Are you a parent planning your first family road trip with kids (maybe even a baby under 1)? How fun! OR Are you a parent worried about an upcoming road trip since your past road trips have been less than fun? I got you! Traveling with your little ones can be such a rewarding experience, but it can also be stressful and hectic if you’re not prepared. Let’s chat about how to make every family road trip fun & stress free!
As a parent to three kiddos that just went on a cross country road trip, I know how daunting it can be to pack for everyone and plan for all the different scenarios that arise while on the road. But don’t worry, I got you! In this blog, I’ll share some tips and tricks I’ve learned from my own experiences traveling with my children. Whether you’re embarking on a short, quick road trip or a long-haul cross country family road trip, these tips will help make your journey smoother and more enjoyable. So sit back, relax, and let’s dive in!
No Matter the Length:
Technology is your Friend!
Invest in an iPad or Kindle for your kids, and load it up with games and apps. You can also download movies and TV shows for them to watch on the go. I love this Amazon Fire Tablet. We cover ours with a kid friendly case so there is no worries about wear and tear. This is the case we love for Ipad Minis. Don’t forget to bring headphones, so they can watch and listen to their heart’s content without disturbing other passengers. Have them come with you to pick out their own headphones to make them that much more excited for the trip!
Music is a Must
Create playlists on streaming platforms like Pandora, Spotify, and YouTube, for different moods and your different kid’s tastes. We use Spotify for music and podcasts, I have stations on the free versions of all of them with all of my favorites: a toddler radio, kid’s songs radio, green day radio (for my oldest), classical music radio (for naps). We also use Youtube for movie tunes. My kids love The Greatest Showman! Don’t forget to add some of your kids’ favorite songs to sing along with to keep the energy happy and entertaining. Make sure to add some more chill songs for nap times, as well!
Pack Snacks & Drinks
Make sure to pack enough food and drinks to keep your kids happy and satisfied during the trip. Bring a cooler with sandwiches, fruits, and healthy snacks, as well as some treats to indulge in. Avoid sugary drinks and opt for water, juice, or milk. Also pack a backpack for each kid. I pack the back packs with my two oldest kids and then for baby girl it’s this diaper bag. Make sure to pack some plastic utensils, extra wipes, and diapers/pull-ups in their backpacks, just in case.
Keep blankets and stuffed animals in the car for cozy vibes. My son loves essential oils so he makes sure to have some in his backpack. They always create such a relaxing environment. Lavender is great for comfort, and peppermint is useful for motion sickness.
Taking a Longer Trip?
Long road trips with kids can be both exciting and challenging. It’s an opportunity to bond, make memories, and explore new places. It can also be stressful, especially when traveling with young children. With a bit of planning and organization though, you can make your long road trip with kids more enjoyable and less overwhelming. Here are some tips to help you have a smoother journey.
Take Longer Lunch Breaks
When traveling long distances, it’s essential to take breaks to stretch your legs, relax, and recharge. Instead of driving straight through to your destination, consider taking a long lunch break to break up the journey. Choose a restaurant with a shop area or an outside space where your kids can let off some steam. This will give them a chance to burn off some energy and make the remaining trip more comfortable. Once they’ve eaten and played, they’ll be more likely to fall asleep in the car, making the rest of the drive more peaceful.
The right hotel can make all the difference in the success of your road trip. When traveling with pets, it’s crucial to find pet-friendly hotels that are clean, safe, and welcoming. Best Westerns, Holiday Inn Express, La Quintas, and Hiltons are all great, cheap options. Our favorites are almost always Hiltons & Hampton Inns. My kids loved the free hot cocoa in the lobby each time they’d get there. They also all had little food shops because we could never have enough snacks.
We found a super trendy hotel, Tru by Hilton, that everyone loved and was so cute! However, it’s essential to vet the area you’re in before booking a hotel, especially if you’re choosing a cheap option. We had a a terrible experience with one hotel on our cross country road trip that almost ruined the whole thing (you can read all about it here). So be sure to read reviews, check the hotel’s website, and ask questions before making a reservation.
Keeping your car organized during a long road trip is essential to your sanity. Take a few minutes at each gas station to throw away trash, clean up any messes, and keep things tidy. Bring a plastic bag for trash, a roll of paper towels, and keep your younger kids’ backpack and cooler bag up front with you for easy access. Bonus Tip: Keep a separate duffel bag with your self-care items to bring into each hotel room. This way, you won’t have to lug all your luggage in every night, making it easier to settle in. I kept my car super organized our entire trip, but my husband didn’t and his stress levels were so much higher because of it. So do yourself a favor and stay organized!
See Everything as an Adventure
All road trips are full of unexpected moments and surprises, family road trips especially. It’s essential to embrace these moments and see them as part of the adventure. When frustration sets in, it’s easy for things to go south quickly. As the adult, you set the tone for the trip. If the kids aren’t feeling it that day, try to stop somewhere cool and explore. Then push into the night or make up time the next day. Remember to go with the flow and throw all plans out the window, if needed. For more on how to flow with the chaos on road trips, I wrote a whole blog on this! Head over there to read wayyyy more on how to see life as an adventure, especially on long road trips.
Split Up Music Time
Listening to music is an essential part of any family road trip. When traveling with kids, it’s essential to take turns choosing the music. This will help keep everyone happy and engaged. My kids loved getting to pick out their favorite songs and everyone singing along to them. BUT everyone knew when it was time for mommy’s reggae or country music. You can also mix it up with podcasts or audiobooks that everyone can enjoy!
Packing for a family road trip can be overwhelming, but it’s essential to pack smart. Each person should have a large suitcase, and a smaller suitcase or tote bag for daily essentials. Keep a big tote bag full of snacks and food to avoid unnecessary stops. Ziplock bags are great for keeping toothbrushes, makeup, and other personal items organized. Like we chatted about above, keep the stuff you need to bring into each hotel in a smaller bag so you aren’t having to haul in all your luggage at every hotel!
Traveling with Little Ones under 1?
Traveling with a baby under 1 year old requires a lot of preparation and patience. However, with a little bit of creativity and organization, you can make it an enjoyable experience for the whole family. One of the most important things to have on a road trip with a baby is a cooler bag filled with bottles and baby food. I use this one for all of our family road trips. It’s important to have everything ready to go, so you don’t have to make frequent stops. You can also carry a roll of paper towels, and spoons for feeding the baby. Those will come in handy in case of any spills or messes & make feeding way easier.
Another important tip is to have older children help out with the baby. You can assign an older sibling to be responsible for feeding the baby during the trip. This way, they feel included and valued, and it can also help take some of the load off of you. Make sure to praise your older children for their help and make them feel important! Being in charge of something & getting praise for it helps keep their morale high and enjoying the trip.
One fun and interactive way to keep your little one entertained during the trip is by singing to them. Turn off all the music and sing their favorite songs. “You are my sunshine” is a classic that my kids love. Be prepared for any emergencies that may arise during the trip. Carry extra diapers, wipes, and clothes for the baby. Also, make sure to take plenty of breaks to stretch and change baby’s diaper. You’ll keep them more comfortable and reduce the likelihood of fussiness.
Our Favorite Roadtrip Essentials
- I keep a toy bin of all of my daughters favorites! This Target bin fits perfectly at my oldest feet. I, also, use these in all different sizes in our nursery.
- Art is my oldest daughter’s savior when any fussiness or meltdown starts coming on. Her favorites are these markers with this coloring book. She also loves these water pens & they were always a lifesaver with my daughter when she got fussy!
- My youngest loved this sound machine attached to her car seat for naps. It was a life saver! She is, also, always distracted by any of those touch and feel books, so our go-to is this Animals book.
- I am so not against technology when on a family road trip! Whatever calms the children 😁 So movies on the iPad are always a staple for us on our road trips, but the Amazon Fire HD Tablet works great as a cheaper option! You can play games & watch movies just like an iPad.
Have Fun with It!
All in all, traveling with kids can be a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences, but it’s all worth it in the end. The key is to be well-prepared and stay organized throughout the trip. One of the best things we did on our road trip was embrace the chaos and go with the flow. Don’t let minor setbacks ruin your mood, and just know even if everything doesn’t go exactly to plan, you’ll still have the best vacation with each other! Traveling with kids can be challenging, but it’s such an amazing opportunity to bond as a family and create lifelong memories. So embrace the chaos and have fun on your next family road trip with your little ones!
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Hey, I’m Katie, a Virginia Beach childhood photographer turned Southern California elopement photographer. Aside from photography, I’m a total metaphysical book nerd (I even take notes in the margins). At home, I can be found practicing yoga or reiki, meditating, sketching or writing. I’m a momma of three and trying my hardest to raise them as confident, amazing humans. As a child, I never felt like I belonged anywhere, and it took years as an adult to train myself to let the real me shine through. This is what I’m always trying to teach my kids. Be weird. Be awkward. But above all, just be YOU.
For more parenting tips, tricks, & hacks, or just more info on breaking the cycle of childhood trauma, head over to my blog. You’ll find SO much education on how to raise amazing humans. Of course, I don’t claim to know it all. But having three kids all in different phases of life, I’ve had to educate myself on so many things. I’m here to make your educational journey wayyyy shorter than mine!