A list of ways to make a long drive fun with kids
I love to travel and go places. Much of my travel has been by car on road trips. Some have been short drives and others involved many hours of travel. Having kids did not stop our family desire to travel, so we decided to just go for it. Our first major trip with our 2-month-old was a road trip to visit my parents, 530 miles away from home!
We knew it would be a challenge, but we also felt that just going for it and getting little kids used to travel would make it easier as they became toddlers! We were right, our now 5 and 3-year-old kids love road trips!!!
I have several ideas to help you make your road travel with kids a fun time! This applies whether you have already tried a road trip with your little ones or if you have never been on a road trip at all!!
As a side note, while at home we do allow some screen time, but so far on road trips, we don’t. So, these ideas are screen-free. You can always add in some screen time that works best for your family.
PLANNING THE TRIP
Spontaneous road trips are great, but I would say that just a little planning will make traveling with your kids so much easier. I’m not suggesting a crazy travel plan or anything, maybe just a few steps to keep me on track.
Some families plan to travel at night when the kids sleep but we don’t. Our kids don’t actually sleep that much in the car, just a little here and there on some long road trips!
I usually like to plan things like, where we can stop for potty breaks, meals and how far we are going between stops.
I think we do best when we stop for a potty break every 2 to 2 ½ hours. Longer than that and it might be too much!
Usually we can get gas, use the bathroom, and stretch a bit. Literally, my kids and I will do work out stretches next to the gas station pump!!
Sometimes we have to stop more often of course. It is ok to change plans along the way, being flexible is important too! Although, I will say, that we try not to stop too long at any of our breaks! The longer these stops take the longer it is until you arrive at your destination.
If we are going on an adventure to a new place, I will look at a map ahead of time and sort of have an idea where the stops will be.
Doing this breaks the trip into multiple small trips- which mentally easier to do!!
It doesn’t take very long to look at a map and get an idea of good stopping points, but somehow it seems to really help! Also, knowing the stops helps me determine when snacks and things should be handed out!!
Think about your meals ahead of time. Will you eat out or pack lunches or dinners? Maybe you will eat out for some meals and pack snacks.
If you are traveling as the only adult vs. with another adult can change your meal/snack plans too! For younger kids you may need to be able to hand them items. So, if you are alone, make sure to have this set up so you are driving safely.
Have prepared snacks on the seat next to you that you can just pass back to the kids as needed.
Read on for a list of must have items, what toys to bring and fun and games to play on the way!
MUST HAVE ITEMS
There are several items you just have to pack if you are going on a road trip! The following are my must have items!
1. Snacks and Meals
Snacks are important on a road trip, especially with younger kids. With toddlers and younger kids, I bring extra snacks than I would normally provide. This way I have variety and an extra snack if needed. Kids don’t always eat their best main meals on the road so having extra snacks can help.
I try to get different snacks than we usually have at home as well. I like for them to have fun treats and different exciting things for the road. That does not mean it has to be all sugar though!
Some of the snacks I like to pack include- crackers (Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies, Cheddar Squares), granola bars, and Annie’s Bunny Grahams. You can also pre-pack string cheese and boiled eggs in a little cooler. I do some of the gummies also, but just a few. For a more comprehensive list of snacks click here.
I gather all the snacks in a reusable grocery bag or soft-sided small cooler or large lunch bag. Also, bring a snack container like these Munchkin Snack Cups.
We also make sure to remember our water bottles. I like the Klean Kanteen sippy cup water bottles. These don’t spill and keep the water fresh. Most car seats seem to have cup holders for the water bottle, which is perfect, even for smaller kids.
If you choose to bring home made meals it is good to prep these as much as possible ahead of time. I like to pack a bento box or other easy to open lunch container. This way you can hand your child the full box and keep messes to a minimum.
Pack a variety of foods in the box including trail mix, fruit, veggies, sandwiches, boiled eggs, some of your kids’ favorites!
If you have a baby or little toddler this is not going to work. You will have to plan meals at stops and rest points.
Of course, every now and then we just get some food from a restaurant while on the road, including fast food. That can be part of the fun of traveling and doing things differently than when you’re at home.
2. Cleaning Products
I always have a stash of wipes around! These are good for after snacks so the kids can clean their hands and they are good for accidental spills too. I would recommend a few packets of wipes at least.
Make sure the wipes are somewhere you can reach them! There have been a few times where we’ve had to add an extra stop, just so we can reach the wipes!
I recommend having some hand sanitizer close by too. This is great to use after public areas, like gas stations.
3. Other Necessary Items
Depending on the age of your kids you will have different needs for the bathroom. If you have a baby or toddler don’t forget to pack the diapers or Pull-ups. Make sure there are plenty and they are in an easy to reach location.
Also, think of a way that you will be able to change your baby in your car! Some options include leaving an area clear of luggage in the back or the front passenger seat. Sometimes that’s the only way to get them changed!
I also strongly recommend a car potty. We had this BabyBjorn car potty. It worked really well for us! There were a couple of times when it was the only option! Young kids, just learning to use the potty, can’t hold it very long!
For kids of all ages I suggest having an extra change of clothes. I know, you probably packed an entire suitcase or bag for them, but have a change of clothes that you can get to really easily, not one that is packed away and buried in a suitcase that you have to dig out while parked on the side of the highway.
We have needed a change of clothes on a few occasions for various reasons.
One of the reasons we have needed change of clothes is car sickness. My oldest daughter has had several episodes of car sickness. To help with this I suggest two things. First talk to your doctor about car sickness medications (ie Dramamine.) Second, get these car sick bags.
These bags work well and by age 3 my daughter could hold this on her own and get it to work for the most part. At age 5 she has one handy, just in case. She can use it and make no mess. This is so much nicer for her too!
If you have car sick prone kids and you start getting into a windy section of road, make sure to remind them to look out the window and stop playing with toys and books for a while. You can also make sure they have some airflow from vents or windows, that helps too.
As for other items to bring I have found that sunshades on the windows have been good at times, mainly in winter when the sun is really low! Most times, the shades get pulled off by kids wanting to see outside better!
And finally, a really good investment for when kids are about age 3 and up is a kids travel tray. There are tons of options to choose from on www.amazon.com.
A tray is good for eating snacks/meals, writing/coloring, playing with toys, and keeping toys off the floor! It’s key for helping a child who cannot reach down for their own toys that have fallen!
WHAT TOYS TO PACK AND HOW TO PACK THEM IN THE CAR
We love to have plenty of toys for the kids to look at and play with on the road.
We have found that it is best to have a car organizer to pack them in. I love these car organizers found on Amazon.
I let my kids fill the bins with toys they would like to bring but I check and make sure there is a good variety that can be used in the car.
Also, don’t fill the bins too full. Then the kids can’t access anything themselves and it’s difficult to reach back and help them, even for an adult passenger.
No messy toys- i.e. playdough, etc.
We usually pack dolls, small figures (like Little People toys), lots of books and paper and crayons, stickers, and coloring pages. However, use your discretion with the crayons/coloring. This may be best for older kids.
We also pack pillows and sleeping blankies. We always hope that the kids may snooze a bit on the drive! As I said, my kids don’t sleep much on the road, but we still try!
GAMES AND FUN IN THE CAR
Interacting with the kids and letting them have some fun special “car games and toys” has worked really well for us.
One really great success has been our maps with rainbow color dots! I will explain.
Go to your favorite map app, such as Google maps and get directions for your trip and select the route you will take. From there you can print that map or copy it into a program where you can edit it. Either way, the next step is to select evenly spaced locations on the map and give each one a colored dot. We use the colors of the rainbow to make it easy to remember. Ensure that there is something interesting about the color dot, ie lunch spot, halfway mark, something to see, etc. (Red dot is always home, and the purple dot is the destination).
After the map is printed, we actually laminate it. Yes, I bought a home laminator to laminate these!! The Amazon Basics Thermal Laminator works great and is simple to use.
Give a map to each of your kids at the beginning of the trip! My girls love this!
As we travel along, we say things like: “we are at the orange dot already!,” “We are passing the yellow dot, we are halfway there.”
It is also fun to make the map color dots represent something about the trip. For example, usually one is where we might have lunch. At another map dot there might be a new, small puzzle toy or surprise that is given to the kids!
Be creative with your maps! The kids love it! We have found even at age 2 this adds to the excitement of the drive!
Other than the maps, I have a bin in the garage where I keep the Road Trip Toys. These toys only come out for long trips to keep them fresh and special. This way we don’t always get new stuff for the drive. Though as I said before, sometimes we get a new item or two to keep it exciting.
We have several types of toys in the bin. I love these little magnetic blocks the kids can make all kinds of games with these. We also have little cube puzzles that are fun brain teasers.
Some of our kids’ favorites are the drawing pads. These electronic drawing pads work really well. My girls are entertained for long periods of time with this. I love that they can write or draw with no mess. If the pen is not attached, make sure to attach it with string. Otherwise, a pen dropped on the floor of the car can be frustrating!!!
It is also fun to just enjoy the trip as a family. Talk to your kids about where you are and what you are seeing. Point out what is different compared with home. Notice colors and the scenery.
Play classic games, like “I Spy.” Play fun music- though don’t feel like you have to make yourself crazy with an all kids playlist for 6 hours!
GET ON THE ROAD
Now that you have a few ideas on how to make a road trip with kids enjoyable, go do it!
Don’t be afraid to take a long car trip together. As with most things if you are excited about it, your kids will be too.
Also, if this is a camping trip with a younger child be sure to check out my article Camping with a Toddler- A List of What to Bring.
Comment below! Tell me about your road trip adventures.
2 thoughts on “How to Road Trip with Young Kids and Love the Journey!”
That’s tons of good information. Thank you
Mel! Somehow I just found this blog. I love it. I’m totally doing the map dots the next time we road trip (dare I hope we will be able to travel again in 2021?) – what a great idea to teach early map skills and pass the time!