How to survive a lengthy road trip with young ones

From December 6th through January 6th, our family slept in 8 different places.  We packed up our new minivan with the kids and the dog and headed south to see family, friends, and go on a cruise.  It was … amazing, fun and exhausting.  It made me realize the extended road trip can be a part of the type-A mom’s travel repertoire with the right tools.  Here’s what I learned that I will remember for the next one:

1) Drive as much as you can when your kids would normally be asleep.  If you have young children like we do, this is a must.   We had a 15-hour drive, and we set out right when afternoon naps should have begun.  They slept well, then hung in there a couple of hours until we stopped for dinner.  After dinner, we drove another four hours before stopping for the night – and they slept then, too.  So we made it halfway without the kids really making any noise at all.

2) Break up the drive. Don’t expect little kids to be able to sit in their car seats for more than about three-to-four hours at a time (whether they’re sleeping or not).  You can plan fun, half-day stops at destinations along the way if you’re not on a timetable (think South of the Border).  Or if you just need to “get there,” seek out the Cracker Barrels (because between the rocking chairs and store inside you can keep a two-year-old entertained) and the Chick-Fil-As with indoor playgrounds (so your kids can spend some energy regardless of what the weather is like – and sanitized hand wipes are provided).

3) Have a portable DVD player. When we recently bought our minivan, Evita the Silver Bullet (aptly-named because she has liberated us and has 248 horsepower), we decided against the installed entertainment system.  Instead, for a third of the cost, we purchased an iPad and bought the case that attaches to the back of a headrest.  This was the most important item we had for achieving peace in the car.  We loaded it full of episodes of “Dora the Explorer” and a few movies, as well as educational apps that entertained Eliza for 15-20 minutes at a time.

4) Pack a lot of snacks. It’s amazing how tiny pieces of food can not only stave off boredom and hunger, but also buy you quiet time.  Raisins, Cheerios and Goldfish are some of the best options for keeping kids happier longer.

5) Sit with your kids. For parts of the drive when we knew both kids would be awake, one of us sat in-between the two car seats to help entertain them.  This especially made a difference with Zach, our one-year-old.

6)  Pack long-term and short-term bags. Put items you won’t need for the drive in heavier, larger suitcases that get packed underneath everything else.  Pack smaller, weekender-type bags with all the essentials.  That way, loading and unloading all of your stuff along the way into random hotels won’t be as much of a hassle.

7) Play games and sing songs. Take turns choosing who gets to be in charge of the radio and make sure your kids hear some music that they like.  When my kids get older, I know I will play the same game my parents played with us.  If you grow up near farmland, you will inevitably see cows.  My parents always promised us a dime for every cow we caught peeing and a quarter for every one we caught pooping.  You’d be amazed at how long you can entertain children who are straining to see whether a cow is peeing or pooping while they fly by your car window at 70-miles-per-hour.  I have also pre-emptively bought a “ROAD TRIP BINGO” game.  (  I’m excited to play that when the kids get older.

Our maiden voyage in Evita turned out great, and we look forward to the next trip, whether it’s just a weekend or another whirlwind.

4 thoughts on “How to survive a lengthy road trip with young ones

  1. I couldn’t have outlined that any better! Those are all the things we did on our 8 road trips and it brought us a lot of sanity and made the road trip manageable. As another note to the Chick-fil-a comment we also let B play the entire time that we ate and we fed her, her lunch in the car to buy use at least another 30 minutes of quiet in the car and to give her more play time. Then she was tired and full and fell asleep for a good afternoon nap. The only thing we did differently was that we left at 3 or 4 in the morning because B can not handle being in the car at night and it just led to major meltdowns, but she loves it in the morning so we just too off early, but did try to get in as many sleeping hours as possible too.

  2. Yup, that “rural” game created a lot of interest. As I reflect, I think that in one afternoon your visual acumen earned you a whopping 85 cents! It’s a silly and rather distasteful game which my parents played with me. I guess “the gift goes on” (as amny others do). Just a thought . . . what do you think the act of breeding should fetch? A buck?

  3. we made a few 14+ hour drives to colorado and back when we lived in arizona. i actually found that with my kids, it was better to drive straight through. so we ate ALOT. by the end of each trip, i was so bloated and full of snacking… but it worked. breakfast bars along with everything you said were great. chick fil a’s would have been a luxury, but in rural NM, the only thing we could find was mcdonalds. so we bought yogurt parfaits and salads and the girls ran wild. anytime we would stop to pee or get gas, i would get them a little special snack or pull out a new dvd or toy and that seemed to work well too. they slept when they were tired and often took 2-3 smallish naps (rather than one long one) and that worked well. we do dvd’s like crazy on trips. i can’t wait till we can listen to books on tape. i tried it once but they didn’t last (or rather the 2 year old didn’t last :).

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