Tips for Road Trips with Kids

We’re heading out of town this next week for my sister’s wedding in San Diego. Because flights have become so expensive, we are bravely tackling the journey there by hitting the road super early and driving for 10 hours.

That’s 10 hours, one car, 4 passengers (DQ is riding with my parents to save room).

Luckily, I love road trips. They’re way more adventurous than flying in a plane. With the right soundtrack (yes, I burn several CDs and put a musical spin on my drive) and a couple planned rest stops to see the sights, a road trip can be soooo much fun. My kids have grown accustomed to the drive (we have made it every year on our own), so they tend to agree. But Mr. W and his son ~ who prefer an hour long plane ride to 10 hours on the road any day ~ are a tad bit apprehensive over the idea that come Saturday, we will all be cooped up in one car for so long.

Don’t worry, guys. Everything is going to be just fine as long as there’s a Starbucks every 50 miles and I get to listen to MY music.

Here are a couple things I’ve learned in my years of road trip adventures:

If possible, travel at night
This is hard to do as a driver, I admit. It’s especially hard if you’re the only driver. But it is much easier, especially when the kids are younger, to drive long distance at a time when they’re sleeping.  At the very least, start the trip early enough for them to fall back asleep before breakfast. There is less “Are we there yet?” and “I’m hungry!” and “I have to go to the bathroom!” And there’s the luxury of having the road almost entirely to yourself. Of course, if you’re going to drive all night, be sure to get plenty of rest the day before and pack a caffeinated beverage to sip on the way. Plan on stopping every 2 hours or less to stretch your legs. And if you find your eyes dropping unsafely, don’t push it. Pull over in a safe place and take a nap, or check into a motel.

Don’t overpack
This is especially true of TOYS. Your kid does not need every single toy they own when leaving home. They take up too much room in the car. And inevitably, the one they want will be buried under all the toys they decide they’re not interested in. Instead, have them choose a total of three or less toys to bring – and that’s all. Better? Buy them a special toy and don’t give it to them until you’re on the road. They’re guaranteed to play with it longer than their old toys before they huck it at your head.

Bring things to do
If you are under the impression that your child is going to play “I Spy” for 8 hours straight, be prepared to hear a ton of whining. There is NOTHING worse than a bored kid. Bring books, trivia games, mini board games, or visit sites like for some other brilliant ideas on how to keep the kids occupied for a long time on the road. My favorite tip was to make up stories about the family in the car next to yours. Knowing my family, the stories that come about might not be suitable for young ears.

Make it magical
My brilliant cousin recently went on a road trip to Disneyland with her family. But she didn’t tell them where they were going. Her trusting children didn’t even question her as they packed up the kids and set out on an overnight trip. As they got closer, my cousin gifted them with a goodie bag holding little trinkets as clues to where they were going. It only dawned on them when they pulled out Mickey Mouse hats that they were actually going to the Happiest Place on Earth. How magical is that?

We try to avoid stopping too much for food when on the road. I hate spending excessive amounts of money on something I consume, and I also don’t like to open myself up to digestive problems while on the road. Plus, there is inevitably one kid who goes from full to hungry in a matter of minutes. Easiest way to tackle this is to pack a cooler of food. But car food has to be easy to eat without making a mess. Best bets are always grapes (cut them up for young kids to ensure there’s no choking while you’re driving!), pre-made sandwiches, dry cheerios, peeled oranges, carrot sticks, trail mix, pretzels, string cheese, beef jerky, crackers…

I asked around for some more tips on how to survive a road trip.  You can see all of the answers by CLICKING HERE.  Here are some of my favorites:

Traveling with Kids:

Jessica:  Make sure to have games that they can play together & apart, have good music everyone can agree on, have lots of healthy snacks & drinks to keep from buying junk, get lots of hand wipes or gel for the bathroom breaks on the road, find a way for them to nap in the car without hurting their neck & find some great stops along the way that they can stretch their legs & will have fun looking at & taking pics 🙂

Angie: Audio books! The kids (and us) get wrapped up in a story and the time FLIES! Lots of stops and breaks…and snacks!

Amanda: Apps!

Sarah:  One time I actually pulled it together to give my kids a strip of tickets. Every half hour they could turn in a ticket for a trinket. They were excited about the prizes and could visually see how much time was left by how many tickets they still had.

Gina:  Before we drove down to Disneyland last year, I went to the dollar store and found Disney themed things to have in the car. And downloaded some Disney albums from iTunes. I kept all the stuff up front with me, and dished it out as we went, so there was something new every hour or so. The most popular with my kids were the Mickey chalkboards, and the Treasure Hunt game I made. You fill a 2 liter bottle with rice and little trinkets (I used 23 items: eraser, paperclip, a plastic bug, an M&M, etc). They have to roll the bottle around to find all the things you have placed in the bottle. I kept the master list, so they would know when they found everything. They still have them in their rooms. 🙂

Must Haves:

Nancy: Non-smelly passengers

Jessica: Carrots and sliced bell peppers!! Oh and radio Disney

Shelly: water, snacks, good tunes and…dvd’s for the kids!!

Catherine: Twizzlers

Oh, Twizzlers…..  Is anything a more perfect junk food than those?  I am highly addicted…

Do you travel long distance with the kids in tow? What are some of your tried and true tips for taking a road trip with kids?


3 thoughts on “Tips for Road Trips with Kids

Add yours

  1. We’ve roadtripped more times than I can count with kids as young as 3 weeks and as old as ten. Three huge things we learned. First if you leave early thinking they’ll still go back to sleep it must remain dark for an hour. Otherwise excited kids jsut stay up and become whiny kids. Second renaming landmarks and making up stories about them is lots of fun, we could tell you all about Mt. Pasta in Northern CA. Third, take a potty, toilet paper and food and you’ll be set. Oh and don’t forget a little entertainment for the grown ups.

  2. Make sure that if your child brings along a special friend (i.e. stuffed animal) that you ALWAYS have it before leaving the restaurant, rest stop, etc.

    We have discovered another fun way for the kids to avoid whining about getting there – tic tacs! They are allowed to have one tic tac every 10 minutes – it is amazing how fast 10 minutes fly by. (This is recommended only for short to medium trips – they would have sugar overload on a 10 hour trip!)

  3. We always travel at night so kids are sleeping all the time. Less traffic, less potty break and air conditioning optional even during summer travel.

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