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A Road Trip with Children Experiment: Eat While You Drive. Stop to Play.

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A road-tripping friend advised me to “eat while you drive and stop to play” on my next road trip. Fellow Travel Mama, Danielle Beaty Adler, has braved several road trips from San Diego to Phoenix with her two sons, Jessie (22 months) and Jacob (5.5 years), BY HERSELF! What’s more, she does this without the aid of television, even though her SUV came stocked with a DVD player. If Danielle can manage a 6-hour trek alone, surely I could survive a 4.5-hour trip without the aid of Barney or the Wiggles on screen. Especially since I would have with the luxury of an adult helper – my husband, Phil. Right?

A Road Trip with Children Experiment: Eat While You Drive. Stop to Play.

Kids need to burn off energy and play during road trips!

Danielle places a cooler on the front seat beside her and passes a steady stream of healthy travel snacks back to her older son, who distributes the goodies between himself and his younger brother. She said, “The night before, I cut up gobs of fresh fruit and I steam lots of veggies.” Then she divides them into separate plastic containers for easy handling on the go. She even packs the steamer for multi-day road trips! Danielle told me, “After that they get some kind of carb like Cheerios, granola bars or a muffin. I’m a sucker for muffins.” After stopping to let the kids run around and burn off some energy, she serves lunch back in the car. I would love to tell you that with the help of Danielle’s advice we made it all the way to Las Vegas without succumbing to the lure of the DVD player, but I can’t.

I plied my 4-year-old with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, apple slices, organic cheese puffs and ranch-flavored soy crisps. I did not go so far as to steam vegetables for the trip, I’m afraid. I climbed into the backseat and spoon-fed jars of baby food to my 1-year-old son. We stopped at a rest stop, sadly lacking in trees and grass, and kicked an inflatable beach ball about and blew bubbles. For travel entertainment back in the car I read books to the baby and zoomed little cars up and down his limbs. I provided lace boards, washable Crayola markers with no-drop, flip-top lids and coloring books to my daughter. Nonetheless, both kids hit the proverbial wall a half-hour before we arrived at Excalibur on The Strip.

Maybe in a couple months when Leo has perfected chewing and swallowing finger foods without gagging I will be able to proudly announce I survived a multi-hour road trip without a single minute of television. For now, I’m thankful for Baby Einstein videos and the aura of calm they brought to the last segment of our journey. The important thing is, we arrived safe and sound…with sanity in tact!

Do you think it’s okay to let children watch television on a road trip? Let us know in the comments!

Photo by click (morgueFile Creative Commons)

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of 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,, 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.

  1. The kids in my life expect TV to accompany them on short trips to and from the store, not to mention long trips! Good for you for making it most of the way to Vegas the old-fashioned way.

  2. Our 2007 SUV came with a DVD player, which I have not yet revealed to my kids. However, the next time we drive more than 2 hours from home with them, I will be unveiling it with pleasure. I hate to just park my kids in front of the tube all the time, but in cases like this, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do! They can experience the excitement of the real world upon arrival… Meanwhile, thanks for the tips on distracting them for as long as possible before firing up the videos!

  3. I’m with Danielle on this one — we routinely drive with our 5.5 year old & 22 month old from Los Angeles to San Jose (6 hrs) or Yosemite (6 hours) or Vegas (4 hrs) with no videos to speak of. Food/snacks are essential, as is music and human interaction. We always stop for at least one meal and the chance to stretch legs, but other than that, much of the entertainment is old school. The oldest plays car bingo & seems fascinated just by looking out his window. The youngest is … well, he’s learning to adapt to our way of things! 🙂

  4. My 25-month old DD and I recently drove from SF to Tucson and we don’t have a DVD player in the car 😉 I keep a bag of small books for her, and for her 2nd birthday got her a doodle pad (like an etch-a-sketch) cuz she loves to draw! She entertains herself with all that and still naps in the car. Hoping baby #2 will be just as easy since we hope to take her on a roadtrip when she’s about 9 months old like we did with #1 (that was a 3-week 4,400-mile trip)

  5. I know this is an old post but I thought I would add something for those looking for tips like I always am. When my kids were 3 months and 3 years I started taking trips to Mexico from Missouri. We did well the first time but we have gotten better each time. Now I have a 12,9yr and 18month old. We leave early I mean early 2 and 3 am. My kids have always slept well in the car it puts them to sleep. We prep everything and pack everything the day before and let the kids sleep in when we start doing that. Then after we get it ready and the kids seats are ready and comfy. We all take a good scrub in the bath after we eat an early dinner around 5:30 to 6 pm. We put them in their pjs the most comfy ones. Then my husband and I if possible rest especially him cause he does the driving sometimes I may stay up with the kids so he gets a good sleep. Then we wake up and we get the kids in the car from where they usually have finally dropped. Everyone has a blanket and pillow. We pack a change of clothes and activities and snacks in a little bag for each child. We do this trip in 2 days stopping only for the night(other then stops throughout the day to run off energy) that next night at a hotel which the kids are always excited about. Anyway we do have a dvd player and I buy a few new movies before but the kids can only watch like 1 movie after we stop and they exercise they usually fall asleep after it is on a while. We play games and they bring the DS and play sometimes too the rule is MOM IS BOSS and I say when they can do what with the games. Little bags for every so many miles with fun stuff in them are good little surprises.

  6. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    Hi Mel – Thanks so much for sharing your road trip experience & tips!

  7. I understand how traveling w/kids can be a chore, but I don’t understand how parents can just giveup & use a VCR/DVD.
    Books, books on tape, different crafts, learn to read a map. Have them see how much they remember at a stop.
    I mean really!
    A whole generation is growing up expecting to be entertained at all times, or else to automatically tune out & not pay attention to anything while in a car.
    These kids grow up to be the next set of inattentive drivers.

  8. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    Mady – Do you never allow your children to watch TV, or are you just against it while traveling? My goal is to help parents travel with children and stay sane. If that means a half an hour of TV per day, so be it. Surely a half hour of TV will not do too much damage?


  1. Two Kids and a Map » Travel Blogger Tuesday – Travel Mamas says:

    […] A Road Trip with Children Experiment: Eat While You Drive. Stop to Play – Love this!  This is what we do when we road trip.  We usually pack a lunch and then when we stop at a rest stop or other stopping point, the kids have time to play and are ready to hop back in the car for another 3-5 hours! […]

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