Going on a road trip with kids might sound stressful, but with proper planning it can be a lot of fun! Here are 19 tips to help you survive a road trip with kids.
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This summer, we’ve taken three road trips of varying lengths, totaling over 2500 miles. I’m not even going to tell you how many times we stopped to go to the bathroom.
Lucky for us, we’ve gotten pretty good at road tripping over the years. We’ve always lived far from family so we spend a lot of time traveling. We’ve picked up some tips along the way, but now that we have three kids and a dog, road trips are a little different.
I tried out a few new things on our travels and really figured out what helps make our road trips go smoothly. After three trips, I’ve got a lot of good tips for you!
If you’re planning a road trip with little ones in the backseat, here are 19 tips to help you survive a road trip with kids:
1. Patience, Iago.
Parenting already requires a good deal of patience, but when you all pile into a car and can’t escape each other for hours at a time, you have to have even more patience. Remember to breathe, that it’s not all going to be fun, and that it’s hard for everyone to be in the car for that long. And don’t forget to be patient with each other, too!
2. Have some down time.
You might think that being in the car is downtime, but it’s not. Stop at rest stops that have playgrounds and let your kids get out and run around for a little bit. When you stop for food, eat it outside in the grass and take your time. I know it’s hard because you just want to get where you’re going, but it will be a little easier on everyone if your kids can run around a few times.
3. Offer rewards in the car.
One of the best ways to encourage good behavior in the car is to offer rewards. I printed off some little “Car Bucks” from the Dating Divas website (the link for the free download is near the bottom), laminated them, and kept them in a bag up front. When my kids were good, I gave them a dollar. They could save up their dollars and cash them in for different rewards. I had candy, iPad time (an hour for $5), magic coloring pads, and a few other things. The Target One Spot is a great place to look for these. I 100% believe that these little dollars and rewards were responsible for my older two kids’ good behavior on our long trip to and home from Colorado.
4. Offer a visualization to show them how far your drive is.
Every parent hates the question “Are we there yet?” Another helpful thing I used from the Dating Divas were these little road trip countdown printouts. I laminated them (so I can use them again and again!) and then each day, wrote a few big cities along the way, ending the day with our final destination. I used clothespins to attach them to my sun visor, and then each time we passed through one of the cities, I took a printout down. I can’t even express how amazing it was for my kids to not ask how far we had left a billion times. All they had to do was look up and see how many cities we had left! Visual representation for the win!
5. Keep an extra change of clothes easily accessible.
I know that when you pack, you (or maybe your husband) like to Tetris-style all those bags into the trunk of the car. Sometimes, your suitcases end up going in first, making them harder to get out. I recommend keeping at least one back-up outfit handy for each of your kids, just in case. Over the years we’ve had two barf incidents, a few pee accidents, and lots of messy spills. It’s a lot easier to get your kids cleaned up when you have a change of clothes handy!
6. Bring lots of snacks.
Have you ever noticed that any time you get a snack from a gas station, it’s almost ALWAYS junk food? And it’s almost ALWAYS overpriced? Yeah, we aren’t big fans. So we brought lots of different snacks in individualized snack-sized plastic bags. Lots of goldfish, veggie straws, pretzels, popcorn, applesauce pouches, granola bars, and even some cheese sticks in our cooler. We actually had so many snacks that we only bought food at a gas station twice the whole trip. That’s a win! Plus all those snacks kept our two-year-old from screaming the whole time we were in the car!
7. Road trips are a lot better if you don’t have a set schedule or timeline.
Yes, I realize that’s not always possible, but if you can, it’s so nice. A lot of the discomfort from road trips comes because you have to get to a certain destination at a certain time and the timeframe is very narrow. For example if you’re driving 12 hours in one day, it’s hard to justify stopping to pee and eat and let everyone stretch. Our drive to Colorado was split into two days, so we drove about 8 hours (according to Google, it was really like 10 with all our stops) each day, and didn’t feel pressured or stressed. So much better, especially with kids!
8. If you have a DVD player get Redbox movies.
First, if you don’t have one, get one. We have these little 9″ DVD players that strap onto the back of your headrest and they are a dream (and only $50 on Amazon!). Second, if you do have a DVD player, you can get real tired of the same movies over and over again (I still have the songs from the My Little Pony Movie stuck in my head weeks later). So stop at a Redbox and pick up a new movie! Our kids rented The Lego Movie 2 in one city, watched it, and returned it in another city! It was the best!
9. Download games on your phone for you and your husband to play.
You’ve got to stay entertained, too! We enjoy doing trivia games, so we like the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and Family Feud apps. They’re great when you start getting tired and need a pick-me up! Just make sure you are driving through an area with service, or your games might not work!
10. Be prepared to stop a lot.
Growing up my dad used to hate road trips, and I get it now. We stopped so many times. To eat, to pee, to let our dog out, to pee again, to get more water, to change a diaper, you get the idea. So just expect it to happen and you won’t be as stressed when your child tells you they have to pee again twenty minutes after you left the last rest stop.
11. Bring water.
We brought a huge pack of water bottles, and it was one of the best decisions we made on our road trip! Our kids like to have water in the car, and we drink a lot of water, too, so bringing our own and not having to buy a bunch of $2 bottles of water every hundred miles was a life-saver.
12. Plan activities in the car.
This looks different for different ages, but the idea is the same. You’re not going to want to have to occupy your kids the entire road trip, so bring things for them to do in the car. For our toddler, this was a few board books, some toy cars, and a Water Wow! pad. For the bigger kids, it was crayons and a folder filled with different activities to do (plus whatever they earned with their car dollars). I included pages from this little hidden pictures book and this word search book (they’re both for kids 4-6 and were only about $2 each), plus a license plate scavenger hunt game and a map of our trip. These were such a huge hit and I’m definitely doing them again.
13. If you’re driving longer than a day, don’t book a hotel until you’re close.
One thing we like to do is wait until we know how far we’re going to make it (usually a little before dinner) to book hotels. You might think you can make it a certain distance in a day, but not end up being able to. You also might not want to make it super far. Sometimes you just need to stop and rest for the night! So wait until you’re an hour or two out from where you’re planning on staying before you book a hotel.
14. Bring ear plugs.
Our two-year-old is the sweetest, cutest little boy, until you put him in the car. He screams, he cries, he yells, he fights. It’s miserable. So we learned early on to bring ear plugs in the car when we travel with him. My husband ended up using them once on our last trip, and we had one trip last year where everyone in the car (my parents included) put ear plugs in. They can help you keep your sanity when a child is crying (or when you can’t take hearing the theme song to your kids’ shows any more).
15. Pack a few sandwiches.
I know that sounds weird, and at first I just did it so we didn’t waste a loaf of bread, but every single one I brought got eaten. Hopefully this isn’t just my kids, but without fail, within 30 minutes-an hour of eating, my kids always tell me they’re hungry. And instead of feeding them snacks, I fed them PB&J sandwiches! Our toddler ate three of them, my husband ate one, and my 6-year-old ate two. It was such a great idea, friends! And it stopped them from complaining!
16. Keep a designated place for trash.
We bring a plastic bag or have a certain spot that all trash gets passed up to so that at each stop, we can empty it and keep a (relatively) clean car on our trip. It’s easier that way and takes less time to clean out the car at the end!
17. Use window shades.
Our van has built-in window shades, but if your car doesn’t, they’re great for younger kids taking naps in the car, older kids watching shows, or just blocking the sun out of your kids’ eyes when it’s right outside their windows. These sun shades have 4.4/5 stars with over 5,000 reviews on Amazon, so I’m guessing they’re pretty good!
18. Pick a hotel with breakfast.
If you’re staying in a hotel, picking one that serves free breakfast will save you money and time! You won’t have to stop somewhere to eat before you hit the road, and you won’t have to pay for an extra meal, either! Yay!
19. On the way home order groceries for pick up.
You might be like “uh, what?” with this one, but hear me out. When you’re on a road trip for a few days, you’re going to come home to a house with no food and you’re going to feel stressed trying to come up with something for dinner (or you’re going to go out, again). Then the next day you’re going to have to throw together a grocery list and go get groceries when all you really want to do is stay at home and decompress from your trip. INSTEAD, use a grocery pick-up service (I LOVE Walmart Grocery Pick-Up)! Order groceries either on the way home, or better yet, before you even leave, and then on the way home, stop by and pick them up! They’ll get loaded into your car and you’ll head home with fresh food to eat! Genius, right? I know. You’re welcome!
A road trip with kids can sound overwhelming and stressful, but it can also be a pleasant, fun adventure when you prepare and have a plan! Hopefully these 19 tips will help you survive your road trip and make some memories along the way! Happy travels!