If the thought of hitting the road for a long drive with kids seems more like torture than adventure, you’re not alone. Endless bathroom breaks, sibling squabbles, and constant whines of “Are we there yet?” might make the trip seem never ending. However, traveling by car with children doesn’t have to be a nightmare, as long as you do some careful planning!
The pandemic has changed the way we travel, making the traditional family road trip more of a necessity.
Traveling is a great way for families to create wonderful memories together, but the recent years of the pandemic have changed that. Many families feel uncomfortable going through busy airports and sitting on crowded planes with young kids that are vulnerable to illness. Because of this, many families are opting to travel by car instead – sometimes taking long road trips with kids to get to their destination.
Although driving often extends the overall travel time, road trips with kids can also be fun with some advanced planning.
If you’re considering taking a road trip with kids, plan ahead with these 3 important steps.
1. Be prepared for anything.
In order to be prepared for a long road trip, you’ll need to conduct several shorter practice car rides beforehand. If your child doesn’t have much experience being on the road for an extended amount of time, practice going on a few excursions.
Figure out how to keep your child comfortable in the car, how long it takes them to start getting antsy, how many bathroom breaks are needed, and if your child gets motion sickness easily.
Map out how many miles it is to your destination, and plan breaks accordingly. If you have an infant or young child, plan on stopping every 2-3 hours to stretch and feed your children. Plan your drive around your child’s sleep schedule, and try to leave just before a nap, so they’ll be more likely to doze off in the car.
Figure out where rest stops, scenic points, or parks are located along the way. Young kids will want to get out of the car and move their bodies often, so make sure you know how long it is between each stopping point. A public park is a wonderful place to allow your kids to stretch, move, run, and play. Looking up a new park can also be a fun way to keep your kids entertained when exploring a new city. When you get to a stopping point, simply open your maps mobile app on your phone and do a quick search of local parks. Enjoying nature will also give your kids a much-needed break from screen time. Keeping your kids active for a while at a park might even help them doze off for a bit when you get back to the car!
Plan the general location your family will be during mealtimes and make a list of possible dining locations along the route. If you’re nervous about eating in a restaurant, many fast food places have great offerings for kids and are available near freeway exits. Just be sure to schedule when your kids will want to eat, and be prepared with some options ahead of time. If you have space, pack of cooler full of water and snacks to keep your family settled in between stops.
2. Throw the schedule out the window.
Although it might be tempting to write up a rigid schedule of how quickly you’d like to get to your destination, when kids are involved, it is often meaningless to try to time your drive.
Instead of writing an hour-by-hour itinerary of your drive, consider the ages of your children and how that influences each of their unique needs. Being in too much of a rush might make the journey seem longer and cause more stress for weary parents.
Consider breaks and activities that appeal to each kid.
Don’t spend too much time considering when you’d like to arrive at your destination. The key is to enjoy the journey. Although your vacation will be a wonderful time to create happy memories together, the drive can also be a time to enjoy your family, free of the distractions at home!
Before you hit the road, expect to take plenty of breaks. Taking a break can help a road trip go by faster and allow your kids to stretch and move their bodies. Figure out how long it will take to get to the destination you’re going to visit, and plan out a few stops along the way. Kids will need to take frequent breaks to eat, get some fresh air, and use the restroom!
The world is a big, exciting place for kids to experience. Be creative in how you nurture their love of travel.
3. Consider each child’s unique needs.
Taking a road trip with kids will shift depending on the ages of your children at the time. An infant’s needs are not the same as a teenager’s, and if you have multiple kids, you should take even more care to plan accordingly.
If you have an infant, consider feeding options.
Young babies and infant often enjoy dozing off in the car, but you will need to consider how often they need to eat and stretch their bodies. Depending on your baby’s age, he may need to eat anywhere between every 2 to 4 hours. Plan a few spots along the route that will be a peaceful spot to get out and feed your baby.
If you’re breastfeeding, don’t forget to bring a breastfeeding cover and a nursing pillow with your in the car. If you feed your baby formula, be sure to pack enough formula, water, and bottles for the drive. If you pump and feed your baby pumped breastmilk, be sure to pack a portable pump in the car with a new battery. If you have an older infant, pack some baby food and snacks for the car.
No matter how you feed your baby, you might also want to bring a cooler to store any unused milk.
If you have a toddler, consider boredom busters.
In order to make this the best road trip with kids, be creative in how you keep your little ones entertained. Taking a road trip with toddlers can be fun as long as you have reasonable expectations.
Before you leave, consider getting your toddler’s car seat inspected by a safety technician. You’ll want to make sure your child is comfortable, but also safe. Check that your child is rear facing if they are aged 2 or younger, or below the height and weight maximum for rear facing. Be sure that the car seat contains all the right pieces and attachments, and is installed properly in your vehicle.
Do not, under any circumstances, leave your young child in the car, especially if it is a warm day during your journey. It might be tempting to take a quick bathroom break or go pay for gas, but toddlers can quickly overheat in a vehicle on a hot day.
On a similar note, stay safe by keeping a first aid kit in the car. Road trips with kids can be full of surprises, so be sure to pack bandages, medications, and any other items you might need in case of an emergency.
If your toddler uses a security blanket or a pacifier, be sure to pack several in the car. Chances are, a few are going to get dropped, thrown, or tossed to the side, and you won’t have time to pull over and search the entire car for your little one’s missing items. Pack several of your toddler’s favorite pacifiers, blankets, or other security item and stow it in a spot that is easy to reach.
Consider packing a backpack or tote bag with new, exciting activities for the trip. The dollar store has lots of great options for boredom-busters for road trips! Keep toys and activities within reaching distance of your toddler, as reaching behind you during the drive might be a dangerous distraction. Keep your eyes on the road, and invest in a car organizer that attaches to the back of a seat, or a caddy that sits next to the child’s car seat.
Here are some things you might find at the dollar store:
Toddlers may get bored of being in the car for long distances, but don’t become overwhelmed by whining or tantrums. Don’t fret – your little ones may shed some tears along the way, but be sure to distract them with a new activity, song, or game. Plan to take many breaks when traveling with infants and toddlers. It is important for small children to move their bodies.
If you have a school-aged child, consider snacks and activities.
Before you hit the road with a school-aged child, be sure to look up road trip ideas for how to make it the best road trip for your kids. Road trips with school-aged kids can be equally exciting and challenging.
School-aged children will be hungry – often.
Before you embark on your journey, look up some travel hacks for kids’ snacks. Some parents pack a tackle box or bento box full of a variety of snacks. Others opt to bring a cooler in the car to keep drinks and snacks handy. Keeping a variety of foods available for your kids to eat will help make the ride go by faster and allow you to make fewer stops along the way. Sometimes all that a grumpy child needs is a quick snack break.
Some great road trip snacks include:
Hard boiled eggs
Before you leave, get out of piece of paper and have your child write down some treats they’d like to take on the drive. Keeping a few surprises handy can be a great way to keep kids happy during travel days!
School-aged children will be bored – quickly.
Taking a road trip with kids requires some planning ahead. Even if your kids typically enjoy being in the car, a long trip is a special circumstance that requires an extra measure of patience. A family road trip can be fun, as long as you come up with some creative activities before you hit the road!
Most kids will enjoy watching a movie or playing a video game, but too much screen time can be overstimulating or even cause car sickness. Give your children a break from the screen by bringing along a few fun toys for the car, such as:
Small building bricks
Magnetic drawing board
Painting with water
Portable board games
Busy books or busy bags
Books on tape
You can find many inexpensive activities at your local dollar store. Pick out several games or toys that will cater to your child’s age and interests. To create a sense of excitement and novelty, fill bags for each child with a few new activities for the road trip!
Plan a few road trip games to play with your kids.
Road trip games can be a great way to break up the monotony of a long drive. One game that many children enjoy playing in the car is the road trip alphabet game. Children have to spot an item that starts with each letter of the alphabet, preferably things they observe along the way. For example, they could see a road sign that has a city name that starts with “A.” For “B,” they might see a brick or a building. They might see a campground for the letter “C.”
Another game many kids like playing is “I Spy.” One player picks an item they can see, and says, “I spy with my little eye, something ______” and then fills in the blank with a clue (the color, shape, sound, or texture of the item). The other players take turns guessing what the item could be. Keep kids busy with this simple and fun game the whole family can enjoy.
Stay organized in the car with the KeaBabies Diaper Caddy. This caddy comes with dividers so you can arrange it in four different configurations, depending on your needs. Even if your child has outgrown the need for diapers and wipes, the travel caddy can be the perfect addition to your next road trip with kids!
Use the different pockets and compartments of the KeaBabies Diaper Caddy to organize fun games, snacks, and activities for your kids. From coloring books to water bottles, the diaper caddy can suit the needs of kids of all ages. Organize all of your children’s road trip essentials in the diaper caddy before you get on the road.
If you have a teenager, consider electronics and hobbies.
Teenage kids might not be as enthusiastic about car games and interesting stops, but they will probably complain of boredom after an hour or two in the car. Car rides with teenagers don’t have to be full of annoyance and complaints, as long as you come prepared.
Teenagers love electronics. Be sure to pack charging cables, portable batteries, and headphones for their electronic devices. Consider purchasing a WiFi hotspot for the trip. If you won’t have access to the Internet, consider helping your teenager download movies and games to their mobile devices ahead of time. Bring enough electronics to keep your teens entertained during the long ride.
If your teenager has any special hobbies, consider whether these can be taken on the trip to make car rides less boring. If your child knits or crochets, writes short stories, draws pictures, builds with small plastic bricks, creates origami, makes beaded bracelets, collects sports cards, or enjoys photography, consider bringing these items on your trip. Older kids can benefit from pursuing one of their hobbies to help make the drive go by faster.
Creating the best road trip for your family takes some careful planning, but hitting the road with your kids can be a great adventure!
If you’re worried your children will become bored within an hour, take some time to look up travel hacks or check out parenting blogs with affiliate links for helpful road trip items. Whether you have a baby or older kids, taking a family drive can be a great way to create wonderful memories together.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez
I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.