Family Road Trip Tips: A Simple Cheat-Sheet For Mellow Travel With Kids

Travel with kids is one of the best ways to spend time together as a family. Having adventures and making memories is extremely important to us but, with three kids, it’s not always an enjoyable experience for everyone. 

But, I still love planning a trip, packing the car, and taking off to discover some new part of the state or country. 

It must be that part of my brain where nostalgia lives that inspires me to plan a new trip after coming home from one where travel with kids was a little rough.

I can’t help it.

I just love learning about things like castles in America or hidden hot springs in the US and then planning a trip to go and see them. 

When I was a kid, our parents drove my two sisters and me all the way from California to Idaho in the bed of a pickup truck.

Granted, the truck had a camper shell on it and a “carpet kit” that essentially functioned as a bed for us to lay on. But, that means that the three of us laid down for 800 miles. 

And, this was before portable devices so, we just looked out the window the whole time.

It’s too bad they didn’t know about van living – we would have been set up right!

Childhood Memories 

On that particular trip, we spent some nights in hotel rooms and some nights we camped. We were going to visit family friends and it fun discovering some adorable small towns on the way.

I remember one night we camped. My parents slept in the bed of the pickup and my sisters and I slept in the tent just outside of the truck.

I woke up in the middle of the night and thought that I had peed the bed. I was about 11 so, it was weird and I grabbed the flashlight next to me.

It was then that I noticed my paperback book float past me. The tent was filled with a couple of inches of water because it was raining so hard outside.

I went and got my parents and they proceeded to bunch up and throw everything into the back of the truck, along with us three girls and hit the road in the middle of the night.

The funny thing is that I don’t remember that trip as the hell it sounds like it was. I just remember spending time with my family and seeing new parts of the country.

Rites of Passage

Whether it was just an 8-hour trip to Grandma’s house or a full-on road trip to another state, I have very fond memories of the excursions that my parents took us on.

It was an awesome way to spend time together and, to be completely honest, I really did enjoy just staring peacefully out the window. I still do.

I think that road-tripping and travel with kids is a little bit of tradition that we need to pass down. It’s part of growing up and everyone should experience it.

But, I don’t think that the whole focus of the trip should be whether or not the kids are enjoying it. Some of the focus should be shared with how to make the trip as easy as possible for the parents.

Kids are going to remember what they remember. They’re going to form a feeling or impression about the trip and that’s going to be it.

Instead, think about how to make the trip as enjoyable for the family as a whole … parents included!

Here are a few tips to help make your travel with kids go smoothly. 

Pack Your Own Food

Pack a cooler and a canvas grocery bag full of snacks and sandwich makings. I have a couple of the world’s worst picky eaters so, I do have to be mindful of packing what they will eat. 

We pack things like Cliff bars, protein bars, packets of nut butter, cheese sticks, etc. Foods that have high protein and will stick with us a little longer than the empty calories of gas station chips. 

We eat the chips too (or, corn nuts!) it’s just we mix in the healthy stuff too so it’s a good balance. Putting some yogurt tubes and juice boxes in the freezer the night before works really great too.

Luckily, I’m a master at meal planning so, I can organize a good “travel with kids” snack pack.

Don’t forget to grab each person their own spill-proof cup to keep drinks in. Pack a case of La Croix for everyone to share and skip the gas station sodas.

Nothing worse than a car full of kids all hopped up on soda.

You can even skip a few fast food stops and choose a grocery store instead. The deli section usually has a good mix of baked chicken and healthy sides along with the fried corn dogs and Jo-Jos.

Save On Gas is an awesome website that we found in an AARP magazine – no, we’re not retired 🙂

I think it was at the doctor’s office or something when we took our middle son in for one of his many respiratory infections.

Anyway, it’s been a tremendous resource ever since we discovered it and it really helps to plan out the budget for a trip.

All Things Portable Electronics

Okay, just because I like looking out the window doesn’t mean I’m going to force my kids to do it. I’m not a caveman.

Plus, they’re just going to whine the whole time and I won’t be able to enjoy my looking out the window time.

So, they each have a tablet and my daughter has a laptop that she brings along on trips. We have Netflix and Amazon Prime and we make sure to download episodes or movies before we hit the road.

In fact, when we are shopping for birthdays and Christmas, we actually have road trips and travel with kids in mind when we’re picking out any kind of device or system.

To make sure that no one’s veg-out time is interrupted (mine included), we have a couple of multi-port USB car chargers.

Sometimes, we rent a car for a trip just to have the extra luxuries of actual wall sockets in the car and clips or mounts for the tablets to hook up to.

Don’t forget their headphones!

******Pro tip: If you don’t have a headrest mount for your kid’s tablet, lift the headrest out of it’s holes, lay the edge of a gallon-size freezer back over the holes (with the zipper part facing to the right) poke the headrest sticks through the Ziploc bag and secure the headrest back into its place. Slide the tablet into the ziplock bag through the zipper end. Voila! The tablet is mounted and sticky-finger proof. (Works on airplane seats too.)

Keep The Car Tidy

My kids are complete slobs when it comes to road trips. They *literally* think that the floor of the car is a garbage can.

To help with this, I went to the Dollar Store and grabbed a few plastic shoe organizers.

I put one over each of the headrests in the car and each kid has their own. There are six pouches in each organizer.

So, they can put their trash in a few, their cup in one, their leftover protein bar they didn’t eat in one, some baby wipes in another.

Then, when we get to a gas station or grocery store, I just empty the trash out of their pouches. Works like a charm!

Bring a circular plastic laundry basket to keep all of your shoes in. Travel with kids and road-tripping with shoes on is super uncomfortable. But, when you’ve got to pee really bad the last thing you want to be doing is searching for shoes.

When we rent a car, I cover the seats with a fitted sheet to make sure the kids’ car seats don’t wreck the seats and all of their crumbs and sticky bits are caught.

Avoid Hearing “Are We There Yet”?

Kids have a very loose concept of time. Especially, when they are watching videos or playing games in the car.

They almost forget where they are, and when they do snap back to reality, they can get confused about what’s going on.

Having a visual timer in the car, that everyone can see, helps kids to remember what the heck is happening when they have those brief re-introductions with reality on a road trip.

A visual time is a great way to tell them, without having to tell them “for the 100th time”, that you will be stopping for a break at 2 o’clock.

They can just look at the visual timer and know that it’s still running so, you’re not there yet.

Schedule Your Trip

This might sound contrary to your idea of road-tripping. It’s not very spontaneous, which some people might think is a necessary part of a road trip.

But, when you’re planning travel with kids and road-tripping, the least amount of spontaneity you can work into the trip … the better.

For instance, plan to only spend six to nine hours on the road in a day. This is the total trip time for a day – not just the driving time.

So, drive three hours, stop for 30 minutes to get gas, food and use the toilet, and then drive another two and a half hours.

We have found that three hours is about as long of a stretch as we can do with our kids. But, as they get older, we might be able to drive a little bit longer before everyone needs a break.

I still think no more than 9-hours total for the day is a good goal.

Leave The Kids With Grandma And Hit The Road On Your Own!

I’m serious. There’s no reason why you and the hubs can’t take a little weekend excursion without the kiddos and enjoy some grown-up time.



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  • Reply

    Thanks for all these great tips! We are about to do our first long family road trip—3 days in each direction! I have an almost 2 year old and a five year old. Hopefully all will go well!

    • Reply
      The New Housewife

      That’s so awesome! Don’t you just love summertime and travel!? 🙂 We just did a two-day road trip to stay on the California coast for a month. Have so much fun on your trip!! And, be safe!

  • Reply

    Awesome tips. We do many of these. We do one long road trip 12 hours in one day. And many shorter 3-6 hrs a year. Couple other things
    1. Activity binders— paper games like tic tax toe, word search, coloring pages, bingo, scavenger hunts, ect each kid gets one three ring binder full of those, a pencil case filled.
    2. Individual snack bag— each kid gets one attached to the headrest in front of the , saves from handing stuff back and the wining if I am hungry. I use an insulated bag and freeze things like juice boxes, string cheese, and yogurt tubes.
    3small lightnweight blankets. Either just to snuggle with or because someone is too cold especially those sitting on the shade side.
    4. Do a quick clean at ever bathroom stop.
    5. Keep a small garbage can and extra grocery bags. I fill the cup holders in the side of the doors that no one uses.

    • Reply
      The New Housewife

      Yaaaassss!! Thanks for these extra tips Emily!! xoxo

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