Taking road trips with kids can be overwhelming, exhausting and stressful. Believe me, I know. But after years and years of taking road trips with kids across the country, I’ve learned a few things that make it more simple, fun and enjoyable. Today, I’m sharing my top 12 tips for taking road trips with kids.
TIP 1: Entertainment Stations
It has helped me to consolidate the amount of stuff we bring by categorizing things into different “stations” that the kids can rotate through.
Station 1 has all our media – headphones, devices, etc. I can better keep track of it all this way as well.
Station 2 has toys – I like to grab a few new things at the dollar store or Target so they’re fresh and exciting.
Station 3 has books – again, anything new and exciting is helpful here. I like to make a library trip with the kids before we leave and have them each pick out a couple new books.
Station 4 is an art tray – I fill this with notebooks, markers, stickers, activity books, etc.
The clear bags are nice because we can easily see what’s inside. We typically just rotate every hour or two so it gives everyone a variety of things to do.
Our Favorite Entertainment Station Items
TIP 2: Bath Toy Organizers
You know what makes the best car organizer for road trips? Bath toy mesh bags with suction cups! They attach and hold strong to the window and are the perfect place to store little trinkets, toys, and snacks.
Having little pockets right next to your child allows them to have independence with their things so you don’t have to hand everything to them (or pick it up off the floor where most things inevitably end up). We’ve loved using them for the past couple years for road trips!
Our Favorite Toy Mesh Bag
TIP 3: Head Rest Hooks
The more organized the car is, the less chaotic road trips feel. I recently discovered these head rest hooks and have been loving them. They are heavy-duty and can easily slide from the front of the chair to the back of the chair.
Aside from road trips, these hooks are nice to keep in the car for everyday use. They work well in the trunk as well, to hang things off the back seat head rest.
Our Favorite Head Rest Hooks
TIP 4: Portion-Size Snacks
For a road trip to go smoothly (especially with kids), food is a pretty critical element. I’ve found the best method for us is to have a bunch of pre-portioned snacks ready to grab and eat.
I like baggies better than hard tupperware because they don’t spill as easily, and whatever the kids don’t finish can be re-sealed and saved for later.
I try to stock up with a variety of crackers, fruit/veggies, apple sauce pouches, etc. Condiment cups are great for dips.
I store everything in a cooler bag with a couple frozen water bottles at the bottom to keep everything chilled.
With a little bit of prep work done in advance, this makes is SO easy to quickly grab a snack for the kids and hand it back to them.
NOTE: I realize that this is a lot of plastic baggies. I obviously don’t recommend using this quantity of bags on a regular basis, but infrequent road trips are the exception for us. You can also opt for reusable bags, or I love getting baggies from IKEA because they’re made of 85% sugar cane and decompose quickly.
Our Favorite Snack Bags
TIP 5: Cup Holder Food Tray
Yup. This tip is a serious game changer for eating on-the-go. For those times when the trip necessitates you eat in the car, there is NO better way to do it than grabbing a few cup holders to use as food trays.
Any drive-thru should be happy to give you a few cup holders with your order (or you can usually find them at gas stations). They have the perfect amount of spaces for your child’s drink, fries, side dish, main course and even a little space for ketchup in the middle.
And when you’re finished you can just throw the whole thing out!
TIP 6: Podcasts and Audiobooks
Think they’re just for adults? Think again! They’re perfect for road trips because you can binge listen to a bunch in a row and it keeps everyone entertained.
PODCASTS: I like to download a bunch of episodes ahead of time so that it’s easy to queue up while you’re driving. My kids tend to prefer story-type podcasts, but the more informational ones can be entertaining too.
AUDIOBOOKS: There are several ways to get audiobooks for your road trip.
1. Sign up for an audiobook subscription service like Audible, Google Play Books, Walmart eBooks, or Apple Books.
2. Check out audiobook CDs from the library.
3. Download the Libby from Overdrive app and check out audiobooks digitally for free with your library card.
TIP 7: Pit Stop Relay Races
Sitting for hours and hours on end is hard for anyone – especially kids. When we need to make a quick pit stop/bathroom break it’s fun to take a few extra minutes and burn off some energy and move!
It’s the best when you can find the trucker pit stop stations because they typically have some grass or wilderness around them and occasionally a playground.
We map out a course to run and either take turns racing or have a timed race a few times. It gets us all moving and feels good to break up the sitting for a few minutes.
TIP 8: Mark the Passing Time or Distance
“Are we there yet?” The asking of this question over and over is inevitable, right? I learned these two fun ways to mark the time from a couple insta friends and they were too good not to share.
METHOD 1: POST IT NOTES
@meckmomlife shared this genius idea recently (plus a lot of other road trip tips) and I thought it was such a great visual way to pass the time. You could label the notes however you want – by 50 miles, 100 miles, etc. Then when you’ve accomplished each milestone you take that note down.
METHOD 2: TREATS ON THE HOUR
I first heard this tip from @wander_and_scout when she mentioned how her family gets a jolly rancher each hour and I thought it was so clever. You could use a jolly rancher, a starburst, a couple skittles, or whatever else is your favorite family treat.
TIP 9: Download No-WIFI-Needed Apps and Games
With road trips you want to be as prepared as possible ahead of time, so that the trip runs more smoothly. Making sure your devices are loaded with plenty of games and apps that don’t require WiFi is one thing you can do well in advance to prepare.
I’ve compiled a list of our favorite games and apps for kids that don’t require WIFI. Most are free, but a few are available to purchase for a small fee.
If you’ve got an Apple device, using GUIDED ACCESS is a game-changer. It locks your device from exiting an app or prevents certain parts of the screen from being clicked on. Want them to stay in the movie they’re watching or stop clicking into the App Store from their game? This hack will be your best friend.
To use guided access:
Settings > General > Accessibility > Guided Access
Toggle to “on” and set a password. To use, go to the app your child will be using and triple click on the home button. This will open a screen that allows you to select areas of the screen to disable and start guided access. To exit, triple click and enter your password.
TIP 10: Listen to Good Music
When all else fails on a road trip, we put on a playlist the whole family loves and everything seems good again.
Justin and I both LOVE music. And one of our favorite pastimes is creating awesome playlists (from the cassette tape + radio era to the Napster era and beyond). Now it’s SO much easier because of Spotify! Basically any song is available at your fingertips and anyone can create a free account and listen to full songs and playlists.
We are continually adding new mixes and songs to our lineup, so if you’re looking for some good tunes, follow our Spotify playlists.
We love listening to the “KID MOVIES” playlist as a family and trying to see who can guess what movie each song is from first.
TIP 11: Drive When Kids Are Sleeping
When you’ve got toddlers and young kids that are difficult to entertain in a car, sometimes it’s beneficial to take advantage of nap and sleep times! That way, you’re getting hours and miles under your belt with no kids entertainment needed.
Of course, safety should be your first priority. So if you’re nervous driving at night or have a hard time staying awake, go with the safest option for you.
Here are a few road trip driving options that will help you take advantage of times when kids are sleeping.
1. DRIVE THROUGH THE NIGHT. For our 20+ hour road trips we like to leave in the late afternoon, have dinner on the road, watch a movie, and have everyone sleep in the car. Justin and I just trade off every few hours and it’s so nice when everyone wakes up in the morning and we’ve got hundreds of miles under our belt.
2. LEAVE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. For this option, you have one partner try to get some sleep in the early evening at home. Then between 2-4 am you move sleeping kids to the car and leave. That way you’ll get a few hours of kids sleeping before daylight. The partner who had slept at home starts the drive, then you trade every few hours. Just don’t try leaving around 5-6 am because kids might not go back to sleep when you put them in the car.
TIP 12: Play Family Games
When it comes down to it, sometimes you just gotta play some old-fashioned family games to pass the time. And they’re usually what get us laughing and enjoying each other’s company most. Here are some of our favorites.
CATEGORIES: Someone picks a category (like Disney movies, holidays, cereals, candy bars, farm animals, etc). Each person has to say something in that category within 10-15 seconds (no repeats). If they can’t think of anything they’re out and the game continues until there’s one winner.
LETTER HUNT: Work as a team to find all the letters of the alphabet on signs, license plates, etc.
LICENSE PLATE SEARCH: With someone keeping track on paper, see how many different states you can find from license plates you see on the road.
NAME THAT TUNE: Go to a playlist of songs (my Kid Movies Spotify playlist works great for this) and hit shuffle. Whoever can identify the song or what movie it’s from first wins.
I’M GOING ON A PICNIC: One person starts by saying, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring …” then lists an item (like a blanket, chair, apple, sandwich, etc). The next person begins, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring …” they list the first person’s item and then add one of their own. The list grows and grows with each person repeating what’s been said and adding something of their own. When someone can’t remember everything, they’re out and the game continues until one winner is left.
I SPY: One person says, “I spy with my little eye something …” then they give a clue about that thing like, “something that is blue”. The other riders take turns guessing things it might be until someone guesses. Then it’s their turn to say “I spy …” RHYME: One person starts with a word and everyone has to say a word that rhymes with the first word (without repeats). When someone can’t think of anything, they’re out and the game continues until there’s one winner.
TABLETOPICS QUESTIONS: I like to keep a package of TableTopics questions for families in my car. When we’re bored they’re really fun to ask and everyone shares their answer.
I hope you’ve found these road trip tips helpful! If you have any additional tips to add, I’d love to hear them in the comments.
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