5 Strategies For A Smooth Road Trip With Kids


Have you been thinking about taking a road trip with your kids but you’re terrified by the idea? Have you taken a road trip with kids and it turned out to be a nerve-wrecking ride of terror? Do you feel like the words “kids” and “road trips” do not belong in one sentence?

If you’ve answered YES to any of these questions, keep reading…

We love adventures and traveling and take our kids on trips as much as we can.

A few years ago we wanted to switch things up and decided to go on a good old-fashioned ROAD TRIP. With the kids, of course!

We ended up being on the road for almost a month, travelled around 4,500 miles through clear skies, storms, and even some snow, and spent over 65 hours in the car altogether.

It was awesome!

As a matter of fact, we enjoyed it so much that we couldn’t wait to do it again. And again and again.

Road tripping with our kids has evolved into something we do every year now and look forward to for months ahead.

The words “family road trip” and “road trip with kids” scare the heck out of many parents.

And for good reasons.

Not only you lose the comfort of your home, you’ll have nowhere to run away from your kids for a while. Plus we all know that kids can have some real surprises up their sleeves when least expected. This IS some scary stuff…

Road tripping with kids requires a certain level of preparation, lowering your expectations, and doubling tripling up on patience. I didn’t say it was easy!

But it CAN be done, and a road trip with kids can be a success and a ton of fun you’ll want to repeat over and over as a family!

how-to-road-trip-with-kids-without-losing-your-sanityHOW TO ROAD TRIP WITH KIDS WITHOUT LOSING YOUR SANITY?

#1 Know where you’re going.

You can be a total adventurer and just go wherever the wind takes you. We tend to want to have some sense of our destinations and like to stick to a timeline as much as possible, especially when we know we have to be back by a certain date (i.e., my husband’s scheduled vacation time).

This is what goes on our family road trip itinerary:

  • Road trip destinations (with to-do lists of activities);
  • How long we’re staying at each destination;
  • Accommodation (we don’t always have reservations);
  • How long it takes to get from one point to another;
  • Optional stops between destinations (time allowing).
The best canyons are in Utah!

The best canyons are in Utah!

We tend to alternate between hotels and campgrounds. Hotels are always booked, campgrounds hardly ever are. If we don’t have a reservation, we usually have alternatives.

Many national park campgrounds operate on a first come first serve basis (which means you have to drag you butts to the gate before the sun comes up if you’re shooting for a popular place, especially around the weekend).

If a national park accepts reservations but we know it’s not one of the super busy ones, we’re OK winging it since we travel outside the busy seasons (one of the great advantages of homeschooling). We always thoroughly research every location ahead of time to avoid unnecessary headaches that could have been prevented.

#2 Kids will be hungry!

All. The. Time.

— Pack enough food!

I wholeheartedly recommend bringing more food than you think you could possibly need.


Because I can almost guarantee that if you don’t bring enough food to feed a small town, your kids will be entering a growth spurt as soon as the garage door closes.

— Be practical and proactive!

Have snacks for your kids already divided in separate containers or zip lock bags. The last thing you want is to have the kids fight over a bag of crackers nonstop or spill the whole bag before you even hit the highway.

Have multiples of everything and just keep handing food out until your kids get bored and stop asking. (They will.)

Curb mess and stink to a minimum: Apple sauce in a pouch – GOOD. Yogurt tube – BAD. Don’t ever give your children, especially toddlers, a yogurt tube in the car on a road trip. Ever.

The best place to learn about dinosaurs and touch real dinosaur bones? Dinosaur National Monument.

The best place to learn about dinosaurs and touch real dinosaur bones? Dinosaur National Monument.

— Be smart!

Even if you don’t normally watch what you eat, I recommend you read labels THIS TIME.

Many artificial food dyes, preservatives (particularly sodium benzoate), or MSG (also hidden behind its many aliases) can cause hyperactivity or other behavioral issues in children. Hello!!! Synthetic food/drink additives are playing against you!

Unless hyper kids are on your wish list, avoid helping create an unruly ZOO in the back of your car by making the right choices.

  • Pack your favorite fruits and vegetables. Cut-up apples, peppers, cucumbers, celery sticks and carrots are not only refreshing but also some of the least messy options – bring plenty! Fruit/vegetable salads are also good choices, but save them for a break at the rest area (don’t forget to bring forks).
  • Add some salty options (crackers, chips, etc.), some sweet ones (cookies and granola bars), and some protein as well (cheese, nuts and seeds and the like). Sandwiches are always welcome, too.
  • Throw some candy in there as well but HIDE it. (Remember – choose wisely – avoid synthetic dyes and flavors.) Use in emergencies as needed to bribe your kids with.

They’ll be thirsty, too.

Pure water is obviously your best bet, but drinking just water on a long car trip can get old pretty quickly.

Before you buy that juice pouch, cup, can or bottle, ask yourself: Will this drink do me any favor??? Ditch drinks containing corn syrup or HFCS, artificial flavors, colors, and sweeteners, and drinks containing large amounts of sugar.

Well-chosen juice or iced tea, aloe vera beverage, coconut water, or a home-made fruit smoothie are all healthier (and refreshing) options to bring in addition to water.

An old mining town in Nevada - full of charm and good old history.

An old mining town in Nevada – full of charm and good old history.

#3 Kids will be bored.

In the olden days, parents had a limited supply of distractions for their kids during car trips. These days there are creative activities of all kinds plus tablets, DVD players, gaming systems and smart phones. Entertaining kids on the road is now a piece of cake, right?


Kids will get bored. It’s inevitable.

No matter how well you think you’ve prepared, it’s only a matter of time before you hear, “Are we there yet?

It’s hilarious in movies. When you hear it with your own ears in an enclosed space over and over and over, it’s enough to make a grown woman cry.

You’ll want to bring it ALL. Grab some movies, a few magazines or a book or two, tablets, and some coloring/activity books to help keep kids busy on the road.

If you have a toddler, I suggest bringing a few extra zip lock bags of crayons. Not sure why they go missing in the moving car vortex so much. 

#4 Whining

When you encounter whining that doesn’t get resolved with snacks or bribery, you have two options:

  1. Dig deep to find the hidden spare well of patience and ignore the whining as best as you can. (I know…)
  2. Turn your radio up and pull windows down and keep moving.

These tips are the safer alternatives to leaving your kids at the closest gas station or asking the whining perpetrators to exit the car and making them chase you as you pretend to drive away. Though this was surprisingly effective when I was a kid. 

But of course you can make a quick stop at a rest area as well. Whatever works.

how-to-road-trip-with-kidsBTW, you are familiar with the general rule NOT to disturb your kids when they’re happily playing at home unless the house is on fire, right? The exact same rule applies on the road.

#5 Kids have needs.

Your kids will probably ask to go to the bathroom within the first 30 minutes of your garage door closing. That would be after you had told them to go to the bathroom before you left. Five times. (And they supposedly did.)

They’ll also ask to go on a regular basis from then on. Expect it. Unfortunately, there is no way around it.

I’m pretty sure that kids peeing alongside a road is an illegal activity here in the U.S., but explain to the bladder of a small child that the closest rest area or a gas station is only 80,000 miles away and you’ll be there in no time.

It doesn’t help that kids seem to have the ability to lose more liquids on car trips than what they take in. No idea how this works.

Bottom line: if they have to go now, just pull over as long as it’s safe. Don’t worry about looks. Looks are better than a peed-on car seat.

If you’re in the process of potty training your kids, do give yourself a green light to slap a diaper on them for the duration of the ride.

This is what works for us.

We’re all different and so are our kids. You know your kids the best, take advantage of that!

The best place to enjoy a nice warm soak? In the middle of nowhere!

The best place to enjoy a nice warm soak? In the middle of nowhere!


A few more tips for a smooth family road trip:

Mess happens. Bring a roll of paper towels, plenty of tissues, and wet wipes or wet paper towels kept in a zip lock bag to prevent drying. Keep all within reach.

To curb mess to a minimum, bring empty plastic bags and fill them up and throw away as you go.

If you’re spending a night at a hotel before reaching your first road trip destination (same on the way back home), it helps to pack all necessary toiletries, sleepwear, and a change of clothes for all family members in a separate bag that you can grab quickly.

Should you decide to take a quick nap in the car at a random gas station at 4:00 AM on a family road trip, it’s probably a good idea to lock your car. We’re working on it.

Don’t watch “Wrong Turn”, “Vacancy”, or “The Hills Have Eyes” prior to leaving.

Do not, unless absolutely necessary, break the cardinal rule of family road trips – stop for gas when your kids are asleep. Crazy things happen. All eyes open as you turn the ignition off, everyone is hungry and thirsty, everybody wants to pee and poop, and they all start asking, “Are we there yet?!?”


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  1. Pingback: Dinosaur National Monument - Where Education And Family Fun Combine! - Wholesome Children

  2. Phill

    This is hilarious! Thanks for sharing these tips!
    I have to agree on how important healthy food is for long travels. I used to eat whatever they had in gas stations and I felt more sleepy and sick. If I eat carrot instead Snicker, its more refreshing and I feel good as well!
    Can’t wait for another post from you!

    1. wholesomechildren (Post author)

      I agree. There is a noticeable difference in how you feel 15 hours down the road if you avoid conventional snacks or junk food. Thanks for reading, Phill!


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