Tips and tricks for traveling with kids!

I love road trips, it’s true. But when you’ve got young kids, it can be…well…let’s just say A CHALLENGE. I was in Oregon all last week and made the trip BY MYSELF. It was tough because I was flying SOLO with my 26 month old and 8 month old. not easy, people.
However, with lots of practice, trial, and error, I think I finally have this whole road trip thing down! Today I’m sharing lots of ways to survive a road trip with young kids…with OR without a co-pilot!
*Note: For road trip round 2 with tons MORE ideas, click HERE.

Trip Prep:

  • Start in advance! I only decided 2 days before that I was going to go on the trip, so I started planning and packing right away. Don’t wait until the last minute…even if you feel like there’s not much to do and it could easily be done the night before or day-of. Trust me, it’s never as easy as you think it is.
  • Make lots of lists! Grocery lists. Packing lists. “What to clean around the house before you go”, lists. Write things down because I promise…you will forget things otherwise. (Click HERE for free printables)
  • First thing I did was prep the car; fill the car with gas, get it cleaned, and check the oil the day before I left. Yes, I paid to have it cleaned. Use a daily deal site to get a good deal on car cleaning. My car was gross, and I couldn’t stand the thought of driving 12 hours in a nasty car!
Since I was flying solo I had to make sure everything I would/could need was organized, and easily accessible.

Organization On The Road:

  • Always try to keep things contained! Loose items in the car can be a distraction and make it hard to find what you need, when you need it. I used a large flexible beverage bucket from Target to hold my food, snacks, and a few things that I wanted close at-hand.

  • I kept my son’s milk, string cheese, and other perishable snacks in a small insulated tote with bags of ice. I did bags of ice rather than freezer packs because I could refill the bags of ice at gas stations for free, but you can’t exactly switch out freezer packs 6 hours into the trip.

  • I made sure to have some sippy cups already filled and in the insulated tote so I didn’t have to worry about pouring while driving.

I wanted things to be accessible for my kids too, so I wouldn’t be too distracted trying to reach things for them while driving.

Kids:

  • I filled a tote with books that he could reach from his seat,

Pretty sweet bead-head, eh?

  • I had a separate (small) basket of snacks that I could simply hand him and let him choose what he wanted. I got this basket from the dollar store I believe.

  • For my baby I was sure to have pre-measured formula in a container like THIS and have my trusty travel thermos with me. Don’t leave home without it.
  • I also filled a basket with toys a few days prior to the trip and hid it in the garage, so my kids would be excited to see the toys again once it was time for the trip.

  • I kept these at his feet where I could easily reach down and grab them for them.
  •  And I also would stack things next to the kids for easier access when we stopped at rest stops.
  • For both my kids I kept things bungeed to them with my favorite toy bungees. This especially came in handy with my 8 month old. A) She throws everything. B) She’s strapped down pretty good in her car seat and can’t reach much, C) I can’t reach her very well because she’s directly behind my seat. I used these bungees to link a bunch of toys to her and to keep the bottle she was drinking nearby.

  • I’ve never tried this, but I’ve heard another handy tool for grabbing things for your kids in the car is one of THESE BABIES:

  • My real life-saver was my trusty ipad holder for my car. (Remember my favorite things HERE?) It allowed my son to be able to watch movies without having to hold my ipad. LIFE. SAVER.

Note: I know not many of us don’t have iPads, and yes, they are very expensive…but I won mine! All you have to do is have a lot of determination and a little luck, and you can have one too. If you can’t win one, earn one! Make money on the side and find a way to afford it if you really want one. Trust me, these things don’t really just fall into my lap, I have to work for expensive things that I really want…and you can too! Ok, I’m all done now :)

  • Have a trash bag handy. That blue canvas bag hanging from the headrest is ALWAYS in my car, all the time. I throw my trash in it and empty it out when I get gas or clean out my car. Make sure it’s DEEP…you use a lot of trash on the trip. And make sure it’s sturdy. My son can reach it with his feet so when he’s throwing a fit (oh wait, my 2 year old isn’t an angel all the time? Weird…) he can’t rip it down with his feet. I like that it’s canvas because if I have to throw something nasty away I can throw the bag in the wash at the end of our trip.

  • …and of course, Diet Mountain Dew for a caffeinated pick-me-up. I bought them from Walmart before I left so I wouldn’t have to pay top-dollar at gas stations. (Yes, so these are my guilty pleasure…) Be careful of caffeine, though. It’s next to impossible for your family to stay completely energized on a long trip from caffeine alone. Too much caffeine feels great for a time, but then your body will crash and you will be more tired than you were in the first place. You need to get a good night’s sleep.
  • My car has an awesome wall-type outlet thing right in the car so I can plug in any conventional charger. I kept all my chargers wound up and close at-hand in my center console so I could easily plug them in if my phone or ipad started getting low. On the drive home I wised up and plugged the charger into the car so all I had to do was attach the charger cord to whatever I needed to charge, rather than trying to reach the outlet while driving. it was much easier. These guys are super handy to have:

  • The day before my trip I went to the Dollar Store and got a bunch of trinkets. There were great options because it’s Easter time, and Easter basket fillers are EVERYWHERE. I wrapped them in old Christmas paper (he doesn’t care) and if he got restless in the car, I let him open a “prize”. This works great with older kids. “If you are good and help your sister for another hour, you get to open a new prize!” Worth every penny, this was awesome.
  •  When we needed to stop I tried to find rest stops with play places or with grassy areas so we could run around and burn off some energy. I found this one random stop that had Llamas. Highlight of the trip for my little guy…
  •  I had my trusty travel neck pillow so my son could sleep easier in the car. Looove that thing.
  • I turned on Pandora on my phone (one of my favorite apps) to Toddler or Elmo radio and plugged it into my cable so it played through the speakers in my car so my kids could listen to fun music on the drive.
  • To keep myself entertained, I went to the library and got a bunch of books-on-CD. I put them on my ipad, and was able to listen (in one ear only) to an audio book while my son enjoyed watching movies. It kept me awake, entertained, and I actually looked forward to the drive so I could listen to my book!
Once again, just try to be as organized as possible. Plan ahead, think things through, and for heaven’s sake…make as many lists as possible!
*UPDATE:
Once again, for even more ideas see my most recent road trip HERE with lots more ideas!
So there you go! Those are a few of the things I did that made my solo 12 hour jaunt not so bad. What do YOU do on road trips to make them easier?
This post is sponsored by our friends over at ListPlanIt.com

Comments

  1. ElizabethR says

    It's as if you read my mind and knew that I needed this post today. We just got word that my husband will be doing some retraining for the military for four months, and I may be making a twenty hour trek across the country. This will come in super handy with my three and four year old. Hopefully I'm still sane when we get there.

  2. Michelle says

    Thanks for the Great tips!! I'll be doing this (16+ hrs) in a few weeks with my 3 yr. old and 11 month old. I THINK I can entertain the 3 yr. old but the 11 month old is a whole different ballgame- not interested in movies. How did your daughter do on the trip? Did you just keep handing her toys and snacks?

  3. says

    These are great tips! I appreciate you taking the time to share them! These will come in handy for our 6 hour ride this weekend!
    My recent post

  4. Regina W says

    Thanks for the great ideas! We have a long car trip coming up and I will definitely be using some of these ideas!

    I'm going to add this because it's important: please double-check your carseats' manuals and make sure you are using them correctly. Straps should not be twisted (each twist reduces the strap's strength by half), the chest clips should be at nipple or armpit level, and the straps need to be snug enough that you can pinch any of it at the child's shoulder. I understand that you were on a long car trip and hopefully your straps don't always look like that (I know how it goes with wiggly younglings–I have two!). Here's a website that can give you some guidance with pictures: http://www.carseatsite.com/correct_harness_use.ht

    Happy, safe car tripping! :)

  5. mamak says

    This is great! Thank you. I am planning a summer road trip and am always looking for ways to make it easier.

  6. Jillian says

    Thanks for the great ideas. Another tip is to have a "rest stop" box easily accessable for each stop. Bubbles and pinwheels are great to encourage running and getting wiggles out. A kid's camera is fun too so kids can take pictures of all the different things. Also hand sanitizer for the bathrooms with no soap. Happy travels everyone!

  7. Brytani says

    I always use totes and baskets to keep things corralled in the car too! Back in the day I just used grocery sacks and, oh my goodness, the plastic rattling/crinkling will drive you crazy after 6 hours. Definitely better!

  8. says

    This is an amazing post!!! We are doing 14 hrs from Baltimore to West Tennessee and back with our 23 month old and 8 week old and a friend of mine sent me your post. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! I love all your ideas, but the iPad holder, Book/Toy Bin, Trash Bag, and toy bungies were all purchased from Amazon moments ago for our trip next week. I also love the list site. Thanks you so much!

    P.S. I LOVE your blog and am excited to hunt through it. I have a blog too (http://www.wanderinglili.blogspot.com/)” target=”_blank”> http://www.wanderinglili.blogspot.com/)” target=”_blank”>(http://www.wanderinglili.blogspot.com/) and am trying to build my reader base. If your're interested I'd love for you to check it out if you get a chance.
    My recent post Pie…? – Baltimore, MD. – April 2012

  9. Sarah says

    My thoughts exactly, I was a little concerned about the straps and chest slip as well!

    A lot of these tips will help me too, I have an 8 hour trip coming up with a 1 year old and a 3 year old but both of my kids are still rear facing so I have a little bit of a challenge to figure out entertainment and handing things to them!

  10. Steph says

    One thing I do for my kids because we drive from Oregon to Idaho…7 hour drive often. I make activity books for them. They have coloring pages, mazes, tic tac toe ext. A few times I made a Bingo front page. They love them.

  11. anonymous says

    I liked this, but it was definitely not free, cheap, or frugal! Basically, you just told us to go and buy a bunch of stuff! Especially because I don't have an ipad, or a smart phone to do pandora on. It may work for people who have a flexible budget, but not me!

  12. Jamie says

    Thanks for posting this. We have a cross country trip coming up in a few months and I am pinning this so I can use it for that trip. I appreciate that you offered so many options for keeping small kids entertained. I'm pretty sure anyone with a little creativity can adapt your suggestions to fit their needs–even if they don't have an awesome ipad. (I'm a little jealous too, that thing looks awesome.) Thank you!

  13. funcheaporfree says

    Haha sorry, I know, I know, iPads are expensive…but I won mine! I asked for money for Christmas from everyone last year so I could buy it, but I didn't earn enough money so I bought a pot and pan set instead. My husband, being the determined hubby he is, entered every contest he could find that was offering an iPad as a gift…and one it for me for my birthday in March! So I got the ipad for free, and you can too with a little determination (and good luck) :) here's the ipad story: http://www.funcheaporfree.com/2011/03/late-fcf-we

  14. says

    When my kids were little, I would take their favorite books as well as some new ones and read them into a tape recorder (back then). They were too young to read along so I rang a little bell when it was time to turn the page. They would sit back there with their headphones on turning pages like they were reading. Worked like a charm.
    My recent post The Unappreciated Housewife

  15. Jennifer says

    We drove to Disney (about 20 hours in the car!) and while we did have a dvd player in the car, we did much of this other stuff and it really is cheap. "Mickey" sent the a big box of wrapped gifts the day before we left to open along the drive. I got all of it at the dollar store or Michaels and spent maybe $15 total on all of it, and that's only because there was a new dvd of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse included. The rest was all $1 items. Does your car have a tape or cd player? Can you burn some kids music onto a cd or make a mix tape? Or borrow from the library! We borrow books on tape and the kids love listening to them! You can buy big boxes of snacks and them divide them up into smaller bags, which is a little cheaper than buying the snack size bags. As far as containers for the car, I'm betting most people have bins or baskets lying around they don't even know about, or have some they can empty for the trip.

  16. says

    This post is brilliant! I've made several trips from Arkansas to Ohio to visit in-laws with my two kids (both under the age of 3), so several of these sounded familiar. Thanks for the additional ideas!!
    My recent post Logan is ONE!

  17. rachael says

    I was thinking the same thing! It is so very important to make sure that our children are buckled in safely. You shouldn't be able to pinch the strap at all – if you can, there is a chance that your child could fly out of the carseat in the case of an accident.

  18. Kimberly says

    I saw a link to this post on Pinterest – I had to laugh when I read it because while you were visiting here in Oregon (I'm in Medford though), I was visiting in Orem, UT!

  19. Kimberly says

    Oh, and I meant to also add – I drove the whole one in one day, by myself, with my 2 kids, also! But they're 6 and 8 years old and a little easier to entertain!

  20. funcheaporfree says

    Thank you guys so much for your concern about his straps! The funny thing is that my car is actually still parked outside my house in this pic, we hadn't left yet. Believe it or not, I did adjust the straps before we left, I just caught it at a bad time. So thanks for reminding me to double and triple check, I appreciate your concern!!

  21. mel says

    it does help to get ideas you can convert them to be more frugal. I have a portable dvd not an ipad which is more work but much cheaper. Alot of the other things I think are pretty frugal. Snacks and food you can make muffins mini ones I use for my kiddos and they are easy for them to eat. The totes and canvas bags heck even the toys can come from home or even a thrift store. I have done this (although with my spouse but on a 31 hour trip) and I did it very cheap. You just have to be very creative.

  22. mel says

    that is a great idea my mp3 player which is very cheap you can speak to it I could totally do that.

  23. funcheaporfree says

    Thanks everyone! Holy cow, feeling the love. And Kelly – no, not super mom…just trying to stay afloat :)

  24. Lisa says

    I like to have the kids eat in the car while I'm driving whenever possible (even if it's just drive-through), then stop and let them run around somewhere while I eat.
    a) It's so hard to make them stay and eat when they just want/need to run and play- if they need to sit down to eat anyway, I may as well use that time driving!
    b) The smaller one sometimes gets backed up from long trips, so the activity right AFTER eating can help her digestion. Also, I'm less likely to have to stop again in 20 minutes when the bigger one decides he needs to poop.
    c) When the kids get to spend nearly every minute of the stop playing and being active, I feel much less guilty strapping them back in and plugging them into electronic distraction devices.
    d) I can get the food I like from wherever I want and eat at a park instead of stopping at McDonalds to appease the kiddos. It may mean an extra drive-through stop, but I really don't like McDonalds, and I save time because I don't have to wait for the kids to eat AND play.

  25. Jeanne Mayes says

    All these tips bring back memories of the trips I made from Texas to So. Dakota with my 2 girls. I had a 68 VW and this was in the early 70"s before car seats. I would lay down the back seat, throw pillowsand blankets, toys, and the girls back there and go. I remember my oldest was coloring on the back of the driver's seat so I pulled over and threw all the colors in the ditch! My daughter told me that Grandma would buy her more! We had such fun!

  26. mahlbrandt says

    Great tips here! I've taken a few (road and flying) trips solo with my daughter, who is now 9 months old. One thing I found challenging was buying food at the airport (pushing stroller w 1 hand, carrying food in the other) and taking bathroom breaks. I'm curious how you dealt with rest stops – take the little one in a stroller and hope for a handicap stall that all 3 of you can fit into? I guess I'll figure that out when I have a second child. :) Kudos to you for taking on this challenge and pull it off! Thanks for sharing your tips.

  27. funcheaporfree says

    WOA, great ideas everyone! I have another huge road trip coming up, I'll definitely be using all your tips second time around!

  28. Denise says

    When my children were of school age and traveling to the beach, I would give them $20 (on paper) and every time that they argued with each other, I would deduct .50 — they quickly learned how to get along in the car……I really wasn't out much, because I would probably have spent more than that on activites.

  29. jserra1985 says

    Thank you so much for the awesome ideas! My Husband is in the Navy and we are looking at 2 cross country moves this year. So I will be driving with my 2 year old alot. I'm sure these will come in handy!
    My recent post Spring Adventures

  30. Kim says

    This is a great article! I travel with my 6 and 3 yr old a lot and have been since they were both infants. I've always kept a travel potty in the car for emergencies, (got mine brand new in the box at a yard sale for $3!) I have also made some activity bottles for the kids… Clean out a soda/water bottle and add rice and lots of little trinkets I found around the house for free (buttons, snippets of ribbon, old barrettes, pom poms, and lots of craft items) and let them play ISpy. I've also done a few with water and lots of trinkets, and it helps keep the smaller one happy. I used a smaller "pod" water bottle and it fits her hands perfectly. (super glue the caps!!) I am a big list maker and also keep lots of totes/baskets for the kids when we travel. It does pay to be organized!

  31. Misty says

    The reply about laying down in the back of the car brought back so many great road trip memories! Ah, the good old days! Never would I let me kids do that though! LOL We drive from FL to MN and back every summer because we are just that crazy. My DD is 8 and my DS is 13 months, he will be the challenge this year. I did as the above poster said, made little water bottles filled with fun things to shake. I also plan on lots of new and different cheap toys from the dollar store, fun snacks and lots of movies. And hopefully with the help of Pinterest I'll find more ideas! That's how I got here! Great blog!

  32. April says

    If you go to goodwill I know you can get kids cd's there and they also have bins etc there for really cheap.

  33. April says

    Handicap stalls are heavenly. At airports most have a family restroom which makes life so much easier especially if you have to change ones diaper while the other stands next to you. The key to strollers at the airport is either get your food to go so it is in a bag or take the stroller with the cup holders if you dont have one with cup holders they sell them at babies are us for like 7 bucks. They fit on strollers or carseats. When you get a second kid look for a 2 seater stroller, not a side by side one but one where there is a front and back. look for one that folds down nicely. You can find them on craigslist for pretty cheap and in good condition. Then if both kids are young and dont want to walk as is the case then you are set. Also they fit in handicap bathrooms and in the family bathrooms at the airport.

  34. Melani says

    Great Ideas – Although my road trip consist of four 11-12 yrs old Girl Scouts I am still looking for ideas to keep them entertained and safe. I will absolutely be using the canvas/reusable grocery bag on the back of the seat for trash. Found you on Pinterest..love that site :)

  35. Amanda says

    Holsteins!!!!! You got that from The Dalles! How weird! I thought it was random enough that you were talking about Oregon, then I saw the Holsteins mug! I work in The Dalles and live about 25 min from there! Thanks for the tips!

  36. Donna says

    Great tips!! How did your son play the movies on the iPad? I don't think he could reach…? Did you stop when it was time to change? I have a road trip with my daughter coming up and love all of the tips!

  37. littlemama says

    Thanks for this post (and the comments)! We will be driving from Texas to North Carolina, and then to Pennsylvania with our 5 year old, 4 year old, and 20 month old. These are some really good ideas. I especially LOVE the idea of using totes and crates instead of plastic bags- GeNiUs!!!!

  38. Nicole says

    I'm worried about the amount of items that can become projectiles in the event of a crash in addition to the straps.

  39. Rebecca says

    Fantastic ideas I am going to use many when I take my three children away during the upcoming summer holidays . I often make the trip from London to Cornwall driving alone around 6 hours add summer traffic along the single lane roads it can be longer .

  40. Jaxence says

    Stupid as this may sound those are actually ALPACAs not Llamas…fuzzy animals like llamas bred for their luxurious fiber… And thank you thank you for this post it will be super handy for my pack of monsters this year….

  41. says

    reading your post, i felt like we are living the same life in parallel universes. i think we even have the same car. (rav4?)
    i use a lot of the same tricks for traveling with my (now) 5 year old son and 2 year old daughter. organized bins in the passenger seat. lots of toys in the back at the kids feet. i put lots of little figurines and fun stuff in baggies for the girl. then, i can pace them out, or they would all be on the floor in the first twenty minutes of the drive. my husband got some cheap used iphones from his work, so they can watch movies and play games. our trip home to see family from nc to ny is about 11 hours and i would love for there to be a llama break on the way. :)

  42. Abbie S says

    wow! I found this on pinterest, and am inspired! I have two little ones under 2 and have been wanting to make the trip from Oklahoma to South Dakota but not sure it would go well with just me and no Dad along to help. I am going to start planning my trip and use these ideas. Thank you!

  43. Stacy says

    I could not have stumbled across this at a better time!!!!! We are leaving next Saturday for a 9-hour car ride to the beach with our daughter, who will be turning two at the beach, our 11-year daughter and our son, who will be 18 soon! (I know…crazy). These tips are perfect for EVERY age and I had already started making my lists, but you gave me some great ideas for using some of the plastic baskets I have just lying around the house!!! Thanks!!

  44. Anna says

    Also in one of the last pics it looks like the forward facing seat is in the reclined position, when forward facing the seat absolutely can not be reclined. It has to be in the upright position, or it increases the strain and pressure on the neck in case of a crash. I too am worried about the potential of objects that can become projectile, but I know that kids need entertainment as well.

  45. Monica says

    I have a question if you have a moment to answer: how did you listen to the book on tape through your ipad while your son was watching movies on it?

  46. funcheaporfree says

    Monica – I used actual book on CD's and played the CD's in my car's CD player. I then adjusted the sound so it was only in the front/left of the car, so I didn't actually load any on my ipad. Hope that helps!

  47. Ashley says

    Awesome idea about the water bottles, Kim! My daughter is almost a year and this would defiinitely keep her entertained for 15 min or so! :) But hey…it's 15 minutes less of crying and I love the "I spy" part for when they're older. Kind of a miniature scavenger hunt!

  48. Debbie says

    You are a life saver! I have been looking for someone with ideas on how to do this, as I'll be traveling by myself with my 2.5 and 1 year old for 8 hours. I couldn't find a site that had ideas that weren't all just the typical, or that solved some of the problems I have even when I'm with my husband. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this!

  49. alpacagirl88 says

    This was full of some GREAT tips thanks for sharing, but those are Alpacas not Llamas, they tend to be smaller, and also a little bit more on the friendly side compared to Llamas.

  50. Jen says

    I couldn't enjoy this post because of the car seat and potential projectiles. Thank you for bringing it up.

  51. Beth says

    What kind of vehicle do you drive that has the wall plug outlet? I have that In my car and love it but I hate my car and want to trade it in and that outlet is the only thing stopping me :)

  52. says

    There are many blogs posting travel tips on Pinterest but this has been the most creative and inspirational read thus far. I have written down your suggestions and will be sure to refer to them when I travel this weekend with my 20 month old. Thank you!

    -Shayna

  53. G says

    Also for even a 5 year old that is potty trained for years, a plastic potty that is used for potty training can be a life saver when she drinks a lot and we forget to stop 30 min later and she says she has to go NOW and it’s 20 miles to the nearest bathroom! Tell her it’s a tiny porta potty for small people, not a baby potty!

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