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Road Tripping with Small Children: 5 Tips to Ease the Trip

Traveling with small children can sometimes be a source of stress. Whether you’re traveling by plane or road tripping by car, it’s definitely not anyone’s idea of a relaxing time (though personally, I’d much rather drive than take all my kids on a plane). 

However, it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom and sweat-inducing stress. I’d like to share some tips to make road tripping with small children easier. 

While I’m not a professional by any means, I’ve gone road tripping with my children multiple times, across various states, and I’ve found a couple of things help make the trips easier. Obviously, having a DVD player or some sort of screen helps tremendously, but there are times when kids get bored even of screens. (Shocker, I know!) Whether you’re traveling for a holiday or planning on some fun trips this summer, I hope that you find some useful ideas here! 

One: Count down 

The smaller the child, the less they understand the concept of time. While it’s easy to explain that 10 minutes is “how long it takes us to get to Target,” explaining a couple of hours makes it more difficult. 

One thing that has worked great for my kids is mini sticky notes somewhere visible on the car – dash, mirror, wherever they can see it. I explain that every sticky note represents an hour (or whatever length of time you choose), and we have 6 sticky notes to travel today.

Set a timer on your phone and when the timer goes off, celebrate and make a big deal about picking a sticky note to pull off. It’s encouraging for the kids to see the visual time representation shrinking, especially as the days can feel long. It actually can be encouraging to adults too. (Only two more sticky notes of whining left to go!)

Two: Snacks, snacks, snacks

Want to know the number one entertainment for my kids in the car? Food. It shouldn’t be a big surprise, I mean we all eat when we’re bored. But the thing that kept us all from losing our sanity on one of our longer trips was a cooler full of snacks.

You get to choose the snacks, but my kids love fruit, so I cut up berries and put them in little plastic containers. Other containers had cheese, crackers, raisins, etc. We kept our cooler right behind the driver’s seat, so the passenger parent could reach and dole out snacks as necessary. As a bonus, because the containers were reusable, I washed them and filled them again for our trip home. 

trip snacks

Cut up fruit makes a great snack!

(Side note: yes, snacks are almost always messy, but a car on a road trip is going to be messy. I say pick your battles and happy kids = happy parents in an enclosed space like a car.)

Three: Bubbles

This discovery was a happy accident that happened as we stretched our legs in the middle of hot Nevada. Someone had given us a big container of bubbles, and we pulled it out and let the girls chase the bubbles. Since it was a windy day, they never caught a bubble but did get plenty of exercise trying!

Maybe bubbles aren’t your kids’ thing, but having something to encourage them to move a bit during any stops is a life-saver! If you wear them out really well, maybe they’ll all nap and you can listen to music of your choice instead of Paw Patrol in the background…

Four: Training toilet

If you take nothing else from my wisdom, let it be this: always keep a training toilet in your car. (Something like this one). It will save you when you’re in the middle of Nevada (why is it always Nevada?!) and someone HAS TO GO NOW!

An added tip here – if you put a disposable diaper in the bottom, you can more easily dispose of everything/anything. And this tip isn’t just for road tripping!

The training potty never leaves my car, because even when I’m around town, someone inevitably has to go right after I buckle everyone into the car. You’re welcome! 

Five: Make it fun

I know that at times, being stuck in a car for hours with small children can feel like torture. But it’s not super fun for them, either. If you can try and find ways to make it fun, everyone will have a better trip.

When I was little and would travel with my parents, my dad always made sure to get a hotel with a pool, which we thought was amazing. My girls wistfully stare at hotels and wish aloud that they could go swimming in the pool, so getting to stay at a hotel WITH A POOL is a huge deal to them.

trip pool

Stop at fun stops, eat at the fun places, buy a new movie for the car. You know your kids, and you know what will make it fun for them.

Another way to add fun in is to fill a bag with miscellaneous prizes and let the kids pick one every time a sticky note comes off (see tip #1). Even something as simple as a sheet of stickers can be an exciting prize when you’re on hour four of a road trip. 

One day, it won’t be so hard to get kids in and out of the car and road trips can be even more fun. For now, I hope these tips will make your next road trip just a little bit easier and road tripping as a family less daunting. 

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One Response to Road Tripping with Small Children: 5 Tips to Ease the Trip

  1. Avatar
    Rebecca January 25, 2019 at 11:42 am #

    Such a great article full of fantastic and practical (read, doable) ideas!