Looking for expert tips for road trips with kids? As more families are traveling by car this summer, road trips are trending to be the vacation of choice.
Road trips can be a great way to travel together as a family. And there is a lot to be said for these fun family adventures.
Sure, there is lots of time cramped in a car. But the unexpected sights and the journey itself can be all part of the fun. It does require some thoughtful planning, however.
Having been on many road trips with our kids, including a three-week-long one last summer, I have learned many road trip hacks and tips from experience.
But my tried and true expert tips for road trips with kids will help your family enjoy the journey.
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11 Expert Tips For Road Trips With Kids
Trust me, you'll be happy you know some of these tricks of the trade to make for a much smoother ride!
1. Consider Leaving Very Early
No one wants to get up at the crack of dawn, least of whom are the kids. But leaving super early in the morning (as in 5 a.m.) has a lot of benefits.
For one thing, by the time later morning arrives, you will be far along in your journey and closer to your destination. Tired kids will also sleep a bit for the first part of the trip.
And, getting on the road early will help avoid a lot of traffic spots.
For example, when we drive from Boston to Pittsburgh, we time it to avoid hitting major cities like New York during the height of rush hour. This makes for a much more pleasant road trip experience.
2. Have Visual and Audio Entertainment
One way to cure the “are we there yet blues” is having distractions. This can be done in a variety of ways.
But we have found video and audio entertainment to be the best way forward. Having a car headrest DVD player (I recommend the dual one so there is a screen on both headrests) can allow you to play movies.
Movies are often two hours long. This is a great way for kids to pass the time.
In our family, our three kids rotate who picks the movie, which alleviates some of the arguing.
Expert Tips For Road Trips With Kids
Have backup entertainment for your family road trip.
While DVD players are a great thing to bring, you should also have a backup, for when they get board with the movies. Or when your DVD player breaks only an hour into the trip (been there!) And for that I recommend audiobooks.
Listening to an audiobook on an app avoids screen time, can alleviate any car sickness that may be caused by movie watching, and will also keep kids entertained to pass the time. Audiobooks are my favorite tip for road trips with kids.
Fun fact: Amazon's Kindle for kids will soon have an audiobook feature!
3. Bring Back-Up Entertainment
Kids, especially toddlers, have short attention spans. So, I highly advise having back-up entertainment.
If your kids can do activities while in the car without getting motion sickness, you can bring road trip activity packs.
A great tip for road trips with kids is for each kid to have their own road trip activity kit. This can be a clip board with activity sheets, games, road trip bingo and scavenger hunts of things they see along the way.
For road trips with toddlers, you could bring a baking sheet with magnets on it. It can hold paper or perhaps even have magnet letters for them to play with or things like Wiki Stix.
You can also have a few travel games planned, either in the form of small travel games or even verbal games like “the alphabet game.”
4. Plan For Road Trip Meals and Snacks
You should definitely plan ahead for road trip meals and snacks. While we do stop at gas stations and allow our kids to pick out a “fun snack”, we also come fully prepared so we don't have to rely on fast food and gas stations.
Having a cooler or individual lunch box for kids with meals and snacks prepared in advance ensures more nutritious option. And, you don't have to wait for the next “pit stop” which could be 40 miles away.
You should also plan to bring disposable cutlery, plates, napkins and of course a trash bag. I also recommend hand wipes for cleaning sticky hands and any drips or spills.
5. Schedule In Breaks (Including The Occasional Fun Break)
You will definitely need to take potty and stretch your leg breaks. Or coffee breaks for our family.
And, kids like to know when these breaks will come. So it is a good idea to schedule in breaks in advance.
We give them general times of when they can expect a break. But only stopping for the bathroom and gas, isn't that exciting and will quickly bring on the “are we there yet” complaints.
If you know of fun, unusual things to stop and see along the way, try to add in one or two of those to add some fun for the road trip.
Another Of My Favorite Tips For Road Trips With Kids
A great app for this is the Roadtrippers app. It is helpful with not just places to stop for gas or food, but it also gives you lots of places of interest on your route.
So, if there is an unusual viewpoint or giant ball of yarn, for example, Roadtrippers will highlight that on the map. It will help make the road trip more interesting and is another of my favorite tips for road trips with kids.
6. Have Surprises In Your Back Pocket
When I was little, our parents would have a surprise for us each time we crossed into a new state. You could do this each time you cross a new state line or after you reach a new, preset mileage point.
Some surprises could be a new activity book, a bag of candy, a new DVD movie the kids haven't seen, a new game, etc.
Something new and different that you brought just for this trip will help keep the kids interested and excited during the road trip. This is another one of my “hidden gem” tips for road trips with kids.
7. Create “Self Service” Stations For Kids
One of the ways we keep our sanity is by creating a “self-service” setup for kids. You can do this by giving kids their own backpack/road trip kids bag complete with their activity pack, sketchbook/pencils, clipboard, headphones, books, electronic for Audible audiobooks, water bottle, and snack bag.
Or, you could set up a console in the center between the kids or on the floor if you have room) where the kids can access their activities, snacks, and water bottle.
This way kids can be completely independent during the road trip. It is like a carry-on for kids, but for the car!
8. Plan For Naps
Kids will inevitably nap on the road trip, especially if you are in the car for a long time. Planning for their napping comfort will help that go more smoothly
You can get a neck pillow to help them rest their head or bring their pillow from home. But they can be bulky and get in the way. It is important though that they stay upright and securely seated with their seatbelt on.
I also recommend a blanket and their lovey so they can get comfy and cozy.
9. Have PPE Accessible
This year, and beyond, having PPE accessible in the car console or or in a ziplog bag in the font for quick accessibility.
This should include face masks for all family members, gloves, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and a bag for the trash.
10. Prepare For The Unexpected
Two words: Car Sickness. I can't tell you how many times I have been taken by surprise by this. So, we now plan for the unexpected and travel with a handful of plastic bags (usually ziplock bags) in case one of our kids gets car sick.
We also travel with an accessible change of clothes, a clean-up kit (can be your PPE kit), a trash bag, and paper towels. We also bring a first aid kit, just in case.
You should also have road trip essentials for your car in the case of a flat tire or any other car trouble. Be prepared for the unexpected.
11. Pack A “One Night” Bag
If you are planning to change hotels or locations often during your road trip, I recommend planning a “one night” bag along with the other items on your road trip packing list.
Pack individual outfits in freezer bags (I love the IKEA ones because they are extra large) inside your suitcase, including top, bottoms, underwear, and socks, and have a portable duffle bag. Set these at the top, so you can easily open up your suitcase and grab them.
This way, rather than bringing in your whole suitcase in each night, and digging through it, you just grab your outfit pack, toiletries, and pajamas and put them in the duffle minimizing how much you have to bring into your accommodations each night! The ziplock also makes a great bag for dirty laundry to bring back to your suitcase.
Final Thought About Tips For Road Trips With Kids
Road trips are a great way to travel together as a family and can bring lasting memories. Yes, they can be daunting at times. But with the right planning, most of the time they are so much fun.
When it comes to road trips, the journey is part of the fun. With my tried and true tips for road trips with kids, you can have a great family experience from door to door.