5 Tips For Road Trips with Young Children

Motherhood Preschool Road Trips The Early Years

box with text and lake shore background
Both my husband and I grew up traveling as children and it comes as second nature to us. Since our extended family lives farther away, traveling, even with small children, has always been a necessity for us. 
In fact, when our firstborn came into this world right before Christmas, we wound up traveling states away with a baby who was less than 10 days old!  We’ve had some easy, wonderful car trips, and some absolutely horrible car trips, but along the way here is what we’ve learned.

Tips for Road Trips with Kids

  1. FULL BELLIES: Our first key to traveling with kids is food! When our kids were babies, this would mean having the whole car packed and leaving right after they had been fed. This would give us a few hours under our belt before we needed to stop again. As our children have gotten older, we try to do a meal in the car.

    You wouldn’t believe how quiet kids can be when they’re eating! Sometimes we can get an hour or two of quiet just from eating in the car! My favorite non-messy foods include: string cheese, applesauce pouches, baby carrots, snap peas, apple slices, drinkable yogurt and granola bars. We are liberal with napkins and wipes, and try to be sure to clean everything up when we stop.

  2. NOVELTY: Whether this is buying special snacks, or checking out a new audio book from your library, novelty is a big helper on our road trips. We keep a basket in our van that includes toys that only stay in the van. We rotate these every so often to keep them fresh. When kids have toys they only see when traveling, these can be super exciting.

    The types of toys we include are sticker books, notepads, magnet books, anything that makes noise or lights up (since we usually don’t have these in our house), books we don’t mind getting ruined, happy-meal type toys, water wows or aquadoodles, hot wheels, and travel bingo boards. It always pays to do a quick run through your Target dollar spot, Dollar Tree or second-hand store a few days before a big trip. Even checking out a large stack of new books from the library can be a lifesaver (you just have to remember to return them all)!

  3. HAVE A BACK UP PLAN: Be strategic in traveling. You can’t enter into a long road trip without a plan when you have little kids. Arriving after bedtime? Wear pajamas! That way if your kids fall asleep on the way, it’ll make the transition a lot easier (and then they don’t need to get out of warm clothes in a new environment).

    Traveling a long distance at once? Map out a hotel or two along the way. Sometimes the trip just doesn’t go as planned. One trip our family took, we had planned to drive through the night. But in the middle of our travels we ran into a giant hailstorm.

    Not only did this make for tricky driving, but also our little one was NOT having it. Thankfully we had packed our things so that our pack and play and an overnight bag were easily accessible and had mapped the nearest hotel.

    We made the stop, negotiated a deal (since it was the middle of the night) and all got some much-needed rest. Had we not planned ahead we would have found ourselves about 200 miles from the nearest hotel, since they were few and far between. Know where things are ahead of time, because you can’t always rely on a GPS (especially if you are traveling in an area with spotty reception).

    three kids in carseats in a car with mom taking the photo
    Tiny kids + a ton of gear = exhausting!

    4. LEAVE EXTRA TIME: Expect the unexpected when traveling with kids. Be sure, that diaper blow out will happen. There will be accidents and road construction. Your vehicle will likely get a flat tire. I swear, anything that can delay you likely will. There is nothing worse that being anxious to get somewhere, having kids crying in the backseat and being stuck in some unforeseen delay.

    I know because I’ve been there. It’s awful! One time, the day after Christmas, we were all packed and ready to go, stopped for gas, and within 15 minutes, we knew something wasn't right with our car. Turns our our alternator went out!  We ended up having to tow it to our mechanic, switch to our car (a very crammed ride) and start out again. Talk about a delay!

    Leave enough time to allow for unexpected mishaps and to give yourself enough room to be gracious and patient. We like to leave margin for taking longer stops. A sit-down meal, or a long pit stop at a park can refresh everyone’s mood. And, if nothing goes wrong, wonderful. Write it down, because it’s probably the only time that’ll happen and you’ll want to take note!

    5. GRIT-GRIN:
     My last strategic tip is called the “grit grin” because that’s exactly what it feels like. Sometimes you are an hour away from your destination and just have to keep going. Your kids are antsy, you’re antsy and one more stop will only make it worse! When everyone has hit their limits, this is when you just have to “grit grin”—grit your teeth, force a smile and know it’ll be over soon.

    Keeping a positive attitude really helps. Try engaging the kids in a new way—reading aloud, telling silly fill-in-the-blank stories, playing I-spy or singing songs can lighten the mood. If that doesn’t work, I try to keep a few extra things up my sleeve; special music, a dessert or even (heaven-forbid) a cartoon or tablet can all be a necessary tool in a pinch! When everything else fails, I’m not above using earplugs to keep my sanity and patience with a crying baby.

    three kids in carseats in the back of a car.
Trying to stay patient for our millionth roadside gas station stop because, well, #pottytraining #nursingbaby

Utilizing these five things has helped our kids become excellent travelers. We can see family and travel the states, without stressing about how the drive will go. It takes a bit more effort than just piling in and hoping for the best, but it is worth it!

Audio books have been a huge help!  We check these out from our library, download them off of Libby or Overdrive or listen to them on our Yoto Player. Here is a list of some of our favorites for kids 7 and under:

-The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne
-A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond
-Frog and Toad Audio Collection by Arnold Lobel
-My Father's Dragon series by Ruth Stiles Gannet
-The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
-Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
-The Boxcar Children (book 1) by Gertrude Chandler WArner
-The Complete Tales of Peter Rabbit and Friends by Beatrix Potter
-Mr. Poppers Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater 

preschool materials.

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