Surviving a Road Trip with Kids

Two kids squashed into tiny car shopping cart with steering wheels

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Hit the Road, Save Your Sanity

Two kids squashed into tiny car shopping cart with steering wheels
  • What: Tips for traveling with kids
  • When: On long car rides
  • Why: Keep yourself sane and them happy
  • Where: Your car

There’s nothing quite as iconically American as a road trip. If you hit the highway with your offspring this summer, try some of these tips and tricks to keep everyone riding along in peace, even without relying on finicky electronic entertainment.

Welcome to Tennessee roadside sign
Use these tips and tricks when logging miles with kids in tow.

Limit the number of times they can ask how much further. If you get tired of hearing the same question before you’ve left your home city (much less state), set a limit and tell the kids. Each time they ask you how much further, you can answer and remind them how many more times they get to ask.

Get good at verbal games. If you haven’t brushed up on your game skills, now’s the time. Whether you prefer the alphabet game or things like I Spy, anything that can keep you and the kids occupied can be worth its weight in gold, especially for those last few miles. You can also see who will be the first to spot a particular item, like a flag, dog, or anything that might appear on a roadside sign. It can be surprisingly hard to spot a hamburger, but our kids will look for miles, especially if it means they beat their siblings to it.

Kids with back seat organizer desk stocked with supplies
Fold down desks offer lots of options while using very little space.

Invest in a solid set of back seat organizers. I can’t stress enough how many times a well stocked backseat organizer has saved us when we’ve put in the miles. Each kid gets their own space, and I stock it with basics like paper and crayons (no tops to drop). I can also pack stickers and other travel items based on each kid’s individual interests and ability level. A busy box geared to each kid goes a long way as well.

Stop at the trifecta: food, restroom, and park or other space to run around Treat your kids like pets, and assume they will need to use the bathroom, get refreshments, and run around before getting back in the car. If you plan an hour for each stop, then when the stop takes less time you’ll be pleased. I find the other way around much less pleasant when you hope for a half hour stop and fits and tantrums dragged it into an hour or more. 

Kids in car seats explore road trip entertainment
I pack each kid age appropriate books and activities.

Pack the essentials in easy reach. Keep snacks, drinks, and a spare change of clothing easily accessible, even if the rest of the car is packed to the gills. Whether you keep a change of clothes and diapers in the car year round, or have a small bag you can easily grab with a spares of the most important clothing, it can make or break your trip. We learned the hard way that our daughter gets motion sick on boats during a ferry ride where you couldn’t access your vehicle during the crossing. I had everything we needed when she started barfing, but ended up wringing clothing out in the public restroom sink because we couldn’t get back to the car until we docked. I don’t recommend that approach. And take it from me. Unpacking onto the sidewalk, or worse, the side of the road, to find what you need is not the way you want to go, either.

Last but definitely not least, be honest with yourself. You know your kids, their temperaments, and everyone’s limitations. I prefer to plan six hours a day in the car and end up making nine hours of good road time than the opposite. You’ll arrive at your destination happier and more relaxed. Some of our favorite spots we discovered on a whim when we pulled off the road instead of pushing further after we all obviously finished for the day. You never know what you might discover, and it’s the journey that matters.

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