Explore. Imagine. Love.

Purposeful parenting amid a world of sugar, screens and schedules.

Road Trip Tips (Traveling with Small Children Series)

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DSC04667I love to travel.  I am a lot more limited to where I go now that I’m married with kids than I was in my high school and college days, but we still make it a priority for our family.  Whether it’s just a five hour drive to see my family, a two day drive to see Jason’s family in San Diego, a two week vacation, or a weekend camping trip…we get out a lot.  This is  the first “tips” post in my Traveling with Small Children Series.  

I’m starting with road trips because we just got back from a road trip.  There are all sorts of different road trips and it’s a little difficult to do a list of tips when we do such different things each time.  It just depends on your purpose for the trip.  When we do a road trip vacation, we travel short periods of time each day and make lots of fun stops and camp a lot.  When we are just trying to get to a specific destination we drive all day and make few stops.  A road trip with just my husband and kids is different than a road trip with other people.  We did a big trip one time visiting family with my husband’s parents and we drove through the night…making the trip much shorter on my daughter who was just turning one at the time.  Driving at a time when the kids sleep can be a great tactic…if your kids will sleep.  My 1 1/2 year old really fought it and spent a lot of time screaming when she was tired on the trip we just went on.  When she did sleep it wasn’t for as long as usual.  So that made things a little more rough than usual.

My 1 1/2 year old fought going to sleep…insisting that she was hungry, not tired. So I gave her a granola bar and she fell asleep with it. Silly kid.


    • Forget the schedule.  If you are going to be in a car all day, maybe they eat more often than at your regular snack time.  Maybe they sleep from 11-1 instead of 1-3 (and with some kids…you might just be thankful if they sleep at all.)
    • Point out cool things.  Older kids, like preschoolers, can have fun enjoying the scenery or playing “I Spy”
    • Hopefully you are travelling with both parents (kudos to anyone brave enough to travel alone!) and you can have one adult able to get to all the food, toys, dvds and be able to turn around and interact with the kids.  Sometimes they just need some attention.  Singing songs or playing a game.  My toddler this trip really fought going to sleep and sometimes she just needed me to hold her hand or rub her leg in order to relax and fall asleep.


  • For the Kids
    • Toys they love.  Favorite stuffed animals, books, etc.
    • Toys that do things- toys that are small enough to be held in the carseat but have fun buttons that make sounds or do things.  Or do you have kids apps on your ipad/iphone/etc.?  This can keep them entertained for a while
    • Toys that encourage imaginative play- A metal cookie sheet with some magnets are fun- I printed out a bunch of fun Disney characters on cardstock and made them into magnets for my kids.  I brought a little purse with some mini princesses for my preschooler and a little polly pocket to play with.
    • A magnadoodle and/or a notebook and pen for drawing.
    • Surprises- for really long trips I like to buy things at the dollar store and wrap presents or just bring them out one at a time when the kids are at their breaking point.  New toys can entertain for a really long time, even if they are crazy cheap and probably won’t last past the trip.  One time I bought a little purse and put some “make up” in it- chapstick, really light eye shadow, some really light face powder and a mirror.  That was a big hit.  Another one that went over really well was a pinwheel.  You could hold it up to the AC vent and it would spin really fast.  A notepad and stickers.  Anything cheap that could be entertaining for a while.
    • Music- fun kids cds that they can sing along with.  Or put down whatever it is you’re doing and sing with them.  My kids LOVE it when I sing with them on roadtrips.  One of their favorite things is when we sing a song normal and then sing it fast.
    • A travel dvd player with their favorite dvds.  I save this until nothing else is working.  If they are tired of the old dvds, you can rent a Redbox dvd anywhere and return it down the road.  So convenient!
    • Multiple children.  If you only have one kid, you might want to consider having a second.  Because they entertain each other.  If you like road trips, you better get on this 😉
  • For Grown Ups– I thought I would do a fun post on things that Jason and I do to have fun on road trips.  Stay tuned!
  • Food–  A lot of good snacks are essential.  My kids tend to get bored and want to eat.  I might not encourage that normally but I understand how it is on road trips and don’t mind letting them eat as long as it’s not just a bunch of junk.  Stay tuned for my Eating Healthy During Road Trips post.
  • Items I Find Helpful
    • We bought a little travel tray that goes around a car seat.  It’s handy for when they are playing with something like the cookie sheet magnet toy or her polly pocket and usually use it for when they are watching a movie.  It’s nice to be able to set the dvd player on it and for her to not have to hold it.
    • Baby carrier.  This might not be necessary during a road trip that you’re just trying to get somewhere fast.  But if you want to make stops to hike or hang out at a beach or something…especially if you have a tiny one that can’t walk yet…I find that it’s super helpful.  With the right kind of carrier, you can even breast feed while walking on the beach.  So much nicer than sitting in the car to do it!  We have an Ergo.
    • Snack cups- I brought those little snack cups with the lids that you can put your hand into but do a pretty good job at keeping things from spilling.  And I brought old baby food containers for ranch dressing and such.
    • Paper towels, some silverware for cutting fruit or spreading mayo or peanut butter, etc.
    • Gallon zip lock bags.  You can put ice in it for your cooler so you don’t end up with water all over the bottom and your food floating in yucky water.
    • Plastic sacks for garbage and etc.
    • Maps or a gps.  Most people have smart phones these days and can figure out anything they need to know at any time.  But we don’t.  I tend to just know where to go because we mostly just go visit family or places we are familiar with.  But I forget sometimes that it’s a bit more complicated.  After a mess up that ended up taking us to Seattle instead of Portland, we decided we needed to buy some maps.  Maps at gas stations can be pretty expensive.  Plan ahead and print out directions, grab a road atlas, or bring your gps.
    • One of those adapters that plug into the cigarette lighter for usb or regular power cords.  We use it for our portable dvd player, for our computer, for charging phones and cameras, etc.  So handy.
    • A camera, of course!
  • Need to make some stops to stretch those small legs?  Find a rest stop.  Or a park.  Or a mall.  Sometimes we just walk around a grocery store or a truck stop.  In nice weather we prefer a park or a rest stop and we bring a ball to kick around.
  • Going on a longer vacation?  We make all sorts of fun stops and go to the extreme sometimes when it comes to saving money.  I plan to do a post on free/cheap ideas for stops along the way and ways to keep a vacation super cheap.  One of our favorite free things to do is geocache.  Stay tuned for more ideas!

What kinds of things do you do to make road trips easier on your family?  Come visit Explore Imagine Love again for more tips for traveling with small children!


Author: Explore Imagine Love


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