Family Road Trip Tips for a Fun and Stress-Free Journey

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Depending on how you prepare, a road trip with kids can feel either like a terrible chore or a fun-filled adventure. Before you hit the road, be sure to read our family road trip tips. These suggestions will help keep parents sane and kids content during your journey.

Family road trip tips for a fun and stress-free vacation with kids

Plan some pitstops

Before leaving home, be sure to map out your journey. Plug your destination into your smartphone's map or a mapping website to get a realistic picture of how long your road trip will take. This will also enable you to plan some fun pitstops. Do a web search for fun things to do in towns along your route. At minimum, plan to stop at a park or two during your trip to allow kids some outdoor play and let parents stretch their legs. Bring along some no-spill bubbles, a Frisbee and a ball for entertainment in case you can't find a park with playground equipment.

Plan pitstops during your family road trip

Plan pitstops during your family road trip (Photo credit: szefei, Depositphotos.com)

Stay on course during your family road trip

Even though many cars come equipped with GPS, you might also want to buy a paper map to help plot your journey. Then, even if you're using your smart phone for navigation, if you lose WiFi you will still be able to find your destination. Plus, a paper map can be a fun way for children to track your family's progress and get a real-life geography lesson.

Track your family's road trip progress with a paper map

Track your family's road trip progress with a paper map (Photo credit: Syda_Productions, Depositphotos.com)

Use snacks as distraction

Keep kids' hands and mouths busy when traveling with oodles of snacks. Pack healthy goodies in separate containers and slowly dole them out to get the most bang for your family road trip buck. Bring along such snacks as whole grain crackers, cereals, trail mix, and sliced fresh fruits. Other suggested road trip snacks include protein bars, hard-boiled eggs, sandwiches and individually wrapped cheeses. Throw in a couple of “forbidden” treats, too, for a whopper of a distraction when you need it most.

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

Pack plenty of healthy snacks for your family road trip

Pack plenty of healthy snacks for your family road trip (Photo credit: klenova, Depositphotos.com)

Play together and apart

If traveling with more than one adult, it works best if one grown-up can join the children in the backseat for at least a portion of the trip. Look at your time on the road as an opportunity to spend some quality time together playing travel games and working on simple arts and crafts projects. Of course, you'll also want to pack some toys for independent play. The Play-N-Go Travel Table Cover shown below makes a great option for traveling toddlers.

Travel toys like the Play-N-Go Travel Table Cover keep kids content on road trips ~ Family Road Trip Tips

Travel toys like the Play-N-Go Travel Table Cover keep kids content on road trips (Photo credit: Bryan Richards)

Rock out on the road

Playing some road trip music that pleases the whole family will make your journey more enjoyable. You can create a special road trip playlist featuring your family's favorite songs.

Turn up the tunes on your family road trip

Turn up the tunes on your family road trip (Photo credit: monkeybusinessimages, iStockphotos.com)

Choose audiobooks for entertainment

I suggest bringing along audiobooks 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. Check out our picks for the best audiobooks for family road trips. Purchase audiobooks on CD if your car has a player, or you can download the stories to your smartphone and play them through your car's bluetooth system.

Listening to an audiobook can turn a boring stretch of highway into an adventure in an imaginary land ~ Family Road Trip Tips

Listening to an audiobook can turn a boring stretch of highway into an adventure in an imaginary land (Photo credit: belchonock, Depositphotos.com)

Take steps to stay safe and comfortable

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. We spread out on pillows and blankets from home and, if our parents were lucky, we napped for at least a portion of the journey. Today we know how important it is for kids to remain seated and safely buckled in a car seat, booster seat or seat belt. To make the trek more comfy for your children, bring along a kid's neck pillow or mini Pillow Pet and a favorite blankie or stuffed toy (like this this adorable elephant!).

Everyone should stay buckled during your family road trip for safety's sake

Everyone should stay buckled during your family road trip for safety's sake (Photo credit: lsantilli, Depositphotos.com)

Of course, you should make sure your car is up-to-date on tune-ups and oil changes before hitting the road. Bring along an emergency road kit, too, filled with bandages, antiseptic wipes or spray, jumper cables, and other necessities.

We all know that talking on the phone while driving can be dangerous. If you must talk while driving, it's best to do so hands-free, which is why I love my Parrot Minikit for family road trips. This device allows you to initiate, accept or reject calls all with voice commands. (Read my review now!)

If you follow these family road trip tips, I bet the miles on the road with your kids will zoom by!

Do you have any family road trip tips or questions? Please let us know in the comments below!

This story was originally published in 2017 and was updated in 2018.

About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments

  1. Pit stops are always a must on road trips. Of course, you hove to hit the bathroom, but it’s also nice to stretch the old legs.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Agreed! I have a friend who likes to drive straight through to the destination and avoids potty breaks as much as possible but I’d rather enjoy the journey than power through it.

  2. When we go on road trips, I make sure we have TONS of snacks and all the tablets, gaming systems, coloring books, and any other thing to keep the kids occupied that I can get.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      So smart to come prepared with all sorts of diversions – electronic AND unplugged!

  3. These are all great tips for road trips with kids. Carrying snacks is always important for my family. We get hangry.

  4. These are some good ideas. I’d like to go on a road trip out west with the family. We’ll need to plan for some fun stops to stretch our legs for sure!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      I know some people like to drive straight through, but I think it’s best to stop for fun breaks, especially with kids!

  5. Kristi says:

    When our kids were younger we would bring beach balls and they would burn off energy in tennis courts with them on road trip stops.

  6. Brianne says:

    These are great tips! Our family takes road trips all the time!

  7. These are really great tips! We love road trips but sometimes it can be so stressful especially if there are crying and fighting kids in the car. Glad you shared these tips! Thanks!

  8. Jennifer says:

    These are some great tips! Any sort of activities for the kids and a couple pit stops will make it that much easier for sure.

  9. Audio books is a good idea. I don’t know why I haven’t though to bring those before.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Audiobooks are so fun for the whole family. Enjoy on your next road trip!

  10. Annemarie LeBlanc says:

    The Navdy is a pretty cool gadget to have when going on a road trip. I love that you don’t have to worry about losing signal (Oh, the horror of driving through a dead spot!). I agree with the gadgets, books, snacks and pit stops. That would make the kids less cranky.

  11. My Teen Guide says:

    These are all great tips! The snacks are the most important things. A grumbling tummy equals a screaming child! Gadgets and audio books would be great for older kids.

  12. Roadtrips can be challenging when you have kids with you but it can also be fun. It’s just really important that you have something to entertain the kids with. These are great tips!

  13. I think snacks and toys are a must when you’re going on a road trip with the kids. Stop overs are cool too so that they can relax and not get too bored of being in the car for too long.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Agreed! I know some parents like to power through road trips, stopping as little as possible. But my family likes to take time for pit stops. It makes the journey more fun!

  14. Amazing pictures, Colleen! Your tips are so useful and helpful!

  15. That looks like an awesome gadget when it comes to road trips! I love family road trips, especially when everything goes smoothly. 🙂

  16. So Here in Belgium as well.. snacks are the best distraction during road trips 😉

  17. Roads trips are fun and exciting until children get fussy. These tips are really helpful!

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