Family Real Life Travel

The Road Trip

My husband and I have always taken road trips and once we had kids we didn’t see any reason for that to change. Several people seemed surprised that we continued on our road trip tradition even after having kids. We often hear “how do you keep them occupied?” and “my kids won’t sit still that long.”

Last summer we logged over 3,600 miles on the road with our girls, so here is a list of our favorite “road trip veteran” tips.

Compare the cost of driving vs flying. You have to factor in food, gas, rental car, baggage fees and hotel night stays, especially on long drives you can’t make in a day. Depending on the size of your family and destination, flying might be cheaper if you can find a good airfare deal.

Sign up for hotel/motel email memberships. There are many places that give free wi-fi and free breakfast if you book online with a membership number. We have even gotten room upgrades if the hotel was fairly empty when we checked in just because we have a membership. After 10 – 14 hours on the road a bigger room is a big treat.

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Make sure your oil has been changed recently, fluids are topped off and put a can of “Fix A Flat” in your trunk. Nothing can destroy a trip like a preventative maintenance car issue.

Allow ample time for wiggle/bathroom breaks. Our family has found if we only stop to use the restroom it takes a minimum of 15 minutes. If the girls are not asleep our basic routine is to drive 2 hours, take a bathroom break, drive 2 more hours and stop again. On that stop we use the restroom, get gas and eat. Repeat and adjust as necessary. When they are napping we can get a whole lot farther down the road between stops.

We have a portable DVD player, but it ONLY gets used on road trips. It stays in our house so it’s never used for errand running or stuff around town. Our girls get very excited to choose the DVD’s that are coming in the car for the road trip. Also, they don’t get to watch the movies or shows right away. We have to drive at least 2 hours before the DVD player comes out.

Hit your local Costco/Sams/BJ’s for snacks that travel well. I try to buy things that are a temptation and horribly overpriced at convenience stores. Beef jerky, granola bars, trail mix, snack size chips.

Pack a small cooler with your beverages of choice (don’t forget bottled water). I also pack go-gurts, fruit and string cheese for other snack choices.

We like soda so I also grab a couple of 12 packs on sale before we leave and we re-stock the cooler out of that rather than on the road.

Have something you ONLY buy on road trips at the convenience store so it can be fun for the kids. For our family it’s a big bag of powered donuts and those little bags of 2/$1 peanuts.

Check out the Target Dollar spot or the equivalent when they are clearancing out little note pads, pencils, games, stickers and so on. Stash those in advance to pull out as a surprise on the road.

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Check to see if there are any cool factory tours or historical sites on your road trip. If you can swing it, use that as one of your stops. It can really break up the monotony in the drive.

If your kids are all able to read there are all sorts of games you can play as a family. Google road trip games and you will find a wealth of information based on age.

Let the kids help in choosing the toys they would like to bring. Our girls each have a cute personalized, zippered bag they are allowed to fill up, so we encourage them to choose wisely.

Put all your family toiletries/medicine in one zip up travel bag. We have everything in travel containers and I keep it all together. After 12 hours on the road you do not want to be looking for a missing toothbrush or medicine.

We have a portable, collapsible crib and a kid-sized air mattress (that came with an electric pump). Both can be packed up nicely in small bags and have gone with us on countless rode trips, and even on multiple flights to China. The crib was a little over $100 and the air-bed was less. Those purchases, which we thought were a bit frivolous and expensive at the time, have ended up being well worth it. Our two girls love them and it gives them a sense of comfort and continuity, that they have their own beds that can go with them wherever they go.

Don’t drive OVER TIRED!! If your eyes are droopy, if you are getting mesmerized by the oncoming traffic lights or whatever, then wake up your driving partner and have them talk to you or pull over. No trip, no destination, no non-refundable hotel reservation is worth your family’s life!

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(This is located in Paul’s Valley, OK and a great little stop in a small town)

Do you take family road trips? What tips can you share?

About the author

Louanne

Louanne lives in Texas with her awesome husband and two daughters, whom she homeschools. She loves Jesus, cookies, reading and scrapbooking (when she has time). Louanne also enjoys finding coupon deals, making gifts with her Cricut and Taste of Home cookbooks.

11 Comments

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  • Thank you for sharing! We have road trips at least once or twice a year. Our eldest son lives in Texas and we have relatives in N.O., LA, (from AZ) so we know how to travel long distances with our children (7, but only 4 @ home, for now). We have never had a problem with our kids getting along. They bring books, we listen to Books on CD, sing, play ABC’s (yelling out words we see that begin with each letter) and bring our own snacks and water/ Gatorade. We eat meals out(a treat). We don’t have a DVD player, but bring our laptop for kids’ safe movies (a comfort movie like Sound of Music is calming) for the hotels. Always bring swimsuits (indoor pools are year round); it’s hard to find swimsuits out of season. The youngest bring their pillows from home, always.

  • We took a trip from FL to CA to NY back to FL with several stops in-between with 6 little kids! It was an adventure, but some of the greatest memories. I wish I had read your post before going – such great advice. One thing we did was buy a special little toy or snack for each day and wrapped it. Then sometime during the day when they got weary it was present time!! I over packed with food and stuff – but I guess that is better than underpacking.

  • Love it – my fav is a road trip since i am so bad at packing suitcases!
    If you have the room, i highly recommend laundry totes (rectangular ones) i pack shoes and jackets, then books, games and cd’s, books on cd and portable players in one. Even snacks, paper towels, wipes etc. Everyone gets their own airline size carry on luggage suitcase for all their clothes … makes for a neat and organised trunk, and easy when you stop.
    Now come and visit me 😉

    • i do want to come visit you! And that reminds me that we have the little luggage “cubes” from ebags. The girls have one color and the adults have the other color so I am not searching late at night for jammies and such.

  • We take road trips all the time too. I’m a single mom and my daughters and 6 and 8. We have a portable DVD player with 2 screens that they only get to watch on road trips, but they’re allowed to start their movies at the beginning (because they’ll likely fall asleep before 2 hours passes). We take a few movies, flashlights, and magnetic board games. They also have books, paper, and pencils/pens. I take a gallong bottle of water and those single size drink flavoring things. Everyone has their own reusable bottled water, and we, too, only stop for bathroom breaks. We take a few snack foods and a few plastic grocery shopping bags to put throwaway stuff in. It gets emptied at every stop. We’ve got car blankets, but no pillows. For me they just get in the way. Everything we take fits in one suitcase (clothes), and a few tote bags. The girls sometimes take their own mini backpacks for their “stuff”. They also take across-the-body purses so they don’t accidentally leave them someplace.

  • We take a lot of road trips, and we do many of these things too! We travel at night most of the time. My husband does most of the driving, so he takes a good nap beforehand, but we do switch when necessary. Driving at night lets the kids sleep most of the way so we don’t have to make as many stops. We also avoid a lot of traffic around major cities. My youngest gets carsick sometimes, so we make sure to take precautions to avoid it, but we also keep a change of clothes up front so we don’t have to dig through the trunk, upholstery cleaner for his car seat, and those scented diaper baggies to put any dirty garments in.

  • We also road trip with our kids and have a major trip planned in early Fall along the West Coast. The snack ideas and separate toiletry bag for hotel overnights are terrific tips. Books on CD (or ipod) mix up the video gaming and movies that happen in our van. Great post!

  • We’ve never lived close to extended family, so our kids have had to be good travelers from the time they were infants – just to see the grandparents. I do pack a bag of mystery treats for really long trips, along with car snacks and drinks. Our most important travel item is actually books on cd. My kids can go for hours as long as their minds are distracted by a good story.

  • We do road trip every other year or so with our boys. We’ve being doing long drives with them since my 9 yr old was 3.5 yrs old. Our tricks and tips would be to get an early start. The last thing that goes in the van is our 2 boys. We’ll usually get a 3-4 am start and they always go back to sleep until maybe 8:00-8:30 or so. Around that time, we’ll start looking for (our regular) vacation restaurant – IHOP – and get a really good break in. By the time we are back in the van, it’s about 1.5-2 hours later. After we eat, we always get the boys outside in an open field or grassy area so they can tire themselves out by running around. Once we’re back in the van, we’ll try to drive as close to lunchtime as we can get it. Another 1.5 hour stop with that all-important running around break. I always pack a toy/activity back for each boy complete with hot wheels, action figures, coloring things and books, activity books and their assorted favorites. There is usually 2-3 new things in each bag that is hidden to keep them occupied because nothing occupies my boys like new toys. (Last year there were 3-D glasses with books, little Transformers, and a couple things from the Dollar store. I think the new toys cost me a whopping $5-10 and between all their toys, we were able to drive, excluding a short potty break, for about 6 hours until we ate a late supper. (Usually for the trip home, I have a few more new things stashed away in the drawer under the passenger seat in our van. Makes the drive home a little easier.)

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