Tips for Long Trips with Young Kids

Hi, friends.

I've taken three separate 10+ hour road trips in the last three months.  These trips were really stellar and a ton of fun.  I would definitely take them again.  But they were also learning experiences, and so I just thought I would share some tips for the crazy parents like me who think it's a good idea to load up some wee ones and hit the road.

First, and most importantly, reconsider.  No, seriously.  Take it from me.  Can you break up the trip at all?  Stay overnight at the halfway point?  Just find a distant cousin on facebook and invite yourself over.  Perhaps if you show up with a nice host gift, they'll forgive you for exploding into their house for a night.

Second, pack snacks.  And I don't just mean throw some pretzels in your car.  I'm talking pretzels, saltines, goldfish crackers, pancakes, raisins, dried apricots, dried prunes, dried bananas, fruit leather, milk, chocolate milk, strawberry milk, juice boxes, grilled cheese sandwiches, ham sandwiches, PB and J sandwiches, nutella sandwiches ... get the picture?  I usually divide up snacks into individual baggies or containers before leaving the house and put everything in one giant bag that I keep within arm's reach (mine, not the kids').  And I don't put a ton in a baggie ... a few pretzels can be enough to distract a cranky three year old for a good 5 minutes, until you can find the gas station or restaurant at the next exit.  Which leads me to my next point ...

Third, try to combine stops.  By this I mean, don't assume that you'll just have a quick go-in-and-potty stop.  Quick things don't happen with young kids.  If you can mentally prepare yourself for doing a lot of things at one stop, you might actually be able to save some time.  For example, if you can get gas, have a bathroom break, walk the dog (who's been stuck in between your screaming kids), and grab a bite to eat all in the same general area, you may actually be able to do all of those things more efficiently than if you tried to do each of them individually.

Fourth, prepare yourself for realityI probably should insert a "haha!" here, but I can't.  Kids will throw up.  Babies will cry.  Traffic will stop.  Gas lights will come on.  Weather will happen.  A 6 hour drive will be 9 hours with kids (or a 9 hour drive will be 15).  Whatever it is, just try to think through the worst case scenario (stuck on the interstate for hours?) and plan accordingly (bring a thermos of something warm and a sleeping bag).  If all else fails, buy some good ear plugs.

Fifth and finally, try to think through your departure and arrival.   What time of day will you be leaving?  Will your kids be awake or asleep when you're loading up the car?  Will they need a meal right away, or can they wait?  And what's on the other end of your trip - a hotel or a home?  Will food be ready?  Is there a space that the kids can be released from their bonds and allowed to run amok?  Will there be people to help you unload?  Pick up a pizza on the way in if you have to, or take the kids straight to a playground (or fast food playscape, if it's wintertime).  Departures and arrivals won't be like they used to be when it was just you and your sweetheart.  Prepare yourself.

Here's the moral of the story: we do big things with our kids, not because it is easy to do them, but because it's important.

What about you?  Any tips?  Experiences to share?  Warnings for the road?


  1. hahaha I LOVE this post! I love all these practical tips and we'll definitely use them! Road trips are fun but can also be a little more complicated with little ones...at least more complicated when it was just the two of us and we would see how long we could go without stopping! :-)

  2. AND yes, we completely agree with the philosophy of doing big things with kids, even if it may be extra difficult, because it is good for ALL of us!! I think it's so important to include them on things, even if it makes for a little more strategizing along the way.

  3. and that thing we figured out: Cracker Barrel is better than McDonalds, because the hired help/server will bring your food and refill your sippy cups with water while you just worry about feeding kids and taking them for potty breaks.

  4. We leave late at night or in the wee hours (2 AM) of the morning to get a good 4-5 hours of driving time with sleeping kids for the 12+ hour trips and about 30-45 min. after lunch for 2-4 hour trips (likelihood of a nap is high). For the former we then stop shortly after wakeup for potty, breakfast, and a "run." Adults and children do heads-shoulders-knees and toes before getting into car. Sometimes in car as well as constraints allow. Point 3 is excellent. I would add, be willing to stop as often as necessary for sanity and do not have a hard deadline to get to your final destination. In addition to the snacks to have within your arm's reach (lollipops are also excellent at resulting in several minutes of quiet even if stickiness is a result - napkins and wipes within arms reach are also helpful), I also pack my own toy bag to hand back both seen before toys (dress up items are great such as hats, goggles, sunglasses, drills; stack of 10-12 Duplos per child; magnetic tiles; lacing cards; sticker books and Little Golden books are favorites; magnetic writing boards), as well as a surprise that's given out when distraction is needed (coloring book with a few new crayons, Magnetic Mustache, etch a sketch, maze toys, etc.). CDs of kids' music (classics, silly songs, silly songs from the 50s and 60s, cowboy songs, you name it) are also helpful. Singing. If there's a second adult, reading chapters from a book new or old are also good entertainment. As kids get older there are never ending car games to play from counting billboards, looking for colors or shapes, etc.

  5. Great post, Katherine! insightful (and funny) as always. I love your list of snacks. That was totally me last summer flying to Denver. I think snacks were 75% of the entertainment for our 18-month-old traveler. And maybe the 32-year-old one too ;)