Whether you’re off to see the grandparents in another state or embarking on a cross-country journey full of famous stops, road trips are a great chance to make priceless memories with your family. But as fun as your itinerary may be, having your kids in the car for long stretches can be…challenging. Planning and prep can help spirits stay high the whole way.
We can’t promise that you won’t hear “Are we there yet?” a few times during your road trip, but these tips will help both the adults and kids in the car stay comfortable, entertained, and happy.
1. Bring plenty of snacks
Being hangry isn’t just a concern for kids. You don’t want your stomach rumbling while driving down a long road full of a whole lot of nothing. Instead of relying on whatever you happen to find in whatever gas station pops up along the way, pack snacks your family loves from the get-go. This way, you can also balance any junk food picks with some healthier options.
Need some snack ideas? Mary’s Gone Crackers makes delicious, organic crackers and cookies that are gluten free and plant based. For grownups who need to keep their eyes on the road, there’s Awake Chocolate—bite-sized milk chocolates, each square with the same amount of caffeine as half a cup of coffee.
2. Pack personal activity bags
You may be happy with five hours of your favorite podcast, but your kids likely need a little bit more to stave off the boredom. Before hitting the pavement, help each of your children pack a bag with some of their favorite (and car-friendly) books, toys, and games.
Depending on the age of your child, their bag could be filled with word search books, crossword puzzles, Sudoku books, stickers, playdough, gaming devices, and/or plastic figurines. Coloring books and crayons are more options. If you get crayons from a company like Cre8ive Crayonz, which makes customizable options in cool shapes like letters spelling your child’s name, then it adds even more entertainment.
3. Let the kids help with the itinerary
Involving your kids in the planning can get them more excited about the journey. Come up with a few ideas of where to stop along the way and ask your children which they’d be most interested in visiting. Maybe it’s a weird roadside statue that would make for a great photo-op. Maybe it’s that one kids’ museum that looks like a blast. They’ll have things to look forward to and you’ll know there are at least some things they’ll be excited about along the way.
4. Plan for plenty of pit stops
Speaking of the itinerary: It’s important to make space for lots of breaks along the way. Even if you’re not stopping to sightsee, chopping up a trip can make it feel less endless. If your kids have tons of energy, some pit stops may even help them burn it off so they can take some naps while you continue on with the drive.
5. Turn potty stops into exercise breaks
Pit stops also mean potty breaks. Use the break from driving to get your whole family moving. Even just five minutes of stretching, running, or shaking it out helps get the blood circulating and can boost your mood. You can even turn it into a game where you challenge your kid to do a certain number of jumping jacks, hops, or sprints. See if they can break their record with every stop!
6. Throw in some surprise stops or presents
Even if you and your family have mapped out an impeccable itinerary, it can be fun to throw in a few surprises. Maybe you heard about an amazing ice cream shop just off your route, or you picked up a special toy that they’ll be thrilled to play with once they’re finished with everything they’ve brought. Small delights can make your trip even more fun.
7. Make a playlist together
Just like choosing TV shows at home, picking the songs for a road trip can lead to some debate. Not everyone has the same music taste and that’s okay! To help avoid conflict on the road and to get the whole family involved, make a playlist together where each person gets to choose a certain number of songs. As you work your way through the music on your drive, everyone knows that they’ll get their turn and will have something to jam to. You may even learn something new about what kind of music your kids are into these days.
8. Queue up some audiobooks
The right book can help you get through a long drive; why not consider one or some for your kids as well? It’s great if you can all agree on the same book, but it’s likely that different members of the family will be interested in different things. That’s where headphones come in handy. Download some audiobooks in advance, like the stories your kid always wants you to read before bedtime, or a book they’ve been wanting to read themselves, and they can press play whenever they want.
9. Have car sickness aids handy
Nothing ruins a road trip like someone getting puke-y. There are things you can do to keep car sickness at bay, like opening the windows occasionally for fresh air, but you also want to be prepared in case it strikes while you’re on your journey. Dramamine for Kids, ginger candies, motion sickness bands, and scented motion sickness inhalers can all help. If your child starts to feel uneasy in the car, you’ll be happy to have an assortment of remedies on hand.
10. Bring wipes
Kids get messy—and when that inevitably happens, you’ll be glad to have wet wipes on hand for quick cleanup. They’re useful if anything spills in the car, if hands get sticky after snacktime, toys get dropped in the dirt during a pit stop, and so much more. If you’re on a particularly long road trip, you may want to use wet wipes to freshen up until you can get to a real shower. Goodwipes makes flushable, hypoallergenic wipes, including some specifically designed for use on the entire body.
11. Bring neck pillows for napping
A good travel neck pillow helps avoid all the head lolling that so you or your kids can get better rest along the way. Cabeau neck pillows are particularly nice since they can be attached to the headrest for extra support. Their memory foam pillows also come in a variety of colors so it’s easy to tell yours apart.
12. Keep a few games in your back pocket
Road trip games like I Spy are a classic way to stave off boredom while clocking the hours in the car. Whenever it seems like the family needs a boost of fun, get everyone participating. It’ll also help your kids pay more attention to whatever cool surroundings you may be passing through instead of always looking down at their devices, books, or toys. Along with I Spy, you may want to try something like 20 Questions or the Alphabet Game, where you find a word or item that matches each letter.
13. Set screen time rules
It’s tempting to just hand off an iPad or smartphone to your kid so they can spend the road trip quietly watching their favorite shows. No judgment if some screen time feels necessary. That being said, it’s a good idea to be on the same page with them about how much you’ll allow along the way, to avoid blowouts. You may also want to discuss what kind of shows they can watch or games they can play—maybe there’s some content out there related to the areas you’re driving through or to that they can learn about!
14. Leave early
If your schedule is flexible, try to start your road trip early in the morning. Your kids may still be sleepy, which means they can knock off a couple of hours at the start by dozing. You’ll give yourself more time to explore at your pit stops or final destination. You may be able to avoid rush-hour traffic, stretching out the already long hours in the car. Plus, there will be less concern about sleepy, nighttime driving—just make sure you get enough rest the night before so there’s no sleepy morning driving.
15. Overestimate your timing
Maybe you’ve proudly planned your road trip itinerary down to the smallest detail, but don’t forget to leave some wiggle room in the schedule. When kids are involved, everything can take a little bit longer—you don’t know when a potty emergency or other drama might happen. That’s not to mention everything else out of your control like traffic and rerouting due to construction. With some cushion time, you won’t feel as stressed or pressured and can simply take in the journey.