Tips for Taking Road Trips with Kids

I just returned from a family road trip. And while I was really worried about my kids making my husband so crazy we'd end up in an accident (our youngest cried all 9 1/2 hours home the last time we attempted a road trip) the traveling went quite smoothly. How did we accomplish this feat? Through a lot of planning! Here are my best tips:

* Make packing lists, plus a list of chores to accomplish before you leave. Start compiling it early, because there's little doubt you'll think of stuff you need to do or things you need to pack as weeks pass. Divide your lists by major categories. For example, have one page for clothes, another for toiletries, etc. Then be sure to check off chores/items packed as you do them.

* Prepare the kids. Have not just one but several talks with the kids so they know exactly what to expect. For example, I explained how long we'd be sitting in the car, what potty breaks would be like and how often we'd stop, and how their behavior would either make the trip fun or horrible. We had this talk beginning a week before we left, and we reminded the kids of key points just before leaving, each direction.

* Make the kids comfortable. Put them in really comfy clothes - nothing that binds when they sit (elastic waistbands are perfect), comfy socks with slip on shoes (so they can remove their shoes while in the car, if they want to), their pillow, their favorite teddy, etc. If a child's feet dangle, put a small piece of luggage or a box beneath them for support.

* Bring the potty seat or chair. If you have a child who is new to using the potty and is hesitant to go in
unfamiliar places, this is absolutely essential. Also, it helps to "practice" by frequently taking your child to public restrooms a month or so before the trip.

* Have a bag of activities for each child. Bring more than you think they will need.

I'm not big on games because pieces can fall and scatter, resulting in a mess - plus screaming, crying kids. Magnet games are okay, although some loss of magnets is probably inevitable. Some people like to give each child a cheap baking sheet to hold coloring books and magnet sets, but after a lot of thought, I decided against this. If we got into an accident, those baking sheets would result in serious injury - possibly even death. Instead, I chose a clipboard for each child, being careful to pick a type that had a more kid-friendly, less aggressive clamp.

I bought new coloring books (new things are vital, since they will hold your child's attention longer; plus they make the trip more fun) at the Dollar Tree, along with some activity and sticker books. Be careful to only choose activities your kids can do on their own; you don't want them frustrated or trying to get your help all the time. I also printed out age appropriate mazes, plus coloring and activity sheets that tied in with our trip. For example, we visited an aquarium, so I printed out free sea life coloring pages and mazes. Other ideas include coloring pages/games for states you'll pass through and landmarks you might see.

I also bought each child a new box of crayons - make them exactly the same! Plus dry erase crayons (far less likely to mark up the car than pens are) and dry erase boards from the Dollar Tree.

To hold crayons and keep them from rolling all over the place, some people use use suction containers like you'd find in a shower, but I was afraid they'd fall off the car windows, causing much yelling and crying. Instead, I chose cups I found in the office supply section of the Dollar Tree. Any short cup that fits into your child's car seat/booster seat/car cup holder would work fine. (Tall ones make it more difficult to get the crayons out and are more likely to tip over.)

Also from the Dollar Tree, I bought each child a cheap "Doodle Pro" type toy, plus blank notebooks. Variety is important!

Finally, I printed out free car bingo and license plate games for each child. Generally, to prevent quarreling, I think it's best to give each child exactly the same items. So even though our youngest couldn't really play the license plate game alone, I made sure he had one in case he felt left out. I also printed out a map of our route, so everyone could see how far we'd traveled and could mark off towns as we passed them. (I put ours in a plastic page protector so we could use dry erase crayons to mark it up, then erase the markings and use the same print out for the trip back.)

Some people like to give each child a binder with all these printables, but I thought it better to dole out games and printables as we went along. (My kids would try to do everything at once, if I gave them a binder. To make the activities last as long as the trip, it was vital for me to hang onto them and pass them out periodically.)

The only things the children had ready access to in the back seat were a basket of books ("I Spy" and "Where's Waldo" types for my pre-reader and early reader books for our older child) and their teddies.

* Bring plenty of water and snacks. I kept the snacks in a box up front with me so I could dole them out. Try to avoid things that are too salty, or your kids will drink a ton and need to make near constant bathroom stops. I allow them to drink water only, since they are less likely to guzzle it. To encourage them to sip and not gulp, I also filled their travel mugs with ice, then added water. Because it took a bit for the ice to melt, they didn't drink their water all at once.

I also like to bring a few snacks I wouldn't normally let them eat. This keeps things fun and makes the snacks more of an "event" that passes the time.

Ideas for snacks include: Grapes, apples, berries, baby carrots, celery sticks, breakfast/protein bars, Annie's graham bunnies (less messy than ordinary graham crackers), raisins/yogurt covered raisins, dried cranberries/blueberries, dried apple rings, really any dried food (but be careful about giving the kids too much fiber), jerky, and trail mix. Before you leave, portion everything out into individual serving bags.

* Bring music everyone enjoys. Audiodramas or books on tape are also handy.

* And yes, a portable DVD player. Part of me hates using movies to occupy my kids, but it's not like we do this every day. We purchased a dual-screen portable DVD player just for this trip. (About $70 at our local Wal-Mart.) It was fantastic; each child had his or her own screen (which meant no complaining about not being able to see well) and headphones (giving Mom and Dad peace!).
do this every day. We purchased an RCA

If you have a DVR, or know someone who does, I highly recommend recording a handful of children's programming onto one disc. This allowed the kids to watch for several hours at a time without an adult having to change the disc (which we really couldn't do without stopping the vehicle).

* Expect messes. Yes, I recommend cleaning and organizing the car before you leave - and trying to stay organized as you go along. But don't stress if things get a bit chaotic. To help with messes, I recommend a box of baby wipes, plus plenty of hand sanitizer.

Happy traveling!


  1. Your post messed itself up in the middle of the DVD section (in case you want to fix it). We never had a DVD player - ever - until last year. I managed 3 girls without one. My son came along....thank the Lord I can sit him in front of a Curious George DVD during math time with my girls! LOL So I am with you. Although it is not something we do 24/7, it comes in handy! I agree that new things are essential, even if they are just Dollar Tree items. I love/hate the Dollar Tree. I never do leave there only having spent a dollar! Ha. Great post.

  2. Staci, thanks for the heads up on the disappearing text! It has now re-appeared :)