Surviving a Holiday Road Trip With Kids

I would call myself “experienced” when it comes to road trips. My in-laws live in New Hampshire, and since 2013 we have taken a road trip almost every year. Adding a kid to the mix in 2016 added more challenges, but we’ve learned a lot. While it’s a long trip, we opt to drive instead of fly because it’s less expensive, I have a fear of flying, we don’t have to worry about shipping Christmas gifts home, and it’s an experience our family has together. Even so, the first big holiday road trip with a kid can be very intimidating!

Surviving a Holiday Road Trip With KidsHere are some things I have learned about taking a holiday road trip with kids. 

What to expect

  • Cranky kids. That’s a long time to sit in the car, their schedule is all off, and trips are generally stressful. Keep your expectations low and pick your battles.
  • Lots of iPad time. You can set limits, and there may be a few points in your trip that are ideal for “screen-free time”, but you can let go of screen time guilt. If it makes you feel better, you can hide the screens when you get to your destination!
  • Not the best diet ever. It’s really hard to feed your kids healthy meals while on the road, especially if your fast food options are limited. You can let go of this guilt, too. You can have super healthy balanced meals after you return home.
  • You’re in survival mode. It’s not going to be perfect, and it will be hard, but you will come away with some great memories.

How to Prepare

  • Plan out your stops and route as best you can. This is not something that helps everyone, but it helps me. Trying to find food after everyone is hungry is stressful. Some parents suggest leaving right before bedtime so the little ones sleep most of the trip, but I prefer doing the drive during the daytime so our drivers are awake and we aren’t traveling at night when there are fewer rest stops available.
  • Pack your car carefully. Keep items that you need to get to within arms’ reach so you don’t have to pull over just to get something out of the trunk. Pack one “go bag” for your overnight hotel stop with everyone’s things so you don’t have to unload the entire car just to find pajamas.
  • Add in some fun. This will vary based on your kids’ age, but you can play I Spy, the alphabet game, or try to find a license plate from all 50 states. You can also find some fun surprises at the dollar store, wrap them up, and give your kids a fun new toy every few hours (or when things are getting dicey). Look into finding an audiobook the whole family might enjoy.

What to Pack

  • Art Supplies. Coloring books and crayons. NO MARKERS (Don’t make the same mistake I did)! For the littles, Color Wonder or Imagine Ink markers are fun and mess-free. Repositionable stickers are fun and won’t live on your car windows forever. I like to pack a clipboard, too.
  • A ton of snacks. Pack fruit cups for your stops (not in the car), dried fruit, carrots, anything healthy-ish. You can find plenty of junk food on the road, but healthy snacks aren’t as plentiful. Set aside a bag full of snacks for the trip home.
  • Favorite toys. Only the favorites! Don’t pack too many. I promise they’ll be okay without all the toys.
  • Headphones. If your child is bringing that iPad, do yourself a favor and bring headphones. If you’re the passenger, bring some for yourself to catch up on your podcasts or listen to an audiobook.
  • First aid kit. Stuff happens.
  • Cleaning supplies. See above. I also highly recommend these if you have a traveler with a weak stomach.
  • Changing pads and a travel potty. The large size puppy training pads are perfect for at home and on the go. Sometimes changing tables at rest stops aren’t super clean, so setting something down first will put your mind at ease.
  • Do NOT overpack. You will only add unneeded stress and take up valuable room that you might need for those Christmas presents later. If you can, rent gear like strollers and pack and plays at your destination!

If you’ve taken a long holiday (or other) road trip with kids, what advice would you give?