10 ways to survive a road trip with kids

Blue Ridge

Airplanes terrify me. I think it’s a control issue. On a plane, I have none, nada, zip.  I can’t even see out the window half the time and it really bothers me. And what if the plane crashed? (I’m almost panicking now….I can’t even think about this.) Needless to say, the thought of flying with my kids and husband makes my hands sweat with anxiety. Between this fear of mine and my budget savvy husband, we pile into the minivan and drive when we go on vacation. In the past five years we have driven from our Connecticut home to North Carolina numerous times to visit family. We also drove from Connecticut to Illinois then to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and back to Connecticut last summer. I consider my family pros at the long-distant drives. With summer not that far away (yay!) and many states having Spring Break this week and next, I figured I could share my top 10 ways to survive these trips.


View from the window while driving through Vermont

10 Tips for surviving a road trip with kids:

  1. Prepare a list of things to pack. Make a list of EVERYTHING you need. One year, I forgot to pack the pack-n-play for the baby. Luckily I had a friend who loaned us one, but that was a pretty big learning moment for me. Now I have a spreadsheet (my husband created it) that includes all the toiletries, clothes, jewelry, baby items, food, snacks, toys, etc. This helps us not over or under pack. If you can do laundry at your destination, do it instead of packing extra clothes. It’s not quite as chic to wear the same outfits over and over, but you’ll be happy when you are loading and unloading your car that you don’t have excess. Kids need enough stuff, no reason to make it harder on yourself.
  2.  Pack a cooler and put it in arms reach of the person in the passenger seat. I pack boiled eggs, coffee (we’re talking a bubba keg of coffee), sandwiches, apples, carrots, grapes, granola bars, trail mix, and a gallon of milk, water, deli meat and cheese. We have been able to eliminate extra-long stops by eating in the van and feeding the kids when they are hungry. This helps minimize complaining, keeps our meals healthy, and saves money. Sometimes I also pack “treats” to reward the kids for good behavior.
  3. Bring a portable potty and plastic bags. Put it in an accessible place in the car. (Even the little potties that the toddlers use for potty training work.) It does not fail, every time we have hit a traffic jam or cannot get to an exit, a kid has to use the bathroom. Peeing in the “baby potty” in the middle of the van in stopped traffic is not ideal, but it is better than the alternative. It also comes in handy when the bathrooms are completely disgusting but a kid needs to go.
  4. Pack a bag that has new (or forgotten) toys/games in it for the kids. These don’t need to be expensive. Pretty much anything from the $1 bin, party favor aisle works or at the bottom of your own toy box.
  5. iPod playlist. The modern version of the mixed tape is golden.  Singing along to the radio is a fun way to kill time, but inevitably you will drive though that area that has no decent radio stations. Also, it helps to have favorite songs ready to play when the kids get restless. Last trip we went on, we had to play “Let it Go” about 45 times in a row to prevent our almost 2 year old from going into hysterics. You can also download audio books for the kids, which can keep them entertained for a while.
  6. If you have a DVD player, be prepared to use it. Have DVD lined up and ready to play. This can make an irritating traffic jam a little more enjoyable.
  7. Games, books and stories. Car Bingo, I spy, or taking turns to tell a story (they can tell different stores or just add onto the same story), Interactive Electronic games, iPad apps, or activity books and crayons. Pack them in a place you can reach them. They can keep a kid occupied for a while.
  8. Keep everything orderly. I do recommend not letting the kids have everything toy, snack and book out at once. It creates a chaotic mess and can make it difficult to unload when you get to your destination. This battle will save your sanity later. I feel like I constantly put items back into the kids’ backpacks or my grab bag; but it makes things SO much easier while unloading the van later.
  9. Double check the GPS (or map) prior to leaving for your trip. Find a few good places for pit stops and try to encourage your kids to make it to them. I know emergencies happen, in that case look for an exit with a lot of options like local coffee joints, fast food, rest stops or gas stations. I promise you, a wrong exit can be pretty damn scary.
  10. Relax and enjoy the view.  You will hit a traffic jam. Your kids will have to go to the bathroom at the most inconvenient times. They’ll be hungry, loud and complain. They will ask 1,000 times in five minutes, “Are we there yet?” But they will also will take YOUR lead. If you’re having fun, they likely will too. A car or a van is a pretty confined space, but kids actually dig the quality time.
Road Trips are exhausting
Road Trips are exhausting

Do you have any additional travel tips? Please share in the comments!

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  1. says

    Love the tips! Especially the cooler within reach packed with healthy food. I also pack treats (small toys, special snacks, game books) in individual bags for each traveler, some wet wipes and hand sanitizer and a supply of plastic grocery bags for trash.

  2. says

    Those are some long trips! I love using audio books to make the miles fly by. I’ve also found that with multiple stops, it can be helpful to pack separate bags for each instead of hauling everything in over and over when it slowly become mostly dirty laundry you are hauling around.


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