Ahhhh. Just you and the open road, traveling to see family or going on a new adventure… and the screaming kids in the back of the minivan. When my family and I decided to drive from Florida to Tennessee, to Georgia, to Pennsylvania, and back home again this summer, I started researching ways to keep kids happy on the road. Here are a few of my top tips for taking a road trip with kids — and also be sure to check out my favorite must-have toys and activities for road trips!
Traveling with babies & toddlers? Just fly! My advice would be to fly instead of drive. Haha just kidding… kind of. It may be best to fly with littles, especially if they don’t do well in car seats. Make a snacklebox, introduce some new toys, let them use stickers, or play with a small container of Play-Doh on the airline tray, bring window clings to them to play with if they are in a window seat, and then, of course, use screen time as needed! If the worst-case scenario happens, just remember you’ll never see these people again after the flight.
But if you are choosing to drive like we are, here are a few ideas that can hopefully keep the kids busy — and keep y’all sane. Pick the ones that work best for you and happy driving!
Plan When to Leave
If you are like us, you are more likely to be awake and alert either early in the morning or late at night. Especially when traveling with small kids, it may be best to go with their internal clocks, and leave at bedtime, or get on the road as soon as they wake up!
Play Games Between Stops
Playing tag, running a quick relay race (or just a timed race), doing 25 squats before you get back into the car, or hopping like a bunny between the bathroom and the car are a few ideas for getting some energy out during stops.
Set Screentime Rules
Unless you are committed to sitting in the back with your children and entertaining them for 10 hours straight, screentime will most likely be a part of your road trip experience. Make a rule, especially with older kids. An hour of screentime, an hour without screens, or whatever combination of this sounds good for your crew. You can make it possible for them to earn longer screentime intervals for when they cooperate and get off quickly when the timer rings. Don’t forget to download movies and games ahead of time for when you are offline!
Bring blankets along and have quiet time. It’s a long trip, and we may have a lot of screentime, but down time where there’s no TV, music, or anything loud can help recenter everyone. Maybe you’ll get lucky, and they will nod off for a little while!
Hold Back Some Fun
We have multiple legs of our trip, so I won’t be giving the kids all the new fun things at once. As we start a new part of the journey, they will get a new pack of crayons, book, or a bag of fun snacks they don’t usually get.
Hit Up the Library Beforehand
A few days before we leave, I like to take my kids to the library. They pick out books and DVDs that they are excited about. After the library excursion, I collect all the fun and return it to them when it’s time for the trip. You could do the same with toys — give each child $10 to spend how they wish at Target or Wal-Mart and then keep the goodies until you depart.
Bring a Trash Can
Sometimes kids (or adults) can get carsick unexpectedly. Reading or looking down at a screen for long periods of time can mess with even the strongest of stomachs! On our last trip, my youngest casually mentioned she wasn’t feeling great as we were loading up the van. I ran and grabbed the plastic trash can from the bathroom and have never been happier with that decision. I’ll leave it at that.
Take a Travel Potty
While we are mentioning bodily fluids, don’t forget your trusty travel potty (this thing goes everywhere with us). How many disgusting bathrooms have you seen? A million, unless of course you have a Buc-ees on your route. Bring that travel potty along and you won’t have to sacrifice cleanliness, and you can stop anywhere!
Sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. One time my toddler son cried for two hours straight, and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it — he was just MAD about being in the car seat.
Now that my kids are older, I can incentivize them, (a.k.a. bribe them). “Let’s make it two hours without fighting, and you can each pick out a treat at the next stop. Extra treat for someone who does an act of kindness between now and then.” You get the idea. I always plan on having a sugar detox when we arrive at our destination.
Traveling solo with kids? Check out these road trip tips! What are some of your favorite go-to tips for a stress-free road trip?