from DC: 4 hours driving
Best Time to Leave From DC: Early in the morning because there is always traffic on the Bay Bridge and this is the only Bridge you can take over the Chesapeake Bay.
Assateague State Park is definitely one of the cleanest beaches I’ve seen in Maryland. The water here is a pretty greenish blue. There are even wild horses on the beach. At only about 4 hours from Washington DC Assateague makes a great weekend trip from DC!
The waves here are pretty strong at Assateague as with most east coast beaches in the area. It may not be suitable for younger kids and toddlers to go in the ocean. But they will love playing in the sand which is really soft here! For kids 7+ that can swim pretty well, bring a boogie board and they will love riding and jumping the waves!
For day trips to Assateague, there is a $20 per vehicle fee which gives you 1-week access to the beach. There’s really nowhere to buy food at Assateague since it’s a state park so I would bring a cooler with food for the day. There are public water fountains, but we usually bring bottled water. There are also public bathrooms at the beach. A warning, there are wild horses here and they will try to steal your food. Also, there are horse flies and I’ve heard it hurts when they sting, I’ve personally never been stung.
There are no hotels in Assateague, instead, you can camp on the beach here. You do need to reserve a spot in advance. Assateague camping is really popular in the summertime so I would reserve early. A campsite costs $30 a night. For a full listing of facilities see here.
You can also stay at a hotel in Ocean City or in Berlin, Maryland. There are hotels for all budgets!
Weekend Trip from DC Destination: Outer Banks North Carolina
Distance from DC: 5 to 6 hours driving
Best Time to Leave From DC: Early in the morning to avoid traffic. Or if you are headed there after work, leaving at 6 pm will get your there around 11:30 pm. Tip, take the express toll road once you get on 95 South. There is always traffic on 95 south and we managed to avoid much of it by taking the toll road.
The Outer Banks in North Carolina has been one of our favorite summer road trip destinations from DC since last year. We ended up driving down twice and we have already taken a trip there this summer for Memorial Day weekend. The Outer Banks is only 5 to 6 hours drive from Washington DC so it’s pretty easy to do an extended weekend trip from DC.
The Outer Banks is mostly a family beach destination. The ocean here is slightly warmer than the water at the beaches closer to DC such as Ocean City and Rehoboth Beach.
The beach itself has strong waves which may not be suitable for younger kids to swim in, but they will love playing in the sand and collecting all the shells on the beach. Older kids aged 7+ that can swim will love boogie boarding and wave jumping! The beach here is also pretty wide depending on where you are, so there’s plenty of space for toddlers to just dip their feet in! The beach is also great for flying kites during sunset.
Where to Eat in the Outer Banks
One of the reasons we love the Outer Banks is the fresh seafood, especially the oysters and shrimp! I could eat a pound of that shrimp by myself. Our favorite place to get seafood from is I Got Your Crabs in Kitty Hawk and also Steamers in Kill Devil Hills.
Where to Stay in Outer Banks with Kids
There’s plenty of family-friendly accommodations in the Outer Banks, but there are a few requirements we have that made our trips so much easier.
Rent a House or Condo
First, chose a rental over a hotel. Most rentals from VRBO or Airbnb have kitchens and this is essential when traveling with kids. They need food at random times so having a kitchen with snacks, fruit, and that ice cream to bribe them with is key! Also you get a lot more bang for the buck with a rental. There will be more space for the whole family! And even better, you can invite some friends so your kid will have a playmate!
Pick a Beach Front Location
Second, go with beachfront. I cannot stress how much easier your life will be if you chose a beachfront location! When I say beach front on mean beachfront, as in there are no other houses between you and the beach. Many of the rentals will say “walking distance” to the beach, but this is not what you want.
Beachfront accommodation in the Outer Banks is so important when you are traveling with kids! Think about all the stuff you need to bring to the beach and have to lug back and forth. And if you have toddlers they may not be willing to walk that far and you will end up carrying them. If you are beachfront you walk out of your rental, and you are on the beach!
We have stayed in places that are beachfront and not beachfront in the Outer Banks with our toddler and hands down the beachfront locations win. One time we stayed in a house that was “walking distance” from the beach, and really it was not when you have a toddler and all your beach gear. Save yourself the trouble and just book something on the ocean.
A Pool and Hot Tub is a Necessity on the Property
Having a community pool and hot tub or a private pool is a necessity. We would spend our days at the beach then after lunch head to the pool. As adults, we loved the beach and the sand was fun for our toddler to play in, BUT she can’t swim and is deathly afraid of the ocean! So the pool was a great place for her to get into the water. She especially loved the in-ground hot tub at the last condo we stayed at!
Weekend Trip from DC Destination: Thousand Islands Alexandria Bay New York
Distance from DC: 6 to 7 hours driving
Best Time to Leave from DC: Leave early in the morning to avoid any traffic! Also instead of taking 95 North, take 270 North to 15 North to 81 for a scenic stress-free drive.
The Thousand Islands is the perfect summer weekend trip from DC if your family loves water, history, and nature! The 1000 Islands consists of over 1800 islands on the St. Lawrence River. Want to rent an island? Well, you can definitely do it in the Thousand Islands!
Situated between the New York and Canadian Border the Thousand Islands boasts two castles and water so clean you can see right to the bottom.
Things to Do in the Thousand Islands
Visit Boldt Castle
Boldt Castle is literally a castle built on an island accessible only by boat! You can visit Boldt Castle from Mid May to Mid October.
George C. Boldt, owner of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City originally built Boldt Castle for his wife Louise, but unfortunately his wife died before the castle could be complete. Completely distraught over the death of his wife, Boldt halted all work on the castle and left it unfinished. It wasn’t until the Thousand Island Bridge Authority bought it in 1977 that it became the tourist attraction it is today.
Boldt Castle is great for kids because there is so much to see!! The grounds are stunning and so is the interior of the house. You can just let the kids run around here and explore without a guided tour. And honestly what kid doesn’t love castles. There’s even a specific little “house” just for kids!
From Alexandria Bay in New York, we took a boat shuttle by Uncle Sam Boat Tours https://usboattours.com/scenic-cruises/boldt-castle-shuttle/ over to the Castle. Once on the island we bought entrances to the Castle. Alternatively you can rent your own boat and sail here on your own as well.
Visit Singer Castle on Dark Island
Singer Castle is the only remaining Castle in the Thousand Islands that is complete and has been lived in. It’s truly an amazing castle and quite different from Boldt Castle.
Unlike Boldt Castle you have to take a guided tour of Singer Castle. The tour is 45 minutes long and we all enjoyed it! The inside of the house was truly stunning. I really wanted to walk around the grounds some more but it was raining the day we went so we didn’t get a chance to do that. Our daughter loved the tour too, she loved seeing all the interior of the castle!
How to Visit Singer Castle
You can reach Singer Castle by renting your own pontoon boat or taking a tour. We took the Uncle Sam Boat Tour for Singer Castle which includes a history of the thousand islands and a tour of the castle. Originally the plan was to rent a pontoon boat, but everywhere we checked there were no rentals available.
I’m actually kind of glad we didn’t rent a boat for the castle tour because it rained so hard on the ride up there.
Rent a Pontoon Boat
We totally tried to rent a Pontoon Boat in the Thousand Islands, but unfortunately they were all booked when we went. I saw a ton of people driving around in their own boats and it looked like a ton of fun!
Have a Swim in the St. Laurance River
The VRBO we rented had a private dock we jumped right into the St. Laurence River from it. The water is FREEZING in the St. Lawrence so I would not advise you to jump in if you are afraid of the cold.
Weekend Trip from DC Destination: Jockey’s Ridge State Park North Carolina
Distance from DC: 5 to 6 hours driving
If you do end up going to the Outer Banks take a little trip over to Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head. Jockey’s Ridge is definitely our favorite weekend trip from DC! I’ve been here 3 or 4 times at this point. This is the largest sand dune on the east coast and absolutely amazing!! Our toddler and the older kids that were with us loved every minute here. We flew our kites, tried to bury each other, and rolled down the large dunes. The sand is super soft here and you will want to dig your toes in!
There are two entrances to Jockey’s Ridge. You can enter through the main park entrance or cross the street from Kitty Hawk Kites.
Best Time to go to Jockey’s Ridge
The best time to go is during sunset when the sand is not hot and the sun is not glaring at you from overhead. The sand gets really really hot during the middle of the day and will burn your feet. There is no shade here so during the middle of the day wear adequate sun protection. Also, bring plenty of water as you will be very hot from all the walking at Jockey’s Ridge.
What to Bring to Jockey’s Ridge
- Water – We used this bottle to keep our water cold! – CHECK PRICES
- Sun Protection – I love this sunscreen by Banana Boat for an affordable mineral sunscreen with great protection – CHECK PRICES
- Sand Toys
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