Can we just talk for a sec about how parents aren't recognized enough for this?!!… If you're brave enough to take your kids on a road trip, you deserve an Elf-inspired shoutout: “Congratulations! World's best parents!!”
We just drove to Utah from California to welcome my parents back from their 18-month church service mission (you can see more about that on my Instagram here!), and my DM's blew up with questions when I posted on my Stories about our road trip – because every parent wants to know how another parent survived the trek!!
There are lots of tips & tricks (including some DON'Ts!) that I want to share with you for your next car vacation. Because TRUST ME. I get it. If driving 10+ hours in the car with your kids sounds like you're admitting yourself into an insane asylum, I can personally tell you – YOU'VE GOT THIS! Seriously!
Road tripping doesn't have to be miserable. And I really do love and cherish all the memories we make with our family all those hours on the road.
Keep reading for all of my BEST road trip tips with kiddos in tow! Our kids' ages range from baby all the way to tween, so trust me when I say we've experienced all the different kinds of road trip needs you can think of. I'm hoping all of these ideas will help you to maybe have a road trip experience as good as Willie Nelson's… “I just can't wait to get on the road again!”
In a hurry? Go straight to my picks below!
Everything you need, nothing that you don't
Before we went on our road trip, I read a few other blog posts on this subject to make sure I wasn't forgetting anything that would be the difference in making our trip as smooth as a gas station ICEE. I was surprised at what I read!
There were LOTS of things that I felt weren't really necessary. At least for my family! Maybe we just do things differently. But I promise everything in this post we 100% used and needed on the road. There's no reason to overpack & overthink if you don't need to!
ROAD TRIP SNACKS
Let's start with maybe the most important topic… because what's a road trip without good SNACKS?! This is a must no matter what age you are, but there are some things you can do with your kids to make snack time easy and less stressful.
Keep it clean
We're not above a good junk food treat on the road – so I don't mean that kind of clean. I mean that we just try to only allow non-messy snacks in the car!
Although it's impossible to keep a road trip car completely clean, the cleaner you can keep it, the smoother the trip is going to feel. If you have to stop to clean up a big mess, that can make your time on the road so much longer than it needs to be!
We let our kids pick out a treat at the gas station, but they know that means nothing chocolate (that can melt and get all over everything), or super crumbly or sticky.
I try to also encourage and buy snacks that are filling for my kids. For example, granola bars, and Belvita Bites! (A huge hit this road trip.)
The less we have to stop to fill up tummies, the quicker we get to our destination. And like I said, I'm all about a good sugary road trip treat, but I also like to know that my kids are getting something sustainable in their bellies!
For the littles
If you're traveling with littles as old as Harry and Millie, you really want to only buy snacks that they can feed themselves! That's something you may not think about till you're on the road, but it's so nice when you can hand them something like Belvita Bites that they don't need any help eating. Even little Harry!
TIP: Another game-changer if you have a rear-facing baby like Harry is to invest in this carseat mirror! It made it so easy to see how he was doing the whole entire trip.
By preparing with snacks like this, and by setting up the rear-facing carseat mirror, you're saving yourself from the chronic “mom turn.” You know, the “mom turn?” When you're constantly turning towards the back seats while your seat belt lock digs into your side? Yep. Trust me. Follow these tips. You'll thank me later!
Small individual packs over large bags
It may seem really smart to just buy a huge chip bag from Costco for the trip to share with the whole fam – but passing that thing around the car? Let's be real. We all know how annoying that is, AND it has “spill” written all over it!
I always try to buy small individual packs to pass around (even in other situations, like for the beach or any other outing!) so we don't have to worry about any sharing, as bad as that may sound. It just makes snack time SO EASY.
But, if you still want to buy the big bag, I would just separate the snacks into small Ziploc bags or these take and toss containers beforehand! Easy to hand over, and no sharing drama.
SIDE NOTE: I don't try to portion control my kids – but giving them individual snack packs is really helpful at pacing them if I know that lunch or dinner is coming up! Then I know their dinner isn't going to consist of ONLY chips. The snack sizes are perfect for that and allow for more sustaining food later.
Disposing doesn't need to be fancy
With snacks comes trash. It's definitely important to think ahead and have something for all of the garbage.
I know a lot of people say you need some fancy car trash contraption on road trips – but for us, a classic grocery bag works just fine! I usually just make sure to pack a few grocery bags in the car with me. It makes everything super easy to throw away because you can just put the whole bag in the trash, and you're not spending your money on something you don't necessarily need.
GAME CHANGER for road trip drinks
First things first: we ONLY let our kids drink water on road trips!!! The reason is simple: if anything spills, it's no big deal. It also lends to less bathroom breaks, which I'll talk about in a minute!
Next (this might be one of my BEST tips for you in this whole post!!!), Take & Toss Cups!!!
Instead of giving my kids big water bottles that can easily spill all over the place, I LOVE the Take & Toss Cups. They're pretty spill-proof, and you can get them with straw lids (I get these for my big girls) or sippy cup lids (what I get for Millie & Harry).
I usually keep a huge jug of water in the front seat with me, and then I can easily refill any of my kids' cups with small amounts of water, which is also really helpful for when we're going into restaurants, and honestly for the rest of the trip's outings, too.
Not to mention that if one gets lost or left somewhere it's no big deal. Because every parent knows there's nothing worse than losing your kid's favorite sippy cup. According to your toddler (who lost the cup in the first place), you might as well take back your “best parent ever” mug when that happens. #toddlerlogic, am I right???
ROAD TRIP MEALS
Sometimes picking TWO restaurants for dinner is actually better than one – seriously! If you're having a hard time making everyone happy with one place (including yourself!), you can easily go to a couple food joints and save the hassle of arguing. It sounds like a hassle but it's pretty easy.
For example, I knew my kids wanted McDonald's (and I actually wanted them to have McDonald's, too, because the kids' meals are so easy to eat from in their boxes!), but Neil and I wanted a sandwich. We made a quick stop at Jimmy John's (everyone had a bathroom break there), grabbed our sandwiches, and then we went through the drive-thru at McDonald's for the kids. Quick, easy, no complaining, and no having to give up what you want so the kids are happy!
We've also divided and conquered where Neil has dropped me at a healthier spot (like Jimmy John's) and I order our sandwiches/wraps/salads, and he fills up on gas or runs through a drive-thru for the kiddos, and swings back to pick me up, and the next thing you know we're in and out of a pit stop in less than 10 minutes. BAM.
ROAD TRIP ENTERTAINMENT
Snacks will keep everyone busy for a portion of the trip, but the biggest saving grace is for sure going to be the entertainment! Here are all my best tips to keep your kids busy during your hours on the road.
My kids don't use headphones very often. I used to think my kids could just borrow ours on road trips…
Yeeeeah. That was a big bust.
Kids unintentionally break headphones, especially because adult headphones don't stay on their heads well. Kids headphones also have controls where the volume won't go up too high! Those poor little ears will get blasted if they accidentally do a Marty McFly and crank it allllll the way up.
Our very favorite kids headphones aren't available anymore (such a bummer!), but these have super high reviews!
BEST iPad parent hack – Guided Access
Alright, once I discovered this trick, it completely changed my parenting life. ESPECIALLY for road tripping with little kids!
I'm here to tell you: it's actually possible to lock an app on your child's screen so that they can't accidentally exit out – which means you don't have to constantly turn the movie back on for your upset littles! Yep – you can start a movie and it will stay on that movie no matter how your child touches the screen until they are done watching.
Here's how Guided Access works:
- On your Apple device, go to Settings > Accessibility > then turn on Guided Access.
- Tap Passcode Settings, then tap Set Guided Access Passcode. From there, you can enter a passcode, or turn on Face ID or Touch ID as a way to easily control your Guided Access session. (This just means you will have control on when Guided Access is on & off through your passcode of choice).
- Open the app your child is going to watch a movie on. (SIDE TIP: Disney+ and Netflix (in a kid profile with restrictions) are both really great because you can download movies and shows beforehand – so even if you are driving through places without service, you'll still have tons of entertainment ready to go without having to rely on data to stream them! We used Disney+ our whole trip.)
- Depending on what model of iPhone or iPad you have, you'll either triple click the “home” or the “lock” button to start your Guided Access session. (For us, it's the “home” button!)
- The first time you do this, a screen will appear asking you to draw a circle around the area you don't want to be touched. Since you'll want the whole screen covered, try and draw the largest box you can around the screen. Then you can adjust it from there to cover the whole screen.
- Tap “Guided Access,” then press start, and the screen will be locked in place! NOTE: you only have to draw on the screen the first time you use Guided Access in that app. If you do it once, you won't ever have to do it again! Just simply triple click and it will be ready to go.
- When you are done using Guided Access: triple click the “home” or “lock” button again, enter your passcode, and press “End.”
This will CHANGE EVERYTHING when it comes to entertaining your kids on the road. They can't switch into apps you don't want them in, they won't accidentally pause the movie or exit out (which means less meltdowns!), and you can have a lot more moments to yourself for reading or watching your own movies.
Coloring is such a fun way for kids to pass the time on road trips!
We really like bringing colored pencils for coloring books instead of crayons. Crayons can totally melt in the car, and sometimes my kids try to eat them (because what doesn't look appetizing about a crayon?) which just creates a hazard I definitely DON'T want to be dealing with when I could've just given them colored pencils in the first place.
Yep, just call us the Grand Crayon-on police. Not even ashamed because colored pencils have seriously ROCKED on the road!!
We also get zip pouches for the colored pencils because we all know the cardboard boxes never hold up, which means no more coloring AND you're finding colored pencils in your car for weeks after the trip. The dollar section at Target has great zip pouches, and there's also some you can order really easily on Amazon here!
ROAD TRIP CLOTHING
You definitely want your kids in light, comfy clothes (pajamas all the way) to avoid as much complaining as possible when it comes to wardrobe during your travels!
I also always make sure to pack a pair of extra pajamas for my babies in case anything spills or there are any accidents or blowouts. Speaking of accidents – I WISH I'd put Millie in Pull-Ups for this entire trip!
Even though Millie is potty trained, she's still at the age where accidents occasionally happen. There was one stop where she refused to go potty, and she ended up having an accident. It would've been so much easier in that situation to change a Pull-Up rather than having to fully change EVERYTHING.
SIDE NOTE: because she was in our favorite convertible car seat EVER, it was super easy to wash and dry the car seat cover at the hotel that night (props to Residence Inn for having washing machines)!
After that, we had her in a Pull-Up the rest of the time – and even though she stayed dry, it was just a feeling of relief that if it happened again we wouldn't have to change a whole outfit and wash the car seat again. Learn from my mistakes and put your freshly potty trained toddler in Pull-Ups for your road trip!
This gets its own section because it's so important!!! You HAVE to make sure all your kids have super easy shoes to slip on and off for pit stops so you can easily hop in and out of the car. For us that means flip flops, Natives, Crocs, and in the winter UGGs work great, too. Anything quick and easy to throw on which also means shoes that are meltdown-proof.
(Especially if your kids have been holding it… They need to easily be able to throw on their shoes and make it to the potty!!)
ROAD TRIP BATHROOM BREAKS
And that's a great transition into bathroom breaks. After Millie's accident, our non-negotiable rule became that every time we stop, everyone has to go potty. No exceptions!
That helps with a lot of extra pit stops, but even when you do that, someone always needs to go at an inconvenient time; so my next big tip is to bring an emergency potty!!!
This is very, very, very important because if you get stuck in the middle of nowhere or in a big traffic jam and your kid needs the potty NOW, it can help prevent an accident. And let's be honest: cleaning up bathroom accidents during a road trip is a memory we all could do without.
I promise the emergency potty is SUCH a good investment for your road trip!
And remember when I said water only earlier? Think about it. If you get your kids chocolate milk or juice, they are likely going to drink 10x more of that than water, which means 10x MORE BATHROOM BREAKS. Stick to only water (for the kids – HA), I promise it will make your trip SO much quicker and easier.
ROAD TRIP COMFORT
This one's for the parents! I like to bring my own pillow on road trips for optimal naps. Neil and I will usually switch off driving so one of us uses the pillow to rest while the other drives. He actually prefers to drive, and I usually like to take one nap a day, and that nap is SO much more comfortable with a pillow in tow.
For the KIDS: it's easy for the car to get filled up real fast, so I tell each of my kids they're allowed to bring ONE stuffy or one pillow. If I didn't make this rule our car would be comparable to the San Diego Zoo with so many stuffed animals in there, which just sounds like claustrophob-mania to me. But that way the kids have something to snuggle with, too!
Adjustable Car Mirror
First Aid Kit
Farm Goldfish Classic Mix Crackers
Take and Toss Sippy Cups
Take and Toss Straw Cups
Crayola Colored Pencil Set
Tie-Dye Short&Long Cool Pajamas
Convertible Car Seat
Family freeway fun – seriously!
Although road trips can seem daunting, they're honestly some of the most fun memories you can make with your kids growing up. Even with a couple mishaps along the way, our road trip went really smoothly, and getting to be with my parents and siblings and their kids again was SUCH a joy. I hope with these tips you feel confident in taking your next road trip somewhere with your family soon! Let me know where you're going if you have a road trip planned for this summer, and how you keep your family happy on the road!