Lifestyle Magazine

6 Tips for How To Take Road Trips With Kids

By Courtneysims @courtneynora

road trip with kids in car

I was born and raised in Michigan and am still a die-hard fan of my home state. That being said, I haven’t actually lived there in 13 years. All of my family and Ben’s family still live in Michigan, so that means we’ve gotten really good at road trips. And in the past two years, we’ve gotten really good at how to take road trips with kids.

We started our road trips just the two of us making the 3-hour trek back to Michigan from Chicago. Then we learned how to travel with a dog when we adopted Molly. Then we moved to West Virginia and it turned into a 6-hour trip home. We learned to make that trip with two dogs when we adopted Annie.

Now we’re in Pennsylvania with two dogs and two kids under 3 and while it’s absolutely chaotic and stressful, we’re really really good at traveling by car as a family.

Here are some of the best tips I’ve learned in the past few years.

How to Take Road Trips with Kids

While you read my list, keep this rule in mind: Plan, plan, plan.

The more you plan, the less stressful things will feel when you’re on the road. The less stress you feel, the less likely your kids are to feel stressed and the more meltdowns you can avoid.

Will these tips prevent all meltdowns? Nope. Will these tips take all the stress out of travel? Sorry, no. But they will make you feel more prepared and in control during those long car rides. I can’t tell you how many times my girls were crying in the backseat and I calmed myself by thinking, “Could I have done anything better for them?” and realizing that no, I did everything in my power to make it comfortable and fun, and sometimes they just want to get the hell out of the car. And so do I!

Don’t forget that your kids are little humans, even when you’re traveling. They need breaks and entertainment, just like you!

Pack Snacks (And Then Pack More Snacks)

This is my number one tip for a reason. It’s the only thing that can get my toddler to calm down and be quiet. Truly, it’s the only thing that works every time. 

Even if you don’t give in to snacking all day long at home, be flexible during road trips with kids. They need something to do and something to make them feel good. If a cup full of Cheerios does the trick, I say do it.

Keep a few things in mind while packing your snack bag.

  • Don’t bring anything that is a choking hazard in the car. You aren’t close enough to keep an eye on them and it takes time to pull over if you do have an emergency. If you know your child has a tendency to overstuff their mouth and has choking issues frequently at home, avoid feeding them anything in a moving car and wait for stops.
  • Consider fruit and veggie pouches. 
  • Bring snack cups that keep the snacks contained.

Our favorite snacks to bring on road trips:

  • Cheerios or other small cereals
  • Pirate’s Booty (this is messier than I prefer, but it’s my toddler’s favorite)
  • Bambas
  • Pretzels

Leave At the Right Time

There are differing opinions on what is the best time to leave for a long car trip. Many parents swear by leaving late at night so the kids sleep through the car trip. Other parents, myself included, prefer to leave early in the morning and hope the kids nap on the way. 

When we travel, we are always visiting family and always staying with family so arriving in the middle of the night and interrupting someone else’s schedule really stresses me out. I’d rather risk the girls being cranky or missing naps than bother my family at 3 AM to get us all settled. I am also at my best in the morning and am not my best self later at night so I prefer to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to handle a car ride.

We do plan on taking some trips as a family of 4 that aren’t to visit family this year now that I’ve gotten past some of my COVID anxiety. We may try an overnight drive and I’ll report back on which one worked better for the girls (and me)!

Bring Something New or Exciting

I always pack a ‘car bag’, which you’ll see in my packing list, with comforts and entertainment for the girls. I always try to bring along something new or exciting for when boredom starts to get the best of them. 

For Willa, I love the Chuckle & Roar brand at Target. They have small, car-friendly toys at really affordable prices. Willa also loves these Melissa and Doug Pop Books. Ellie received this rattle set from her Aunt and Uncle and this rattle set from her Grandma B for Christmas and I pack a few for her in the bag.

You don’t have to buy something new for each trip. I designate some toys as “car toys” only and the girls forget about them until the next car trip and then they’re excited to play with them. You can do this with any toys you have around the house!

Stay on Schedule

Whether you’re driving through the day or overnight, it works best to still try to stay on schedule. If you are driving overnight, try to do a bath and bedtime routine around the same time and hop in the car when you would normally be tucking them into bed.

For us, we wake up and eat breakfast as usual and then hop in the car. I give the girls their snacks and we do lunch at their normal time. This usually does help them do an afternoon nap around the time they normally would. Willa is a little less predictable, but her naps are unpredictable on a normal day so I don’t stress if she misses one in the car.

Take (Efficient!) Breaks 

This is where I think we’ve learned the most in the past few years. During the pandemic, we got really good at changing the girls in the car and packing lunches. Stops were quick, but very cramped and rushed.

Now that we’re a little more comfortable stopping for an actual food break, we have it down to a science. We bring both girls in and order food. I go sit with the girls and get them settled, jackets off, Ellie out of the car seat, water cups, while Ben waits for food. 

Ben eats while I cut up Ellie’s food. Then I eat while he helps feed her. Ben takes Ellie to the men’s bathroom to do their business while Willa and I finish up. Then Willa and I go to the bathroom while Ben packs Ellie up. 

Back in the car, we let the dogs out for a bathroom break while I get the girls settled with toys and whatever else they need. We get gas and we’re back on our way.  It takes about 45 minutes every time, so I schedule an extra hour into our trip time.

Stops used to stress me out because I didn’t have a PLAN. I need a plan to feel in control and this works for us. If you like to stop, stretch your legs, and just mosey through your break, that’s great too! Just schedule the time in your trip so you don’t end up feeling “late”. 

Pack Smart

This is where I think I EXCEL (spreadsheet pun!). I’ve created a family packing checklist that has made packing and traveling so much more efficient. The key here is to organize what you need in designated bags and plan out where those bags will go in the car.

I have a “car bag” which is full of toys, coloring books, wipes, and snacks. That sits with the girls and in arm’s reach from me. I have a “kitchen bag” which has all our snacks for replenishment and that goes in the trunk with easy access.

screenshot of family packing checklist spreadsheet

To get your copy of this checklist, just click the link above and select Make a Copy. This will create your own copy of the checklist that you can edit, update, and share however you choose!

Family Road Trip Tips

And that’s it! My tips for how to take road trips with kids. Those are the tips that have helped me stay sane over the past two years with multiple 7+ hour car rides with 2 kids. My kids still have meltdowns, and so do I! But, I always feel prepared and everything runs as smoothly as it possibly can. 

  • Plan and plan some more
  • Bring tons of snacks
  • Plan out your stops
  • Leave at the right time
  • Pack efficiently
  • Bring some exciting toys

I truly hope this helps some of you with the stress of how to take road trips with kids. These tips have helped me immensely and if you have some of your own tips, share them with me in the comments!

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