Survival tips for road trips with kids.

survival tips for road trips with kids
My hubby, kiddos, big ol' dog and I went over the river and through the woods for Thanksgiving to my in-law's house in Arizona. At 11 hours the drive is better than our drive to Oregon to visit my family, but still LOOOOONG nonetheless.

Since my kids are little (almost 3 and almost 18 months) and I'm getting increasingly pregnant by the day (about 27 weeks) I dreaded the drive to say the least. I used some of my tips and tricks that I explained in THIS POST, but did some things different this time around so here's my smushing of the old post and new post. Hope this helps some of you!

*Note: I'm using amazon pictures and links to help illustrate what I'm talking about since I didn't take many pictures. I hope they help!

Road Trip Survival Tips

again – get LOTS of additional ideas HERE!

Trip Prep:

  • Start in advance: Ok, so maybe I love road trips and love organizing for them. Regardless of whether you're a nerd-bird like me or not, I implore you…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. We left Utah on Saturday, so I started organizing Monday of that week.

Things I like to do in advance:

    • 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.
    • Clean the car. Use a daily deal site or clean it out yourself. I can't stand to travel in a crusty car so I try to do that in advance.
    • Make arrangements with neighbors. Pick up our mail, watch for packages, take our garbage cans to the curb, watch for suspicious activity, water our plants (if we had any…). We delegate all of it to neighbors and are happy to do the same when they leave town.
    • Clean out the fridge. I use up all I can the week of our trip and don't do any grocery shopping (we make it do, or do without!), then I freeze anything left behind. If it can't be frozen, I pass it off to neighbors.
    • Empty garbage cans. Nothing like a stinky banana peel sitting in your garbage for 8 days to welcome you home.
    • Pull the suitcases out early. I pulled out suitcases and started doing laundry on Monday. As I cleaned things we needed to pack, I put it right in the suitcases so they couldn't be worn before the trip. By Friday night everything was packed, washed, put away, and there was no last-minute scramble to find what we needed clothes-wise.
  • See more trip prep ideas HERE
One thing I did this time that I absolutely loved was that I arranged for cleaning ladies AND professional carpet cleaners to come while we were gone! (Merry Christmas to me.) I left the checks and  my house keys with a neighbor, who let them in and locked up when they were gone. It was absolutely INCREDIBLE to come home to a spotless house. Plus, it gave a week for our carpets to dry fully before we walked all over them. I told my husband we're making this a new tradition! 🙂

Entertaining the kiddos in the car:

One of the toughest parts of road trips for us is keeping our young kids happy. Especially my 16 month old. She HATES the car as it is, let alone sitting in one for 11+ hours!
See? Told you.
And yes, this was on a quick drive to preschool, 10 houses away.

Here are a few things I armed myself with for the drive:

My son is easy. He could watch movies on my ipad head rest holder for the full 11 hours (our friend has a TON of movies on a hard drive so we borrowed some kid movies for free to put on my ipad). BUT…I don't want his brain to turn to mush, and I want both kids to be entertained. So while I do allow my kids to watch a few movies (especially when they're extra cranky) I try to keep them entertained with more stimulating things.

**Note: Everything I bought to entertain the kids (like the trays, sticker sets, and my son's electronic letter game especially) came out of their Christmas budget. Don't go spending a lot of money unless you're willing to have it come out of a budget somewhere!

  • Activity trays

I gave my daughter her Christmas present early, which was this activity tray

It was so nice to have!!! The whole drive to AZ I wished that I had bought another one for my son also. I wised up and found a plastic green one for $6.99 from JoAnn Fabrics in Arizona to use on the way home. I don't like it as much because you can't fold it up and tuck it away, but it worked. See pictures below in the post to see the green one.
  • Magnet toys

These are SO GREAT for the car, because it makes it harder to lose pieces. I got three sets of brand new magnetic games at a yard sale for $.75 each. One of them is farm animal bingo, which my son got a kick out of. My daughter loved them too! I just had to make sure to give her one with big pieces so she shouldn't choke if she decided to taste one.

My son also loves magnetic scene toys, where he can move the magnets around and play with them on a background. See amazon link below for what I'm talking about.


  • Folder games

I see these a lot in church and have started making them more and more for my kids. I didn't bring any on this trip, but it wouldn't be a bad idea. Online (like this site HERE) you can find and print folder games for free. You color and laminate them, and your kids can play with your home made folder games just like the magnetic scene above.
I printed off a bunch of folder game templates, laminated the pieces, then glued little magnets to the back and bought a metal tin for my son to play with them on. Whether it's a folder with velcro or a tin with magnets, your kids will have a blast!
  • Puff ball/pom-pom sorting

My genius mother gave me this idea. I bought a pack of various-sized puff balls from Walmart. I gathered some small dixie cups (see below), baby food jars (lids are a definite bonus when considering containers), a pill sorter from the dollar store, and put them in a shoe box.

The idea was for my son to sort the colors of pom poms into various jars. If I had time, I would've color-coded the jars with strips of construction paper or a dot of paint…but it didn't matter because he preferred to dump out all the puffs, then put them back in the jars one by one, disregarding any form of color sorting.

My daughter loved them too. She had fun dumping them on her tray over and over. It really kept them entertained for a while!

  • Necklace making

I bought some big pony beads and some plastic boondoggle string. I put some in an unused jewelry box and let my son string some beads. He LOVED IT. He kept asking to do it over and over throughout the drive. I only gave him a few beads at a time, so there was no spillage. Hooray!

I didn't let my daughter participate in this one, as you can imagine. However, it would be great to do with cheerios or fruit loops to avoid choking hazards, and to give them something to snack on as well.

For my daughter instead of pony beads, I bought her a pack of linking heart and star charms from the dollar store.

She had a great time playing with them, mostly putting them in her cup, dumping them out, then doing it again. She tried linking them together but she's a bit young. She ended up dropping many, but they were super easy to find and pick up in the car once we got to AZ.

  • Oversized Balls

I bought a pack of 12 hollow plastic balls from the dollar store. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with them, but I opened the pack and gave them to the kids, and they had a good time filling cups with them, then dumping them out on their trays. This was especially great for my daughter since they were easy to grab, see, and pick up if dropped to her sides (inevitable).

  • Coloring and drawing

This is a standard go-to activity in the car in my book. BUT…it can be a nightmare if you aren't prepared. Some things I use/love in the car:

  • Clip boards (to help hold their coloring books and papers in place),
  • magna doodles (I bought them each a mini one from the dollar store),
  • color wonder (so their markers can't mark everywhere),
  • mini chalk boards (they have lots of fun erasing what they draw, and it's much safer than dry-erase in terms of staining things. I bought mine at the dollar store),
  • coloring books, construction paper, and crayons (markers aren't allowed in my house/car unless they are color wonder markers).

THIS TOY is our son's Christmas present from us this year. I gave it to him early so he could use it for the drive (and he doesn't really know the difference of not getting it on Christmas anyway). It is the coolest educational toy!

  • Stickers

My kids have really been into stickers lately, especially my daughter. I bought some sticker packs at the dollar store and on Amazon. But what I'm most nuts about (as is my son…) are the REUSABLE STICKERS. I bought some on Amazon and they are amazing for not only the car, but for church, waiting rooms, etc.

  • Books, books, books

I went to the library with my kids mid-week and picked out a HUGE bag of books. My son got to choose books for him, I grabbed board-books for my daughter, got some books for me, and got lots of books on CD for my hubby who drove the whole way. We put his books on CD on his ipod before the drive so  he could put in an ear plug to listen. It's sometimes hard to hear the CD otherwise.

I kept the bin of books between the kids so they could grab them any time. I kept one bag at my feet that held mine and my husband's entertainment for the drive. We kept the other books/audio books in the back of the car and switched them out at rest stops when needed.
To keep my kids interested in the books (since they can't read) I would read a book to them from the front seat of the car. I would just hold it up so they could both see it. They loved it, and it entertains them for some time.
  • Snacks and food

One thing I learned…you need LOTS of snacks and food for the drive. A) you don't want to buy over-priced food at gas stations, B) it's healthier than fast food, and C) it just plain keeps the parents awake and the kids happy.

I bought a large freezer tote for around $7 from Costco and had that on-hand, but mostly used my small insulated tote.

I found these tupperware containers at the dollar store and am obsessed. They were PERFECT for feeding them snacks and lunch, and also came in handy when they were playing with their crafts and beads.

I make sure to freeze their cheese before the trip so it can thaw out in the car. I also make sure to pack ice in gallon ziplock bags rather than using ice packs, since you can refill ice at any gas station but you can't re-freeze an ice pack mid-trip.
See HERE for my other tips on food and snacks.

Packing the car:

  • To make things as efficient and space-saving as possible in our tiny Rav4, we packed everything into 2 big suitcases that we put on top of the car. We wrapped the cases in a HUGE heavy-duty tarp (we don't have an enclosed roof rack holder thing), tight as a burrito, and strapped the life out of them with bungee cords to the roof. It kept the rain out and left the entire back of the car for the dog.
  • I kept the bin of books between my kids in a canvas cube.

  • I kept their blankets on top of their books for easy reach.
  • I stuffed a blanket between my daughter's car seat and the door, so she couldn't drop anything where I couldn't reach back and get it. She tends to lose things in the abyss next to her seat…
  • I kept a gallon ziplock baggie full of smaller baggies, condiment cups from Walmart (AKA Jello shot cups – found next to the disposable coffee cups in the paper plate isle), and plastic dixie cups in the food bin. We used the cups for portioning snacks to the kids, as well as letting them use them for puff ball sorting, beads, etc.

  • I kept all their toys in a collapsable mesh hamper at their feet.

  • I kept all the food in a flexible, durable cooler with handles. I kept smaller snacks for the kids in a reusable shopping bag on top of the cooler for easy grabbing.

  • As I mentioned before, I kept drinks in my small insulated tote next to the tub of food. I poured juice and milk into thermoses to keep cold and kept them, along with cheese and our sandwiches, in the tote as well.
So there you go!
Those are some of the things we did on the drive to keep ourselves entertained and happy…
…even the dog.

Best, most secret tip of all…

Keep some size 5 diapers in your glove box at all times.
I promise, hear me out.
Ok seriously, I can't believe I'm sharing this with you all.
But if it saves YOU like it's saved ME, then it's worth it!
Here's the background…
As I mentioned HERE, I drove by myself with the dog and two kids to Oregon…TWICE.
Yes folks, that's over 12 hours each way.
Four. Times.
My kids refuse to sleep in the car and were melting down because they were so tired. We stopped for gas, I got myself a diet mountain dew to keep me awake, and took off. A miracle occurred and BOTH my kids promptly fell asleep! Well, of course, as luck would have it, I had to pee about 15 minutes later.
BAD. Eyes-watering, pee.
Darn caffeine! 
I didn't know what to do. If I stopped, my kids would wake up and would NOT go back to sleep. I looked around my car, found a size 5 diaper in the glove box, and got the genius idea to…
Pee in a diaper!
No, I'm not crazy.
It took some time to figure it out, but I kept my pants mostly on (didn't want to flash any truck drivers), positioned it properly where I was sitting (I'm going to leave out details, but I'm sure you get the picture) and did my thing. Yes, it took me some time to get the courage and I took the slow and steady route.
Wow, is this TMI or what?!
But really, it was miraculous. No problems, clean as a whistle (believe it or not), ain't no thang.
Just like with kids, you wrap it up, and throw it away.
I was not only proud of myself for accomplishing the feat, but my kids slept for 2 hours and now I always keep some large diapers in my glove box – just in case!
WHEEW! So my secret's out.
Good luck on YOUR next road trip!



  1. AvatarKelly says

    These are great tips! I found you from Pinterest.

    The diaper thing cracks me up! A girl’s gotta do what she’s gotta do! Not sure I’d have the guts though. 🙂

  2. AvatarHeather says

    The diaper idea is GENIUS! I’m going to be traveling soon with my 3 kids at 7 months pregnant by myself. Moving cross country. Having to pee while my little ones are asleep has been one of my biggest fears, and being that pregnant I might just wear an adult diaper to avoid stopping so much! Thanks for all the tips!

  3. AvatarDaMora says

    Great tips. Esp. the one about the blanket between the car seat and door. We’re going on a 13 hour road trip on Friday and I will be doing that for my daughter too.

  4. AvatarShelly says

    I keep a small potty in our van in case 1 of my 3 kids need to go and the others are asleep or it’s pouring rain, etc. I keep plenty of diapers and plastic bags. Put an open diaper in the potty and let them pee on that. Then toss the diaper in the plastic bag and potty stays clean, and we didn’t have to leave the car. I admit I have used the potty like that, too once when all the kids were deep asleep and I couldn’t hold it. I have never came across anyone one else who used this method until today. Glad I am not alone.

  5. AvatarALYSHA says

    The diaper thing is hilarious! I’ve definitely used the baby potty myself. A mother will do what a mother has to do.

  6. AvatarJoy says

    Last year, we drove from central Indiana to my sister’s house in Florida (just an hour north of Tampa), with our three kids, aged (at the time) thirteen, eight and six months. I bought some of the non-collapsing trays specifically for this trip, only to discover they wouldn’t fit with the babies car seat in the middle. GRRRR! You have some really helpful tips that we’ll definitely have to try our next trip.

  7. AvatarKatrina says

    I use the diaper tip for camping!!! works wonders and saves me from a freezing cold trip in the middle of the night into the woods:) Love it!

  8. AvatarCindy says


    I stuffed a blanket between my daughter’s car seat and the door, so she couldn’t drop anything where I couldn’t reach back and get it. She tends to lose things in the abyss next to her seat…

    Where have you been all my life??? We just took a 12 hour road trip and my arms were chafing from turning around so many times.

    Also, the diaper thing made me LOL. That is definitely not where I expected you to go with that one! Something to keep in mind, though. 🙂

  9. AvatarMolly says

    THANK YOU SO MUCH! We have done the drive from out house to Chicago (12 hours) at least 5 times with our now 2 year old son, and are about to do another one, and your tips and tricks are so well thought out and amazing! After searching for advice like this every other time we took a trip, I picked up a few tips, but this is by far the most informative, honest, genious list I’ve ever seen…especially the part about the large diapers…finally, honesty! I was in almost exact situation during our last drive and didn’t think of the diaper trick, so used one of our ziploc bags that I had stashed 🙂 your trick sounds much easier and not that I’m planning to be in that situation again, if i ever am, I know a good trick and I know I’m not the only Mom out there doing it! Thank you!

  10. AvatarKathryn says

    I found your blog from pinterest and just had to comment since I have most definitely done the diaper thing! My husband loves to tell the story even though he gets kicked under the table for it every time. Hahahaha!!! Desperate times! Gotta keep those babies sleeping! 🙂

  11. AvatarSharaiss says

    Thank you we are embarking on a 18 journey with 4 littles (7-9 years old) so I am definitely using these tips Thank you for sharing your secrets!


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