Four Tips help you survive your own road trip with your kids

Since moving to the South more than a decade ago, every summer we plan our pilgrimage back to the Midwest to visit relatives and old friends. Normally, this trip is accomplished with the aid of a jet plane and some friendly relatives waiting for us at the airport to chauffeur us around during our stay. When baby number one came along, nothing changed as far as our means of transportation. Yes, it was a little harder rolling around from gate to gate with that whole car seat/stroller system thing. And true, it’s a tad embarrassing to be “those people” on a two hour flight with a screaming baby who you realize later was suffering from an ear infection, causing the lady across the aisle to proclaim upon landing how badly she needed a drink. But that had to be easier than keeping our poor child strapped in a car seat for the twelve-plus hour road trip, right?

When baby number two came along, we tried the flying thing. Once. Two screaming kids were just not nearly as easy as one. It was quite an undertaking to haul our luggage, car seats, stroller and two kids, who insisted on being carried, from the terminal to the car rental agency, since no longer could we rely on a friendly relative to pick us up and run us around. Between the cost of the airline tickets, baggage fees, airport parking, and the rental car, we knew this wasn’t something we would be able to keep up. It was decided. Our next trip was going to have to be a road trip. Sigh.

After weeks of trying to get my head around the thought of being trapped in a vehicle for twelve hours with two little ones who can’t sit still for more than one minute tops, I just had to embrace it. Much to my surprise, the trip actually went smoother than I could have imagined. There were some very nice benefits to driving. We could pack whatever and as much as we. We could travel on our own schedule, so if we wanted to spend an extra day, it was no problem.

Here are some things that worked for us, and hopefully will help you survive your own road trip with your kids.


Make sure to have plenty of snacks on hand, and make sure they’re the kind that travel well and won’t mess your car up too much. We had a large supply of bananas, squeezable applesauce, granola bars, and dried fruit snack packets. Any time the kiddos would start making a fuss, we would toss them a snack, because it’s hard to cry when you’re mouth is full of gummy fruits. Also, we kept within arm’s reach a cooler full of waters, juice and milk boxes. Don’t forget a package of wipes to clean up sticky fingers and faces.


This is a tough one, because there is such a thing as too much screen time for kids. But sometimes you have to make exceptions to keep your sanity. We are not fortunate enough to have one of those built-in DVD systems that a lot of folks have these days. Luckily there are other options. If you don’t already own one, borrow a portable DVD player from a friend. I’ve seen dual-screen portable DVD players go on sale for under $100 if you want to invest in your own. A service like Redbox is great for road trips because you can rent movies that are new to your child to keep them interested, and return them at any kiosk across the country. Another option, if you have an iPad or other tablet, is to find a case that mounts it to the headrest in front of your child so you won’t have to worry about them dropping it. My four-year-old can operate an iPad, so he enjoys picking his own movies by himself. Unfortunately, after discovering about 300 photos of him sitting in his car seat, I realized he also found the photo app.

For the little ones who aren’t easily entertained by television, make sure to have a bag filled with little toys and books, and swap them out occasionally when you hear them being hurled to the car floor. For my daughter, who was 18 months old during our first long car trip, all she seemed to care about for the most part was her lovey and her pacifier, and I was wrong to assume packing two pacifiers was enough. One completely went missing, and every time she’d drop the spare on the floor, she’d cry, I’d have to unbuckle myself, climb back there to find it, wash it off, and give it back. So keep a couple extras on hand if you have a pacifier addict of your own.


Have a spare outfit or two stowed where you can easily find it, just in case. There’s nothing worse than having a child sitting in a puddle of spilled milk screaming while you’re digging through the suitcase at the very bottom of the pile of luggage for a pair of dry pants. The same goes for diapers and wipes.


Don’t try to set any records, because you’ll need to plan on making lots of stops. If you’re in potty training mode, this is probably not a good time to be making a long road trip. It’s difficult even with a child who has been potty trained for two years who gives you about a four second warning before he’s about to wet his pants. Try to do some preemptive stops to avoid that situation.

Do actually stop for meals and eat inside the restaurant. Preferably, make it one that has a play area, even if your little ones can only spend five minutes in there burning off some energy.  If you rely on the drive through, you’ll just end up with a stinky, messy car and kids who didn’t get their wiggles out.

If your trip is longer than eight hours, you may want to break up your trip and stay at a hotel. At least do this on your way to your destination if it’s your first big road trip, just to be safe. If your brood is handling things well, you can always choose to drive straight through on your way back home.

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