We have been traveling with kids ever since our oldest daughter was born in 2012. We have done both plane trips and car trips and at this phase in life (kids are ages 4, 3, and 18 months), we much prefer the road trips.
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We are about to jump into a massive road trip across the country with our 5th wheel, and many people have voiced their apprehension of us driving with the kids so much. It honestly will be much easier than some other car days they have had to do. Our last major trip to pick up the camper has us all in the car for 8-10 hours a day, for 3 out of 5 days in a row! They were long driving days but the kids did excellent!
If that’s not the best sight on a long day of traveling with kids, I’m not sure what is.
I wanted to share some of our tips and tricks for a sane road trip while traveling with kids. I’m sorry to say they don’t include getting them to sleep (and all at the same time!), but they do include some helpful activities and tips.
11 Tips and Activities for Traveling with Kids
1. Play with water coloring books by Melissa and Doug
I LOVE these little Melissa and Doug water coloring books. I think we have 5 different ones. They are mess free(!!!) and entertaining, and best of all, both my preschoolers and the toddler like them. The pages are white in the book and as the water (that you fill in the paint brush), touches the page, different colors appear. Once the paper dries, the color goes away and you can do it all over again. Pretty genius really.
2. Use Crayola Color Wonder markers and coloring sheets to color
This was another genius invention for travel. What kid doesn’t love markers? What parent doesn’t love markers that can only color on special paper?!? Seriously Genius.
There are many types of coloring books you can get, from Princesses to Cars and Toy Story to Hello Kitty. Something for all the kiddos. I love this Stow and Go travel activity case to keep them all in one place. It comes with a coloring book and 4 markers. It’s PERFECT for the car.
3. Stay hydrated without spills
Ideally we don’t want the kids drinking a ton while we drive, but that’s not realistic. (See number 7) We do want them to drink enough to stay hydrated, but don’t want them to spill it everywhere! We love these Camelbak water bottles. They are durable, hold a decent amount and don’t spill! (Unless the mouthpiece gets cracked) We use them all the time.
The mouth pieces do have to be replaced every so often from kids biting it. It cracks the rubber and then liquid will start to spill out.
4. Watch movies
Of everything that we do in the car to make the trip more enjoyable when traveling with kids, this one has to be the top one that entertains the longest. Some parents are against screen time for young kids, and I can understand their concern, but if it makes for an easier trip on everyone, than I am all for it. This is especially helpful for the youngest. He is the toughest age right now to keep entertained because all he wants to do is move! He will sit still however to watch a movie, and right now his favorite is Mary Poppins. (Good choice little buddy.)
We always buy used vehicles, so they
don’t always never come with a DVD player. We added a Boss flip-down car monitor to our Sequoia and it has worked pretty well for us. I say pretty well because we have had to exchange it once when it stopped working. I am not sure if that was the players fault, or the fact that my kids tried to stick things other than DVDs in it. (<— )
For our big truck we tried a Dr. J DVD player for our first big trip. That was a big fail. The biggest reason was because the truck is SO LOUD that the kids couldn’t hear it. It didn’t keep their attention long just to watch the screen, they wanted the full effect. Then on the way home the screen swivel part broke and it wouldn’t stand up like it’s supposed to. When we came back we returned it to Amazon.
We are definitely going to add another Boss flip down DVD player to the big truck before our next big trip!
5. Pack yummy snacks
I remember as a kid that one of my favorite parts of a road trip was all the extra snacks we had. We didn’t normally get to eat that kind of food often, so road trips were a special occasion. While health is super important to me, I carried on that tradition with my kids. (Umm, it wasn’t a hard choice- we need all the help we can get when traveling with young kids!)
The kids normally eat a few servings of plants every day, take a multi vitamin and a probiotic, so splurging here and again is ok with me. We still make carrots and apples a part of the road trip snack list, it’s just more things creep on there than normal. Here is what our road trip bag usually looks like:
- Fruit Snacks
- Cheesy Crackers
- Dried Mango
- Granola Bars
- M&Ms (The mini tube containers are great to entertain them for a while in the middle or towards the end of a long day when they might be getting a little restless).
6. Take breaks at kid friendly places
Our number one stop on a road trip when traveling with kids is Chick-Fil-A. We stop for lunch or dinner or both sometimes depending on the travel day.
They are one of the few places left that have a playground for the kids to get their energy out. We will order food, sit by the window of the play place, and the kids will run in and out. Even the little guy is starting to love to play at the Chick-Fil-A stops. And of course you can’t leave without getting ice cream. 😉
We also love to stop at Cracker Barrel. Typically we don’t like to make our stops super long, but some days the kids just need it.Robbie and I used to go as long as we could and only stop for a few minutes as needed. Well kids have changed that a bit and we stop as necessary. If we have a 45-60 minute stop somewhere then we do. We don’t get upset about it. The kids love playing in the store at Cracker Barrel, so sometimes one of us will sit and order while the other plays with the kiddos in the store so they sit as little as possible.
If we don’t stop at one of those for a meal, then we try to find a big rest stop to let the kiddos out and walk around (and use the potty) for a couple minutes before we get back in the car. Which brings me to my next point.
7. Use Pull-Ups for emergencies
We only have one kiddo in diapers now, and I have to say that traveling with kids in diapers is easier than those that are potty trained. Our girls are potty trained (ages 3 and 4), but we do have them wear a pull up for trips longer than 3 hours. If it’s less than that we will just stop when they need to use the potty, but if it’s longer than that we can’t realistically stop every hour for a bathroom break.
This also reduces the amount of ‘false alarms’. Our 3 year old was starting to tell us every 20 minutes that she had to use the potty when we’re driving. She knew we would stop for her. Now she only tells us when she really has to go because she knows we won’t just stop every 20-30 minutes for her.
Some people may disagree with this tip, and that’s fine. It works for us in this stage of life at the moment. The girls still prefer to not use the pullups and they use the bathroom when we stop. But if there is an emergency the girls have them.
8. Make an activity binder for the kids
I did this for one of our trips and it was a hit! I waited for a few hours and then told the kids I had a surprise. I pulled out binders with their names on them full of stickers, blank paper for drawing, crayons, stickers, and Crayola Wonder Pages and Markers. They loved it!
I used pencil pouches in the binders to hold the markers and crayons, so they could keep everything together in one place.
9. Play with a Kindle Fire kid’s edition tablet
It took me a while to decide if I wanted the kids to have a tablet, but I have to say these little computers are awesome! (and help out on trips a TON!)
The Kindle Fire Kid’s Edition Tablets are designed specifically for young kids and have a plethora of apps you can use for free. My kids are only allowed to use ‘their computers’ on road trips or in the stroller when we go on long runs. We made this rule when we first got the tablets last year, and the kids know they can’t just use them any time in the house.
There are actually some fantastic apps out there to help the kiddos learn. So many apps teach letters, numbers, shapes, colors, and encourage creativity and playing.
I know technology gets overused, but I think having a balance using it is good, and actually important. We will not be able to keep our kids from technology forever, and I think showing them a balance at a young age could be helpful in the long run.
I also have to add that I had a great experience with customer service and using the year long warranty. I ended up sending both Kindle Fire’s back recently for different reasons (one wouldn’t charge because the port was pushed in, and the other ones screen got cracked were it was unusable – after A LOT of falls.. must had fallen just right.) I called customer service, they gave me a return label (no charge), and less than a week later sent tablets back in perfect condition. I LOVE good customer service! Now the warranty is good for 90 days or when the original one was up – whichever is later.
10. Create surprise activities
When I was at Jo-ann Fabrics the other day, they had a clearance on these felt kits, sticker books, sticker boards, and little wood ornaments (not pictured). They were only $ .30 each! So I picked up a few. The kids already used several of them before I could snap a pic.
I put several of these in a bag and hide them from the kids. Then I tell the kids I have a surprise for them in a few minutes and it’s one of the activities. Getting them excited for it makes them want to do it more and the activity last a little longer.
*Note – these markers are NOT color wonder and mess free. They will most likely end up on clothes and skin, but they are washable. 🙂
11. Play Melissa and Doug travel games
My kids all love playing with this Melissa and Doug Memory Game. We actually bought it at the flea market while on a road trip once and it was a hit. My toddler especially loves flipping the squares back and forth and making the snapping sound.
My oldest just got this Melissa and Doug license plate game for her birthday and I am really excited for her to start learning the states as we go through them. We didn’t do Pre-K this year because of the travel, so I am always looking for ways to make learning fun.If you would like to stay updated on our decluttering tips and USA trips (that include traveling with kids) then drop us your e-mail here. We promise not to spam your inbox. We hate that too!
Do you have any tips for traveling with kids that you would like to add? Comment below!