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How to Survive a Road Trip with Kids


Road trips can be amazing experiences full of fun and memorable moments that last a lifetime. They can also be torture traps where everyone is irritable and no one is having fun. School’s out for summer and more families are hitting the road. Here are some tips to keep things running smoothly so everyone (even Mom and Dad) can enjoy the trip.

Explain the Journey
Most questions and anxiety come from not knowing what is happening. Questions like: How Long is the Ride? or Where are we going? can get tiresome. You know what fun awaits but sometimes you have to explain the specifics with the kids

  • Bring a Map – Buy and “old fashioned” paper map and let the kids follow along. Maybe they’ll learn a little geography along the way.
  • Countdown – Kids love countdowns. Create a sticky note countdown on the dashboard. It may seem counter-intuitive to point this out how long the trip will take but kids love to be in the know.
  • Honesty is (usually) the best policy – Answers like “almost” and “not yet” may precipitate more “Are we there yet?” questions. Sometimes the questions are more of an attempt to get your attention. Be careful how you answer. For small kids, letting them know that you’ll stop for food and gas is great to hedge their disappointment when you roll into the station.

Plan…but Don’t Over Plan
Planning and being prepared is crucial but sticking to a hard and fast timetable may not work either.

  • Prepare to stop every few hours for bathroom breaks and to stretch your legs.
  • Scope out parks or schools along the way to break up a trip with some jungle gym action.
  • Expect the unexpected. You could hit traffic, or make a few extra stops but try and take it in stride. Your attitude will often dictate the tone of the trip.

Coordinate with Routines
Your idea of a schedule-free vacation may sound great on paper but kids are so used to their routines that disrupting them could backfire.

  • Time your plans around meals or naps. Perhaps you can leave a little before lunch and they can eat in the car. Once their bellies are full they can settle in for their nap.
  • If you think driving at night is the best option for your family, put the kids in their pajamas and hit the road.
  • Keep your child’s comfort item, like a special blanket or stuffed animal, with them. This will calm and soothe them if they are feeling anxious.

Pack That Up
I know. Life goes at a million miles an hour and so thinking of packing a week prior seems kind of crazy but it’s a must to keep sanity to a minimum

  • Create a packing list a week (or earlier) before you leave. I’ve gone so far as to make a master list for my family and adjust for each trip. It reduced my stress significantly. I’m not constantly having those what-did-I-forget moments.
  • Launder and purchase what you need the week prior and get any bags together you’ll need from storage.
  • Pack everything you need one or two days prior to departure.
  • For young ones consider putting each day’s outfits in a ziplock bag with a dryer sheet for easy selection…and it cuts down on arguments. You can also store the dirty laundry in there.
  • Make sure packed items you could need are easily accessible along the way, such as toothbrushes, pajamas or a sweatshirt. No one wants to unpack a car or tear apart a suitcase at 11pm.
  • Don’t forget to pack wet wipes, motion sickness meds and a plastic bag for trash, too.

Bring On The Fun!
What’s a road trip without in-car entertainment! Although the kids can gaze out at the scenery, that probably won’t hold their attention for too long. You’ll need a few extra things to keep them content.

  • Books are great if you have readers or if you like to read stories aloud to the little ones. But be wary if your child experiences car sickness. Electronic books can be downloaded to a tablet to save space. Give family-friendly audiobooks a try as well. I’m able to download audiobooks for free using my local library’s app.
  • Movies are a great way to occupy a few hours. If you have an in-car entertainment system, you are all set. Otherwise, you may need to research alternatives options, such as a tablet or an iPad.
  • Travel Games — where little pieces can’t fall on the floor and get lost— are worth a purchase. Some suggestions are Bop It, Hangman, Bingo or magnets for the little ones.
  • Mess-less art, like Aquadoodle, is a great option for kids looking to draw. You won’t have to worry about crayons melting on seats with this toy!
  • Our Pinterest board has ideas for games, such as I Spy and The License Plate, as well as printables. Grab some clear sheet protectors, dry erase markers and paper towel and you can reuse these printables over and over again.
  • Educational and non-education digital games can keep kids occupied, especially ones like Stack the States, Musical Me! And Skee-Ball!

Who’s Hungry?
It’s hard to stave off hunger and thirst on a road trip so it’s good to have some snacks on hand so you can be a little flexible with your pit stops.

  • Find a small cooler for snacks and drinks that can be accessed by a passenger. Pack perishables items or food that might melt in the hot sun (like the chocolate in those granola bars).
  • Portion out your snacks so there isn’t a bottomless bag of popcorn or chips. You don’t want your meal stops to result in everyone being too full.
  • Cups with lids or juice boxes are better to drink in the car. For juice boxes, we flip the sides out so that kids are less inclined to squeeze and spill. (Remember that juice break will inevitably be followed by a request for a bathroom break.)

Now take these tips and go have some fun! Road trips with kids can be amazing with planning and preparation. The experience of travel will be something they’ll always remember!

My goal is to make the lives of our GasBuddies easier with tips, information and advice related to traveling and saving money. I spend many hours driving around in my Toyota 4Runner with my two young kids and big yellow dog. I write for GasBuddy but I carry these other titles as well: wife, mom, marketing maniac, dog owner, commuter, carpool driver, soccer and basketball coach, family CFO, chef, runner, yogi, skier, lover of books, sports fan, semi-retired golfer, knitting beginner, want-to-be painter and vacation planner. Thanks for letting me help you perfect your pit stop!