Tips and ideas on how to enjoy a road trip with kids.
Maybe you’re over the moon excited. Maybe you’re dreading it. But the reality is, you have a road trip planned with the kids, and you need to make sure everyone survives hours together in 45 square feet. Either way, you definitely don’t want to hear phrases like these.
“Mooom, he’s touching me!”
“He’s copying me!”
“Ewww! Mama, he tooted!”
“He’s not being fair!”
“I’m so bored!”
“Are we there yet?!!!”
“Can we go home now?”
We recently went on a 12-hour long road trip with all 5 kids. It wasn’t our first rodeo, and with each trip we take I add to my list of tips on how to survive a road trip with kids. I can’t guarantee that you will eliminate the above phrases coming from the backseat, but I can give you ideas on how to enjoy a road trip with kids.
Packing for a road trip
Roll outfits together. I used to pack a duffel bag full of kids’ clothes, a stack for each child. After we arrived at our destination I took out all the clothes and put in in a drawer if one was available. All four of our boys are close in age, and sometimes they will wear each other’s clothes. Having all their clothes in stacks got messy fast. The stacks became piles sooner than I could say, “Let’s go to the beach.”
This time I’ve changed things up. I rolled the outfits complete with undies and socks into a tight burrito and packed each child’s backpack with their own clothes. The clothes stayed in the backpacks and this way, we eliminated issues like messy piles, kids wearing each other’s clothes, and mismatched outfits (oh, glory!). The worn clothes go into a laundry bag, and when they’re ready for a fresh outfit, they simply pull an outfit burrito out of their backpack, and they’re good to go.
Pack car-friendly activities. For younger kids, pack coloring books and crayons, and travel-friendly crafts like pipe cleaner wire. Older kids could bring games like Uno, travel-sized board games, or a book. Ask your kids for ideas.
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For babies and toddlers, consider getting a couple of new toys for the trip to keep them occupied. Don’t give them everything at once, or else they’ll lose interest before you’re on the highway. Switch out the toys to keep them entertained with something new and exciting once in a while.
Print a map. If you have school-aged kids, map out your road trip and print it to give to your kids to follow along. This will give them an activity to do when they use the map to figure out where you are and how close you are to your destination. This post contains affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase after clicking a link, I will earn a small commission, but it won’t cost you a penny more. Click here to read my full disclosure policy.
Pack food and snacks. It’s something about a road trip that makes kids want to snack all the time. Pack enough snacks to last through your drive. Opt-in for healthier, easy snacks. Take non-messy fruits and veggies like celery sticks, cucumbers, and apple slices. Kids get hungry at awkward times, have lunch meat and bread ready to make a quick sandwich for them. We take boiled eggs on every road trip, they’re great hunger fighters.
If you don’t usually mind giving your kids sugar, try to avoid it on road trips. Sugar-fueled balls of energy and 45 square feet don’t blend well together. Migraine, anyone?
Pack a ball. It will come handy when you make pit stops. Let the kids chase the ball and get some of the stored-up energy out. Take badminton rackets for school-aged kids, and take bubbles for the small kiddos. Encourage them to chase and pop all the bubbles as fast as they can. When you’re back on the road, your car will no longer burst at the seams with kiddie energy, if only for a little while.
Have the kids pick new movies for the trip. The day before our road trip, the kids each picked a new movie. They were excited to have new movies to watch. Once on the road, the kids were entertained for a while.
Get kiddie audiobooks. Kids love stories. As an alternative to movies, have an audiobook or two ready for the kids to enjoy.
Have music ready. When kids need a break from movies and audiobooks, put on their favorite music. Whether it’s a movie soundtrack or other songs they like, have them ready for a change of auditory scenery.
Pack baby wipes. Pack them even if your kids are out of diapers. Baby wipes are great for quick cleanups and to wipe sticky little hands.
Pack a trash bag. An empty grocery bag works just fine. Make sure you have a place to catch the trash, and there will be plenty. Clear plastic wraps taken off new movie boxes, snack packaging, and used wipes will need a place to go. Or you won’t recognize the inside of your car when you get to your destination.
Pack zip lock bags. These nifty little things are great to store crayons that spilled from a broken crayon box, to store a left-over sandwich, and to have on hand for possible car sickness. They don’t take too much room and can save you a mess or two.
Take your baby’s lovie. If you’re traveling with a baby or toddler, make sure to bring along their blanket and a favorite toy. The familiar items will help keep them content on long road trips.
Check your First Aid Kit. We always have a first aid kit in the car, but it’s a good idea to check it before the trip. Pack a few bandaids and make sure your disinfectant cream isn’t expired. I also have a safety pin and tweezers in our kit to make taking out splinters a cinch.
Surviving (and enjoying) the road trip
Make frequent stops. Before we had kids we were the type of travelers who drove for hours and hours non-stop until it was time to fuel up again. This was in a previous life before kids, which I vaguely remember. When we became parents that habit stuck around, and on the very first road trip we took with the kids we knew we needed to change our ways.
We now make a stop every 2 to 3 hours and get the kids running. This is where the ball and tennis rackets come in. You want to get all that piled up energy burned. On our most recent trip, the weather was hot and the kids had jello hands and feet as soon as they spilled out of the car. I knew they had energy galore, so I began running after them. Even though I got out of breath much sooner than they did, it got them moving. I never did catch up to any of them. They’re super fast runners.
If you are a plan-ahead kind of mama, see if you can add strategic stops along your route. Pick places with scenery, or lots of grass for kids to play on. If you like to go with the flow, keep a tab on the rest stops on your way, those usually have lots of room for kids to run around, and picnic tables, too.
On rainy days, a Chick-Fil-A indoor playground will do the trick. Check Chick-Fil-A Locations to find one near you with a playground. On mobile, simply click on the “show filters” dropdown at the top of your screen and check the “playground” checkbox.
Don’t let the frequent stops scare you away from the road trip altogether. Make the stops, stretch your legs, take in the surroundings, and enjoy the road trip with your kids.
Have a potty back-up plan. Wet pants, anyone? At every road trip stop, we make sure the kids go to the bathroom before getting back in the car. “But I don’t need to go!” doesn’t work for me on road trips. Everyone goes, even if they don’t think they need to. This minimizes the chances of a sudden “I need to go!” at 70 miles per hour with no exit in sight.
However, kids are kids, and this can still happen even after you’ve made sure everyone took their potty break at your last stop. If you’re lucky, you’ll have an exit or rest area nearby. If not, have an empty water bottle on hand for the boys and a portable potty with potty liners for the girls. We had an empty bottle in the car on our last trip, but it didn’t get used a single time even though the car was filled with mostly boys. Making sure they use the bathroom at every stop did the trick.
Talk to your kids. Movies are great at keeping the kids entertained for a while but on long trips, even movies can get old. Change it up, turn off the movie, and connect with your kids. Talk about the things they’re interested in, or ask them questions they will want to answer. Here is a list of 100 questions to ask kids.
Encourage them to look around. Another great thing to do in between movie breaks is to encourage the kids to look out of the car window. Talk to them about the landscape outside of the car window or something special about the state you’re driving through. Enjoy the scenery and connect with your kids.
Give them incentives for good behavior. We haven’t used money as an incentive before, but this time, we decided to try something different. The kids are getting older, and are more interested in money and what they can do with it. It’s good to have the kids start having experiences with money while they’re young so they can learn how it works, their responsibilities, and how to handle money.
Before we began driving on our recent trip, I told all five kids that they have $5 each. I put each child’s name on a separate sticky note and drew 20 circles under each name. The circles represented quarters. I explained to them that every time they misbehave, I will cross a quarter out. At the end of the drive, they will get the left-over funds and they will do what they wished with it. This was exciting for them. It motivated them to not get out of line, and when they did, they got one warning and a reminder of the crossed-out quarters, which usually worked. Our energetic, idea-generating strong-willed child ended the drive with $2 left over, which was a win for this bouncy little boy.
I took the kids to the store and they picked whatever they wanted, as long as they didn’t go over their budget. My strong-willed child was happy with a pack of gum for his $2.
Keep the kids buckled. It’s tempting to let your child unbuckle and get out of their car seat to stretch their legs while the car is in motion. Don’t do it. Stop for rest instead. We’ve taken a road trip to Florida years ago where an overturned 18-wheeler missed our car by mere feet. Keep your kids safe.
Extra road trip tips
Drive at night. This works if your kids are small and will sleep in their car seats most of the night. If you opt-in for night driving, make sure you get plenty of rest before the drive.
Take pictures. Don’t forget to snap photos on your road trip and at your destination. Capture those moments and you will enjoy them again and again for years to come.
Relax. Don’t sweat the small stuff and have fun!
I hope you find these road trip tips useful. Have fun with your kids, make lots of awesome memories, and enjoy the road trip with your kids.
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