Follow these road trip hacks for young children. They are a great way to set yourself up for success with minimal screen time!
I followed these travel tips on our five day long trip from Virginia to southern Utah with my 7,6,4 and two year old. They saved my sanity!
We just packed up our whole family and all that we own and prepared for a FIVE day family trip across the country. That was the amount of time we needed to get from Virginia to Utah and ended up being a 35 hour road trip.
My husband was driving the moving truck while I had all four kids in the back of the car. I had no other adult in the passenger seat to help me out! The ages of our kids for this trip were seven, six, four, and two. I was also 31 weeks pregnant!
For each of our five days we had a drive that ranged from seven to nine hours each day. As I thought about doing this trip I nearly panicked about keeping these kiddos entertained by myself for five days. Sometimes when I get in this panic feeling my creative juices get flowing and my best inspiration comes to mind. Now you all get to benefit from that!
How do you drive with a toddler?
This is the question that people asked me constantly whenever I told them I was driving across the country with children. Every toddler is different and certain things will work for some that won’t work for others. Honestly, my two year old was the hardest to keep entertained for the entire time, but I have come up with an easy way to make this task easier. Snacks are a big help for sure. Things like peanut butter snacks and juice boxes are a big hit. Just remember to bring a change of clothes because snack time can get a little messy!
How do you survive a long drive with children?
Another question I received often was how do you “survive” a long drive with children? In my opinion, expectations makes a big difference. If you’re expecting your kids to be angels the entire time or there to be no messes in your car then prepare to feel like a failure. Expect your car to get a little messy (we’ll discuss how to handle that later) and for your kids to have a few meltdowns.
Simply because everything isn’t going perfectly doesn’t mean that all is lost. Give yourself grace, give your kids grace. If your two year old throws a freshly opened bag of Skinny Pop on the ground for the second time that day, take a deep breath, and focus on what really matters. This drive is a chance for you and your kids to get some good, quality, distraction free time together.
So, how do you have a good road trip with children?
GET YOUR CAR READY
I like to start out a road trip with a clean, organized car. Some people might wonder what the point of this is as the car will just get super messy during the trip. Trust me, it is better for you and your kids to have a clean space to start out in.
I make sure to clean the cup holders in my kids’ car seats and in the car. I will vacuum them and then wipe them out. Kids will be putting more snacks and supplies in there so it’s best to clean that out for them. If I’m doing a quick clean out of my car I really like using my Dyson Cordless Vacuum. It makes this process smooth and simple.
THE SET UP
We like to plan out how many hours we will be driving each day. This helps me know how many prizes and snacks to get. I also like to get an idea of where we can stop midday to have lunch. Try and plan a fun midday stop along your road trip with kids. We find ourselves enjoying parks or historical sites.
Another thing to consider when doing a road trip with kids is the seating arrangement in your car. I decided to pair my seven year old with my two year old and my six year old next to my four year old. I put my older two kids in charge of helping their little siblings with opening snacks, throwing away garbage or picking up toys they dropped.
The last set up I did was print out the states we were going to drive through. I also printed out an image of our van. My kids got a kick out of moving the van every time we entered into a new state. It really helped them get a concept of where we were and how far we still had to go. You could also do cities if you aren’t passing through a lot of states.
The prizes I like to get are mostly dollar store finds. Things like fuzzy pens, notebooks, stickers, silly putty, waterwow knockoffs, stuffed animals, activity book, new water bottle, portable lego kit, coloring books, and pipe cleaners. This doesn’t have to be expensive, just something to entertain their hands for a time.
We drove 6-9 hours each day and I would do about three prizes per day. Remind the kids that they have to earn their prizes and would do so with good behavior. I didn’t set specific times for prizes, instead I chose a more strategic approach.
I would wait until the kids were bored from their snacks and music/audio books and then challenge the kids to last about 15-20 minutes of being good to earn their prize. This spreads out the prizes more and creates anticipation! Just anticipating the prize will entertain them for a little while longer.
You will want to store your prizes in separate bags so you can easily grab a bag and hand it to all the kids. I usually prepare the prizes a little by taking off any difficult plastic or wrapping that may make it hard for them to open by themselves.
My kids love audio books. Our favorites for this particular road trip were The Moffats, My Father’s Dragon, and Winnie the Pooh. Each of these books we got as a free download on the hoopla app. The kids also enjoyed podcasts from Wow in the World, and Storynory. You can also bring their favorite book to look at or read. My two year old has a harder time listening to a book, but loves to look at them. This was the first time that we used audio books for our long car trip and it was worth it.
The next fun thing we enjoyed was music. Create new playlists for the kids to listen to. Make it fun. You could even make a “name that song” game with a playlist of songs that your family enjoys! I would also put our older kids in charge of creating some playlists. It is entertaining to the kiddos when the playlist that they made themselves is played. We had a good time listening and singing to music. There may have been some singing at the top of our lungs moments. I just love this about car travel. It creates extra time for families to connect out on the open road!
It is important to pack your snacks properly and have easy access to them. Having the snacks within easy reach allows you to grab them in less time. Each day the kids should have their own fresh bag of snacks. I will put in different kinds of snacks on the different days to add variety.
I would label each bag with the child’s name and what day they should get that snack bag. When I hand the kids their snacks, they get the whole bag. They are reminded that once the bag is all gone, they don’t get any more snacks.
Start the drive without handing the kids any snacks or prizes. See how far you can make it with good quality chats. My kids love to talk about what we see as we drive. Usually something we see will spark a conversation about something else. I loved the morning time chats we had and they lasted a surprisingly long time. We generally made it 1-2 hours before handing out snacks or prizes.
Road trip snacks can be a combination of healthy snacks, but every now and then the kids need something a little bit more like a treat. For my kids cereal is one of their favorite things to munch on. This is high in sugar, but not quite junk food if you know what I mean. Find a good combination of the two and your younger kids should stay entertained!
When do you hand out the snacks?
When the kids started getting bored from the morning chats I would bring out their individual snack bags. This would create excitement as they would look over their snacks for the day. Simply picking out their first snack was entertaining. I would usually start an audio book for them to listen to while they munched on their snacks.
After the snack excitement and the audiobook fun began to wear off is when I would usually bring out the next prize. Stretching out the entertainment this way would usually get us through most of the day of driving. I hoped to stay off screens as much as I could, but would reserve the last hour and a half of driving for a movie as the kids were usually sick and tired of their snacks at this time.
Some days they didn’t even want or ask for a movie! Following these strategies got us through over 34 hours of driving with only watching three movies! But if you need to bring in the screens more often than that, then “you do you”!. These are just tips I have to share to help provide good family bonding experiences.
How do you keep your car clean during a road trip with children?
I have three tips for keeping the car in decent shape during a road trip. I’ll be honest and say it won’t look like it’s fresh from the car cleaners, but it will be pretty dang good considering the circumstances.
- Have each child have a bag or backpack that they can store their things in. You can also use a door shoe organizer like THIS one. Especially if you are doing prizes, you will want somewhere to put those when the kid is done. This way they will keep their own things accessible to them and can play with previous prizes whenever they want.
- Have a Garbage bags. EVERYWHERE. I just used grocery sacks but if that would drive you crazy you could get a few of these. I had a garbage hanging near me. I made sure that my two older kids had access to a garbage. I would suggest having one on each row of your vehicle if you have multiple rows.
- Do a damage control clean up each morning. I would gather all the old snacks and dump the extras in my box. This way they would be anticipating new snacks. Pick up any garbage that didn’t make it into a garbage. Pick up some of the spilled snacks and put prizes back into backpacks. Starting the day fresh and new makes a big difference!
- Have some hand sanitizer ready. This is for when you make pit stops at a maybe questionable gas station for that much needed potty break… for the little kids right.
Now you’re ready for your next family road trip! Pin this for later to refer back to when getting your family ready for a long drive!
If you’re looking for more ways to keep kids entertained at home check out this post!