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How to Survive a Road Trip with Kids
Flying with kids is one thing, but going on a road trip with kids requires a slightly different set of tools. Whereas for a flight you need to time your boarding, pack smart snacks to help with ear pressure, and gauge how much crap you can shove under the stroller, a road trip requires different toys and other considerations. Here are some of the things I’ve learned to bring along on a road trip, both for ease of travel and for a peaceful, multi-hour stretch on the road… I’d love to hear yours. This post contains affiliate links and CorporetteMoms may earn commissions for purchases made through links in this post. For more details see here. Thank you so much for your support! Headphones While the American Academy of Pediatrics say children should be limited to two hours of screentime a day (although apparently it’s more complicated than it used to be!), I’m quite sure they don’t mean on travel days. (If you stick to those guidelines on travel days, my hat’s off to you!) Occasionally different family members want to listen to different things, so headphones are just as important on a road trip as they are in a plane trip. You can get splitters for using two headphones with one device, on the unlikely possibility that everyone in the backseat wants to watch the same thing, but there you go. Papers, Crayons, and Markers We bought a lap desk for my older son when we took our first road trip, and I’m pleased to report that he’s used it every time — it breaks the monotony of the road and videos and gives him something to do. Note that this is not the time for crafts involving glitter, glue, paint, or even water — you just want the kids to be able to entertain themselves. A Sheathed Knife I can’t tell you how many times we’ve happily arrived at a destination 2–6 hours from our house, and ordered pizza or something else, only to realize that we desperately need a knife. Buying a sheathed knife to keep in your road travel supplies (like this one) is a great idea, and because you’re road tripping — no TSA involved! — you can do it. Just don’t forget to wash the knife ASAP when you get home. Car Shades Particularly with babies, these stick-on window shades are a great help — though in a pinch, a hat will also work to keep the sun out of your baby’s eyes. Time it Right (aka, Pray for Sleep) To be totally honest, we didn’t take a lot of long road trips when the kids were very, very small — they were always at an age where they could appreciate their iPad games or favorite movies or whatnot. But even now, when one of my children still has an early-ish bedtime of 7:30–8:30, we plan trips knowing that if we have to drive until midnight or 1:00 a.m., it isn’t quite so bad and it gives us 3–4 hours of a quiet backseat while the kids sleep. Presents Ah, yes. Presents. Buy the gifts, wrap them up, and surprise the kids with something new and never before seen. This is the advice I always see, and it’s solid — the dollar bin at Target is great for this, as are small coloring books, stationary games and more (think Water Wow, magnetic blocks, and even some of these retro arcade game minis for the older kids). Obviously bouncy balls and slime are less than ideal, but a good squeezable toy, a pack of Pokémon cards, or (if you’ve got a kid who’s really young and still teething), something chewable and safe enough for the backseat are all greatest hits. Readers, are you fans of road trips with your kids? What are your best tips for surviving a road trip with kids? How do you entertain your kids on road trips? Stock photo via Deposit Photos / golyak.
How timely. I’m having mild panic attacks at work that our 15 hour 2-day drive (a 6 hour drive one day and 9 the next) this weekend is going to be an unmitigated disaster with my two year old. I’m sure it will go better than I have anticipated (only because the baseline is set so low) but the longest trip we’ve ever taken with her around this age is 4 hours one day and 4 1/2 hours the next.
I just did 6 hours on Thursday, 7 hours on Friday and 9 hours on Sunday with my 2 year old (and 7 month old). Unlimited iPad time (for toddler), lots of snacks, and a good long cry at the end (for all of us) got us through.
Thanks – I expect there will be many tears.
Just did this with one 2 year old.
Is she an only child? I spent A LOT of time in the back sit with the little one (only 1 car seat back there).
Our child gets pretty car sick, so screens were basically out. He has on a shorter road trip barfed all over an IPAD and also barfed for no reason other than winding roads. He is FINALLY more absorbed by TV / movies, so I do hope that will work for you.
– new toy to start the trip (happened to be his BDAY a few days prior, so we “saved” some presents
– stops are for playing / running / etc. vs. eating. We picked places to stop where there was a park and or playground
– pack SO MANY snacks – including for the adults so you have flexibility about making a stop or pushing on. We did lots of small snacks vs. stopping for drive through, as also better for sickness risk (cut up pineapple / fish crackers / yogurt / muffins / cheese / ham / M&Ms / blueberries / pepperoni or salami). Snacks that take a long time to eat can easily occupy an hour at a time. Feed her before you get to the rest stop, especially lunch, so when you get back in the car you have a fed and hopefully tired out little one more inclined to sleep.
– we switched activities after say 15 mins. You can look at books for 10 mins then you have to give them back and you can play with a car, through a ball to mommy, sing a song etc.
– I downloaded a storytime podcast – it was OK, but we used that less than I thought.
– read it here – a jelly roll pan (higher sides) + magnets was a HUGE HIT and much less likely to drop them. Like he would have played with it for ages. I put out a set of alphabet magnets. We talked about the letters. He lined them up around the edge. we talked about the letters. Unfortunately we had to limit time on this one after a puking incident (the only one we had). I used a half size pan that actually fit perfectly across the car seat and doubled as a rimmed eating tray.
– a pillow placed inside the door beside the car seat prevents stuff falling to unreacheable places
– cold car + blanket for longer naps.
– puppets (finger or normal)
– lean into toddlers desire for the SAME thing 48 times. Answer the same question 16 times etc.
– videos on your phone.
– low expectations. We sang the wheels on the bus for a solid 45 mins. about 20 mins of which I was not allowed to sing and all my toddler sand was the doors on the bus go open and shut (for 20 MINS!)
– did I mention M&Ms?
Update – We survived! Dramamine worked like a charm and allowed us to use screens (although there was some finger sticking down the throat once she realized what it was to get her to swallow it when she refused to chew it – why don’t they make it in a liquid I don’t know, my kiddo takes liquid meds no problem). We used a new toy as the last resort when the movies lost their hold, and we ended up having to stop every 2 hours to run around (lots of tears being wrestled back into the carseat), but we survived! On the way home we drove overnight due to hurricane evacuation orders (trying to miss traffic) and that was better (also fewer stops) but man what tired parents the next day with a toddler who was at peak form having slept pretty much her normal amount. Sadly, I get carsick and my husband doesn’t fit in the backseat, so she was back there by herself, but we put her behind the driver so with the front seat leaned back the non-driving parent could see and reach her. DH also caved on the snacks in the car, so the munch snack cups + goldfish, applesauce pouches, and a yogurt melts in a snack cup were a huge hit.
podcasts. we like circle round.
I’m so envious of people whose kids sleep in cars or at least remain relatively content in cars. My 18 month old is a fantastic sleeper at home but absolutely will not sleep in the car and hates being confined to her car seat. We can sometimes get a short snooze on an airplane (I think the engine noise puts her to sleep) but nothing resembling a full night of sleep even on a redeye flight. But even with her awake, flying is so much easier, because she isn’t confined and can run around the airport and airplane. Forcing her to sit in her carseat for more than about an hour at a time is a recipe for a meltdown. We took her on a 4 hour drive once and she literally screamed the entire time, so yeah, not doing that again any time soon. We live over an hour from the airport and that’s the extent of the driving we’ll do with her for the forseeable future.
I just spit out my coffee when I got to the suggestion for a sheathed knife as a need for a roadtrip with kids. Lol.
We just let kiddo watch movies. We don’t do super long car trips enough for it to seem detrimental to her brain development. At our last ped appointment, ped asked about screen time. We said it was less than two hours unless we were traveling. And she goes “Oh yeah, that doesn’t count!” We all laughed.
When my guy was little, we’d try to make meal stops at places where there was a playground/play place. It added a little bit of time to the trip, but 30 minutes of letting the kid run and get his zoomies out helped everyone. If you are super organized, you can pack a picnic and find a park along the way or at least have a snack at a rest stop with green space.
We took 3 road trips this spring/summer–10 hours, 8 hours, 4.5 hours of driving time–with our 4 year old. The April road trips was basically unplanned and took place from 2 pm to 2 am after our flight was canceled.
We’re lucky because our kid generally does OK in the car–he likes looking out the window for a while, he likes listening to music and audiobooks with us, and he falls asleep in the car. When people ask me how Kiddo is on road trips, I laugh and joke that Kiddo is better than husband–which is funny because it’s true :-)
We stop every 2 hours, minimum. During the day, we take advantage of rest areas, especially the ones at state lines, which tend to have interesting things to see and space to run around. We have one meal at a fast food restaurant with a play place so Kiddo can run, and we have one sit-down meal at a real (usually independent, local) restaurant for the parents’ sake.
We bring a large bag of activities for Kiddo–we’ve had markers and paper, magnets on baking trays, water wow, scratch art, squigz, pipe cleaners, lacing toys, etc. We have story podcasts (Circle Round is my favorite) and audiobooks for all of us to listen to. We also listen to a lot of music–in April, we found the end of a 90s top-500 countdown, and it was the BEST! Of course, Kiddo also watches the iPad, especially on the return trip, but we don’t start with it (a) he won’t wear headphones, and neither he nor I does well with competing sounds, and (b) once he’s bored with the iPad, it’s hard to find something else he wants to do.
We drive the same trip all the time because my in-laws are eight hours away. We always leave a little bit after bedtime (both so everyone is real tired but also to always takes longer to get on the road than planned) and then drive 4-5 hours. The kids will wake up at 6am no matter what so we don’t want to drive too long.
In the morning, we do something fun for the kids like a playground, library, or hotel pool. Then after lunch, we drive the rest of it. Usually, they sleep most of the rest of the way. Then, it’s screens and apologies and fast food with playplaces for the last bit.
Once we arrive, we do outside time or serious indoor playtime for a long time before getting in there car again (if needed). We definitely don’t eat out for dinner that night :)