How to Make a Long Family Road Trip with Kids Enjoyable
Road trips are an exciting time to create memories with your little ones. But, let’s face it, yelling in the backseat and choruses of “Are we there yet?” every five minutes aren’t how most parents envision their time away from home.
Plus, even the most experienced parents can feel overwhelmed trying to juggle entertaining their kiddos, focusing on the road and staying sane until they reach their final destination.
At ParentEducate.com, we know firsthand how challenging everyday things (like road trips) can be with kids.
That’s why we’ve created a host of resources to provide families like yours with research-based tips and tricks that will prepare you for every possible scenario throughout your child’s development - including milestones like family road trips (whether they’re an hour down the road or a multi-day affair).
So, install the carseats and buckle up your seat belts, because, we’re sharing why you should add a few more long road trips with kids to the calendar, along with car-friendly activities the whole family can enjoy.
The benefits of taking a road trip with kids
The hustle and bustle of daily routines can make it difficult to have one-on-one time with your kids. It’s hard to give them your undivided attention when you’re tired from work or busy running to the grocery store. Oftentimes, the only quality time most parents are able to have is around dinner during the week.
Thankfully, going on a road trip with kids can be a great break from the monotony of everyday life — and the perfect time to bond as a family. Being in the car together with your little ones for a long period of time means you have a number of opportunities to get closer to them and create memories that’ll last a lifetime. Something as simple as asking them what they like or don’t like throughout the trip, or encouraging them to express what’s on their mind at certain moments will help you learn more about your child’s personality, as well as their likes and dislikes. This dialogue is also a great springboard for teaching your child about the importance of celebrating what makes them unique and different (including their individual preferences and differences). Best of all, you’ll likely see the bond you form in the car carry over once you return home.
Another reason family road trips are special is because they’re a great time to allow your children to voice their opinions about what they would like to do. Before you leave for your trip, take a look at your route and see if there are any interesting stops along the way. If there are, sit down with your child and see which one interests them the most. They’ll love having something to look forward to and it’s the perfect way to help them develop self-confidence. If there aren’t many interesting stops along your route (or if you’re pressed for time), try giving your little one smaller decisions to make — like which place to stop at for lunch or what souvenirs to get at the rest stop.
Finally, road trips require patience - which your child will learn about while you’re logging miles together. Whether it’s waiting for the next destination on your route, waiting to use the bathroom or waiting to grab a meal until you reach the next stop, they will learn more about patience on a road trip than they would at home.
While they’re learning patience, your kids will also get to experience what it’s like to be taken out of their comfort zone. Since they’re used to having everything at their disposal, they will understand what comes with being in a new environment rather than being home. This can be anything from sleeping in the car instead of the comfort of their bed or having limited access to snacks they could normally get in minutes. Ultimately, this experience will help them further along in their development by teaching ways to behave outside of their regular routines. Not to mention the experiences they’ll have seeing new places, cultures and ways of life at each of your stops.
How can you make a family road trip with kids enjoyable?
Believe it or not, it is possible to have a road trip with your kids where you don’t feel like pulling your hair out or stopping the car and turning it around. Some of our favorite kid-approved activities (that are easy to execute in the car on the way to your destination) include:
One of the easiest ways to have the best road trip with kids is to encourage them to take pictures during the ride and at each of your destinations. While digital children’s cameras are our favorite way to do that, you can also give your child your phone’s camera to document (just make sure the appropriate content guards are turned on).
When you give your child the camera, encourage them to document whatever feels most important to them. Then, when you get back home after your trip, you and your little one can put together a scrapbook with their pictures, written memories and any additional momentos you brought back. For example, if your road trip with kids is to the beach, you can walk with your kid and have them collect sea shells to include in the book alongside their photos. Or, if you’re going to see a show while on your trip, have them save their ticket to paste alongside a message about what they thought of the performance.
Keeping Travel Journals
Even if your child can’t form their words just yet, they can still express themselves through artwork. Buy your kid a journal to create masterpieces of their favorite moments along the way.
We recommend getting a simple composition notepad or a children's travel journal that features questions and games to get your kids thinking. It’s also best to avoid crayons so they don’t melt in the car.
Craft supplies are easy to pack for a long road trip with kids and will occupy them for hours. One of our favorites is origami since it's entertaining, mess-free and can help your little ones work on their gross motor skills. Another activity we suggest is making pipe cleaner sculptures. These are simple (as they only require different color pipe cleaners) and are a great way for your child to express their creativity. Finally, another favorite of ours is car-friendly friendship bracelets. To make it easier for your kiddo, we recommend taping the starting end of the bracelets to the back of a headrest so they can braid or design their bracelet with ease.
Utilizing Dry Erase Boards
There’s nothing worse than getting home after a road trip and finding mountains of crumpled up paper in your backseat. Thankfully, you can eliminate the need for paper (and any future trash mountains) by packing white boards for your children to draw on throughout the trip. When you’re on a road trip with kids, you want to bring items that are ideal for a multitude of activities — which is exactly what dry erase boards are! With them, your kiddos can draw, play Tic-Tac-Toe or make tally marks to keep track of car colors, road signs, traffic lights and more.
It’s true: You really can let your children paint in the car worry-free thanks to the Melissa & Doug Water Wow books. Your kids will love creating their own art on the go and you’ll love not having to panic over paint streaks all over the backseat. With these books, your kids will be able to color with a pre-packaged “water pen” that unlocks colors across the pages. Once your kiddos are finished, hold their paintings up to the car’s air vents for quick drying.
Is there any better way to pass the time (and let your kids express their inner Picasso) than a good, old fashioned Etch-a-Sketch? Be sure to pack your kiddos drawing toy for the ride, and then give them challenges to complete along the way. For example, if you’re driving through flat farmland, ask them to try and draw something they see or an animal they’d expect to be on the land. If your little one is a bit younger, challenge them to draw their own made up creatures or scenes. By doing this, you’ll help them develop their listening skills, critical thinking abilities and gross motor skills.
Playing Traditional Car Games
When you’re planning your road trip, don’t be afraid to revisit some of the classic games. Nothing beats a game of “I Spy” on a road trip with kids - especially since it doesn’t require any supplies. To play, simply pick an item in the car (that they’re able to identify) and describe it by color. After that, give your little ones hints to figure out what you’ve got your eye on and wait to see if they’re correct. This is also a great way for them to observe and learn about new things.
Another oldie but goodie is the questions game where everyone in the car takes turns asking about different subjects. Whether it’s “What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?” or “What place makes you happy?”, it’s sure to get everyone talking.
Carrying a Tune
It’s no surprise that toddlers love using their voices. Being in the car for a while is a great opportunity to let them sing along to their favorite kid tunes. If you can’t handle 20 miles of songs from “Frozen,” create a kid-friendly playlist that will keep your little ones happy. We suggest asking them to share their most-loved melodies ahead of the trip so you can incorporate them into your playlist. Then, when each song comes on, encourage them to sing along (and if you know the words, join in, too!).
Stopping at Kid-Friendly Places
An easy way to prevent your kiddos from being restless is to break up the journey with fun stops. Locate playgrounds and restaurants along the route by searching for them ahead of time. You can also use GoWhee, an app made by parents for parents with an interactive map that helps you discover similar stops near you.
Order toys for your trip in advance to surprise your little ones. Then, hide the toys near their seat and play a game of hot and cold until they discover where each one is. A few of our car-friendly favorites include this buckle toy that develops motor skills and problem solving, and this HABA Town Maze magnetic puzzle. Both are ideal for a road trip with kids because they’re fun, mess-free and convenient for the car. If you don’t want to play the hot and cold game, try saving the toys up front and handing them out along the route for good behavior or at certain mile markers. This will not only get them excited about something new, but it will also entertain them while they’re on the trip.
Reward your little ones during the trip with a quick meal or snack at a place they like. You can also opt for getting a special treat at a rest stop. We recommend using it as a reward after an hour of no complaining or quiet time in the car. Your littles ones deserve to be recognized for making an effort - and reinforcing their positive actions will help you have a smooth drive. Plus, it’ll help encourage good behavior on your next long road trip with kids.
Before you leave for your trip, take your little one to the local library for some new reads to make the miles fly by. Be sure to have them pick different options like comic books and stories so there’s a variety to choose from in the car. If they want to get artistic, bring coloring books along for the ride, too. It might be helpful to bring a few themed-coloring books full of characters they love to keep them engaged. For the best road trip with kids, use audiobooks so the whole family can listen together.
Additionally, you can make it a game by having informal book reviews with your little ones. Ask them what book they enjoyed most and why. You can also extend it by asking what they think the main character would do if they were on the road trip with you.
Thoughtful Screen Time
Although some parents prefer their road trip to be screen-free, there are ways to manage their usage to create balance. We recommend treating them to screen time during certain parts of the trip. For example, tell them they can watch a movie, but only after they read a story or play for an hour. You can also have them use devices like tablets to play games or view their favorite shows in the morning, then take them away after lunchtime so they can nap.
To create the best road trip with kids, print out a map of your travel plans or pick up a paper map. Then, hand them to your child so they can follow along on the route to see which direction they’re headed. Mark off your stops with a star to give them an idea of how far there is to go. You can also add a toy car for pretend driving fun.
What else can I do to make family road trips more enjoyable?
While it’s not always easy to plan a road trip you and your kiddos will both enjoy, there are things you can do ahead of time to ensure as smooth of a ride as possible.
One of those is taking our Roadtripping with Kids course! In this quick 20-30 minute course, you’ll learn everything you need to know about transportation safety, as well as additional games and activities to keep your kid happy and entertained on your next adventure. Plus, like all of our online courses, it includes several interactive components like self-reflection questions and mini-quizzes to keep you engaged with your learning.
The best part? You can access that course — and 100+ others — for free with a seven-day trial! To learn more, and start your trial today, click here.