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5 tips for Road Trip Survival with Kids

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With Christmas just around the corner, we know that many of you will be spending some serious time traveling to visit family or friends.  We’ll be right there with you, hauling our kids and all their gifts out to visit Grandma and Grandpa for a few days.  Recently a lot of you have commented on how hard it is to go on a road trip with your kids, so we thought we’d share a few tips.  Not only are road trips great for visiting people, but once you have “trained” your family how to travel in the car, a whole new world of adventurous places will be open to you.


Yes, that really is Chloe covered in black sand.  Hey, it was the only car seat picture I had!

1.  Set realistic expectations.  This is huge, because your attitude towards the trip, as a parent, will significantly influence how the trip goes.  For example, we know that going to visit most of our family is an 8 hour drive.  However, throw our kids in the mix and it easily becomes 9.5 or 10 hours.  We know that, so we try not to get frustrated that we’re not making better time.

 2.  Keep your kids occupied.  Yes, this is A LOT of work but so worth it.  We do a lot of coloring, playing with toys (each kid gets a small backpack for toys on each trip), I Spy, and talking about the things that we see outside.  Mason is now to the point where he is constantly pointing out waterfalls, unique rocks and animals and tells Chloe all about them as we drive.  We’re fortunate to have a lot of our drives be through the mountains, so it’s truly beautiful (so sorry for those of you who have to drive across Kansas).

3.  Food!  Yes, feed those kids.  In our experience, full kids are happy kids.  We generally try to pick up a few special snacks on the way out of town so that the kids get extra excited when they get to eat them in the car.  Some of our favorites are goldfish crackers, gummies, and crackers with cheese and summer sausage.  Also, don’t forget to keep your kids hydrated while you travel.  Our typical rule of thumb is one water bottle for each half of the trip.  This keeps them content and prevents us from stopping for a bathroom break every 5 miles.

4.  Practice.  Yes, you need to practice for a road trip.  It would be completely unrealistic to expect Mason to read Moby Dick as a 4-year-old.  Just as ridiculous, would be expecting a kid who has never spent more than 30 minutes in the car, to be good driving half way across the country.  Kids are not born knowing how to sit still, but they can learn.  Oh and yes, it will take some time and probably some tears, but stick with is (unless you really want your screaming baby to control your life and say you can only drive down the street)

5.  Timing is everything.  If you’re lucky, most kids have a time of day when they will naturally fall asleep (naps, bed, etc).  Try and time some of your drive when they will be asleep to make it easier on everyone.  We almost always send Andrew to work in the morning, and the kids and I try to play really hard so that they get nice and tired.  Then Andrew will come home around 1 (our typical nap/quiet time) and we load the kids in the car and roll out.  It usually works that the kids (and me) are so tired that we’re asleep within 30 minutes while Andrew drives.  Around 6, we stop for dinner and play a little bit, put the kids in their PJ’s and they go back to sleep fairly quickly (at least when it’s winter and dark earlier).

We are really lucky that our kids are amazing at traveling on road trips.  In fact, they actually LOVE them.  We also believe that any kid can be good at traveling, but it does take some real effort on the part of the parents.  Traveling 10 hours to visit family is now pretty easy for all of us.  Here are a few other ideas we’ve used to keep the kids happy on car trips:
-Hit up the dollar store before you leave and get a bunch of “presents”.  Whenever the kids get restless, give them a “gift”.
-Go to the library and get some fun books on CD to listen to.  We LOVE doing this and do it on almost every trip.
-Don’t feel bad about using a DVD player in the car.  We usually take one on our longer trips and it can be a lifesaver at times.  Just try not to have the whole trip be a movie fest, if you can avoid it.
–  If your kids are really restless, pull off the road and find a park.  It’s amazing how rejeuvenating 20 minutes on the slide and swings can be.

Good luck and happy travels!

5 thoughts on “5 tips for Road Trip Survival with Kids”

  1. Great article – bang on. Make sure the kids are entertained and well fed.

    One big thing we found was to EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED. Things change – sometimes really quickly. One trip could be fine then, voila, changes. While he used to be a champion sleeper in the car, that’s no longer the case. Now what? – LOL. Be ready to roll with the punches so to speak.

    One thing we got for our toddler was a great tray that clips around is car seat – great for colouring or his cars and other toys. This combined with his backpack works for us well (at this point in time – 2 1/2 years old)

    We’re lucky that our biggest trips takes us through the Rockies and so typically we make sure that we take two short hike/exploring breaks plus a solid food break about half way. We try and plan the breaks so that we can use this as bribes – “next we’ll stop at a pond and you can run around it and throw stones in it”. Depending on the weather/moods/etc you have to be ready to stop at any “good” spot along the root.

    While practice doesn’t mean perfect – it does mean lots of chances for exploring and experiencing life. As we’re in the car most weeks for at least a couple or so hours for an adventure out into the mountains, he’s quite used to his seat and the routine – it’s just extended for the big road trips.

  2. Even before our daughter was born, my wife and I were concerned; we love to travel, but how to do it with a baby (who would eventually become a toddler and so on.) This book gave us invaluable advice; get the baby into your lifestye at a young age. We take long weekends, and drive up to eight hours to get to our destination. That, of course, is long for a baby, but if you want to get to that point, start early. Take the baby for rides in the car. Choose a destination which is not too far, and when you arrive, spend some time with there with the baby. If the baby learns early that travel is a normal aspect of life, all further travel will build on that solid foundation. Great advice, and it works! Lots of great tips for kids of other ages, too. If you travel, and are having a child, I strongly recommend this book.

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