Summer is here, and that usually means that it is vacation time! Road trips can be a lot of fun for the whole family, but long car rides with kids in tow can be a little more challenging when it comes to keeping everyone happy and in a good mood. Fortunately, there are things you can do to make car travel with kids easier and fun for the whole family!
The number one thing that you can do to make your road trip journey with children more enjoyable is to plan ahead. This doesn’t mean that you have to have every mile mapped out, but you should have a good idea of where you are heading, what you would like to see along the way, what you need to pack, and where you will be staying.
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Being completely spontaneous can be fun when there are only adults involved…that’s not always the case when kids are along for the ride too.
Having a plan doesn’t mean that you have to be rigid though. Certainly, plan out any sightseeing stops that you might like to make along the journey and have an idea of where rest stops and gas stations are located, but you don’t have to plan each and every meal or restroom stop.
You might have a plan to stop every 2 to 3 hours for a bathroom break only to find that everyone is comfortable continuing on for a while longer.
Speaking of stops, because you will need to refuel and everyone will need to stretch their legs, consider looking for local parks near to your location. Since you are traveling with kids, giving them the opportunity to get out and stretch their legs and play on a playground for 20 minutes or so can make the journey more pleasant for everyone.
There are several free apps that you can download before your trip that can help you find parks with playgrounds in the area. As you are probably well aware, kids aren’t the greatest at just sitting for indeterminate periods of time.
Prepare a Packing Checklist
Before you actually begin packing for your trip make a list of the items that you need to pack. This way you can use your list to make sure that nothing important gets left at home. Your packing checklist will vary depending on how far you are traveling and the ages of your children too. You will of course need clothes, shoes, medications, and personal items for each member of the family.
You may also want to make a checklist for your car. This might include a first aid kit, tire pressure gauge, jumper cables, snacks, and activities for your kids to keep them entertained.
I have an entire post dedicated to packing for a family trip, check it out for more tips!
Traveling with Infants
If you are embarking on your road trip journey with an infant there are a few things to take into consideration. First off, babies need a LOT of stuff, and this can be quite challenging when you have luggage and other items that must be loaded into the car. You can rent the necessary baby gear that you might need at your destination and not have to worry about packing it.
You can rent all kinds of baby gear including cribs, pack n plays, bouncers, swings, strollers, walkers, carriers, monitoring systems, highchairs, and even toys. This can help you immensely with having what you need, but not having to lug it around or having it take up all of the room in your vehicle.
To find a baby equipment rental company just look online for “baby equipment rentals” in whatever city your destination happens to be. Multiple companies offer these services and the prices are generally quite reasonable too.
Hungry kids are often grumpy kids so make sure that you pack some car-friendly snacks for the kids and adults on your trip. Make sure that you pack a variety of healthy snacks for the whole family to enjoy like fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, and yogurt.
This is also a great time to let your kids indulge in some snacks you might not normally keep around the house like chips or cookies as long as they are consumed in moderation. Be sure to include a variety of water and juices to help keep everyone hydrated along the way as well.
You will inevitably have to stop at gas stations to refuel along the way, but the choices there might not be healthy for your body or your wallet.
Chances are when you are at home you have some kind of limits on how much screen time your kids are allowed to have per day. Going on a road trip might be one of those times when you want to loosen the reins a little.
Sure you don’t want their eyes to be glued to a screen so much that they miss all of the beautiful scenery as you head towards your destination, but movies, audiobooks, and video games can be a great (quiet) way for them to pass the time.
There are other fun options to keep your kids entertained on the road as well and you can choose those that are most age-appropriate for your kids. Magnetic games (no lost pieces!), mad libs, podcasts the whole family can enjoy, sketchbooks or coloring books, and a travel journal for each child are also fun ways to pass the time.
Allowing your children to pack a bag of their own with car-friendly activities that you know that they enjoy can make the journey seem exciting and help to keep them entertained.
It is also not a bad idea to have a few “new” toys or activities that they don’t know about stashed away in case they do get bored with what they have brought with them. If you don’t need them for the trip there you can always use them for the drive home.
Don’t forget about classic travel pastimes either, you know from before there were cell phones and tablets, like when you were a kid? Games like spot the license plate from all 50 states, find an object that starts with the next letter of the alphabet, twenty questions, would you rather, hangman, and tic tac toe are all car travel classics in addition to card games.
If you have younger children there are printables that you can find online for free for games like road trip bingo, car color search, and I spy. Lego games and crafts can also be an amazing (screen-free) way to help your kids pass the time in the car.
While you certainly wouldn’t want any messy crafts like paint in the car, pipe cleaners, stickers, washi tape, beads, and origami paper can provide lots of creative entertainment. If your kiddo likes to play with legos you can learn how to make a car-friendly lego building space online with a lunchbox!
Here are my 50 Road Trip Activities for Kids 10 and Under!
Keep It Organized and In Reach
If you don’t want to have to spend the entire trip passing toys and snacks back and forth to your young passengers, consider purchasing a couple of over-the-seat organizers with pockets.
Clear pockets like a shoe organizer work best because the kids will be able to see what is located where and be able to reach it themselves.
Have a Trash Bag
Have a small trash can or bag located where the kids can easily reach it. This way they can easily throw away snack wrappers, empty water bottles, and tissues without throwing them down on the floorboards or seats for you to clean up later.
Empty the bag whenever you stop for fuel or to stretch your legs and your car will be trash free.
When packing up the items you will need for your road trip make sure that you pack a “survival” bag too. Your survival bag should contain extra chargers that fit your electronic devices in case yours become lost or broken, extra batteries if you are bringing along any toys that require them, a few toys or activities that are brand new to your kids, and a special snack.
These toys and snacks can be used when your kids are bored with all of the other items they have to entertain them in the car. Don’t forget a special snack and maybe some headache medicine for the adults. Hopefully, you won’t need the survival bag, but it is always better to be extra prepared when kids are involved.
First Aid Kit
In addition to your survival bag, and normal belongings make sure that you pack a well-stocked first aid kit in your vehicle. It should have assorted size bandages, disinfecting wipes, and antibiotic ointment. You will also want age-appropriate medications for headaches, fever, cough, allergies, and upset stomachs.
Having these medications available in your car for both the children and the adults in the family may keep you from having to search out a late-night pharmacy once you have arrived at your destination, and it provides peace of mind to know that you are prepared.
Have an Adult in the Back
If you have the space in your vehicle, consider having an adult ride in the bag with the kids for part of the journey. This is a novel experience for the kids because grown-ups usually ride in the front.
This makes it easy for an adult to play games and talk with the kids which can help the miles pass by more quickly for a while.
If your road trip is going to require an overnight stay in a hotel before you arrive at your final destination consider packing an overnight bag for the family. This bag should contain a change of clothing for each family member and any necessary medications and toiletries you will need for a one-night stay.
This way you won’t have to completely unload and reload your vehicle just to get what the family needs out for a single-night stay. Don’t forget to repack your overnight bag for the return trip when you leave your destination.
As you travel towards your destination, enjoy the time that you are able to spend with your family laughing, talking, and making memories. Make sure that you take some pictures and videos to document the trip so that the whole family can look back at this special time.
As cliche as it sounds, time really does fly, and especially as kids get older it can be harder to make these amazing memories happen.
How about you? Do you have any additional tips to add for road trips with kids? Do share!
Here are more Road Trip posts for you:
- The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Perfect Kid-Friendly Road Trip
- Road trip essentials
- Family Travel Packing Tips
- 4 Ways to Prep for a Cross Country Road Trip
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