Let’s face it.
Once you have kids, the vision of road trips filled with killer soundtracks, peaceful naps in the passenger seat while your partner in crime drives….those days are gone. LONG gone.
The idea of road trips with kids may actually give you nightmares. I get it. I really do.
The potential of non-stop questions like “Are we there yet?”, innumerable bathroom stops and constant pleas for more snacks may be enough to spin you into a spiral of anxiety before you even leave the house.
Not too long ago, a planned vacation for us took a turn due to hurricanes – flights were canceled and the trip was a no-go. Back to the drawing board, we went. Somehow, we ended up deciding that a road trip totaling 2,523 miles over 11 days was Plan B. I’m not sure if that puts us in the category of genius or crazy.
But, for what it’s worth, we absolutely enjoyed every minute of it. 😉
Well… almost. 🤫
Family Road Trip Tips
Ultimately, we realized that road tripping with our kids was a great experience. It gave us the opportunity to get to know them better as individuals…all those hours in the car give you tons of time to have meaningful conversations! We found music and audiobooks that we could all enjoy. We laughed…and fought. But, most importantly, we got to see new locations through our kids’ eyes and share the fun, stress, and memories of road trips with them.
We’ve compiled a few of our favorite road trip tips to help keep your kids happy on the journey – and to help you keep your sanity!
1. Have a (Reasonable) Plan
Before you set out, make a rough plan of your journey. Keep it reasonable! Don’t expect to be able to make a 20+ hour trip by driving through the night in 1-2 days. It’s just not gonna happen!
Start by looking at the distance between your house and final destination, then plan your stops to break it up into manageable chunks. Our goal was to spend 4 nights at our final stop (Legoland California). We had 10 nights to complete our trip, so I planned for us to split the other nights into 3 hotel stays on the way south and 3 on the way home. I had rough ideas of where we were going to stop and ideas of activities to do at those stops, but they weren’t set in stone. If you can, vary your route coming and going to change it up and prevent everyone from dreading the trip home.
Related post: How to Plan Your Perfect Road Trip
We booked our Legoland stay ahead of time, but everything else we booked from the road with the Hotels.com app. It was a lifesaver for us as I could easily check availability and reviews right from the passenger seat. Most rooms we didn’t book until the day of – some even just a couple hours before arriving. This gave us the flexibility to drive a little farther if everyone was happy. OR, to call it early and head to the hotel pool if we were drowning in meltdowns and pent up energy. However, if you chose to book in advance, pay special attention to the cancelation window so you don’t wind up paying for a room you can’t use!
2. Snacks, Snacks, Snacks, and More Snacks
On a road trip with kids, chances are you’ll hear “I’m hungry” more times than you can count. Save yourself some torture and pack ALL. THE. SNACKS.
We generally pack a bag with lots of easy to eat foods. Everything from our favorite “pocket snacks” to granola bars to goldfish to fresh fruit. It’s seriously saved our sanity more than once – especially when we were in the middle of nowhere and our bottomless pits decided they couldn’t possibly wait another hour to stop for dinner. 🙄
3. Audiobooks and Podcasts
Our kids love to read, but in the car, they often tire of reading to themselves….or can get a little car sick. Plus, it’s always fun to read or listen to books as a family. Before heading out, we often stop at our local library to grab a couple of audiobooks that everyone can enjoy and pop them in when we need a break from our other entertainment.
We also love listening to podcasts as well. We’ve found some great options for stories podcasts, educational podcasts, and other entertaining choices that we all can enjoy.
4. Pack Non-Electronic Entertainment
Before you head out, have each kid (if they are old enough) pack up a backpack with things they would like to have to play with or do in the car that AREN’T electronic. Of course, we aren’t advocating a 40+ hour road trip without electronics, but if they have other things to do as well, hopefully, you can avoid turning them into screen zombies.😉
Even more importantly, sneak a bag in with a few activities and toys they have never seen before. Keep it well-hidden until they have exhausted all other options and you’ve heard “I’m bored” one too many times. Pull out something from your “secret stash” and keep your sanity!
Electronics on a car trip seem like pretty much a staple in today’s world. I mean, sure, you COULD go without, but I could also go without coffee. And, we all know, that’s not gonna happen! 🤪
Pack up your portable game systems (Switch, Nintendo DS, etc), games, iPad’s, and movies.If you’re lucky, your car may already be equipped with a DVD player. And, if your manufacturer was smart, it also comes with headphones so you can keep your sanity!
Don’t get me wrong, I love most of the kids’ movies, but I can only hear them so many times before I start to lose it. Plus, isn’t it more enjoyable to occasionally listen to your own music or have an uninterrupted adult conversation?! If you don’t have a built-in player, pack one up for the road or download their favorite content on their iPad or Kindle. Having a variety of options to share is great. Sometimes our kids watch a movie together. But, often, one will watch a movie while the other plays on the iPad.
6. Bring a Cooler
Grab a cooler and toss it in the back of your car. It will come in super handy for leftovers along the way when someone doesn’t finish the meal they just HAD to have. Plus, you can stock up on sandwich fixings, fresh fruits, and veggies to save a little along the way (and save everyone from ANOTHER fast food stop). We also found that having the option for a meal in the car also made it easy to stop at a park or rest area where there was plenty of room for everyone to run around and stretch their legs.
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7. Play Car Games
Remember all those games your parents taught you when you were little and there were no electronics to occupy your time? Teach them to your kids! The ABC game, The License Plate Game, and even some Car Bingo are great ways to pass the time.
8. Look Ahead for Stops
I use my phone (seriously, I don’t know how our parents survived) to look ahead for stops. Once we leave a location, I look a couple of hours out and try to find a good exit or park that we can stop to take a bathroom break and grab food, if needed. That way, when the boys ask how much longer (for the millionth time), I have a reasonable idea. Plus, we aren’t wasting time just driving around trying to find a place that will work.
9. Bring a Paper Copy of Your Map/Directions (or An Offline Map)
Phones and GPS are great – as long as you can maintain a signal. Unfortunately, we did go through a few spots – mostly within National Parks – that our phone navigation didn’t work and our van would only give us a street view. Thankfully, I had anticipated this possibility and printed out directions for our planned route each day before heading out.
The other option is to use an app with maps that are downloadable for offline use, such as Roadtrippers. We have used it for trips in the past, including one through Yellowstone, where there is very little coverage and it worked perfectly to keep us on track when we had no signal. They do have a free version, but for certain premium features, you’ll need the Plus membership. Use: STOKEFAM for $5 off your upgrade!
If you’re staying on the main highway or in highly populated areas, you can probably skip this step. But, if you plan to get out and explore nature, take a tip from the Boy Scouts and “Be Prepared.”
10. Be Flexible
Remember that plan you made before you left? Get ready to throw it out the window.
Chances are that on a road trip, or with kids in general, SOMETHING will not go as planned. Keep in mind that you’re on a road trip – which, by definition, includes the journey. Savor the fact that all those little things that change (or completely fall apart) will not matter in the long run. They may even lead you to locations or experiences that will stand out in your memories of your trip.
It’s become kind of a running joke in our family – although, half the time, I’m not laughing – that no matter how much my Type-A-Self plans, there will always be something that will fall apart or change at the last minute. My husband, John, and I now just look at each other, roll our eyes and say “Always As Planned…”
Final Thoughts on Road Trip Tips
A road trip with kids may not always feel like a “vacation”, but it can most definitely be a fun and memorable experience. We hope these road trip tips and tricks can help you be more confident and adventurous as you get out there and find your stoke!