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As parents, the thought of taking road trips with young kids sounds like some form of torture. I know on a normal occasion my kids will whine and cry about everything on a 5-minute drive, imagine a drive of 4 hours or more?! Nope! No thank you. But then what do you if you want to go on a trip? It’s going to happen, you are going to have to suck it up and deal with it, so I offer you a few tips to save your sanity.

If it’s a short trip, plan it for when they’re asleep

Every time I plan a drive to Disney World with the kids, this is what I’m shooting for. I usually wake up early in the morning (about 4 am)  and load all the sleeping kids in the car and start the drive. It’s about a 4-hour drive door to door, so by the time they are ready to start waking up, we’re there already. Then, for the drive home, I make sure to tire them out at the parks, hop in the car and leave from the park. They always end up falling asleep on the way home.

There have been times we’ve gotten a later start and it wasn’t as smooth as when they are sleeping. Inevitably, one of them will start to cry about something and we end up making a lot more stop than we intended.

kids asleep in their car seats in a car

Bring some form of entertainment

You need to consider entertainment if they will be awake for the drive. Kids, especially young ones like mine, have the attention span of a fly! They need to be entertained or you will end up being their entertainment and that may grate on your nerves.  Here are some items I love to use.

  • A tablet loaded with games and movies. I use Kindle Fire kids editions because they each have to have one or they will end up fighting over the one you have. Make sure they are identical because the grass is always greener on the other side.
  • A DVD player and pack a bunch of movies you know they both like. 
  • Lap table. These things are genius little devices that you can use for your kids. You can strap the table to the kid or around their car seat. It can hold things like their toys, their food, their tablet, coloring books, whatever! It’s like having a TV tray in the car and eliminates the 5,839 screams of “Mom! My toy fell down!!! Get it for me!!!!” Of course, this always seems to happen when you’re on the highway driving at 70 mph or more. Kids seem to think that you are Elastigirl and can reach anything in the car from the drivers seat. So I would suggest getting one of these.
  • Lego’s. If your kid is anything like my son, you will need a combination of the lap table and Lego’s for hours of entertainment.
  • Stuffed dolls. My daughter loves these things. She can sit in her chair snuggling with a Mickey Mouse that’s about as big as she is and it’s all good.
  • Coloring book & crayons. Bring these if you have an artist on your hands. My son is not one to color anything, but my daughter is. She is still in the scribble stage where she scribbles on everything including herself.
  • Printable travel journal. I have a great little printable that you can use for free. It is a travel journal for kids that they can use to write down their mood, the weather, where they’ve visited, etc. There is also an I spy game where they can color what they see if it starts with a certain letter. For example, if they spot a truck, they will draw a truck in the T box.

Bring headphones for them

If you bring their tablets, bring their headphones because you will be listening to Baby Shark about 30,000 times at full blast from the backseat. Just do yourself a favor and bring their headphones. 

Boy wearing ear protection at Monster Jam

Make several stops or bring a travel potty

I have a travel potty from Oxo Tot that I used when I was potty training Sebastian, and it’s actually still in the trunk of my van. Why? Because you know kids love to have to go right now and at the worst possible moments. So if the next rest stop is 40 miles away and your child can’t wait, stop on the side of the road somewhere and break out this bad boy. Problem solved!

Get little “gifts” to play with

And by little I mean wrap things like Hot Wheel cars or other little trinkets you know will entertain them. Things like Sesame Street Little People or VTech’s Disney Go Go Smart Wheels  

Pack snacks/drinks

There’s nothing worse than a hungry kid that’s stuck in a car. Make sure to bring some snacks for them to munch on. You can either give it to them when you make one of your stops or while they’re in their chairs. If you give them snacks while you’re still on the road, make sure the snacks are something that you can vacuum out of the carpet and won’t leave a stink. Goldfish are always a winner.

Bring a hand vac

Because those Goldfish you gave them as a snack will end up all over the car.  It’ll be easier to clean as you go instead of waiting to vacuum all in one shot. My minivan has an actual outlet I could plug into to charge the vacuum on the go, or you can make sure to charge it before you leave and then plug it in when you reach your destination. Or you can use an inverter that’s plugged into the back somewhere and charge it there.

Bring Blankets/pillows

The kids will fall asleep and you want to make sure they are as comfortable as possible so they are not cranky all day. Because my kids heads are all over the place when they sleep in the car, something that supports their chin while they sleep is best!

Let them get brochure’s at highway rest stops.

Yes they are likely to end up all over your car, but if they don’t the kids will have silly little souvenirs to plan future trips to neat locations. They can add the brochures to their Travel Journal and write some thoughts about how they would love to visit that location.

Bring paper or printed maps to show them your progress.

You can include this in their journal as well. Laminate it or put it in a sleeve so you can write on it with dry erase markers. You can use different color markers for the beginning and return trips to differentiate between the two trips. You can also help them track your current location so they know where you are and they can get an idea of how long it takes to drive places.  

These are some of the tools in my bag of tricks that seem to work well for me. I think the best tip I can offer is to be flexible. Traveling with kids is always stressful for everyone involved, so you just need to be sure to make things are as comfortable as possible for the kids. If you have to change one of your plans because the kids are tired or overwhelmed, just do it. Nobody will be happy if the kids are misbehaving or crying the whole time. Of course, things will change as the kids get older, but for now, when you plan your travel, plan it around the kids.