We love road trips around here! We can't wait to hit the road for the next one, but when you've got young kids in tow, well, let's just say it's a CHALLENGE. If you need advice or moral support, keep on reading for tips and tricks that will help you survive the next road trip with kids!
Do you remember the carefree days when you could gas up the car and hit the road on a whim? Those days may be a distant memory, but that doesn't mean you can't have some fun! Trust us, we get how tough it is to travel with kids, and that's why we're here to help.
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Keep on reading to learn from our mishaps, mistakes, and bumps in the road! Over the years, we've learned a thing or two about taking a road trip with kids, and today we're going to share some tips that will make your next family vacation a breeze. You've got this, mama! Here we go.
HOW TO PREP FOR A ROAD TRIP WITH KIDS
You know what they say about preparation, right? Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Well, that's certainly the case when it comes to family road trips! Here are our best tips for road trip prep:
- Start Early – Don't wait until the last minute. Just don't! Even if you feel like there's not much to do or think you could do it the night before, we guarantee you it won't be that easy. Trust us; it's never as easy as you think it will be. Save yourself a ton of stress by planning ahead!
- Make Lots of Lists – Lists are your friends! Make grocery lists, packing lists, and pre-trip cleaning lists. Don't forget to do laundry! Writing things down prevents you from forgetting and also relieves a ton of stress. Want a little help? We put together these free travel printables!
- Prep the Car – Fill the car with gas, get it cleaned, and check the oil before leaving. Check out our car hacks and essentials for quick tips!
Once you've gotten that sort of prep out the way, it's time for organization! Ready to get going?
HOW TO STAY ORGANIZED ON THE ROAD
There's nothing more annoying than having to rummage through hundreds of bags to find what you need. Especially on a long trip with kids! Try these tips to keep everything in order:
- Keep Items You'll Need Handy & Contained – Grab a large, flexible bucket from Target or The Dollar Tree to hold your food, snacks, and a few things that you'll want close by.
- Bring a Cooler – Keep perishable snacks and cold drinks inside. Road trips work up an appetite! Instead of using cold packs, fill bags with ice. You can easily refill those at gas stations when you stop. If your freezer packs thaw, well, there's not much you can do six hours down the road! Be sure to throw a few frozen water bottles into the cooler, too. Not only will they help keep things cold, but they'll thaw for drinking, too.
- Prep Several Sippy Cups – Go ahead and pour the milk, juice, or water into those cups! Pouring while driving is a no-go. Make sure each kid has a few sippy cups ready to grasp. Keep them in your cooler or an insulated tote.
Whether you're driving or co-piloting, it's also nice to keep things accessible for your kids so you don't spend the whole trip distributing snacks, toys, or drinks. That brings us to our next point! Let's talk about how to keep the kids busy and happy on the road.
HOW TO KEEP THE KIDS HAPPY ON THE ROAD
Keeping the kids happy and keeping whining to a minimum is every parent's biggest worry on the road. While we can't guarantee a whine-free trip, these tips will help:
- Give Each Kid an Entertainment Bag – We pack a little backpack or large freezer bag for each kid. Inside, they get a few snacks, a book, a coloring or activity book, and a few toys or games. Magnetic toys are CLUTCH in the car! #JustSaying
- Ditch the Screen Time Rules – Mama, we salute you for trying to keep screentime to a minimum, but anything goes on the road! Make playlists of toddler tunes for the ride, download their favorite movies or shows on an old phone or tablet, pack games for the older ones, and do what you gotta do. Bring more than you think you'll need. Attention spans are extra short on the road. Oh, and don't forget the headphones!
- Bring Prizes – Okay, not to toot our own horns, but this tip is genius. Buy several little trinkets from the Dollar Tree and wrap them up like gifts. When the kids are getting restless, let them go to town! Half the fun is the unwrapping. Just bring a large trash bag for easy cleanup!
- Stop Every Few Hours – We like to look for rest areas with grassy areas or parks so our kids can burn off some energy and stretch their legs.
One more thing! If you've got three or more kids, seat them strategically to avoid arguments on the road. You know what we mean! 😉 Now, what about keeping mom and dad sane on the road? Well, let's talk about it!
TIPS & TRICKS FOR KEEPING MOM AND DAD SANE ON THE ROAD
Alright, you've packed and planned for the kiddos, but what about for you?! Happy parents = happy kids, so here are a few tips for preparing the grownups for a road trip with kids:
- Bring Caffeine – Need we say more? We had a six-pack of Mountain Dew in our cooler for our last 12-hour road trip.
- Don't Forget the Chargers – You'll want those devices charged up for you and the kiddos, so pack plenty of cords!
- Download Podcasts or Audiobooks – Radio reception can be spotty on a long trip, so make sure you're prepared! Bingeing on a favorite podcast or audiobook can help the journey fly by.
- Ditch the Pressure to Make Great Time – Want to stay sane (and maybe actually) enjoy your next road trip with kids? Ditch the expectations! You won't make your best time, but you can plan some fun stops along the way, so go for it! Is there a fun drive-through zoo a few hours away that you've always wanted to go to? Plan a stop. A killer roadside stop for cheap, yummy soft-serve ice cream? Treat yourself! You deserve a small prize or two, too, so have some fun!
Oh, and one last tip for mom and dad! Dress comfortably. Break out that new pair of yoga pants, lace up your comfiest sneaks, and bring a jacket or blanket in case it gets chilly in the car. Make sure the kids have blankies, too!
WILL YOU SHARE YOUR BEST TIPS?
There you have it! Just a few of the tips and tricks that have helped our family road trips run a bit smoother. If you're about to head out on your first road trip with kids, keep calm and carry on! You've got this, and we hope these tips help.
Are you a road warrior? We'd love to hear your best tips for hitting the road with the kids! Drop a comment below.
Looking for a few more travel tips?
- Here are our best road trip tips for frugal foodies!
- Find out how we pack for family vacations.
- Want to take a vacation but can't afford it right now? These family staycation tips are for you!
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.
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?
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!
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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! 🙂
Thank you for saying this! I had the same concern – 🙂
I was coming to say the same. So much attention to detail but not where it’s most important.
This is great! Thank you. I am planning a summer road trip and am always looking for ways to make it easier.
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!
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!
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.
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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!
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.
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!
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!
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: https://funcheaporfree.com/2011/03/late-fcf-we…
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.
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I must say, one of the best things I keep in my car is this portable potty! We have used it tons of times when they just can't wait, or the bathrooms at the gas station were just too nasty. It is awesome! http://www.amazon.com/Kalencom-2-in-1-Potette-Plu…
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.
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!!
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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.
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!
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!
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!!
sharing this on Pinterest!! what an amazing way to prepare for a road trip!!!!
Amazing…where has this site been the last 8 months of my life 🙂 I don't know if it is possible for me to be that organized but I could certainly use a few of these ideas.
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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.
that is a great idea my mp3 player which is very cheap you can speak to it I could totally do that.
We had a rest stop box. We had kites and balls in ours too.
You seem like super mom to me! Very impressive. Thanks for the ideas!
Thanks everyone! Holy cow, feeling the love. And Kelly – no, not super mom…just trying to stay afloat 🙂
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.
Great tips Lisa, thanks for sharing!!
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!
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.
Haha I love it! Thanks for sharing 🙂
WOA, great ideas everyone! I have another huge road trip coming up, I'll definitely be using all your tips second time around!
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.
I really like this idea. I think I’ll use a modified version with my 4. We have an upcoming, extended trip to the US that will include 5000+ travel miles (not counting whatever we do in each city where we’ll stop) over 2-3 months. Getting along for that long in close confinement will be a challenge. I’m looking forward to utilizing some of the original ideas posted too, though mine are older 3.5yr-10.5 yrs.
WOW! You are my hero! 2-3 months is a sacrifice for many reasons but the education your family will receive is bound to be priceless. Good for you, I hope you have an amazing time!
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!
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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!
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!
If you go to goodwill I know you can get kids cd's there and they also have bins etc there for really cheap.
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.
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 🙂
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!
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!
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!!!!
Awesome Post!!! I will be using all of these tips for our next roadtrip next week.
I'm worried about the amount of items that can become projectiles in the event of a crash in addition to the straps.
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 .
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….
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. 🙂
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!
I'm thoroughly impressed! You are one ORGANIZED traveling mom! Great job!
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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!!
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.
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?
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!
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!
THANK YOU ALL!! That immediately caught my attention and was going to comment.
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!
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.
Haha good to know! Thanks for sharing 🙂
That was the first thing I noticed! Also, here's something about car safety & projectiles. Having everything so handy is great, but seriously dangerous. Being in the car for a long period of time only increases your risk of an accident. http://birthingshifrah.blogspot.com/2011/07/car-s…
I couldn't enjoy this post because of the car seat and potential projectiles. Thank you for bringing it up.
This is great I am planning a summer road trip and am always looking for ways to make it easier.
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 🙂
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 thanks so much you are the best!!XOXO
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!
Great tips! We are leaving on a 3 week road trip with our 3 year old in June. We will be going from East Texas up to Sunriver Oregon for a week stay with our Son and Daughter in Law. We will take about 5 days to get there and only drive about 5-6 hours a day so that she won’t get too bored. We will then take another 5-6 days and come back down through California then back across to Texas. Should be fun. It is our retirement gift to ourselves.LOL. Maybe I should explain our 3 year old…We are raising our Granddaughter. She is a joy and a blessing. Thanks again for all the tips!
I LOVE Sunriver! Such a gorgeous place. Sounds like a fun trip, I’m sure it’ll be worth it! 😉
Great tips Lisa, thanks for sharing!!
Wow these are great tips!!! Thanks so much! We are traveling to Florida next week with 2 kids under two. AHHH!!! Hopefully these tips can save some of my sanity! 🙂
Great ideas! My family has done a lot of car trips (one for a cross-country move!), and it really does help to be prepared with lots of entertainment options for the drive. Otherwise, the kids just ask to be on screens for the whole trip! We love listening to podcasts for kids, playing fun games like I Spy or the license plate game, and I bookmark a bunch of fun quick little activities that I can pull out when the kids are getting restless. Like lists of tongue twisters, brain teasers, and funny jokes. They get really into it, and it gets us all talking! Here’s our favorite list of knock knock jokes: https://www.upparent.com/questions/funny-knock-knock-jokes-for-kids
That all sounds like so much fun!!!