Are you looking for road trip tips for families? And maybe you need some ideas about how to manage the kids in the car on a family road trip? Whether you need ideas for long-distance travel with the family, safety tips while traveling, or what road trip essentials to keep in the car, we have some great tips from lots of experience taking road trips with kids. Keep everyone having fun, and sane, with these family road trip tips!
We’ve spent a LOT of hours in the car on the road with many small children. I don’t think we are experts in many things – but we might qualify as experts on sitting in the car with our kids. The road can be a challenge for sure. Look at the same signs. Play the same games. Hear the same music. Create the same memories. However, being in the car with our whole family can be pretty amazing if you allow it to be.
Well before you start packing for your big road trip, you’ll need to figure out where you want to go! Check out our Travel Guide, loaded with ideas, reviews, and information about dozens of places to vacation. The guide offers ideas based on state, city, educational opportunities while traveling, seasonal travel, and so much more!
Top 10 Tips for Traveling by Car with Kids
- Don’t travel with children (Just kidding. Although I think I might have some PTSD from this last trip)
- If you are traveling with your children to places where the weather is different, dress in layers. It’s so much easier to take a jacket on and off rather than to change a whole outfit.
- Book your hotel ahead when traveling with kids, do it. It will save you (and your kids) some tears and will be more budget-friendly in the long run. And while you’re at it, try to find a chain that will give you rewards for your booking.
- Pack a special bag for each child. Your kids can put in it a few small toys from home. They can also add a coloring book and some crayons or colored pencils or Sudoku and crosswords for the older children.
- Pack a bag just for snacks! The natural version of Lunchables and the drinkable yogurt are an excellent way to make a road trip lunch easy and painless. Muffin liners make a great pass-around tray! (My children thought the little tray with its personalized portions of meat, cheese and crackers was super cool. And anything cool means no whining, which I am all about.)
- Play a Scavenger Hunt. Make up stuff that would be funny to your family – a personalized list – such as: a purple punch bug, three kids in a car, dogs on a billboard, a car that exactly matches ours. Decide a reward. Lots of fun!
- Pack a special surprise for each day that you travel (or each hour on a short trip). These can be simple things from the dollar store, to a special candy to give them something to look forward to.
- Find something that will motivate them to behave in the car. We have clips on the visor that get removed when there is naughty behavior. If our kids’ clip is on the visor at the next stop, they get a reward.
- Make sure that each child gets out at every stop and wiggles. It makes for a long stop when you have to unload and load everyone every time, but it will be worth it. Utilize fast food play areas when possible!
- Choose places to visit that will have fewer crowds. You can avoid crowded areas by visiting Quiet Beaches like Jekyll Island, the Outer Banks, NC, an alternative to Gatlinburg like Chattanooga, or SC beaches like Hilton Head. This way, you can make it a nice stop for a few hours on your road trip without having to wait in lines or potentially get lost.
- Last, but not least, take advantage of your surroundings. If you’re passing by a Civil War battlefield, stop for 30 minutes and learn some history while getting out the wiggles. Traveling can be an amazing learning time because children are actually experiencing and seeing the things they are learning about.
Packing Trip Essentials for Long Road Trips with Kids
Packing for a long car ride is already difficult, but making sure you have what you need in the front of the car is very important when it comes to car rides with kids. Entertainment, snacks, emergency supplies, and things to make your children comfortable will help everyone stay calm and collected during the trip.
Utilize books on tape, music, and movies. Maybe even buy or borrow (from the library for instance) a few new movies that they haven’t yet seen. The Greenville Library has many movies, audiobooks, and magazines that can be checked out, or try Amazon and Audible and download them to your phone.
Pre-download movies, games, and books onto your child’s tablet. This way, you will not have to run your hotspot from your phone the entire time, and it will save you the hassle of running into connectivity issues!
Pack a portable charger (and actually charge it beforehand). These will help keep everyone’s phones, tablets, and portable dvd players charged and ready for the long haul.
If you are going screen-free, Keep the little ones happy and the car somewhat tidy, with a small bin tall enough for books standing up. We used the kind meant to hold a few file folders on top of a desk.
Utilize coloring books. You can give each child a new hardcover drawing book with new super washable markers to keep them occupied. You can also purchase WaterWow coloring books for kids that are mess-free, and they are great for toddlers and preschoolers.
Use creative storage ideas to keep organized. Consider getting shoe organizers, meant to go over the back of closet doors, and hang them (cut to fit) on the backs of seats. The pockets can hold coloring supplies, wipes, paper towels or even a juice box. (Side note: Even if you don’t have a child in diapers, bring wipes. So many messes can be cleaned with wipes.)
Pack a lot of snacks. Making sure there are snacks is key to reducing meltdowns and boredom. Try snacks that are rare but desirable, so they have a treat to look forward to. Having a combination of carb, fat, and protein-rich foods will help everyone stay full and avoid crankiness. If bringing a baby along, make pre-filled bottles of milk, formula, or breastmilk and use freezer packs to keep them cool while easily accessible.
Pack a set of essential items for each child. Paper towels, tissues, hand sanitizer, snacks, and drinks, placed all within reach while they are buckled are very helpful. We also have a water bottle for each child
Make sure there is a change of clothes for each child that is easily accessible (not in the suitcase). I like to organize these in Ziploc gallon bags. Also include some bags to use for dirty clothing.
I like to let each child take their own pillow, it’s worth it in the long run if they feel more comfortable. My children like to stuff their blankies, stuffed animals, and pajamas into their pillowcases.
Keep your emergency kit up front. Pack a thermometer, Tylenol, motion sickness medication, etc just in case along with your emergency kit. Keeping this upfront will help you avoid random stops if someone gets a cut or feels nauseated.
Tips for Making Your Road Trip as Safe as Possible
When traveling with children, especially ones that can walk off and away from the group, its important to prepare everyone to be as safe as possible during your road trip. The tips below will help keep everyone safe while traveling.
- Always Precheck Your Emergency kit: Keep a few of these necessities in the trunk: water, first-aid kit, flashlight, jumper cables, a blanket, and snacks. You can find additional suggestions in articles such as this list on Popular Mechanics.
- Double Check car Seats are properly installed. Sometimes seats get shifted, toys get lodged underneath the car seat, and straps get twisted. Go ahead and make sure the seats are secure before you head out. Also, the current recommendation is to stay rear-facing for as long as possible, at least until age two, so following the safety protocols can keep everyone safe.
- If traveling alone, try to do most of the driving during the daytime on well-used streets to avoid dangerous situations.
- Utilize a child locator device if you plan to take extended stops in unfamiliar places. For teens, they may be able to easily communicate with you via their cell phones, but this can come in handy with smaller children in crowded places. Utilizing an apple tag, AngelSense and HereO GPS can ease your mind during hectic travel.
- Practice Memorization of important information with your children. Make sure your children know your first and last name, phone number, or even license plate number if they are old enough. You can also write your phone number on your child’s arm or place where they can show someone if they get lost.
- Use a buddy system– Never let your children travel in unfamiliar places alone. Let them know They have to stay with a buddy, whether that buddy is me or an older sibling. “Strength in numbers” is our motto.
- Use well-lit areas when stopping– Rest areas and large-scale service stations are the best places to stop if anyone needs to let our their wiggles or go to the restroom. Before stopping, take note of where you are (mile marker, nearby town, surroundings) and discuss this briefly with your children.
Tips for Staying in the Budget on Long-Distance Road Trips
Long distance, sightseeing trips can be magical and full of wonder! A couple of years ago Maria took a family road trip with three young children across the entire country. Traveling long distances with young children can be done without losing your sanity! The family traveled to Kentucky to visit the Corvette Museum on day 1, and then on to St. Louis to visit the Gateway Arch. Then continued to travel to Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, and then headed to meet up with our Traveling Homeschooler group at YMCA of the Rockies, where they spent one spectacular week. We gathered some of the best way to keep the cost down during long-distance road trips!
How to Keep Cost Down When Traveling Long Distance
- Utilize affordable hotel options. Hotels that offer affordable rooms, complimentary breakfast, and are located close to your main routes of travel can help you save money in the long run. You can also join their rewards program to rack up points to potentially gain a free night or two. Two popular hotel chains across the country that tend to have affordable rates and are well-maintained include Drury Inn and Home 2 Suites, by Hilton.
- When credit cards, use the ones with rewards programs. With many, you can earn points, rewards, and cash back. You can do this preliminarily in the months beforehand to help yourself earn rewards for your trip so you have some freebies or cash back during the adventure.
- Use your memberships. When planning a road trip consider all the memberships you have to local museums and zoos. Many of them are reciprocal with facilities around the country. Places like the Roper Mountain Science Center are part of a program of multiple museums and facilities across the country where their membership can be used, making your visit free! To find out what museums offer reciprocity through the Roper Mountain membership, visit the ASTC Travel Passport Program page.
- Avoid heavy spending at gift shops. Gift shops are at literally every stop when you travel, but making a plan with the family to find a special, small item from each one can cut the cost while making for the perfect collection of souvenirs. Consider magnets, pin buttons, ornaments, and postcards as budget-friendly options!
Remind yourself – your kids will literally be older at the end of the trip than they were at the beginning.
And when you strap them into their seat and you sit down into yours, you have just entered a little time machine where you get a chance to listen to your children, talk to your spouse, build up a memory bank with the people you love and redeem the day if you choose.
What’s your best tip for car travel with your kiddos?
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