A road trip with family is a great way to bond while exploring beautiful places and unique cultures. At the same time, it’s challenging and a great test of patience for parents. Keeping kids busy and entertained while being cooped up in a car for hours on a stretch isn’t easy. We hear you. With careful planning and preparation, the road trip with kids can be fun. Next time you hit the road, follow these tried and tested road trip tips recommended by parents to have a perfect family road trip.
“Road Trips aren’t measured by Mile Markers, but by MOMENTS”
Road Trip Tips for Planning a Perfect Family Road Trip
As a classic road trip makes a comeback with all the pandemic thing going on, we are sure these family road trip hacks will come handy to get the most of your experience on the road.
- Check the car and the documents
- Can’t do without the gadgets
- Road trip Essentials
- Games and Toys
- A little planning goes long way
Car Fitness and Documents Check
#1 Check the Car and Get the Fuel Tank Filled
First and foremost point, before starting your road trip is to check your car so that you have a safe trip, with no mechanical issues.
So, check the battery, engine oil, fluids, and air pressure of the car. Do make sure all the lights and indicators are working fine. Ensuring all parts are working fine will give peace of mind, and you will be ready for a memorable road trip.
And yes, do fuel up your tank before you leave.
#2 Make sure you’ve all Valid Vehicle Documents
After checking the car, you need to check for all the documents and their validity. So keep in the registration, insurance, and pollution certificate. Don’t forget to check the expiry date and get them renewed if required.
#3 Get a Comfortable Car Seat
MELISSA of Travel Car Seat Mom feels that one of the most important considerations for a successful family road trip is making sure everyone is physically comfortable – including the kids. If they aren’t, you’ll hear plenty of complaints during those long driving days! Be sure you’ve chosen a comfortable car seat to keep them happy.
There are many factors that go into choosing the right car seat for a family road trip. Most kids like one that has ample padding so that they can’t feel the hard plastic shell underneath. Some car seats offer breathable fabrics, which can help kids who tend to get sweaty during summer drives; you can also buy a Noggle to safely direct air from the front vents to your rear-facing children.
For kids who are forward-facing, it’s nice to choose a seat that has some recline option if they start to feel tired on a long drive. Since dangling legs can start to be uncomfortable, we sometimes wedge our cooler in front of our son to give him a place to prop his feet.
If your child is a toddler or older, a cup holder is essential for road trips! Kids need to stay hydrated and you won’t want to reach back every other minute to hand them a bottle. Dual cup holders are even better so that the kids can keep their small toys handy for screen-free entertainment.
Choose from these car seats to make drive safe and comfortable:
#4 Carry a Travel Tray or Lap Caddy for Mess-Free Kids’ Road Trip Activities
MELISSA from Camp Essentials says, for young children, a travel tray or lap caddy is a brilliant way to both keep your child entertained as well as well organized.
There is a range of different options on the market, but I recommend you get one that has built-in storage that can be zipped up and taken inside when you’re not in the car. The other option is a harder plastic-type which simply sits over the child’s lap. The plastic ones are good too but aren’t as great in terms of storage.
For super young children there are travel trays which buckle around their car seat, while for primary school-aged children, one that secures on the drivers or passenger seat is best. Whichever design you go with, make sure it has various storage compartments for their pencils, books, and even an iPad holder so they can watch their shows. Some also have a drink holder too.
With a travel tray, you can say goodbye to a big mess in the car, all of your child’s things will be well organized and ready to keep them entertained for the family road trip.
Can’t do away with the Gadgets
#5 Carry a Tablet Preloaded with Fun Apps
CORRITTA from It’s a Family Thing recollects how they wouldn’t have survived a 17-hour road trip from San Diego to Colorado Springs without Elmo and toddler’s tablet. She adds, “before the road trip, we downloaded apps, shows, movies, and songs.”
A few of our favorite free applications are PBS Kids, ABC Mouse, Breathe Think & Do with Sesame, and Baby Games. All of these applications are free to use and are great for kids ages 1 to 5. If you plan on taking a long trip without a lot of stops downloading shows or movies on Netflix is a great option. Our go-to shows for our toddler are Little Baby Bum, Number Blocks, Word Party, Cocomelon, LooLoo Kids, LeapFrog, and Angry Birds.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to put your device on airplane mode to save your battery. If you have Amazon Prime you can now download shows onto your device. There is even a list of best movies for kids that they would love to watch. If you want to save space and download more shows, save at lower video quality/resolution. You will be happy you prepared beforehand to avoid tears and tantrums.
Check out the various tablets that are favorite with kids and parents:
#6 Listen to your Favorite stories through Audio Books
KERI at Bon Voyage With Kids shares that one of their family’s favorite road trip hacks is to download audible books to our kids’ tablets or our phones. She remembers, “Audible books have come a long way since I was a kid, listening to Disney’s Pete’s Dragon over and over again on cassette tape!”
While we used to use a portable DVD player’s for our kids to watch movies during road trips, staring at a screen often resulted in car sickness, so the audible books have offered a fantastic replacement. Not only are they not staring at a screen, but they are captivated and kept busy by some of their favorite stories coming to life.
My favorite audiobook sites include Audible (although this costs money) and Spotify. You can also check with your local public library to see if you can access audiobooks through Libby audiobook service. You may also want to check with your child’s school to see if they partner with Sora, which also includes an app for you to download audiobooks.
Audiobooks are a great hack for keeping your kids engaged and entertained, while avoiding screens, during your road trip.
And if your kids love reading books, then check out our list of Best Travel books for kids to Nurture their love for travel and road trips.
#7 Make Each Child Their Own Road Trip Bag
KERI at Bon Voyage With Kids also shares another essential road trip hack of packing individual road trip bag for every kid.
She says, “In addition to the kids’ tablets or our phones, I recommend bringing headphones in their backpacks, this way each child can be entertained with whichever audiobook they like. Having their own “road trip bag” complete with their entertainment, earphones, snacks, and water is like a kids’ carry-on for the car, so they can be self-sufficient during the trip.”
#8 Draw or Play Tic-Tac-Toe on Boogie Boards
LISSA from Roots, Wings and Travel Things says their absolute favorite family road trip hack is the Boogie Board. A Boogie Board is an LCD writing tablet that allows kids to use a stylus pen to write on the LCD screen. Our boys love using them in the car because they are perfect for playing games like tic-tac-toe and Hangman that can help pass the time.
They have used them to keep track of license plates we see while driving and also to draw pictures of things we see on our road trips. Boogie Boards are lightweight, don’t require any batteries, and allow kids to draw for hours without needing to keep track of lets of crayons, pencils, or loose sheets of paper.
Grown-ups will love Boogie Boards because they are not an actual tablet or screen- they can only be used for drawing and require kids to be creative as opposed to passively looking at a screen. In addition to being perfect for road trips, Boogie Boards are also perfect for bringing into restaurants to help keep kids busy while waiting for their food. Whether we’re going on a long road trip or just a short trip out for dinner, we never leave home without our Boogie Boards!
Essentials For a Peaceful Road Trip
#9 Be Ready for Roadside Emergencies
DELILAH from Our Travel Mix comments that it’s easy to jump in the car and get going. Remembering to take emergency items for ‘just in case’ situations can save you unnecessary stress when things go wrong – which they often do!
A first aid kit is an essential part of your packing list no matter where you’re going. Cuts and scrapes are common, but including painkillers for headaches, antihistamines for allergies, and motion sickness pills for the drive will be appreciated when the need arises.
It’s also a great idea to have a flashlight in your vehicle. Power outages are fairly common, plus the torch will come in handy if something goes wrong at night.
We once took a road trip to New Zealand, parked our car at the start of a hike, and went for a 2-hour walk. Unfortunately, we forgot our lights were on and came back to a flat battery. Emergency assistance is expensive, but fellow travel remembered to bring their jumper leads and jump-started our car for us.
Therefore, it’s crucial to pack all these emergency items on a road trip. It also feels great to whip one of them out when a fellow traveller is in need.
#10 Pack Trash Bags to Keep Car Clean
We always believe in caring for our surroundings and nature, so we always keep trash bags along with our stuff. This even keeps our car clean and the kids learn to care about the environment too.
#11 Pack Wet Wipes and Sanitizers To Keep Away Germs
Another important thing we can’t travel without is the wet wipes, a must to wipe off hands after the snack, or to wipe off those spills. In fact, we always have a box of wet wipes in our car. It is also better to keep some extra tissues/ paper towels.
And how can we forget sanitizers? They are an integral part of travel. We prefer the small 1 oz travel size bottles with keychain holder that can be attached to purse, keychains, or bags. Always convenient and handy to use.
#12 Neck Pillows and Blankets for Nap
An important thing to carry for the kids is the neck pillow and blankets for making them cozy for a sound sleep. We generally carry small blankets for each kid.
#13 Pack Mess-Free Drinks and Snacks
Do you feel more hungry while traveling? Our kids certainly do. They start asking for snacks the moment we head off. And who likes the cranky kids.
So, we pack a variety of snacks, juices, yogurts, and fruits for munching. One thing I have learned is to pack the snacks in snack size Ziplocs or boxes for each individual. This makes it easy to eat and also avoids spills and fighting.
We prefer carrying dry snacks like pretzels, granola bars, cereals, nuts, dry fruits, and sandwiches or wraps for meals. Small tetra packs of juices or squeezes with a cap are great for travel. Are you worried about spilling the juice? We Loved the juice box holders to keep the tetra pack safe and sturdy. And they come with handles that make it convenient for kids to hold.
It is always good to carry extra snacks and water always.
#14 Check the Weather Before a Road Trip
Don’t forget to check the weather for the destinations along your road trip to avoid any nightmares or shocks. It also helps you pack the clothes and other essentials according to the weather.
We learned this road trip tip the hard way after one of our road trips where we got stuck in a blizzard and our car was getting skid.
Have you ever had a bad experience while driving through your best road trips in the world?
Games and Toys
#15 Keep Kids Busy with Unique Fun Road Trip Games
Road trip games are a great way to keep kids away from gadgets and have an enjoyable scree-free time.
KRYSTIANNA from Volumes & Voyages says her absolute favorite road trip hack while traveling with kids is to play the License Plate Game. Now, the way that you play it is quite simple really. There are a few ways to play, but the way that I’ve found is easiest (and works with all age groups) is to try to find license plates from as many different states as you can while you’re on a road trip. The goal is to try to find all 50!
Just be sure to take notes while you’re in the car or snap a picture of the license plates on your phone so you can keep track of which ones you find. The nice thing about this game is that you could play it competitively (if you trust the kids you’re traveling with to not fight) or just as a whole group! I’ve found that this can really keep a kid’s attention for at least 30 minutes in a car.
#16 Carry Coloring Pads and Magnetic Drawing Boards
RACHEL & TIERNAN from Celt & Kiwi says if you are planning a road trip, you are probably looking for activities that will engage your child for as long as possible! Our daughter loves to draw, but markers and crayons do not mix well with upholstery. We rarely hit the road without a mess-free alternative. Mess-free coloring is probably the best invention for creative kids.
Our most recent obsession is the Melissa and Doug reusable painting pad – Water WOW. The sturdy, spiral-bound card means you do not need a hard surface to use it. We have several different themes to reflect our daughter’s ever-changing interests.
For a longer journey, we bring along a magnetic drawing board. Ours has a cushion on the reverse — so it is ideal for our daughter to rest on her knees. Most importantly, the pen is attached by a cord, meaning it will never be lost between the seats!
If you need a burst of color, Crayola Color Wonder Mess Free Coloring kits come with special markers that only work on the paper provided. These activities have been a complete hit in our family and road trips have never been easier.
#17 Surprise Kids with Wrapped Gifts
STEHLI KRAUSE from Mommy and Kid Travel reacts – Ah, the lure of the open road! Nothing says summertime travel like a good, old fashioned road trip. The heat, the humidity, the highway…Every great road trip needs a bit of planning and some quality road trip hacks.
My kids and I have logged thousands of miles traveling the Midwest and east coast. Before every trip, I scour Pinterest for the latest and greatest travel tips. Here are a few of my favorites.
A travel binder chock full of kid-friendly maps, bingo games, packing lists, and coloring pages worked well when they were 7 to 10 years old. Don’t forget a zipper pencil pouch to keep pencils and markers from flying around. A basket full of small, wrapped gifts was also excellent when the kids were younger.
I packaged car-friendly items like stickers, window clings, markers, and candy bars on our Florida to New York road trip, and every time we crossed a state line they received a little package to open. That was a big hit.
#18 Travel Mascot Fun
STEHLI KRAUSE also suggests her favorite kid-friendly road trip travel tip – travel mascot. When the complaining and bickering begin, I turn to my pal Fat Piggy, our farting travel mascot. Fat Piggy is a small, pink piggy from a game long discarded. He sings and breaks wind and always makes us laugh.
His purpose in the car is simple. He cuts the tension by cutting the cheese. “Who has my headphones? Where are the snacks? Stop looking at me! You! Stop looking at me!” Enter Fat Piggy. I push his round belly, he sings his song, passes gas, and everyone laughs. As we all know, laughter and good times are the key to any great road trip.
A Little Planning Goes Long Way
#19 Plan according to Kids Sleep Patterns
JAMES from Katherine Rosman suggests if you have young children then hours on the road can lead to a lot of restlessness. But you can minimize the time periods where they could become unsettled by understanding your child’s sleep patterns, and attention span. Then scheduling stops & activities accordingly.
For example, I know that my Son is at his best in the mornings and is more likely to sleep on a long drive if he is up just that little bit earlier than usual.
This means a 5.30 am departure on a long day of driving.
He will be quiet for most of the first leg while he wakes up, and munches on some breakfast snacks. But after that first roadside stop when I can get him to run around and tire himself out a bit, I know that once he settles back into the car he will drift off 30 minutes in.
This means a good hour or two of easy driving time while he snoozes away. And a total of 4-5 hours of driving time before he may get restless, or I have to pull out the trusty iPad.
#20 Arrive Hotel/Camp Before Dark
EMMA WALMSLEY from Small footprints, big adventures tells whenever we take a road trip, we always try to time our arrival before it starts getting dark. It’s not always possible but most of the time we can do it, even on multiple-day road trips.
Stopping to rest and unpack before the dinner rush suits our kids best, giving them a chance to play or unwind out of their car seats before sitting again to eat. It also feels good for us to have a lot of time out of the car before getting back into it the next day.
We found it was quite essential to arrive mid-afternoon on our Adelaide to Uluru Road Trip so we had time to set up our camp before the light faded away! It’s so much harder in the dark, even when traveling in a caravan and having our own lighting. If we could set up at a relaxed pace it was also much less stressful for us adults! And of course, having time to explore the surroundings and meet other travelers is another great benefit of several hours’ relaxation.
#21 Take Pit Stops to Unwind during the Road trip
MAYURI PATEL from Fernwehrahee feels road trips are always fun, especially long family trips. While you are on a road trip, obviously you are going to sit for a long time and that can be painful for your legs! Why? Because you have to sit in the same posture for a long time that can be horrible for your health. So, it is always a good idea to take pit stops and walk to relax your legs after you have driven for a few hours.
I love road-tripping in the Himalayas especially Uttarakhand where you can stop after a few hours to have food at some Dhaba or for seeing the majestic mountains on both sides!
If you really want to enjoy the family road trip to any destination- just turn around and see the amazing attractions, be it waterfalls, architecture, or nearby river! Plan your itinerary such that you enjoy the road more than the destination and I must say you will not be disappointed!
It is always good to relax for a few minutes or take a walk to relax your muscles. Take along with football or Frisbee so that everyone can join to burn some calories! This is how road trip memories are made.
#22 Check for the Gas Stations and Restaurants Along the Way
It is always good to check if gas stations are available at regular intervals along the route or not. We remember driving in Arizona on one of the best road trips in USA, where there were no gas stations or restaurants for long stretches. If such is the case, make sure you get the gas tank filled and use the restrooms to avoid any glitches.
Search for the restaurants at the destinations where you plan to take meal breaks. This avoids wasting of time to find the restaurant of your choice.
#23 Bring a Pump and Schedule Nursing Stops When Traveling with a Breastfeeding Baby
TORI from Tori-Leigh.com says if you’re breastfeeding while traveling, it’s pertinent to schedule nursing stops frequently. Newborns, especially, feed every few hours and can’t sit in the car for longer than a two-hour stretch. Why not try to time those feedings with gas and rest stops?
All mothers know though, that the best-laid plans often fall by the wayside. What happens when traffic strikes or road closures prevent that important scheduled stop? No-one wants a screaming, hungry baby flailing around in a stopped car.
One of the best hacks in this situation is a manual hand pump. Electricity free and easy to use, simply pump your breast milk with the hand pump and bottle feed it to your baby on demand. The Medela hand pump comes with a convenient attachment to affix a bottle nipple to the pump bottle, but you can easily pour your milk into any bottle your baby will take.
Keep in mind that it’s unsafe to unbuckle your baby in a moving or stopped vehicle or to attempt to nurse while the baby is still buckled in.
We sincerely hope these road trip tips help you have a fun and hassle-free family road trip.
What is your favorite road trip hacks? Did we miss it in our list? Do share your experiences so that they can be helpful for others as well.
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