Headed on a road trip with kids?
I get it. Traveling with kids is a task that needs to earn a badge upon arrival. Road trips with kids and long car rides can be messy.
Hours spent in the car with kids will also likely be longer than without.
But before you wave the white flag and surrender, I have some simple tips to help your next road trip be as peaceful as possible. – You may even get to press play on that podcast you downloaded weeks ago. 😉
Inside has all of my tips and tricks for traveling with kids on road trips. Take what works best for you and your family and try something new the next time you pack the car.
Inside things to do on a road trip, you will find:
- Packing – what to pack and how to pack it
- Packing toys – what to pack and how to pack it
- Unique rest stop ideas
- Downtime in the Car
RELATED: Want a large variety of activities for toddlers and preschoolers? Check out our activity cards.
Things we do on long car rides have a similar pattern over the years.
To begin, a couple of times per year, we take an eight-hour road trip with three kids. – and it’s not awful!
A common tip is to drive as they sleep, it is not always that simple.
My husband and I are nonstop throughout the day, and extending into an evening drive in the dark is not always a doable task, especially when most of our drive is on small backroads.
We typically have to leave shortly after sunrise or sunset.
Certainly, with three kids ages 5.5 and under, I have learned a couple of tricks to help along the way.
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What to bring on road trips with kids
Travel with a travel potty.
You got that right. Pack a potty, probably what I need to get every expecting caregiver.
This travel potty has a permeant home in our car and has been used countless amounts of times.
It is in our car for the big guys that are potty trained, and also perfect for those ‘in training”. This potty is a lifesaver when you need a rest stop to don’t mind your child touching.
Pro tip: Skip the OXO bags and reuse plastic shopping bags as inserts instead. The bags are expensive and can easily be swapped out. – Remember to double bag it! 😉
We also like to use travel packing cubes for the kid’s clothes.
Which snacks are best when traveling?
Now, I realize vacation may mean doughnuts and sugar.
However, keep foods familiar to your eating style at home.
I want to feed my kids foods to help them feel comfortable for such a long car ride. Doing so means I need to pack snacks that last and snacks to keep their little bodies feeling strong.
My oldest son also has a peanut allergy which means we need to pack foods that we know and trust. When I pack snacks for a road trip, I think about what my children are familiar with and which snacks go a long way.
Quick Tip: Offer the protein/veggie/fruit before the crackers and chips. It can be difficult to go in the other direction.
How to pack the snacks for a long car ride with the family:
Now you know me.
You know I am not going into this snack packing gig without some rhyme or reason.
Quick Tip: Find containers with two sides. Go healthy on one side, add a treat on the other.
These road trip snack containers are our favorite.
Remember, I am packing familiar snacks. Your snacks may look differently based on what you eat at home. I make sure each boy has the same combo. Again, I do not show or give everything out at once.
Pack snacks that are not choking hazards and think about if you would rather eat once the car comes to a complete stop to break for lunch.
PRO TIP: Keep some snacks in your cooler bag until needed.
The travel cooler is life for long car rides with kids!
We pack our snack containers into one portable cooler from REI. I found this one to be more reasonably priced than some other bigger brands, and I prefer how it stores the food.
This Refreezable Reusable Cooler Ice Pack is what keeps everything cold for long amounts of time.
What else can you do on a long car ride?
Our toys are open-ended. There is no official start or end to the game. Preschoolers manipulate the items in endless amounts of ways. This encourages curiosity, creativity, and problem-solving.
Road trip activity tip one
- Keep packed toys hidden and pull them out as needed.
- Allow time to look out the window.
- Allow time to get bored.
- When frustration kicks in, you will be ready.
- Allow your child to pack a small backpack before leaving the house.
- Here, I hand my two-year-old a small mini backpack and say, Go ahead and put some toys inside your backpack for our trip.
- Like most two-year-olds, he only has a small understanding of what he is packing for, but the trick here is that the toys are self-selected.
- These are your “round one” toys.
- I do the same for my older boys.
- Your turn. Find a few small bags to pack a couple more supplies.
- Again, keep this bag for when you need it most. Do not show all your bags and items in one session.
- What you are doing here is creating a mystery bag of fun.
Ooooh, what’s this?
Can I open it?
What is inside?
How can I pull these objects out of the bag?
- Toy bags work best when the object connects in some shape or fashion. Think, a handful of Picasso Tiles, LEGOS travel kit, Mega Bloks.
Road trip activities to pack for your next long car ride
- Toddler books to lift the flap
- Toddler books to feel different textures
- Mini versions of Breakfast Invitations
- Activity books
- Books on tape
- Podcasts for kids
How to deal with kids’ restroom breaks on road trips?
Have you ever thought about how rest stops could be more like movement breaks?
I know Chick-Fil-A is a quick in and out to feed the family. But what if you took the time to grab the chicken tenders at the drive-thru and spend more time running around?
Our last eight-hour road trip took a break at a splash pad. It. Was. Glorious.
As the kids ran, they also cooled off and burned energy.
It took a quick change of clothes when we were ready to leave, and we were back in the car to sit for the final stretch. This made the holiday traffic a lot more bearable.
Here we are on our road trip break at the splash pad!
Take car breaks at grocery stores:
It took me a couple of road trips to think of this, but this may be my favorite and most helpful tip.
Why stop at a grocery store on a road trip?
For one, everyone gets to stretch as they walk up and down the aisles. Get that body moving! We may or may not have been known even to throw the ball around the toy aisle as we shopped.
Stopping at the grocery store also allows everyone to pick a favorite snack for the next stretch of the road. Some grocery stores, such as Publix, have great sandwiches!
Grocery stores have familiar brands and great air conditioning. – This is much better than sitting down in a crowded fast-food joint.
RELATED: Traveling with a food allergy? You’ll want to read this.
Find a unique road trip stop on your next long car ride!
- Grab your phone.
- Read the list of ideas below.
- Google search to see what’s around.
Long road trips may require movies, and that’s okay too!
We have our routine at home that promotes independent play.
When it comes time for long road trips, the portable DVD players come out for my children. Some additional screen time makes a much more enjoyable trip for all. Even better? I put this on guilt-free. Do not be your worst critic when it comes to road trips. Decide ahead of time what you are comfortable with and allow yourself some flexibility.
These DVD players are a really BIG deal.- This is not something we use every day, so making bringing them out becomes extra special. Once we arrive, the screens are disconnected until the return trip home.
Pro Tip: Rent movies from your library rather than buying them or rent from Redbox and return to the nearest drop-off after watching.
Finally, remember when I said we have an eight-hour car ride with kids?
I wasn’t kidding.
In like manner, you don’t need to bring the kitchen sink, but take some ideas from above and see what works best for your family’s style.