If you’re planning long car rides with kids in the not-so-distant future, and you’re looking for tips to make the experience as pleasant as possible, we’ve got 14 pointers to help. From figuring out the best time of day to travel, to knowing what to pack, to organizing activities, to making the most of rest stops, to ensuring you’re prepared for unforeseen detours and emergencies, we’re sharing tons of ideas and things to consider to help you survive your next family road trip without losing your sanity!
14 Tips to Survive Long Car Rides with Kids
1. ADJUST YOUR MINDSET
Before we dig into our best hacks to make long car rides with kids easier, I want to quickly address one simple yet incredibly important tip that can make or break the entire experience: your mindset. No matter how much you plan and prepare for your travels – and how many snacks and activities your pack – your attitude will play a huge role in how everything plays out.
As much as you want to be in control of your time in the car, much of what happens is completely out of your hands. It’s impossible to predict what traffic will be like, if someone will hurt themselves or fall ill, what kind of mood your kids will be in, if they will enjoy the activities you planned, and if they will sleep as expected. But if you adopt a positive attitude, you will be better able to handle whatever happens along the way.
2. REMEMBER THAT TIMING IS EVERYTHING
While it’s not always possible to schedule long car rides with kids around naps and bedtime, you are much more likely to have a smooth journey if you start off with a well-rested child. If your little one struggles to sleep in the car, plan your trip for first thing in the morning, and put your child to bed earlier than normal the night before to make sure he or she isn’t tired and cranky. If your child is a car sleeper, you may consider traveling at night so he or she can sleep for most of it. You know your child best, so try to organize your travel around his or her schedule.
3. DITCH THE TIMELINES
Long car rides with kids aren’t exactly glamorous, but as much as you want to put the pedal to the metal and get to your destination ASAP so you can get out of the car, the reality is that kids are extremely unpredictable. It is impossible to anticipate how many times they’ll need to pee, how quickly they will grow tired of the activities you’ve packed, if someone will get sick, and if traffic will slow you down. While you may have plans to reach your destination by a certain time, your journey will be much smoother if you let go of expectations and just go with the flow. It will take undue pressure off of everyone, and will make you less impatient when your kids complain they’re bored or announce they need to use the restroom for the millionth time.
4. DON’T IGNORE ILLNESSES
The problem with kids is that they are always goobering and snotting all over everything, and there’s always a high degree of probability your little one is going to get sick the day before you travel. Consider giving them Vitamin C, probiotics or an antioxidant called NAC (or N-acetylcysteine) in the days leading up to your departure. These can all help boost their immune systems, which will help them remain healthy before, during and after travel. Remember to pack enough to bring with you on the trip too – everyone’s immune system is at risk for being compromised when sleep schedules and eating routines are off, not to mention touching surfaces in restaurants and public restrooms.
5. STOCK UP ON MEDS
You never know when your child is going to hurt him- or herself, spike a fever, have an allergic reaction to something, develop diarrhea, or start projectile vomiting when you’re nowhere close to a medical clinic, and while you can easily make a detour, traveling with a miniature pharmacy is always a good idea. I’m sure you have your favorites, but there are some meds I never travel without: Tylenol, Advil, throat lozenges and cough drops, Dramamine, Benadryl, Neosporin, and a first aid kit.
6. SAVE FAVORITE TOYS FOR THE END
As tempting as it is to give your child his or her favorite toy (which is probably an electronic device!) as soon as you strap them into the car, experience has taught me that saving these items until the end of your journey is a much better option. This gives kids something to look forward to, and also gives you a bartering tool. For example, if you have 2 or more children in the car, you can put plans in place where they can earn extra time on their devices if they refrain from arguing with one another.
7. PACK CHARGERS AND SPARE BATTERIES
It goes without saying that you should make sure everyone’s electronic devices are fully charged before you start your journey, but be sure to pack charging cables and consider buying extra batteries and a car charger as well. You never know when you’ll hit traffic, get a flat tire, or have another emergency that delays you from reaching your destination as planned. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
8. PACK LOTS OF SNACKS
Another extremely important tip for surviving long car rides with kids? Snacks. Lots and lots of snacks. While you can certainly stop to get food along the way – which is sometimes part of the fun – having your child’s favorite foods on hand can make a huge difference. Not only does it save you time, but it also ensures you aren’t scrambling to find something they can eat when your options are limited. Squeeze all of your child’s favorite foods into some of these inexpensive bento box containers, and invest in a couple of these PackIt Freezable Lunch Bags to ensure nothing spoils.
9. ORGANIZE CAR ACTIVITIES
Activities and toys are another essential when it comes to surviving long car rides with kids. While you may think your little one will be content with watching movies and playing games on his or her electronic devices the entire time, it’s better to play it safe and have some other ideas up your sleeve. We’ve curated this list of 50 road trip activities for all ages and stages to inspire you!
10. MAKE SURE TO PLAN OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES
In addition to activities your kids can do in the car, make sure to pack a few items your little ones can play with at rest stops to help them stretch their legs and get some energy out. A basketball, soccer ball, baseball and mitt, jump rope, and hula hoop are all great ideas as they can be enjoyed by the whole family, and are small and compact enough not to take up too much room in your car.
11. MAKE A SURPRISE TRAVEL BAG
While we’re talking about activities, I wanted to share a great tip that has made traveling with my daughter so much easier. I first learned this trick from a mom who travels around the world regularly with 6 (yes, SIX) children, and it has been a life changer. Whenever we travel, I put together a bag filled with brand new toys and activities for my daughter. I stock up on dollar store toys and things I find on sale in the weeks leading up to the big day, and usually get a couple of things she has been eyeing at her favorite toy store. It’s a bit indulgent, but I find it goes a long way in keeping her excited and happy during the journey. I don’t show her any of the items before we travel, so it’s a complete surprise once we’re on our way to our destination.
Pro tip: If your child struggles to sit still for long periods of time and/or you are undertaking a particularly long car ride, consider wrapping a few items up in wrapping paper, and surprising your child periodically along your journey. It adds a little excitement, and it’s a great way to reward your little one for good behavior.
12. PLAN STOPS ALONG THE WAY
As much as you may want to drive non-stop until you reach your destination, that’s a pretty unrealistic expectation when you’re traveling with kids. Finding kid-friendly destinations to stop at along the way can make a huge difference in that it gives your kids something to look forward to, and also helps break up the monotony of sitting in the backseat for hours on end.
13. INVEST IN A DISPOSABLE TRAVEL POTTY
If you’re traveling with young kids, aren’t sure there will be ample rest stops along your route, and/or the idea of public bathrooms makes you cringe, a disposable travel potty is a great idea to consider. This travel potty by Playtex is sturdy enough to hold a 60 lb child, and it’s incredibly compact. I wish they sold these when my daughter was younger!
14. PACK SLEEP ESSENTIALS
My final tip to help you survive long car rides with kids is to make sure you have sleep essentials on hand, including PJs, blankets, pillows, and your child’s favorite stuffed animal. Even if you aren’t traveling at night, you may still get delayed due to traffic and other unforeseen emergencies, and your child may decide he or she wants to take a nap. The more comfortable you can make your child, the greater the likelihood they will sleep!
I hope these tips and ideas for surviving long car rides with kids proved useful to you! Remember to have a positive mindset, pack lots of snacks, plan frequent stops, organize tons of activities, ensure your electronic devices are fully charged and that you can re-charge them if needed, and have fun!