Embarking on a family road trip with kids can be an exciting and memorable experience. However, keeping the little ones entertained and comfortable throughout the journey can also be challenging.
We did at least 30 road trips with our kids in the last 7 years. So, we compiled a list of our 35 essential tips and hacks to help you make your own family road trip a fun and smooth adventure. Let’s dive in!
1. Plan Your Route and Stops in Advance
Before you hit the road, research your route and plan stops at kid-friendly locations such as parks, playgrounds, a lake, and restaurants. This way, you can make sure there’s something interesting for the kids at regular intervals and that you can all stretch your legs and take bathroom breaks.
Trust me, knowing when and where to stop for breaks can be a lifesaver when traveling with your kids. Plan a break every two hours, allow enough time for play during breaks, and search for those interesting spots to stop
2. Make Yourself Familiar with your GPS or Google Maps
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A reliable GPS device or app will help you navigate unfamiliar territory with ease. It’ll also come in handy when searching for nearby points of interest, like parks, rest stops, or restaurants.
We always use Google Maps and found out, that it helps a lot to know the tips and tricks. Make yourself familiar with Google Maps and search for tips and hacks online. You will benefit greatly from that knowledge greatly!
3. Make it a Special Day
You’ve found an excellent destination for your family, and you’re looking forward to some time off. Use this excitement for the trip, but with a little twist.
Present the long car ride to your children as a “Fun Day” where they can do something extraordinary, have lots of fun with mom and dad, and even enjoy something special to eat.
“Enjoy the trip” is often our motto. Tell them about a surprise bag to look forward to (more about that later)). Create the feeling, that this day is really special and that the destination is a bonus.
Trust me, this ‘special day thing’ makes a huge difference at the beginning of the trip.
4. Prepare Your Kids for Boredom
Talk to your children beforehand about what to expect during the road trip. For example: “We will drive a long time. We have to stay seated, but you can do … for a long time, and then we’ll take a long break to play. After that, we’ll drive for a very long time again. We’ll bring lots of car games for you, but if you get bored, just let us know, and we’ll think of a game.”
Your children will likely have some ideas of what they want to do in the car.
When they know the day’s schedule, they can better anticipate what’s coming, and everything will be a lot easier.
5. Get a Travel Tray for Kids
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Children often drop items in the car, and reaching for them can be annoying and dangerous, especially when driving alone. A travel tray is a perfect solution! It is secured with a strap around the car seat, so it won’t slide off.
Additionally, raised edges prevent small items from rolling off during turns, and side pockets can hold pens and other treasures.
6. Create a Surprise Bag
Put toys, snacks, and vouchers into a surprise bag.
Our kids love the vouchers! We always make them for something that can be redeemed immediately – e.g., you choose the next song, you get to sit in the front after the next break, etc.
Wrap each item individually, so there’s always something new to discover. You can prepare a large bag with many small surprises, but remember that your children might want to unwrap everything immediately and not spend much time with each item.
7. Create a Family Road Trip Playlist
Involve your kids in creating a fun and upbeat family playlist for the road. This will keep everyone entertained and make the journey more enjoyable.
8. Pack Suitable Snacks and Meals
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Snacks not only satisfy hunger but also serve as entertainment for children in the car. To keep your child occupied for as long as possible, choose snacks that they can eat by themselves.
Include some special treats that they don’t often get. In addition to snack bags, bring cups filled with fruits and vegetables (mini carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, blueberries, grapes, apples, etc.). Use snack containers and spill-proof snack cups in the car to prevent a mess.
9. Bring a Cooler
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A portable cooler will help you keep perishable snacks and drinks fresh throughout the trip. It’s also a great way to save money by avoiding pricey convenience stores.
10. Choose Your Personal Best Time to Start the Trip
It’s often recommended to start driving just before bedtime, as many younger children will sleep through the trip. However, this may not work for everyone, and you’ll need to find what works best for your family.
Our oldest daughter for example always sleeps for at least 5-6 hours on every road trip, no matter when we start 🙂
A good starting point is to begin your drive so that you’ll take a lunch break after about two hours on the road.
11. Dress for Comfort
Dress your kids in comfortable, layered clothing to make it easier for them to adjust to changing temperatures in the car or at different destinations.
12. Consider Seat Arrangements
It’s always exciting for children to sit in the front for part of the journey. This could even be a gift from the surprise bag!
Apart from that, consider the direction you’re traveling and where the sun will be. If you have only one child or a large car, you can place the car seat on the side where your child won’t be sitting in the sun.
This isn’t just about sun protection, but also about keeping your child comfortable and preventing them from becoming irritated by sunlight on their face.
13. Tablets or Smartphones: Yea or Nay?
This depends on your kids and some other factors. Some parents choose to limit screen time during car rides. If you know your kids will accept a time limit without complaining, go for it.
If you do allow screen time, make sure to set clear limits for when it ends. For younger children, it’s better to associate the end of screen time with an event rather than a specific time. For example,, “the next break” instead of “in 20 minutes”.
14. Use Car Organizers
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Car organizers, such as backseat organizers and trunk organizers, will help you keep everything neat and easily accessible during the trip.
15. Download Enough Audio Books and Podcasts
Choose age-appropriate audiobooks and podcasts to keep your kids entertained and engaged while on the road.
16. Pack Travel Games and Activities
Bring travel-sized games, coloring books, and puzzles to keep your kids occupied during rest stops or breaks.
17. Take Advantage of Rest Stops
Make the most of rest stops to stretch your legs, use the restroom, and give everyone a chance to burn off some energy.
18. Set Expectations
Besides making it a special day (see above), it’s a good idea to discuss the itinerary and rules with your kids before the trip. This will help them understand what to expect and how to behave during the journey.
19. Plan for Emergencies
Pack a first aid kit, extra clothes, and blankets in case of emergencies. We had to use extra clothes for example more than once.
Don’t forget to bring any necessary medication and have your insurance information handy.
20. Bring Pillows and Blankets
Pillows and blankets will make naps more comfortable and can help your kids feel cozy during the trip.
21. Rotate Seating
Switch up seating arrangements occasionally to give your kids a change of scenery and avoid arguments over who sits where.
22. Take Plenty of Photos
Capture memories by taking lots of photos during your trip. Encourage your kids to snap their own shots as well.
23. Bring Extra Chargers and Power Banks
Ensure you have enough chargers and power banks to keep all your devices charged throughout the trip. This will prevent any meltdowns due to low battery levels on favorite gadgets.
24. Have a Flexible Schedule
While it’s essential to plan your route and stops, be prepared to adjust your schedule as needed. This will help you stay relaxed and accommodate any unexpected events or detours.
25. Use Trash Bags or Containers
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Bring along small trash bags or containers to keep the car clean and organized. Empty them during rest stops to maintain a tidy environment.
26. Encourage Journaling or Drawing
Invite your kids to keep a journal or sketchbook to document their experiences during the trip. This can be a creative and educational way to keep them engaged.
27. Utilize Travel Apps
Download additional travel apps to help you find attractions, restaurants, and accommodations along your route. These apps can save you time and make your journey more enjoyable.
28. Bring Wet Wipes and Hand Sanitizer
Keep wet wipes and hand sanitizer handy for easy clean-ups and to maintain good hygiene during the trip.
29. Choose Accommodations with Kid-Friendly Amenities
When booking hotels or vacation rentals, always look for kid-friendly amenities like swimming pools, playgrounds, and game rooms to make your stay more enjoyable for everyone.
30. Create Road Trip Traditions
Besides a motto (see tip #3) establish special family road trip traditions, such as a specific meal, souvenir, or activity. These traditions can make your trips more memorable and exciting.
31. Take Breaks for Exercise
Schedule breaks for physical activity, such as a walk or a game of catch, to help your kids burn off energy and stay happy.
32. Stay Positive, Patient, and Enjoy the Journey
Be prepared for hiccups along the way and remain positive and patient. Your attitude will set the tone for the entire trip. Remember that the journey is just as important as the destination. Cherish the time you have together as a family, and make the most of the adventure.
33. Learn About Your Destinations
Before your trip, research each destination with your kids to help them understand the history, culture, and attractions. This will not only educate them but also increase their excitement and anticipation for the journey.
34. Bring a Travel Potty
For families with younger kids, a portable travel potty can be a lifesaver. It allows for quick and convenient bathroom breaks without having to search for a public restroom.
35. Pack a Separate Bag for Overnight Stays
If your road trip includes multiple overnight stops, pack a separate bag with essentials like pajamas, toiletries, and a change of clothes. This will save you the hassle of digging through your luggage each night.