Top 10 Tips for Roadtripping with Little Kids

The Ultimate Tips for Road Tripping with Little Kids

So I am writing this as I sit in the car, with 3 kiddos in the back – a 17 month old, a 3.5 year old and a 14 year old.  We are in a 5 seater vehicle – so not much extra space and we are going on hour 20. Day 1 was a 15 hour straight trip with 3 bathroom/food breaks, Day 2 was a short 3 hour day and today is another short 3 hour in all.  We are on a 10 day trip and we’ll have to do the long 15 hour straight back home to Austin.

Why do I give you all this information?  Firstly to realize that I’m right in the thick of it, so there is no sugar coating going on here, or any distant memories where the sweetness of their ages permeates into the reality of long travels with littles, and also for perspective.  This is a very long road trip, but it is also our 10th or 11th one since we became parents 3.5 years ago – hence if you are contemplating your first road trip with babies on board you may want to start smaller (our first trip was with a 3 week old and the longest stretch was around 7 hours then and newborns are significantly easier than toddlers too).

So… what do we do to make our trips successful and minimize the stress of traveling with babies on board for hours on end (minimize not obliterate – because YES traveling with kids ALWAYS comes with a fair share of stress when compared to kidless travel) :

Managing expectations

This is by far the most important point, in my opinion! And also the one that we still struggle with till today.  We find ourselves getting frustrated at the kids when they start to fuss, and when they don’t realise that we are soon there.  But the problem here lies with us and not with them.  We tend to forget that we are actually traveling with kids, and teenagers count as kids too.  Comparing these years of travel with pre-kid travel, how easy and totally spontaneous it can be, how we could have late nights and turn around for an early morning hike, how we would stretch the time between meals in order to sit on a cliff and watch the sunset and also get those perfect ‘insta-worthy’ shots (before instagram was even a thing), just destroys the mood and impacts the joy of travel.  The best solution we found to mitigate this is to remind each other that they are kids and making ‘a perfect trip’ the goal is a recipe for disaster.

Work around YOUR kids’ sleep patterns

There is no golden rule when it comes to when kids are most comfy in a car.  I’ve seen countless mums ask about whether kids do better during night travel, or starting out super early etc etc .. What I’ve learnt is there is no overarching rule and the best way to guarantee success is to trial it with your kids.  We learnt the hard way, after hearing others say that night travel was best, we hit the road at bedtime, loaded up on coffee, and it was the MOST miserable drive of our life – with an obstinate baby who screamed the whole way till we just had to stop at around 2am … FAIL!!! We’ve now learn our girls hate night time travel so we usually leave at dawn and travel when there is some light out. It works for us – but again it might not for you – so test your kids out and go from there 🙂

Strategic stops

Never ever stop when the kids are asleep, especially if all are sleeping at the same time – the ONLY thing we stop for in these cases is for a flying gas stop if we are running dangerously low.  These are precious sweet moments during a road trip with kiddos – it gives us time to push on without hearing any whining, crying or requests for snacks, and also gives us the opportunity to speak and make plans.  This is when we are usually setting our plans and making a schedule.

Don’t drive till their breaking point

Once again I’m writing this so you don’t have to suffer like we have.  We used to think that pushing it was the way to go – it would get us there quicker right? Negative! Yeah it may get you there minutes earlier but you are also hearing endless hours of whining and crying.  If your kids are anything like ours, once they hit their breaking point (tiredness or hunger) it is game over! And any attempt to soothe them will only anger them further.  So now we know better, and we usually stop for a quick break, or for lunch/dinner before they melt down = a much less stressful trip!

Technology as a special treat

It is easy to give them a tablet at the start of the trip – you start it on a positive note – but what happens when you’re 3 hours in, they’ve watch a show, played games and are now bored stiff?  If your kiddo can go hours on end on a tablet without getting bored – then this tip is not for you – but for us mamas whose kids have short attention spans – hold off on the technology and have it be your final treat and your last resort.  This has really worked for us, especially if its a particularly long trip and we’re on our last leg, out comes the tablet and all is good in this world 🙂

Toys and Books

Road trips with little kids means that they are stuck in car seats without much wiggle room, and without many choices.  This is where our toys and books basket comes into play.  We have two kids in car seats so we put them on opposing sides and put a basket with toys and books in between their seats.  This gives them access to entertainment and also allows them the ability to pick and choose.  Now yes, I do have to assist at times to help them rummage out the ONE book they just have to have, or talk them through the options if they cannot see to the bottom of the basket, but it still gives them some independence and the time they spend deciding what they want is also time we are driving without them crying 🙂

Snacks but not too many

We actually learnt this the hard way.  When we first starting traveling with the kids and they were old enough for snacks, whether we were driving or flying, we had a steady supply of their favorite snacks, and at the slightest whine or cry, “There you go baby.. Fruit snacks, applie pouch, milk, quinoa bites…..” and the list went on.  Doesn’t sound too bad, right?  Creates expectation of food/when food stops/no proper meals/associates cars with food and that is a problem in day to day life – we couldn’t drive to preschool without her wanting a snack and scream for it/the psychology training portion of me – creates an unhealthy relationship between snacks and reward/ snacks usually high in sugar and you don’t want sugar high kids strapped in car seats and then they crash when you are at your destination.  

Kid music (what a treat)

We realised the power of nursery rhyme style music during this current trip.  This is a last resort trick since this type of music is also nauseating for us adults to bear BUT it works.  It keeps them happy, they sing along, they focus on something other than the fact that they’ve been trapped in a car seat for hours on end.

 Be prepared and organised

Nothing is worse than needing a wipe to realize it is somewhere under the oodles of things in the trunk or needing the iPad, only to not be able to find it as you contort yourself to reach to the back seat. Organisation is key when road tripping especially with kids who are constantly asking for things – toys/snacks/books/a wipe. I usually keep a tote with their toys and books between their carseats, a bag by my feet with the essentials – snacks, diapers, wipe and a bag behind my seat with a change of clothes for each.

Give them Grace

They ARE kids! Being cooped up in a car isn’t even fun for us, and we know that the destination is going to be oh so worth it.  They don’t! I mean even teenagers struggle with this let alone preschoolers and babies.  Keep this in mind when you’re on hour 6, they are losing it and you’re frazzled – it DOES get better! We’ve come to the point where the meltdowns are few and far between, they get used to it – but ultimately they are kids – and flexibility on your part is key 🙂

Final Thoughts

We want the kids to actually enjoy traveling – to enjoy the journey – to look out the window and spot the differences in the topography , try to see wildlife and it is because of this that we don’t want to associate travel with other forms of extrinsic reward such as food or technology use.  As a family we plan to keep on traveling frequently over the years and we want to raise the kids to be excited for the trips, the journeys and the destinations and not look forward to the travels because they get to be engrossed in watching movies or because they get to have as many treats as their little hearts desire.  I chose to share this because some of the above tips may make no sense to a family who is taking a one off trip and just want to get through it with minimal whining, fussing and crying.  In that case you may want to up the snacks, the access to movies or games on a tablet and anything to keep them happy till the destination is reached.  


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