How to make road trips with kids easier
Embarking on a road trip with young children can be both exciting and daunting. As a mom, I’ve had my fair share of long car journeys with my little ones, and I’ve learned that with careful planning and a touch of creativity, these trips can transform into memorable adventures. In this blog post, I’ll share some insights and tips that have helped me make road trips with kids easier and more enjoyable forus all.
We regularly drive an hour out of town to visit family. But we’ve driven as far as Texas, from California when the pandemic settled down. We also have a dozen road trips in the west under our belt as a family. Our most recent trip was a six-hour drive to Yosemite.
Before hitting the road, a little preparation goes a long way in ensuring a smooth and enjoyable journey. I usually spend the days leading up to the trip packing all the bags: suitcases for overnight, entertainment bags full of run activities, and food and drinks that we all love.
Kids love snacking, so pack a variety of their favorite treats. Think about a mix of healthy options like cut-up fruits, veggies, cheese and indulgent surprises like cookies or pretzels. This keeps their tummies happy and adds an element of excitement. I also like to pack these snacks in one-serving size bags, so I am not having to pour or dispense food while on the road. I can just reach into my bag and pass back a snack.
Because Chulengo has gotten older, I am tempted to get him a set-up like this to help hold his snacks, water bottle, and other toys and games.
Digital Entertainment Arsenal
Load up on entertainment options. Tablets or portable DVD players with headphones can be a lifesaver for longer stretches. I prefer iPads because I know how to use them, and they sync with our apple accounts. Download their favorite shows, audiobooks, or games in advance. Consider a mix of new and familiar content to keep them engaged.
Be aware of what downloads are accessible without an internet connection. A few years ago, I forgot to download a couple of shows on one trip, thinking I could just open the Netflix app and pop on the show. I needed an internet connection to do that, and we didn’t have internet in the car at the time. I felt so bad.
I always make sure to download shows and games to their iPads a few days before we leave so there’s time for them to download. I know not everyone allows electronics in the car, but I’ve found it a nice way for each person to do their own thing for a little bit and relax.
Each child can have a travel journal. Provide them with colored pencils, markers, and stickers to document their journey. This creative outlet keeps them engaged and creates a lasting memory of the trip. I like to pick up a little notebook for each kiddo and put their name on the outside. Then they can add whatever drawings, writing, or decorations they’d like as we drive.
Bambino loves putting stickers all over his. And now that Chulengo is reading and writing, he loves to come up with stories about our adventures. They’re great conversation starters and a fun way to memorialize a trip.
Now that you’re on the road, it’s time to get creative with activities that keep your kids entertained:
Create or purchase bingo cards with items commonly seen during road trips, like a red car, a cow, a specific type of road sign, etc. They can mark these items off on their bingo cards as they spot them. When making my own set of bingo cards, I’ve given each kid a dopper to use, and they’ve loved it! If you don’t have bingo cards, you can make a list and work through the list together.
Another version of this is alphabet bingo. I made this up while on a long trip. Start with the letter A and try to find the letter on a sign, car, building, or something else. Once someone finds the letter A, look for the letter B. Work your way through the alphabet. It’s a great way to keep kiddos engaged, burn off some time, and work on letter recognition.
Begin a collaborative story where each family member takes turns adding a sentence or two. This can lead to hilarious and imaginative tales that everyone enjoys. Sometimes Bambino, our three-year-old, just listens or repeats what the person before him says. We get creative to help him with the storytelling by having him finish a sentence that we’ve already.
Compile a playlist of your kids’ favorite songs and encourage a sing-along session. This not only uplifts the mood but also expends some of their energy. My husband is really great at picking out songs that the boys love. They have their own little playlist that they request, which includes songs like MGMT Kids and Shape of You by Ed Sheeran.
If you’re looking for a bank of kid songs to pull from. I like the “100 Fun Songs for Kids” album, which can be downloaded in Apple Music. The songs are 1-3 minutes long and your typical nursery rhymes. The boys loved this when they were younger, but we’ve played it so much that they are now over it.
Plan stops at interesting places along the way. It could be a quirky roadside diner, a scenic viewpoint, or a playground. These breaks provide a chance for the kids to stretch their legs and have some fun.
While driving home from Joshua Tree, we stopped at a park called “Lucky Duck Park.” To this day, the boys still talk about this park. It was your typical park, nothing out of the ordinary, but for some reason, the boys are really fond of that memory.
Comfort and Safety
No matter how long your road trip is, ensuring your kids are comfortable and safe is paramount during the journey.
Arrange seating so that siblings who get along well are seated together. This minimizes squabbles and maximizes harmony.For now, with our two boys, they sit in the middle seats of the van. If they are getting along well, we will slide their seats together so they can reach each other. That’s a perk of the Honda Odyssey. We will slide their seats apart if they’re getting grumpy and need space.
I remember growing up, we had a van, and one sibling got to sit in the middle row, and the other two had to sit in the way back. We would fight over who got to get in the middle row. At one point my mom had made like a rotating schedule so we would stop fighting over the middle seat.
Pack a comfort kit with essentials like blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals. These familiar items can help soothe them if they get tired or restless. I like to include little toddler pillows that they can put in their laps or rest easily to the side of their heads. I also let them each pick out a blanket to take in the car to cuddle with. These come in handy if we stop at park or rest area and need to put a blanket out to sit on.
Double-check that car seats are securely installed and that seat belts are fastened properly. Explain to your kids the importance of staying seated and buckled up while the car is moving. When our kiddos start to get restless, we pull over and take a break. Letting them run around for a few minutes usually curbs any tantrums due to discomfort or restlessness.
Chulengo loves to roll down the window with his foot, so we ensure window and door locks are activated so there aren’t any surprises along the way.
As a mom, I’ve come to realize that road trips with young kids are about more than just reaching a destination; they’re about creating cherished memories and bonding as a family. By incorporating a mix of thoughtful preparations, interactive activities, and a focus on comfort and safety, you can turn what might seem like a daunting journey into an enjoyable adventure that your kids will look back on with fondness. So, load up the car, hit the road, and get ready for a road trip filled with joy, laughter, and unforgettable moments.