Keeping Kids Happy on Road Trips


Our old minivan packed to the brim!

Our old minivan packed to the brim!

Remember the days when you could just jump in the car for a road trip without worrying about how stressful it would be for everyone? Back when being on the road was the fun part, not just a way to get to your destination? Well, if you’re like my family with a handful of children, those days may seem long gone. Now it takes a week just to prepare and pack everything, and lots of anxiety for mom about who is going to have a melt-down because they’ve been in the car for too long, or which children will need to be separated so they don’t kill each other in the back seat. It doesn’t have to be that way though! With a little planning, road trips can be fun for the whole family and a great bonding experience.

Every year we take a trip to my mother-in-laws house, which is about 16 hours away if we drive pretty much straight through. Here are some tips my family has learned over the years to keep everyone happy and entertained so you’re not subjected to the dreaded “Are we there yet?” every 15 minutes.

  1.  Leave at bedtime – This is usually about 7 or 8 in the evening for us. We get the kids bathed and dressed in their pajamas like normal, and then load them up in the car. Usually my husband drives the whole way, but if he had to work or is tired, I will start off driving for a few hours so he can take a nap and be rested to drive the rest of the way. If he got a nap earlier in the day though, he just starts off driving and I will take over if he needs a rest. Make sure everyone uses the bathroom so there are no accidents and you don’t have to stop in 30 minutes. Leaving at bedtime makes the trip fly by for the kids because they are asleep for almost half of it! And it is also nice bonding time for mom and dad. If you have a nursing baby, you will have to stop more often but leaving at bedtime will still get you going for a good stretch before having to pull over.
  2.  Limit beverages – Especially soda and juice, because otherwise it seems like every 5 minutes someone else has to go potty. If someone gets thirsty, give them a small sip of water. You should also limit salty or sweet snacks, as those will just increase thirst. Fresh fruit is always a good idea to have on hand to curb the road trip munchies.
  3.  Schedule meals - Plan to stop for a little while during meal times. Let the kids run around and let off some steam, and give everyone enough time to do their business in the bathroom. This is also a good time for mom and dad to stretch their legs and get some coffee if needed. We have found that drive-thru’s on long trips aren’t a great idea because everybody has to stay cramped up in the car, and you’re going to have to stop shortly after eating for potty breaks anyway, so might as well kill two birds with one stone.
  4.  Bring activity packs – I always get each child their own folder with a coloring book, a blank notepad, and some activity sheets. And they each get their own pouch with crayons, pencils, erasers, etc. When they each have their own, there’s no fights about who gets the purple crayon first or who gets to color what page in the book. Makes for a much happier mommy! I’ve also printed out road-trip bingo-like sheets where they cross out certain things they see, such as police cars, helicopters, and other sights common to the road.
  5.  Bring entertainment - One of my kids favorite things on road trips is watching movies. We have a portable DVD player that we pack along with a few special movies. Make sure they aren’t movies that they watch all the time or they will get bored quickly. Forgotten favorites or brad new movies are your best bets. I also like to load up my Kindle Fire with lots of great educational games and books before we leave, so they can learn while we’re driving.
  6.  Play games together - One of our favorite things to do while on the road is play “categories.” To do this, one player starts by naming a category, such as “Fruits.” Then everyone takes turns naming a fruit. When someone can’t name one in a given time frame (usually 10 seconds) or if they repeat something that has already been said, they get a point and the next person gets to name a category. The object is to have as few points as possible by the end of the game. I like to trick my family and choose things like “make-up brands” when it’s my turn. Doesn’t work as well now that I have a teenage daughter though, haha. If you’re playing with very young kids, categories that work well are animals and colors. Another game that the younger ones really like is “I Spy.”

Last but certainly not least, remember to have fun! Part of the trip is the journey, not just the destination. Remember, these are memory making times that your kids will enjoy talking about for years to come. Make them special!

post linked up at Family Fun Fridays

  • Amanda D

    Great ideas! 16 hours must be rough….I stress when we need to go 3 hours to my in laws. Lol

  • Melissa M. Miller

    You’ve got some fantastic ideas! We’ve started taking more road trips as of late and even though my son is 15, that many hours in a car can take a toll on everyone. Your post reminds me of the many road trips I took with my family as a child. Short or long, we took many road trips together, but they were always filled with fun!

  • aprila

    some really great trips. My in laws live 5 hours and everytime 30 minutes in my son asks are we there yet. We always bring a lot of things for them to do but they always seem to get bored

    • Rahab to Riches

      The DVD player is our secret weapon :-)