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Tips for Traveling With Kids in a Car

Updated on November 29, 2012

Highlights from my Vacatons with my Family

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Road Map of the United StatesAcadia National Park - Thunder HoleSunset near Syracuse, New YorkNiagara Falls - US SideGreat Smoky Mountain National ParkIndianapolis Motor SpeedwayColorado Springs - View from the top of Pikes PeakGarden of the Gods - Colorado SpringsRocky Mountain National Park - Trail Ridge RdRocky Mountain National Park - Trail Ridge Road - ElkRocky Mountain National Park - Trail Ridge RoadMount Rushmore - South DakotaGrand Teton National Park - Jackson Lake LodgeGrand Teton National Park - Jenny LakeGrand Teton National Park - Jackson LakeYellowstone National Park - Upper Yellowstone FallsYellowstone National Park - Grand Canyon of YellowstoneYellowstone National ParkBuffalo in Yellowstone National ParkYellowstone National Park - Fountain Paint Pot
Road Map of the United States
Road Map of the United States | Source
Acadia National Park - Thunder Hole
Acadia National Park - Thunder Hole | Source
Sunset near Syracuse, New York
Sunset near Syracuse, New York | Source
Niagara Falls - US Side
Niagara Falls - US Side | Source
Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Great Smoky Mountain National Park | Source
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indianapolis Motor Speedway | Source
Colorado Springs - View from the top of Pikes Peak
Colorado Springs - View from the top of Pikes Peak | Source
Garden of the Gods - Colorado Springs
Garden of the Gods - Colorado Springs | Source
Rocky Mountain National Park - Trail Ridge Rd
Rocky Mountain National Park - Trail Ridge Rd | Source
Rocky Mountain National Park - Trail Ridge Road - Elk
Rocky Mountain National Park - Trail Ridge Road - Elk | Source
Rocky Mountain National Park - Trail Ridge Road
Rocky Mountain National Park - Trail Ridge Road | Source
Mount Rushmore - South Dakota
Mount Rushmore - South Dakota | Source
Grand Teton National Park - Jackson Lake Lodge
Grand Teton National Park - Jackson Lake Lodge | Source
Grand Teton National Park - Jenny Lake
Grand Teton National Park - Jenny Lake | Source
Grand Teton National Park - Jackson Lake
Grand Teton National Park - Jackson Lake | Source
Yellowstone National Park - Upper Yellowstone Falls
Yellowstone National Park - Upper Yellowstone Falls | Source
Yellowstone National Park - Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park - Grand Canyon of Yellowstone | Source
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park | Source
Buffalo in Yellowstone National Park
Buffalo in Yellowstone National Park | Source
Yellowstone National Park - Fountain Paint Pot
Yellowstone National Park - Fountain Paint Pot | Source

Airfare for a family vacation can be very expensive. It is usually much cheaper to drive. Let us face it; traveling in a car with kids can be an adventure. You never know quite what to expect. Fortunately, for my wife and me, our kids (7 and 6) are very good in the car for the most part. We had no choice but to start them when they were babies because my parents live about six hours away and hers live about two hours away. In addition to visiting our parents, we have driven all of the country on vacation over the past six years. Our vacations have led us to Door County (WI) in 2007, Minneapolis (MN) in 2008, Great Smoky Mountain National Park – Gatlinburg (TN) in 20009, Rocky Mountain National Park (CO) & Colorado Springs (CO) in 2010, Yellowstone National Park (WY) & Grand Teton National Park (WY) in 2011, and Arcadia National Park (ME) in 2012. As someone who became a travel-hardened veteran by taking several very long trips with children in the car, I hope that these tips will help you as much as they helped us.

What is the longest car trip that you have taken with kids?

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Things to Consider When Traveling with Kids

The first thing to consider before taking your kids on a long road trip is how long can they reasonable sit in the car. I have seen many different articles that suggest that you should drive no more than 6 – 8 hours per day. My personal belief is that it really depends on how well your kid(s) travel and how easily they are entertained. Thankfully, last year, my kids were able to sit in our van from where we live outside of Chicago all the way to Billings, Montana, which is about a 17-hour drive. Also, consider how well long you can drive too. It is important to remember that you are on vacation and to enjoy the trip. For me, my maximum range is around 18-20 hours on the way to our vacation destination. However, I do not do as well on the return trip and usually try to shorten the drive to around twelve hours if possible on the way back. Another thing to consider when planning your trip is how frequently your kid(s) will need to stop for bathroom breaks and to move around. It is also important to determine whether your kid(s) will do better leaving in the early morning or later in the day. I have found that my kids do better when we leave early in the morning. What works best for us is to put them to bed in what they are going to wear and wake them up and get them settled in our van quickly so that they will fall back asleep.

Pack an Activity Bag for Each Kid

One great way to help keep kids entertained is to pack an activity bag for them of things that they can do in the car. We normally pack a bag for each of them. My wife will also go out and buy a few surprise items that she will hold back in case that they begin to get restless. Here are some ideas of can be included in their bags:

· Books to read

· Coloring books

· Sticker books

· Word search puzzles

· Mazes

· Hand held video games

· Small toys

There are many free activities for kids available online for download.

Portable DVD Player

Many vans and SUVs have portable DVD players built into them. This is another great way to entertain kids for hours upon hours. Unfortunately, our van does not have a built in DVD player, so I purchased a portable one a few years ago. I learned the hard way on a trip to visit my wife’s parents. I strapped the player to the back of my seat thinking that this was the greatest thing, but quickly learned that it is important to be able to reach the player in order to change the DVD or adjust any of the settings. This is especially true with young kids that do not know how to work a DVD player.

Music or Audio Books

Another great way to keep your kid(s) entertained on long road trips is to bring along some of their favorite music or audio books. My kids love to listen to their Vacation Bible School CD that has all kinds of great songs for them to listen to. They also like to listen to the CDs that they received with their Awana books. There are many kid appropriate podcast on ITunes to download.

Road Trip Games for Kids

There are many different games that you can play in the car to keep everyone entertained. We usually see how many different state license plates we see along the way. On our Colorado trip, we saw license plates from 49 states. Miraculously, we saw a Hawaii license plate at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. On our trip to Yellowstone and Acadia National Parks, we played a game to see who could see the most wildlife along the way and handed out points based on the type of animal.

Travel Snacks

Giving your kid(s) snacks, as your drive, is a good way to keep them happy. One way that has worked wonderful for us is to let them pick out a few special snacks from the grocery store a day or two before you leave. This way they have something to look forward during the trip. I would caution you not to let them have a bunch of sweets because they are strapped in a car for an extended period of time.

Comfort Level

One thing that can have a huge impact on how well kids do on long trips is their comfort level. If they are not comfortable in their seats or it is either too hot or too cold, kids will become fussier. Make sure that they have enough room to at least stretch their feet. I remember when I was a teenager, my dad drove one of my friends along with his dad, my brother, and I to a Milwaukee Brewers game in Milwaukee. There were three of us jammed in the back seat for over four hours. It was a very uncomfortable trip because we could not even stretch our legs. My wife and I have made it a practice on long trips to remove the middle row of seats from the van to give the kids a little more room, plus it also allows us to keep a cooler within reach in case any of us gets hungry or thirsty.

Keep a Camera Close By

The final tip that I can give you is to always make sure that you have a camera within reach. You never know when a kid will start acting goofy or fall asleep in a funny manner. This is especially true if you have pets that travel with you.

Traveling with your kids in a car can be a great experience. Be sure to keep in tune to how they are doing and be sure to have enough activities and things for them to do to keep them occupied. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the trips that we have taken. I would not trade all of the wonderful memories that we have created during those trips. I hope these tips for traveling with children in a car are helpful to you.


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    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 

      8 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      You've covered all the basics here! Nicely done. Kids are fortunate to have so many technology options for car trips these days.

    • Claudia Tello profile image

      Claudia Tello 

      8 years ago from Mexico

      I made a few very long trips by car with my parents as a girl. One to Alabama, one to Tampa Florida and one to San Antonio Texas. We departed from Mexico City and drove all day, for more than one in the first two cases, until we got there. The way back was particularly tiresome because there is no expectation and nothing to look forward to. I really admire my parents for coping with three kids and making it fun for us. They must have been from your team.

      By the way, the National Parks you visited look beautiful! Very nice places to visit with kids or otherwise.

    • ercramer36 profile imageAUTHOR

      Eric Cramer 

      8 years ago from Chicagoland

      Thanks! Most of the time when we travel we stop every 2-3 hours. When we drove to Yellowstone we did have a few stretches that were 4 hours in between stops.

    • Val Swabb profile image

      Val Swabb 

      8 years ago from South Carolina

      Very very good tips, except for the listing of time ok in a car. You didn't specify if those 7-8 hour (or 17 in the one case) trips were near constant with only bathroom, and short stretching breaks. If so, this is very unhealthy for the kids, and the adults. Sitting in basically one position for that long, even with short breaks can lead to blood clots in healthy people. Adults and children. The American Pediatrics Association recommends getting out and moving about every 2 hours, for more then just a quick potty/stretch break. One article I read (I think it was in the New England Journal of medicine) recommended 30 minutes of movement for every 2 hours of car time. I have found that locating interesting sites on the way to/from (taking different routes) can help with this a lot. And with modern convenience like Google maps, it's even easier to find site seeing stops!


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