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10 Holiday Road Trip Tips for a Festive and Safe Journey

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Over the river and through the woods many of us will go this holiday season to visit family and friends. Why not make your time on the road as merry and stress-free as possible? Follow our 10 holiday road trip tips for a festive and safe journey!

Holiday Road Trip Tips for a Festive and Safe Journey

(Photo credit:

This story is brought to you in partnership with Autotrader.

1. Keep kids content with old school games, with a festive twist.

With our modern-day busy schedules and obsession with electronics, it can be hard to find quality time to spend together as a family. Rather than dreading the drive, look at it as an opportunity to have fun together during the holiday season. Even the driver can get in on the fun with some old school games. Put a holiday spin on classics like 20 Questions (by choosing holiday characters), Travel Bingo (with this printable Holiday Travel Bingo card) and I Spy (“I spy a Christmas tree” or “I spy holiday lights,” for example.

Play old school games like I Spy with a festive twist during your holiday road trip

“I spy a Christmas tree!” (Photo credit:

2. Map out your holiday road trip before leaving home.

It can be easy to think you can cover more ground than is reasonable in one day. Before departure, enter your destination into your vehicle's GPS system to make sure the trip won't take longer than expected. Better yet, use a mapping program like MapQuest to plug in the final destination and possible stopping points along the way. It's a good idea to bring along a paper map, too, just in case you have problems with your GPS system.

Factor in delays for inclement weather and heavier holiday traffic, too. According to a recent Autotrader poll, many holiday travelers are planning to drive to visit family and friends this holiday season and expect to be on the road for about two hours on average. Additionally, the poll showed that nearly a quarter will travel almost 100 miles in their cars. If you're embarking on a holiday road trip, it's a good idea to pad your schedule with extra time to account for the extra cars on the roads.

Map out your holiday road trip before leaving home

Map out your holiday road trip before leaving home (Photo credit:

3. Give kids a holiday road trip kit.

For a little extra cheer, wrap up a bag of travel toys and crafts for children to unwrap as an early holiday gift. Include a pack of crayons and a coloring book or two. Alternatively, Peace Joy Color: Tear-Out Coloring Cards would make sweet gifts for kids to color to give loved ones. National Geographic Kids Ultimate U.S. Road Trip Atlas makes a great choice for road trip fun with its maps, games and activities. Children and teens would love taking photos during along your route with FujiFilm's Instax Mini, which creates instant printed photos. Add some unique headphones by iClever to delight kids who want to listen to their own tunes in the backseat.

Give an early holiday gift pack filled with things to entertain the kids on the road ~ Holiday Road Trip Tips for a Festive and Safe Journey

Give an early holiday gift pack filled with things to entertain the kids on the road (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

4. Pack plenty of healthy snacks…and a few holiday treats.

From my experience, food makes an excellent diversion for kids during road trips. To save money and time, consider eating meals on the road. Plan stops for play instead of eating.

Bring all sorts of healthy snacks in separate containers and dole them out slowly. Suggested snacks include whole grain crackers and cereals, sliced fresh fruits and vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, cubed or string cheese, trail mix, yogurt tubes and sandwiches. Pack perishable items in a cooler and keep it within arm's reach. Bring along some treats like candy canes, Hanukkah gelt (chocolate coins) or holiday cookies to give for good behavior as well.

Play old school games like I Spy with a festive twist during your holiday road trip ~ Holiday Road Trips for a Festive and Safe Journey

Give kids holiday treats as a reward for good behavior (Photo credit:

5. Stop often for merriment.

When traveling with children, keep in mind that you may need to stop more for potty breaks and playtime than expected. Taking a break from driving helps to avoid tunnel-vision and tired driving, too. Stop by a park if the weather allows, or make time for a visit to an indoor trampoline center, miniature golf course, arcade or similar venue. Add some dazzle to your trip with this list of Christmas-Themed Roadside Attractions Worth Stopping For.

Play at a winter playground on a sunny day ~ Holiday Road Trip Tips for a Festive and Safe Journey

Play at a winter playground on a sunny day (Photo credit:

6. Stay safe on the road.

Autotrader recommends the driver and all passengers stay buckled up with seat belts and/or car seats throughout the journey. This is true no matter how long the road trip or how large the vehicle, even RVs. Bring along an extra cell phone charger so you are sure to have power in case of a flat tire or emergency. As a reminder, texting or alcohol plus driving absolutely never mix.

All passenger should remain seated and safely buckled throughout your journey ~ Holiday Road Trip Tips for a Festive and Safe Journey

All passenger should remain seated and safely buckled throughout your journey (Photo credit:

7. Play a holiday road trip soundtrack.

Get in the holiday spirit with some old fashioned family sing-a-longs to Christmas music. When your elves turn into trolls from too much caroling, switch to a book on tape. The road zooms by faster when listening to a good book on CD or downloaded to a smart device. For your holiday road trip, choose something festive like The Best Christmas Pageant Ever or The Polar Express.

There is nothing better than a sleeping child on a family road trip! ~ Holiday Road Trip Tips for a Festive and Safe Journey

There is nothing better than a sleeping child on a family road trip! (Photo credit:

8. Let kids earn money to spend at rest stops or on holiday gifts.

A little incentive during your holiday road trip won't hurt. At the start of the journey, assign different points or dollar values for good behavior. The Silent Game works wonders when there is a cash reward for the kid who can be quiet the longest! Other rewardable tasks include making Hanukkah or Christmas gifts for others, not fighting with siblings for an specific time period, or taking a nap. (There's nothing better for a moment of quiet on a family road trip than a sleeping child!)

Consider bending technology rules during a long road trip ~ Holiday Road Trip Tips for a Festive and Safe Journey

Consider bending technology rules during a long road trip (Photo credit:

9. Bend technology rules.

If ever you were going to bend some technology rules, let it be on long travel days. I have been known to join the kids in the back of our minivan during road trips to watch a movie or two while my husband drives. Get into the spirit of the winter holidays with such movies as Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer or Frozen. Older kids and teens will enjoy films like Elf, It's a Wonderful Life, or my favorite, The Family Man.

Make sure your car is in tiptop shape before your holiday road trip ~ Holiday Road Trip Tips for a Festive and Safe Journey

Make sure your vehicle is in tiptop shape before your holiday road trip (Photo credit:

10. Prepare your vehicle for your holiday road trip.

Has that red check engine light been illuminated a little longer than you'd like to admit? Make sure your car, truck or van is up-to-date on oil changes and any needed maintenance. Also, put blankets, booster cables, flares, a flashlight, hand warmers and a window scraper in your car. For mountain treks, you may need tire chains or four-wheel-drive to make it up and down slippery hills safely. After all, the primary goal of any holiday road trip is to arrive safe and sound.

For additional tips, check out Autotrader's Long Holiday Driving Tips. The mission at Autotrader is to be your ultimate online solution for buying and selling new, certified and used cars. Check out their selection of cars now!

Do you have any holiday road trip tips to share? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: This is a compensated campaign. All opinions are mine, as always. This story includes affiliate links.

About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin, MBA, is the founder and editor-in-chief of the popular travel blog, She is an expert in travel with kids and without. As the author of the book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents how to make the most of traveling with babies and children. Colleen loves sharing tips on hotels, cruises, spas, theme parks, and global lifestyle topics. When she is not traveling the world, she lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

  1. Christina Aliperti says

    Road trips are a time we are willing to bend the rules when it comes to electronics and technology. If not, we would probably lose our minds on the road lol.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Ha! I can relate, Christina! For long flights and long road trips we bend the technology rules significantly!

  2. Kita Bryant says

    Mapping everything out is definitely the best tip of them all. Try to be organized, it makes things so much less stressful.

  3. Ann Bacciaglia says

    These are great road trip tips. We make sure to stop at different parks along the way for the kids to stretch and burn some energy.

  4. These are really great tips! We don’t travel often so when we do I often rely on tips like this to make our trips smooth!

  5. Ourfamilyworld says

    This is so much fun! Travel with your family or friends is so great and wonderful to do. I really love travelling and adventuring. This is so good to follow.

  6. Janell Poulette says

    These are wonderful tips to follow, i know from experience. My husband and i travel a lot with out children and it can be challenging. One thing we always do is stop and let the kids play a little. We try to have a little picnic if we can, even if just a snack and some water.

  7. Jocelyn Brown says

    Those kids so cute. I love road tripping with my family. Thanks for tips it’s really worth it to read.

  8. Toni | Boulder Locavore says

    These are awesome tips! Worth reading and sharing! Definitely saving these tips for our holiday trip!

  9. Seattle Travel Blogger says

    These are some great ideas; you made quite a good list here.
    I know for one, that little kids metabolisms are different than ours, so having lots of healthy snacks on hand is such a good move!

  10. These are great ideas! We definitely bend the technology use rule on long car rides. We also let them eat way more snacks than normal to keep them quiet lol.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Theresa – I know what you mean…it’s hard for kids to whine when they’re busy chewing! 😉

  11. These are some great tips. We keep our kid trip kit in a small basket. Each kid gets their own basket for the trip.

  12. Dina Demarest says

    These are such great ideas to keep kids busy on trips. I love to take trips but with kids it’s hard.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Dina – Agreed. With a little prep travel with kids is so much easier. Thanks for commenting!

  13. I like the holiday road trip kit for kids. Traveling during the holidays can be stressful and these are great tips to keep everyone as happy as possible.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      It’s fun to space out the holiday gifts, too. My kids get overwhelmed on Christmas morning!

  14. We drove to my sister’s for Thanksgiving, and it was my husband who was the most unhappy with the travel. I need to consider all of us for our next family road trip. I know he’d appreciate the festive themes of these ideas.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Crystal – I totally understand. My husband had a very hard time adjusting to travel with children after our firstborn arrived. Hopefully your next family trip will go more smoothly!

  15. Stacie @ Divine Lifestyle says

    A road trip gift pack sounds like a great idea. The biggest rule for me when road tripping with kids is that they MUST be entertained. That’s the only way to have a good trip.

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