Must-Know Family Road Trip Tips and Tricks
When planning for a family road trip, you try to think of everything your kids may possibly need.
Where and when should we make a pit stop? Should I pack food or will we stop at a restaurant to eat? Should I pack games, toys, books, and other things I need to occupy the kids while traveling?
What kinds of snacks are ideal for road trips?
And the list. goes. on.
As a mom who loves to travel, I have some great family road trip tips to help make preparing for a family road trip easier and more enjoyable. Lots of people love to take road trips and you may learn to love it too!
Forget the stress and let me help! We are likely embarking on a 14-16 hour one-way drive for our family summer vacation this year, so my head is already planning. I’m going to let you in on all my tips for traveling with kids!
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Road Trip Snacks and Drinks for Kids
Without a doubt, one of the most important parts of preparing for a family road trip is to pack snacks. When we are making a long driving trip with kids, I try to make sure I have a snack for each hour of the trip. That doesn’t mean we will use all of them, but I at least have them if necessary.
I also try to pack snacks I know they love, and maybe a couple of new snacks they have never had before. Here are some of the best snacks for road trips with kids:
- Goldfish Snack Packs
- Trail Mix Individual Packs
- CLIF ZBARS Granola Bars for Kids (these are a good protein for fuller bellies)
- Fruit Snacks
- Graham Crackers
- Fresh Fruit
You’ll want to make sure you pack a travel cooler for any snacks or drinks that will need to be kept cold. This cooler bag is great because it can collapse down when you aren’t using it, which is super important when trying to maximize space with kids and car seats.
If case you haven’t seen them, I highly recommend you check out this quick video on how to create simple road trip snack boxes for kids!
Road Trip Activities for Kids
I can promise you that your child likely has the attention span of a fly. At least that feels like the way it is with our kids. I feel like I am CONSTANTLY working to find something to keep them occupied.
I know this gets a bit easier as the kids get older, but if you’re traveling with toddlers, then please heed this advice: pack A LOT of THINGS. And by things, I mean, books, toys, crafts, games, music, etc. Pack anything that is easy to grab and pass around the car.
One of my favorite family road trip tips for traveling with kids is to have something “new” for them each hour. We had a few new toys for each of our kids for the duration of the trip there and back. DON’T feel like you need to spend a fortune on these things.
I am NOT one to simply hand over a screen to my kids. In fact, our kids get very little screen time. But, I know the value of sanity on long car rides as well, which is why you will see a tablet and headphones on this list. There is something magical about 30 minutes of silence while your kiddo watches a show.
Some of my favorite toys to pack for road trips are:
- Target $$ aisle
- Water WOW! Books
- Matchbox Cars
- Coloring Books
- Kids Tablet
- Kids Headphones
- New “something” every hour
- Wikki Stix Traveler Set
- Stickers with plain paper
- Family Games
- DVD player with a variety of movies
- A metal cookie sheet for each kid to use as a play area or food tray
- Colorful pipe cleaners
Here is a great video to help give you ideas on how to pack a road trip activity box. (Yes, I know they’re traveling on a plane, but it can totally work for a car too!)
Family Games on Road Trips
Take turns finding letters of the alphabet on road signs. If two people say the same letter at the same time, you have to start over. You can have fun prizes for finishing a round in a certain amount of time too.
If your kids are older and able to read, you can create a printed scavenger hunt for each kid to find along the way. You can add things like a truck, a bus, a road sign with a picture, etc.
If your kids are younger, you can create a family road trip scavenger hunt sheet with pictures of things they can look for along the way.
License Plate Game
Start your road trip with a list of all 50 states and see if your family can find all of them on your road trip.
Tell a Story
You can create a lot of laughs as your family tells a story. One person starts the story and then randomly stops and calls on someone else to continue the story. You are sure to create some silliness with this family road trip game!
I’m Thinking Of
Even when we drive in the car around near our house, we often play, I’m Thinking Of. This game is super simple and requires no planning. All you have to do is say, I’m thinking of… and then finish the sentence with something your kids can recognize. For instance, I’m thinking of the place you go to school, I’m thinking of grandma’s sister’s name, etc. This game is great for little passengers because they can play along.
Random Family Road Trip Necessities
Without a doubt, something crazy will happen on your family road trip. Just know ahead of time, you likely WON’T be prepared for every event, but you can at least TRY. Here are some of the things I always have in the car when going on a road trip with kids:
- Paper Towels
- Bowls, plates, and utensils
- Diapers, wipes, etc.
- Water bottles (see my suggestion below)
- Trash Bags
- Flip flops for rest stops
Family Road Trip Pit-Stops
If you’re going to be taking a road trip with kids that’s going to be more than 2 hours, you’ll want to plan some fun pit-stops along the way. These pit-stops don’t need a lot of planning ahead, they are more of an opportunity for your kids to expel some energy. This will make the car ride easier, and with any luck, they’ll be tired enough to take a nap for the next part of your drive.
Some of our favorite things to do along the way are to find a park with play equipment, find a restaurant that has a play area, a children’s museum, a rest stop with room to run around, or anything that is going to interest our kids and help them use their bottled up energy.
If you know you won’t have accessibility to a park or anything like that, you can pack road stop toys like jump ropes, sidewalk chalk, a kickball, bubbles, etc.
Things to NOT Forget When Packing for a Family Road Trip
- Cell phone, car charger, and wall charger
- Luggage and all necessities you’ll need at your destination
- Snacks and drinks
- Things to entertain your kids
- Small first aid kit
- Sunscreen and bug spray if needed for trip or pit-stops
- Diapers, wipes, pull-ups, and easily accessible change of close for each person
- A digital camera with an extra memory chip and battery/charger
- Important stuffed animals or beloved sleeping items
- Flip-flops for quick stops at the restrooms
How to prepare for a family road trip?
Figure Out Who’s Driving and When
Make sure you know who is driving and for how long. Is one person driving the entire way, or are you planning to take turns?
Plan and Pack Snacks
Pack individual size snacks. You can use small containers, or plastic bags with things like fruit, veggies, marshmallows, fruit snacks, etc.
You can also take a Bento box for each kid with their favorite snacks, and they can choose one or two snacks every few hours. I posted a video above that will give you some great ideas of how to pack snack boxes for a road trip with kids.
Plan and Pack Activities
Similar to the snack idea, make sure you pack activities that your kids will enjoy. Crafty activities are great, so long as they don’t make a big mess. Even something as simple as a pack of colorful pipe cleaners can create an hour of fun.
You will want to skip any toys or games that make noise because you’ll want to throw those away! Ha!
Create an Itinerary but Be Flexible
It’s a great idea to create an itinerary for your family road trip, but you must be flexible because things will happen. Without a doubt, you’ll stop for a bathroom break and then 20 minutes later a kid will have to poop. Obviously, you aren’t going to wait another 2 hours before stopping again.
Have Your Car Checked Out
If you’re going to be taking your own family car on your road trip, it’s wise to have a mechanic look it over ahead of time. Make sure the tires have good tread, have the oil changed, and make sure there is plenty of windshield wiper fluid. If you’re going to be renting a car, you have nothing to worry about because if something happens to the rental car, they’ll bring you a new one!
Be Prepared for Emergencies/Carsickness
If you have a kid who you know suffers from carsickness, give them medication before you leave, but also make sure you’re prepared if a kid pukes while driving.
Also, make sure you have a small first aid kit in case you need bandaids, headache medication, or anything like that.
I also highly recommend that you have a AAA membership because they have some great resources for planning family road trips, offer excellent discounts while traveling, and roadside assistance if you need it!
How can I make my family road trip fun?
Plan for fun pitstops
Make sure you have some fun pitstops planned. I’m not talking about the rest stops because those are super boring.
I am talking about fun things where your kids can get out some energy. Parks are always a great option because your kids have likely never played at that specific park. You can also find restaurants that have a play place as well.
You likely don’t want to spend forever at the pitstop, but if you’re doing a cross country trip, you may want to schedule a fun pitstop day at somewhere like an indoor water park.
Pack plenty of snacks
It’s no secret that kids love snacks. It often creates a distraction too, which is helpful. You can plan fun snacks for road trips by picking snacks you seldom buy for your kids. You may spend a little more money than you usually would picking snacks that are more fun, but it will be worth it!
When we go on trips, I plan for a new small snack every few hours between meals.
Pack plenty of activities
The ages of your kids will play a huge role in what types and how many road trip activities you need to pack to keep your kids occupied. Young kids get bored more easily than older kids, meaning you need to pack more things for them. I have even seen people take a toy and wrap it in saran wrap so there are two road trip activities in one. First, the child has to remove all the wrap to get to the toy, and then the toy itself.
Before our last road trip, I went to the dollar store and bought several smaller toys that my kids would find interesting. I also went to our local consignment store and bought some used toys and books as well so I wasn’t spending a fortune, but I was able to get plenty of road trip activities for each kid.
Plan ahead with sightseeing searches
When your kids are old enough to pay attention to things outside their window, you may consider creating a road trip sightseeing scavenger hunt. If you know anything about the path you’re traveling, you can make a list of places along the way with fun things for your kids to find. You can plan for things like fun road signs, sculptures, neat places to visit, etc.
Here are two options I highly recommend! The first is a family road trip scavenger hunt game. This is exactly what it sounds like- each person will have some cards and you’re trying to be the first person to find all of the items in your hand.
The second game is great for road trips with toddlers because they have one thing to hold, and they can look for a lot of things at one time. This road trip scavenger hunt game for kids is simple because you look for something along the way and slide the red tab over. The first person to get a BINGO wins.
How many hours a day should I drive on a road trip with kids?
When doing a road trip with kids, you really don’t want to spend more than 9 hours in a car with your kids, excluding any pitstops. So, if you stop every 3 hours or so, and plan for at least 30 minutes at each stop, you will be traveling with your family for no more than 12 hours at a time. If you have younger kids, especially those who are newly potty trained, you’ll likely be stopping every 2 hours or so for bathroom breaks.
The bottom line is, you know your kids best and what they can handle. Make a family decision ahead of time so no one gets upset when stops are made.
I would also suggest creating a family road trip itinerary so that you have a plan of when you’ll stop and where. Even if you only know the town and not a specific place, it will give you a guide of when you’ll be stopping for everyone is on the same page.
What is the best time to leave for a family road trip?
Many parents swear it is best to leave in the middle of the night for family road trips. This is because your kids will sleep for the first few hours of the trip, and then you can continue to drive once they’re awake.
For other parents who have shared family road trip tips, they say it’s best to leave early in the morning.
We did a trip when we left at 5 AM and I thought for sure my kids would go back to sleep once we were moving in the car. NOPE! They stayed awake the rest of the day, and it wasn’t always pretty.
You know your kids best, especially their sleeping habits. Make the best decision for your family and hope for the best!
How to Survive a Road Trip with Family
Taking a family road trip will be an adventure. Things will go wrong, but so many other things will go better than you ever could’ve imagined. Don’t be afraid to try something new. You’ll create awesome family memories on your road trip.
So, whether your kids are younger or older, my #1 family road trip tip is to take the trip.
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