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How to Survive a Road Trip with Young Children

Updated on November 1, 2012

Are We There Yet?

Whether you're traveling to Grandma's house for Thanksgiving or taking a vacation to the beach, road trips with young children can be an adventure! We've got some great tips for keeping kids busy in the car, avoiding car sickness, minimizing potty stops and keeping parents from going crazy!

Get ready for your Thanksgiving family trip with these our road trip survival guide!

Road Trip Scavenger Hunt Game - A Great Travel Game

Travel Scavenger Hunt Card Game
Travel Scavenger Hunt Card Game

This travel game is great for one reason: it actually keeps kids entertained in the car! The recommended age is 7+, but younger kids can team up with a parent or older sibling to search for things like a certain color card, or a license plate with a "z" on it. With over 50 things to search for, this game can be played many times before kids get bored with it. I have to admit, even the parents can get into this one!

 

Do it the Old Fashioned Way!

Remember These Fun Car Games?

My family took a lot of road trips when I was a kid. We lived in Washington State, and back then most cars from Washington didn't have air conditioning. We would drive down through the dessert in California, three kids crammed together in the narrow back seat of a Celica, hot and believe it or not, with no smart phones, DVD players or video games. Somehow we survived! Here are a few of the games and songs I remember singing in the car on family road trips as a kid.

  • Play the Alphabet GameSee who can be the first one to spy all of the letters of the alphabet, in order, out their window.
  • 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall I think we were bored by this, even as kids, but we knew it was driving our parents crazy, so we sang it anyway! Try making your own variation of the song with your children's favorite drink.
  • The Animal Game Assign two teams, one gets the left side of the road, one gets the right. Assign a point system for animals that you might see along the road (no, not roadkill, but I suppose you could play it that way too). Cows might get one point each, horses two, deer ten. Think of animals that you might encounter and start watching out the window to see who can get the most points!
  • Play the Quiet Game I was always so determined to win this game as a child that I don't think I realized that my parents had an ulterior motive when they suggested we play it. First person to make a sound loses!
  • Down By The Bay Remember that song? Down by the bay, where the watermelons grow... Our kids love making up their own verses to this song. Sometimes their verses rhyme (Did you ever see a spider whose pants were getting tighter?) and sometimes they aren't even close, but the kids think they are hysterical. My son's usually have something to do with poop, and on a long road trip he doesn't even get in trouble for singing songs about poop!

Road Trip Comfort - Travel Pillows for Road Trips

My back hurts! I can't fall asleep because I'm not comfortable! Ever hear these things on road trips with your family? I look back and cringe every time I see that one of my kids has fallen asleep in the most awkward looking position, all slumped over. Maybe these things can help!

Dealing with Car Sickness - I think I'm going to throw up!

Carsick kids can ruin a road trip. A few tips if you have a child prone to motion sickness:

  • Have the child sit as close to the front of the vehicle as possible
  • Crack a window or put a cool cloth on the child's forehead
  • Have the child avoid reading in the car or playing games on a phone

There are also some great products that can help you avoid the disastrous vomit in the car.

Sea-Band Adult Wristband, Natural Nausea Relief, 1-Pair, Colors May Vary
Sea-Band Adult Wristband, Natural Nausea Relief, 1-Pair, Colors May Vary

The adult version of the Sea-band also works wonders for children and adults who are prone to motion sickness.

 
Equate Motion Sickness 50 mg 100 Tablets (Compare to Dramamine) (1)
Equate Motion Sickness 50 mg 100 Tablets (Compare to Dramamine) (1)

This generic version of dramamine is a must have for many parents who are preparing for a road trip!

 
Ginger Gum Anti-Nausea,24 pieces 1.35 gr each
Ginger Gum Anti-Nausea,24 pieces 1.35 gr each

Ginger is effective in preventing motion sickness for many adults and children. I haven't tried this one, but my kids love chewing gum!

 
Baby Bubbles Vomit Bag - Pack of 10
Baby Bubbles Vomit Bag - Pack of 10

Can you believe how trendy barf bags have become? We used to go on road trips with bowls handy, but these fit in the glove box and are at the ready any time a kid thinks they're going to toss their cookies!

 

Technology to Keep Kids Entertained in the Car - Keeping Parent Sane on Road Trips

We managed to survive as children without all of this technology to keep us busy in the car, but I'm not sure I would survive as a parent on a long road trip without it! There are any number of devices to keep kids busy in the car from portable dvd players to gaming systems and tablet computers.

Philips PD9016/37 9-inch Portable LCD  Dual DVD player (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
Philips PD9016/37 9-inch Portable LCD Dual DVD player (Discontinued by Manufacturer)

For more than one kid, it sure is handy to have two screens for your portable dvd player! We only pull ours out for road trips over five hours so it is always good for a couple hours of peace and quiet for the driver!

 
Apple iPad 2 2nd generation Tablet, 1 GHz processor, 16GB, Wifi (White)
Apple iPad 2 2nd generation Tablet, 1 GHz processor, 16GB, Wifi (White)

Hey, you can do anything on these, and if you trust your child to use it, they can entertain themselves for hours watching movies, playing games, reading books, etc.

 
Kindle Fire HD 8.9", 8.9" HD display, 16 GB or 32 GB, Wi-Fi or Optional 4G LTE Wireless (Previous Generation - 2nd)
Kindle Fire HD 8.9", 8.9" HD display, 16 GB or 32 GB, Wi-Fi or Optional 4G LTE Wireless (Previous Generation - 2nd)

My kids probably get to use my Kindle more than I do. Between apps, free streaming movies with Amazon Prime (Wi-Fi required, so only good if you have a mobile hotspot on for road trips) and reading books, this is a great tool to keep kids happy on long car rides.

 

Get Organized! Car Organizers - Keep Essential Things Handy

"I can't reach my snack!" By the end of most of our road trips, our car looks like we've been living in it. Trash is everywhere, each child can only find one shoe, and crumbs of every sort of snack imaginable are mashed on the floor. Maybe if we got one of these organizers, things would be different. Maybe?

Star Kids Snack & Play Travel Tray - Easy To Clean Nylon With Mesh Pockets, Cup Holder & Reinforced Sides. Keeps Snacks Off The Floor & In The Tray. Great for Car Trips, Plane Rides & More.
Star Kids Snack & Play Travel Tray - Easy To Clean Nylon With Mesh Pockets, Cup Holder & Reinforced Sides. Keeps Snacks Off The Floor & In The Tray. Great for Car Trips, Plane Rides & More.

This tray can be used in the car, or at home. With handy pockets in the side to store crayons or markers, it is a great road trip tool for your child who loves art. The lips over the tray keep things from rolling away. Great for food too! Please be sure to check about use with car seats and safety.

 
Munchkin Backseat Organizer, Black
Munchkin Backseat Organizer, Black

A handy organizer that goes over the back of the front seat. Kids in booster seats will likely be able to reach things themselves!

 
One Step Ahead Backseat Entertainment Car Organizer
One Step Ahead Backseat Entertainment Car Organizer

This thing looks like it can hold everything! Keep the essentials close by for your kids to maximize actual driving time on road trips!

 
Sunshine Kids Travel Pal Organizer
Sunshine Kids Travel Pal Organizer

If you have space between car seats or boosters, then this might be the car organizer for you!

 
Style Auto Back Seat Organizer with Tray
Style Auto Back Seat Organizer with Tray

Save even more time by eating your meals on the go. This is more appropriate for older kids in the back seat.

 

The Best Travel Games - The hottest travel games, recommended by Amazon.com

Travel games are hit and miss sometimes. If the pieces are going to roll away or fall on the floor, they can be more trouble than they are worth. Sometimes they can be a big hit though and keep kids entertained for hours!

I Need to Go Pee!

The number one thing that slows down our road trips

With three young kids, it's never too long before we hear "I have to go pee!". We stop and a get back on the road, and it isn't long before the next one, who insisted they went at the last stop, claims that they can't hold it another second. Have you been there? Here are a few tips to stretch out the time between bathroom stops.

  • Everybody goes! This seems simple, but make everyone go to the bathroom before you leave and each time you stop!
  • Drink less, but don't get dehydrated! We've made the mistake of giving our kids each a full water bottle or sippy cup at the beginning of the trip. They drink it all down in a matter of a few minutes, and it isn't long before we are having to stop. Have someone monitor consumption.
  • Avoid caffeine. This goes for parents who need to stop at the worst possible time, as soon as the baby falls asleep! The fact is that caffeinated beverages make you need to pee!
  • Avoid salty snacks and other snacks that make your kids thirsty. The more they drink, the more you're stopping!

Now if you are a parent of boys, you of course have more options for bathroom breaks than some of us. I have heard from others that the empty water bottle can come in handy, and boys have a much easier time pulling off the side of the road and finding a tree!

If you are the parent of girls, try taking a child's potty training toilet along for the ride. I know it seems a bit gross, but I know people who have done it and it has saved them from a few accidents!

We try to combine our bathroom breaks with necessary stops for gas or food. We also have our little one travel in a pull-up, just in case!

Make the Most Out of Every Stop

Multi-tasking on the road

Whenever possible, we try to pack a meal and stop to eat at a park or playground that isn't too far out of our way. We all eat, then one of us stays and plays with the kids while the other goes to fill the car up with gas and maybe even pick up some candy to use as a tool when the kids start getting whiny 100 miles down the road. By the time the car is filled with gas, the kids have gotten a little energy out. We go to the bathroom and hit the road again.

If the weather is bad, we stop at a fast food restaurant that has a playground at it. Our family tries to avoid fast food, so my kids are always hoping for rain when we travel so they can get some nuggets! Some fast food restaurants even have a Red Box outside of them, so we pick up a movie that the kids have never seen before.

If there isn't a playground to be found, we will have our kids run races around trees or hop on one foot down the sidewalk. Anything to get out some energy usually buys us some more driving time!

Debate Time! Too Much Technology?

Should Young Kids Use Technology in the Car on Long Road Trips??

No Way! We survived childhood without movies and video games in the car!

No Way! We survived childhood without movies and video games in the car!

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    Yes! Technology keeps my kids quiet and keeps us driving!

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      • Moon Hunter 4 years ago

        Yes, movies and iPhones have helped us preserve our sanity on many a 12 hour car ride. We try to mix it up and play classic car ride games in between movies.

      Share your questions, comments, road trip tips or horror stories about traveling with young children!

      Questions, Comments or Funny Road Trip Stories?

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