Planning road trips for families will look a little different than the typical drive. Here are some of our best tips…
We’ve been parents for almost three years now, and in that time, we’ve definitely done our fair share of road trips.
Our extended family lives within driving distance, so we try to visit as often as we can.
Even though the trips were 10x’s easier before kids, we feel like it’s worth it because we love spending time with family and want our kids to grow up knowing their grandparents, aunts, and uncles.
We’ve also made longer drives for special occasions like weddings and big family reunions.
Point is, we’ve done a lot of driving with kids and learned some tips and tricks that make road trips for families a little easier to manage.
So, whether it’s for a simple 2 hour drive or a long-haul across the country,
Here are our best tips to make your next road trip with kids a little less daunting
1. Plan in extra time
Our most frequent road trip is to visit my parents. Google maps claims it’s about 4 ½ hours away.
Well, when it was just my husband and me, we could totally make the drive in 4 ½ hours.
But now that we have kids, we never expect it to be that quick. It’s possible, but very rarely happens.
So, if you’re also attempting a road trip with young kids, my advice would be to plan in extra time for your travel. Those google maps estimates are really just a starting point.
- If our kids need their diapers changed or to have some freedom from their car seats, that’s probably going to be at least 20 minutes added to the itinerary.
- If we stop for a snack or meal, there’s an extra 20 minutes – 1 hour. (*By the way, I’d recommend downloading a fast food app if you know you’ll be stopping at a specific one. Most places have great deals exclusively on their app, which can save some money during your trip.)
- When my babies were breastfeeding regularly, we usually tacked on another hour to stop and take care of that need.
If your kids are awake and restless, I’d recommend doing a short break in the drive every 2-3 hours. It’ll help the sanity of everyone involved!
Plan in time for those extra stops! Personally, I think it’s better to anticipate a longer trip than to have your hopes set on a shorter time and feel miserable when you’re still driving.
2. Pack new activities and snacks
Before kids were added to the equation, listening to the radio was probably good enough for entertainment. But road trips for families will need a little something extra.
Your kids may be used to shorter drives around town. A quick trip to the grocery store, going to a friend’s house, etc. In and out of the car in 5-20 minutes. Totally manageable. But when it’s a longer boring road trip, it’s understandable that they’d be going stir-crazy.
So, a way to combat the boredom is by giving them something new and exciting to look forward to!
When it comes to preparing road trips for families, I love love love to take advantage of dollar stores or other cheap deals!
I’ll usually pick out 1-2 new toys or activities for each hour of the drive and keep them all together in a road trip basket. (similar to a toy rotation system or activity basket we use at home for combating boredom)
Dollar Tree has tons of options for easy (non-messy) crafts, little trinkets, and toys that my two year old enjoys and can use on her own in the back seat.
(Pro tip for choosing activities: If you’re going to leave the activity stuff in the car for any extended amount of time, avoid crayons during summer weather- they’ll melt and make an awful mess. Try colored pencils or a magnetic drawing board instead.)
I also like to choose snacks that are different from the usual selection at home and already packaged in a small individual portion sizes. Whether at the dollar store or Walmart, I’ll choose out super easy snacks like animal crackers, applesauce pouches, or fruit snacks. (once again, you may need to consider weather/heat to avoid snacks melting)
To reiterate, I’m aiming for something that I can just easily hand off to the kids while we’re on the move.
*We also have an activity tray that works really well for road trips (see above pic). It fits over the child’s lap (and car seat) and makes it easier for them to manage activities on-the-go. Here’s a link to a similar tray.
3. Rotate through activities on a schedule
Once you have your activities and snacks picked out, you’re ready to go. But, don’t present all of the options at once! Instead, pull out activities one-by-one based on predetermined time increments.
I like to have a new activity for every 30 minutes – 1 hour. I might even extend the time if I can see that my kids are still content with their previous activity or just happily hanging out.
The activities are really just my way to avoid meltdowns, so I gauge where the breaking point is and whip out the new exciting offer just in time.
Something to note- Kids can struggle with the concept of time. So, if you need to make a visual that they’ll understand, that could be helpful too.
4. Coordinate travel time with naps (or bedtime)
Honestly, I think this is the BEST tip when it comes to road trips for families. Especially when there are babies or toddlers involved.
If possible, coordinate your driving with times that your kids would normally be sleeping. Chances are, when you do that, they’ll sleep just fine in their car seats, and you won’t even have to pull out your other methods for a few hours.
We like to get up super early in the morning, so that they’ll sleep for the first 3-4 hours of the trip. Or we’ll leave about an hour before naptime.
I’ve talked to other people who choose to drive through the night, and they don’t have to worry about entertaining their kids at all because the kids sleep the entire time. (Personally, driving that long in the dark gives me anxiety, and I’m worried about getting drowsy, but if it works for you, I’d say go for it!)
5. Be flexible as you gauge your kids’ needs
Sometimes, even our best preparation may not result in a perfectly smooth, pleasant drive. And that’s okay.
Kids are unpredictable, so you’ve got to be flexible.
Here are a couple of random tips you can try. To be more flexible with your kids’ needs during a road trip:
- For one of your pit stops, do a quick clean-up of your car. Messes can increase the amount of stress, even for kids.
- Whichever parent is not driving could sit in the back with the kids for an hour or two, reading books or singing songs together.
- Add in an extra break, even if it wasn’t in the original itinerary. You could find an empty parking lot and run around for 5-10 minutes. Literally have a race with your child to let them burn some energy. Or let your baby crawl in the grass for a few minutes.
- Purchase a back seat mirror (linked here) so that your rear-facing kids can see you (and vice versa). It may help them not feel forgotten or left out.
- Let your kids watch shows or play games on a tablet or phone. Regardless of whether they usually get much screen time, sometimes it helps to loosen up a bit on road trips to keep the peace.
- Switch up the car seat arrangement. Maybe your kids just need to swap spots for a change of scenery.
Good luck on your next road trip adventure. Taking a long drive with kids can certainly be challenging, but it shouldn’t hold you back from having those fun family adventures! I hope these tips have been helpful, and I’d love to hear what works best for you!
What other types of vacation do you enjoy with family? Check out my post on cruises here.