For as long as I can remember, I have loved a good road trip. From driving a couple of hours to the Jersey shore with my grandparents every summer to driving to Florida on spring break while in college, I have always found road trips incredibly exciting. Killer playlists, hilarious conversations, and a whole lot of open road is my kind of adventure.
And then I had kids.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still the first to jump at the idea of adventuring to a new place by car, it just takes way more preparation now. Like, way more. And along the way, I’ve become pretty good at keeping my kids entertained on road trips. In fact, I have a list of five tips that I consider essential when road tripping with kids.
5 tips for road trips with kids
Keep ’em comfy
I know. You’re probably rolling your eyes and wishing I’d tell you something you didn’t know already. It sounds like a no brainer, but it’s really easy to overlook. You have to remember you’re not taking a ten-minute drive to the mall. While you might just want to get in the car and go, you will be a much happier human if you stop to think about what you could do to make napping easier.
What works wonders for us is packing a small pillow (my little one is straight up obsessed with neck pillows. They make her feel like a total boss) and a blanket for each of the girls. It gives them a little coziness to snuggle up into and makes the seat of the car much more inviting. Making sleep a little easier makes our lives infinitely easier—especially when they’re exhausted and meltdown bound from all of the excitement.
Pack a car bag for each kid
A must for our family is making sure each of the girls has a little bag with a few items that will keep them occupied. Samantha always has a few books. That kid reads faster than most adults I know. Another great option for her is a little sketchpad for drawing or writing (she loves this fashion sketchpad). Ellie goes nowhere without at least a handful of figures in tow. She also likes to throw in a book or two so as not to feel left out and sometimes brings a doll that she can chatter away to and a bottle to feed her with.
Another really helpful thing to have stashed away are magnetic games or doll sets. Bonus points if you save them for the car so they’re extra special. My girls could get lost in stuff like that for a good hour.
Listen to audiobooks
We are huge fans of the power of audiobooks. My girls are notorious chatterboxes (a trait they inherited from their momma), but you would think you were in the wrong car if you listened in while we have a good audiobook playing. We’re talking total silence. The girls get completely lost in them and there is zero fighting. It’s absolutely magical—which is why I always turn to them when tension starts to run high.
Pro-tip: Don’t give them a choice. It just gives them something else they can fight about. Instead, pick something beforehand that is a good compromise for everyone. If you need some help figuring out where to start, check out my post on our favorite audiobooks for kids.
Please, whatever you do, don’t leave the house without snacks. They will substantially cut down on both whining and wasted time and money at rest stops. Sometimes you need to stop to move around and get a little air, but being prepared for every other time is a lifesaver.
We like to pack refillable drink containers that the girls can use throughout our trip and quick and easy snacks that are least likely to be ground into every last millimeter of the car. Warning: you will find granola bars in your seats for years if you pack those. 😉
A good parenting hack for trying to keep a handle on messes is having your kids eat over reusable food storage containers—they won’t keep all of the mess contained, but they work as great crumb catchers. Plus, not only can you pull them out and use them again later in the trip, but they can double as garbage collectors once they’re empty. Also, make sure to have paper towels or wipes on hand.
When all else fails, technology is your friend
I know it’s taboo to talk about using screen time to distract your kids, but let’s be honest: sitting in the car for hours at a time with kids is not going to be all Kumbaya and heart-warming family bonding. Shit will get real. I never hesitate to throw an electronic at them when I start to fear a hostile takeover. I just make sure I also throw some headphones for the sanity of everyone in the car. Just remember that earbuds + kids are a recipe for a really annoying time.
Samantha will usually listen to audiobooks that are a little too old and complicated for Ellie while playing games. Ellie will get lost in apps for a while (make sure you check out some of our favorite toddler apps. I’ll have to put together a new list for older kids soon). Some are educational. Some are pure fun—and there’s nothing wrong with that.
The key takeaway here?
Be prepared. The best thing you can do to make road tripping with kids easier for everyone involved is to think ahead. Is there something your child always enjoys? Something that never fails to calm her down? Is there something that totally sets her off or gets her really hyper? Thinking about these things and planning accordingly (with secret weapons at the ready) will make your ride a million times more enjoyable and set the tone for an awesome trip.