Are you planning to take a family road trip with your kids? If so, then good for you! Traveling by car gives your little ones the chance to see new places and explore unique sights, both near and far. However, keeping them busy—and entertained—on long drives can be a daunting task. It can sometimes feel like herding cats while they’re in the backseat on these trips… but don’t fret! Today, we have some great tips for family road trips that will help make your journey fun and may allow you more time to relax during the drive. Read along for the best tips for family road trips with kids.
Do a practice “Road Trip”
Before you take off on your trip, practice taking a drive around town with the kids. This will allow them to become comfortable with the car and get into their routines for road trips. Practice can also help you figure out what activities work best during drives. Getting the children used to long car rides in advance will make it easier for them when it comes to the real thing. You could even take small day trips as you prepare for a longer road trip.
Take advantage of night-time or early morning hours
If possible, plan your drive during the night or in the very early morning—this is when there’s less traffic and when kids are usually sleepy. Not only will they be more likely to stay asleep longer, but you might also reach your destination faster! Just be sure to take regular breaks and make sure you are rested enough to drive safely.
It’s tempting to rush through a road trip, so you can get to your end destination faster. But for kids, frequent stops are important for their little bodies and minds. Try to stop every two hours or so, either at a rest area along the highway or maybe even an interesting shop or café in town. Letting them run around and letting off some steam will help keep their energy levels in check for the rest of the drive. Pack a frisbee or ball within easy reach, so that you can have something to do when you stop! Or do jumping jacks and push ups to get your bodies moving.
Know your limits
Your journey will be smoother if you plan for it and know your limits. Have a clear picture of how much time you want to spend in each place, so the kids aren’t disappointed when you can’t stay longer. Also try to stick to the same bedtimes, meal times and nap times as often as possible – this will help keep the kids from becoming too tired or irritable. And finally, if you start to feel overwhelmed or frustrated, take a break and have an adult time-out. It’s ok to pause and regroup whenever necessary!
Long before you hit the road, let your family know what they can expect from the trip. Talk about how far you’re going and how long it will take to get there. Show them pictures of places you plan to visit or create a “road trip binder” with activities, maps, and interesting facts about each stop along the way. Talk to them about screen time limits and expectations.
Know your route
Know where you’re going, how long it will take to get there and what your stops will be along the way. Have a backup plan in case you need to make a detour from your original route due to traffic or other factors. You can also download offline maps onto your phone for when you don’t have cell reception. Have a paper map for your kids to follow too! Kids love to follow along and see where they are on a map. We bring along paper maps so that our kids can track our progress, and it also helps them learn a little geography too. We have this great atlas the kids love to look at!
Tips for Family Road Trips: Bring entertainment
In-car entertainment has come a long way since the days of road trip bingo and license plate games! Pack books, coloring supplies, travel-sized board games (like Uno–our family favorite), tablet devices with preloaded movies, podcasts and audiobooks that your kids can listen to en-route. You can also bring travel journals to document their journey and experiences, play car-friendly music, and have fun playing “I Spy” out the windows. We have a great Kids Road Trip Survival Activity Pack that our kids love to use! Grab that before your next road trip!
Plan your meals and snacks ahead of time
Meal times can be a fun part of any road trip, but they can also be an opportunity for crankiness and mess. Pack healthy snacks like carrots, apples, trail mix and protein bars, as well as plenty of water bottles. And instead of eating at fast food joints every time you stop for lunch or dinner, plan to have picnic lunches or dinners in the park. This will give your kids a chance to run around and get some much-needed exercise, while also providing you with more control over what food your family is eating (and wasting less money!). We keep a small cooler and bin full of healthy snacks easily accesable!
Make it fun
Ultimately, road trips are about having fun! So create opportunities for your children to learn and explore. Visit a national park or look for roadside attractions along the way – like an old-fashioned ice cream shop, a state park with interesting wildlife, or a historical landmark. These types of experiences will create lasting memories that your kids can carry with them long after the trip is over!
Bring cutlery, plates, trash bags, and wipes for spills and messes
Nothing derails a road trip faster than spilled snacks and sticky fingers! So make sure you pack utensils, plates, trash bags, moist wipes, and cleaning supplies. If possible, have your kids finish their meals or snacks before getting back in the car to minimize mess. And if an unexpected spill does occur, clean it up right away to prevent any further messes and odors. This organizer is great for keeping all the extra essentials together!
Create an individual space for each child
If your vehicle has extra seating, designate one seat per child and give them a tray or something else to keep their items in. This can help keep the car organized and make it easier for kids to access what they need without constantly having to ask for things from the front seat. Our family has these great binders trays that hook on the back of the seat in front of you. They are perfect for little projects and allowing the kids to eat or write. Then, when it’s time to head into the hotel, they zip up easily and the kids can carry their stuff inside. My kids like to jam pack them with all the treasures and I’ve worried about the zippers surviving, but they’ve lasted great!
Because the binders don’t reach far enough for our youngest to reach in his car seat, we have this tray instead. It works fantastic for him, but doesn’t zip up like the binders the older kids use.
I don’t know about your kids, but our kids will stay up to watch movies if we let a movie play the entire time we are driving. Plan out periods of time when there are no distractions. Let the kids have a small travel pillow and blanket so they can sleep during long stretches of the drive. It’s also a good idea to take turns driving so everyone stays well-rested, alert, and safe. If you are staying in a hotel, bring along a white noise machine from home, or use an app on your phone. Our kids really sleep well with the white noise to drown out everything else. We have this white noise machine, and it works great! It helped my kids sleep soundly in our (sometimes noisy) hotel room on our last trip.
Bring medicine/first aid kit
Make sure you have your family’s basic medications on board in case of emergency or illness while traveling. Be sure to pack pain relievers specifically for children and any other medications you may need, along with a first-aid kit containing antiseptic wipes/sprays, Band-Aids, tweezers, and antihistamines. You should also bring sunscreen and bug spray to protect yourselves from the elements.
Pack bags for individual days that are easily accessible
If you’ll be making a lot of overnight stops in different locations, it can be helpful to pack changes of clothes in separate Ziploc Galloon baggies. That way each day has it’s own change of clothing and you can just grab that one bag, instead of hauling all the suitcases into the hotel for a short one-night stay.
Be prepared for anything (potty, sickness, barf bags, etc)
You never know what might happen while on a road trip, so it’s best to be prepared! Make sure you have wipes, hand sanitizer, and extra clothes in case of an emergency. And don’t forget the all-important barf bag – just in case someone gets car sick! We use these!
Also, keep potty supplies within reach (a potty chair, baby wipes, etc). That way you can make quick stops when needed. We like these potty bags. They tuck away easily, but are nice to have when you need it. Especially for my daughter who doesn’t have the option to go easily on the side of the road when we are in the middle of nowhere.
Bring plenty of activities
When planning a road trip, make sure to pack plenty of activities for the kids. Books, coloring books, travel games and even their favorite toys can help pass the time. We like to bring along our tablet loaded with educational apps and some movies for longer drives. We also like easy to do activities in the car. Things like:
- Pipe cleaners (our kids love to bend these into a million shapes
- Dry erase board/marker
- Fidget toys
- Small toys that easily fit in pockets
- Sticker books
- Card games These can help keep everyone entertained, and you can always find new activities at each stop.
- Audio books
It’s also important to involve your kids in the process too. Kids love to be involved and this is a great way let them help plan the trip. Let them pick a couple of things they can bring along (books, toys, games). When it comes time for activities on the road or at stops, everyone will have something to do.
Pack things for yourself
Raise your hand if you get so preoccupied with packing for your kids that you forget to pack something for yourself. Guilty here! Don’t forget that if you’re going to be in the car all day, you will need things too. So make sure you have a bag with snacks and drinks as well as items that keep you entertained like books or podcasts. We also like to bring along neck pillows, blankets, and headphones so that each person can relax in their own way. My husband has this travel pillow and loves it!
Play games together
One of our favorite things to do on road trips is to play games together. It’s a great way for the family to bond, connect, and enjoy each other’s company. We like to play car bingo, I-spy games, and make up stories together while traveling.
Bring plenty of snacks
Want the best of tips for family road trips? Snacks. Snacks are a road trip staple. But you don’t want to be stuck with a car full of messes, so choose snacks that are easy to eat and not too messy. Here’s some ideas:
- Cheese sticks
- Granola/cereal bars
- Veggies & dip
- Trail mix
Making sure you have plenty of healthy snacks can help prevent meltdowns from hunger.
Music can help make a road trip even more enjoyable. You can create your own playlists with your favorite songs, or find fun ones on streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music.
Try surprise bags
One thing we’ve done with our kids on very long road trips, is plan surprise bags ahead of time. We usually plan to open a new bag every 2-3 hours. I shop at the dollar store for treats, small toys, activities, etc. It keeps our kids motivated and excited for the next couple of hours! It can be as simple as a pack of pipe cleaners, or fruit snacks to open. This fidget toy set would be perfect to break down into individual bags.
Planning a road trip with kids can be stressful, but with the right preparations it can be an enjoyable and fun experience. Make sure to bring the essentials like potty supplies, snacks, activities and music. Get your kids involved in the process by letting them pick their own items to bring along and make frequent stops where they can move around.
Need tips for your families next staycation? Read: Mom’s Spring Break Survival Staycation Guide