10 Family Road Trip Tips (for Less Stress & More Fun)

A road trip with kids can feel like a terrible chore or a fun-filled adventure. A little planning goes a long way before hitting the road. Read these family road trip tips for less stress and more fun for all ages!

Family road trip
Road tripping with my family (Photo credit: Stephanie Heymann Photography)

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1. Map the journey.

Before leaving home, be sure to map out your journey. Plug your destination into your smartphone’s map or a mapping website like Google Maps to get a realistic picture of how long your family road trip will take. Decide how long to drive each day, keeping in mind that children need to stop often for potty breaks and will grow tired (and whiney) when limits are pushed.

Even though today’s vehicles come equipped with GPS, a paper map can help plot your family trip. Then, when using your smartphone or car’s tech for navigation, you will still be able to find your destination if you lose WiFi in remote areas. Plus, a paper map is a good way for children to track the family’s progress, get a real-life geography lesson, and feel “in charge.” My daughter has always delighted in keeping our family on track on the road.

Playground at a park
Plan a pit stop at a playground or roadside attraction (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

2. Plan pit stops.

Mapping out a long road trip enables you to plan fun stops. Do a web search for cool places along your course. Look for roadside attractions like kid-friendly museums, restaurants with play equipment or arcades, historic sites, and state and national parks.

At a minimum, plan to stop at a grassy park or two during your family road trip to allow kids some outdoor play and let parents stretch their legs. Bring toys like bubbles, a Frisbee, and a beach ball for entertainment at rest areas that lack playground equipment.

3. Drive alert.

Some travelers think a long car ride at night is a good idea so young kids can sleep. But don’t forget that parents need rest, too! For safety’s sake, I recommend scheduling drives during nap time instead. Then, you can arrive before nightfall and get on a good travel sleep schedule to reduce crankiness for all.

Take turns driving when traveling with another adult. And if your eyes become heavy, be sure to pull over somewhere safe to rest!

Sleeping dad and son on family road trip
Everyone needs sleep, especially when traveling (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

4. Use snacks as a distraction.

Keep hands and mouths busy with oodles of travel snacks. Pack healthy goodies in separate containers and slowly dole them out to hungry kids to get the most bang for your family road trip buck.

Bring along whole-grain crackers, cereals, trail mix, and sliced fresh fruits. For protein on the go, add hard-boiled eggs, sandwiches, protein bars, and individually wrapped cheeses. Throw in a couple of special treats like chips or cookies to reward kids for good behavior or provide a whopper of a distraction during a long delay.

You may want to consider eating your meals on the go and stopping to play instead of expecting young children to sit still and use their inside voices during a restaurant meal. Another good option is to pack lots of picnic goodies to eat at a park or rest stop along the way.

Kids eating snacks in the car
My kids eating snacks during a family road trip (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin(

5. Play together and apart.

If traveling with more than one adult, it’s best if one grown-up can join the children in the backseat for at least a portion of the trip. Look at your long car drive as an opportunity to spend quality time together playing travel games and working on simple arts and crafts projects. Road games like the License Plate Game make a good diversion.

Of course, you’ll also want to pack toys and activity books for independent play. Pick up some affordable finds from the Dollar Store or take a look at our curated list of the best travel toys for kids.

Travel toys keep kids content on road trips
Travel toys keep kids content on road trips (Photo credit: Bryan Richards)

6. Rock out on the road.

Playing music that pleases the whole family will make your journey more enjoyable. You may need to compromise between Old MacDonald’s Farm and your favorite bands. Consider creating a special road trip playlist featuring music all family members enjoy. Be sure to choose a few tunes that are fun for a singalong. (Bohemian Rhapsody, anyone?)

When my kids were young, my husband and I created a playlist of mellow songs to play in the car during nap time. Eventually, our children fell asleep ASAP whenever those songs started to play.

Mom and kids on a car trip
Driving with my kids (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

7. Choose audiobooks for entertainment.

I suggest bringing along audio books to keep everyone entertained on the road. Listening to a story together can turn a boring stretch of highway into an adventure in an imaginary land. Even older kids will enjoy listening along when you choose the right story. From Matilda to Harry Potter, check out our picks for the best audiobooks for family road trips.

8. Give in to screen time.

Yeah, I said it. You will not win any awards for driving the open road with zero screen time. For purists, check out our unplugged road trip tips.

If your vehicle comes equipped with screens, though, I recommend allowing a movie or two, especially when traveling long distances. I have sat in the back seat of our minivan to watch shows with my kids many times on a long trip! Add to the fun by choosing travel movies about where you’re headed or that celebrate the joy of the journey.

Smartphones and iPads work wonders for making the miles zoom by, too. However, beware that playing video games may cause motion sickness in a moving car, so skip Minecraft and Animal Crossing until reaching your vacation destination.

Road trip view from the passenger seat
Road trip view from the passenger seat (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

9. Take steps to stay safe.

When I was a kid, my brother and I climbed into the “way back” of our wood-paneled spitfire orange station wagon during family road trips. Today, we know how important it is for kids to remain seated and safely buckled in a car seat, booster seat, or seat belt.

The most important thing is to arrive safely. Make sure your car is up-to-date on tune-ups and oil changes before hitting the road. Bring along an emergency road kit filled with bandages, antiseptic wipes or spray, jumper cables, and other necessities. Know who to call for roadside assistance should you need it, too.

The Travel Mama Colleen Lanin embarking on a road trip
Family road trip? You got this! (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

10. Get comfy on the road.

To make the trek more comfortable for children, bring along a kid’s neck pillow and a favorite blankie or stuffed toy (like this adorable elephant!). Pack pillows from home to make long drives more pleasant, too.

Whether you’re planning a cross-country trip with lots of overnight stops or a shorter one-day adventure, these road trip hacks will help ensure you arrive with happy kids, pleasant parents, and a carful of memories. You got this!

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Tips for Family Road Trips

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Family road trip tips from Travel Mamas

Do you have any tips for planning a fun family road trip with kids or questions? Please let us know in the comments below!

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  1. What a great post! I loved the advice you gave for packing, driving routes and music. It was really helpful to know about all of these things beforehand (and yes, we will be stopping at every rest stop!). My family is looking forward to our road trip because it’s going to be so much fun–thanks for giving us some awesome tips!

  2. Thank you for informative post.
    Google Maps is awesome for driving directions, but it’s infinitely more fun to track your progress on a real, printed-out atlas. Trace your route on the map as you go along, then hang it in your bedroom or office to smile at every day.

  3. These are great tips. Thank you! One thing I wanted to mention is that you can download “offline maps” with google maps! It can take a while to download them, so you want to be sure to do it before the day you drive, but it’s nice if you lose reception.