March means spring break is coming up, and spring break means road trip, right? Honestly, I used to think people who packed up a bunch of kids and drove for fifteen hours and called that fun were completely, certifiably insane. There are times when fifteen minutes in the car with kids who won’t stop bugging each other is almost more than I can handle. However, I’ve realized that with the right preparation, a road trip with kids can be rather less miserable than expected – maybe even fun. All sorts of smart people have posted their favorite tips for road trips with kids online, and I’ve sorted through to find the best ones (and thrown in a few of my own). From preparing the car and organizing your supplies to packing snacks and prepping activities, this post has you covered. You’ll find links to hundreds of ideas to make your road trip with kids a little less horrible and a lot more fun.
1. Start your road trip preparation off right by making sure you have everything you need in case of emergency. You don’t want to be trying to change a tire at night without a flashlight, or stranded in the dessert with no water. This post at Simply Preparing gives great guidelines for collecting items for an emergency road trip kit.
3. Pillows are a must on a long road trip, but full size pillows can take up too much room (and cause arguments when “his pillow keeps touching me!”). I made these travel pillows with carrying cases last year and the kids loved them – they’re just the right size for kids and the case has a velcro pocket perfect for books, crayons, or a kindle. Easy sewing tutorial and free pattern provided.
4. If you know how to sew, this car seat organizer pattern from etsy looks fantastic – it allows kids to keep coloring books, crayons, DVDs, etc. handy, so you won’t have to keep turning around to get things for them.
5. Or just buy an over the door shoe organizer like this one (from the dollar store!) and keep the things you or your child will be using the most in easy reach. Idea from Decor-ganize Crafts.
6. Here’s an absolutely genius idea – build a simple bucket and pulley system using rope through the handles above the car windows – you’ll be able to get things back and forth to your kids without relying on their throwing and catching ability. Find more info at Kids Activities Blog.
7. Organizing Junkie has great tips for corralling art supplies, DVD player, wipes, and snacks all in one handy place. She also has some great printable picture packing lists the kids can use to get ready for the trip.
Pack some snacks:
8. This post by Toni Spilsbury is actually about organizing snacks at home, but her “fridge snacks” example would be perfect for putting in the cooler for healthy road trip snacks. She also includes a price breakdown showing how much you can save by packing your own snacks instead of buying at the gas station or drive through.
9. Babble has rounded up 25 great ideas for road trip snacks for kids, including easy ways to transport veggies and dips, homemade versions of classics like fruit leather, fruits snacks and cheez-its, and this munchable necklace that will keep little ones busy for a while (originally from And this is how the story goes):
10. Kids are sure to love these tackle boxes turned mega snack packs, from Inner Child Crochet. I like the idea of giving one to each child and letting them control when and what they snack on, so I don’t have to rummage through the snack container every fifteen minutes to find someone more food. I’d be a little nervous about one getting tipped over, however, so I might look for a divided container that has separated lids so you can open just one compartment at a time (maybe in the jewelry making section).
11. Use straws for yogurt and applesauce – genius! I love this idea. This isn’t my photo, it’s one floating around Pinterest without a good link, but we’ve done this plenty of times in the car, and even as a healthy snack at Disneyland. Cut straws in half so they’re not so long and tape on to the side of each snack in advance.
Beat the boredom:
12. This fantastic road trip post from Burlap and Denim has plenty of tips, including a printable packing list, but my favorite part is her take on the cookie sheet tray. Buy cheap cookie sheets at the dollar store to use as a lunch tray, magnet board, hard surface for coloring, or even a place to make friendship bracelets. The best part of this post is how she secured a cookie sheet to the booster seat arm rests so youngsters aren’t constantly dropping it during the ride.
13. For more magnetic game ideas to use with a cookie sheet, check out this huge post from 123 Homeschool 4 Me. I especially love the idea of using family photos to make magnetic popsicle stick “puzzles”.
14. For younger kids, it’s always fun to have new toys to play with during the ride. Play Eat Grow has a fantastic list of toys that work well in the car, including links to where you can order the items mentioned.
15. The Crafty Working Mom has links to a nice variety of car trip printables (bingo, word search, etc.). Print them out, then slide them inside plastic page protectors to create a re-usable travel binder (use dry erase markers).
16. This great post from Kids Activities Blog has 40 car trip ideas geared toward toddlers, some you may have seen before and some that are pretty unique. My favorites from this list include collecting toy magazines or catalogues for kids to look through and building statues with aluminum foil and pipe cleaners.
17. Books on CD. I was surprised when I was researching this post that I didn’t see more recommendations for books the whole family can listen to during long car trips – it’s one of our favorite ways to pass the time. You can find books on CD at the library to borrow for free, or purchase audio files from Amazon or Audible.com. The key for us has been finding books that are interesting enough for the parents to enjoy as well. Some of our favorites have been The BFG by Roald Dahl (great for younger kids), Harry Potter, the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, Peter and the Starcatchers (and sequels) by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, and the Stoneheart Trilogy by Charlie Fletcher (the last one is better for slightly older kids, maybe 9+).
18. Creekside Learning has a really great idea for forestalling the constant “are we there yet?” questions – laminate a map of your route and use dry erase markers to keep track of where you’re going and where you’ve been. You can keep kids updated on your location and they can cross off locations as you drive through.
19. I found this photo floating around Pinterest but couldn’t locate the original source. It’s a great twist on the “surprise gift every half hour” idea. Kids can open up a sack when you drive through the city listed on the front, and each sack contains small items to play or create with.
If you love this idea but don’t have the time before your trip to put everything together, consider purchasing this Adventure in a Box kit– if it keeps the kids happy for a long drive it’s probably worth every penny!
20. For 50 more great road trip activity ideas, be sure to check out this monster post from Six Sister’s Stuff:
Are you a road trip expert? Leave your best tips in the comments for the rest of us!