We have done our fair share of road trips with kids since becoming parents, and are pleased to share this practical road trip plan to have the most successful family road trip possible.
These tips have been put together having done long car rides with our 3 children – aged from infants right through to nine years old at the moment. Fair to say, we have created a few strategies to make the trip go as peacefully, and pain-free as possible. These are our tips for the best road trip with kids.
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Top Road Trip With Kids Tips & Tricks
Car Trips Are Quality Time With Kids
This was a game-changer for me. Instead of seeing road trips as an endless expense of time, or a test of endurance, I rather see it as a special time I can dedicate to the children. This is especially true once they get to be older. You can converse, muse different points, and generally explore topics that we don’t have time for at home.
Planning Your Road Trip Is Crucial
Having a plan for your family road trip is vital. As a rule of thumb, we stop every two hours for toilets breaks, and for the kid’s attention spans. If I know the route in advance, or I’ve driven it before, I plan good stops in my mind. If I don’t know the route, I Google playgrounds, and picnic areas for kids.
The younger the children are, the more frequent the stops need to be. Toddlers do need to break every two years old but children aged 4 plus you can increase the time between stops to three hours.
Plan For Daytime Sleeps
If you have children who still have daytime sleeps, do make sure your plan takes into account their daytime sleep time. There’s nothing worse than stopping for a break and waking up your child.
Be Willing To Throw The Plan Out
Having a plan is crucial – but just as important as having the flexibility to see that the plan is not working and you need to stop now.
Let The Plan Go, And Have Fun
Road trips with kids are fun – I promise. If you spot an awesome playground on the road, then why not pull over, and have a bit of fun.
If we plan ahead and allow a whole day for a trip, there’s no reason not to stop. You can have a bit of fun even though it takes longer to get there.
Allow For The Unexpected
Vomits, drink spills or an intentional stop because you just saw a great playground, we look at driving time from point A to B and then add a minimum of 30 minutes per break. Or at least an extra hour … or two. Road trips with kids are so much more successful if the parents are not stressed.
Are We There Yet
If there’s one question designed to drive a parent mad on a road trip, it is: are we there yet? For older literate kids, we teach them to see the road markers for the next town, so that they’re looking out the window. Keeping their mind out looking for the road marker, and teaching themselves to answer the question, are we there yet? For preliterate children, we also set landmarks.
For example, when we see the bridge, it’s going to be half an hour more when we see the tower, it’s going to be 20 minutes more and when we see the funny tree that’s leaning over the road, it’s going to be five kilometers more. This will, of course, depend on the age of the kid.
Nothing beats a good old fashioned sing-along to pass the time on a family road trip – and it doesn’t have to be Bananas in Pajamas the whole way. It can be Abba, the Beatles, or anything I like to pelt out at the top of my lungs. I’ve considered that road trips are about educating my children in classical music, and by classical music, I mean Abba, and the Beatles, and Elvis Presley.
Songs that have clear words, a good beat, and get everybody moving work the best. With singalongs and music you take turns at choosing, so everybody gets a turn at a song each. With older kids, you also have one child in charge of the music, so that the driver doesn’t need to.
Anything with a catchy tune works for road trip singalongs. Unfortunately, my kids vote for Barbie Girl consistently.
I’m a Barbie girl in a Barbie world
Life in plastic, it’s fantastic
Storytelling is an excellent way to develop language and writing skills. It is another way to enjoy road tripping with kids.
There is so much great information and great books out there on the art of storytelling. One book, in particular, that we love and found totally inspiring is Getting Children Writing Story Ideas For Children Aged 3-11 by Simon Brownhill. The thing I found particularly inspiring in this book was the author was great at explaining the art of storytelling and how to teach and pass that on to your children. This book is definitely worth a read. It is such great inspiration when brainstorming road tripping with kid’s ideas or even screen-free airplane activities for kids.
When children start school a pre-writing phase is the ability to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Teach this structure during your travel storytelling and it will be a bonus.
Talking books are OK for children over about 4 years old. Younger than that and you need a book that they can turn the pages with pictures, or it is hard for them to visualize.
Food, Glorious Food
I know parents who hate having their kids eat in the car because they make a mess. It is true, but it also passes the time on a road trip brilliantly. Before departing have your snack bags organized. They need to be packed ahead of time, and you need to take into account what can little finger open, and what’s going to spill all over the floor?
After finishing up a road trip, it’s always a mission to them spend time cleaning up or vacuuming a car, so think about easy food to eat in the car. If you are on a solo road trip, a well thought out snack bag is vital.
There are many word games that you can play, but these are three of our favorites:
Take turns by naming an animal starting with A, then B, and so on until you finish the alphabet. You can do the same with cities and countries.
This can go on for a long time. Which is fantastic once the children have learned their letters.
I went to the market …
I went to the market and I bought a … People take turns buying something in this popular memory game and remembering all the purchases.
Kid’s Road Trip Activity Bags
If you are driving solo, you need to pack individual activity bags that are easily accessible for the child.
- Stickers, stickers, stickers[/easyazon_link]. From two years up, stickers are like the best thing. There are great age-appropriate sticker books that you need to look for, and then, the main thing is making sure they can get the stickers off the page by themselves. The [easyazon_link identifier="B073HGTSDD" locale="US" tag="world06006-20"]window stickers are also fun.
- Coloring and drawing books are also good, but not so good on rough roads. Again, you need to think about your trip, and how to manage the children. Pencils and crayons get lost so the magnetic boards with pens attached do work well.
- pipe cleaners are easy to play with and can use up a while!
- If you have a Lego fanatic I pack a baking tray (or similar large flat tray) and his Legos can be kept contained during the long drive. Below are some of our favorite Lego sets.
Solo Road Trips
There is a big difference between solo road trips vs a co-pilot doing the driving. The main difference is that when you are solo you need to be super well organized. Lunch boxes close to them, easy-open containers, activities with reach. If you have a driver, you can be a little less organized, and it’s a much, much easier to manage.
Sometimes when you are solo, you are just going to have to stop to sort out the problems.
Some solo parents report that night time driving is best for them. They plan to head off close to the children’s sleep time and drive into the night. I rarely do this because I tend to get sleepy myself and there is a lot of wildlife on the roads, meaning you have to go slower than during the day.
What About Technology When Road Tripping With Kids
We’ve consciously tried to reduce the use of screens in our lives, as we described on Can We Go Screen-Free On A 3-Hour Flight. Yes – screens are a guaranteed way of keeping the kids quiet on a road trip – but it seems like a lost opportunity for connection, sharing and so much fun! That’s right; road tripping with kids can be fun.
But yes, if all else fails an iPad will work and believe me if you hit a traffic jam at the end of a 7-hour road trip you are going to be glad you kept it for an “emergency.” So, in general, I keep the technology in reserve for later in the trip when it is “really” needed.
Car sickness in Kids (Motion sickness)
If you have a child that suffers motion sickness during road trips, you will need to plan your trip even BETTER!
You can try a sea band child size for your children – it works for us. The best tip we have for dealing with motion sickness in kids is sea bands + frequent stops for walks.
Road Tripping With Kids – The Verdict
I’ve got a friend who drives 36 hours across Australia twice a year in 3-day stints with 3 children by HERSELF. She is amazing, and if she reads this she knows I am talking about her. Next year she is going to do the trip 4 times. Yes, you read that – one perfectly sane, though superwoman like a woman is going to voluntarily drive 144 hours with children in some mega road trips. I asked her the other day for her tips and interestingly her suggestions were very similar to what I have written here.
Contrary to popular rumor, a road trip with kids can be a lot of fun. We suggest using this tried and tested list of road trip planning tips. Get out there on the road and enjoy a great family road trip.
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