8 Tips for Surviving a Road Trip with Small Children

Tomorrow morning, we’re headed down to Las Vegas and that will kick off the summer of driving (followed by the fall of not driving, since we won’t have a car in Spain).

Bart’s going to be putting a lot of miles on that car this summer, driving back and forth between Arizona and Las Vegas.

(Also, I’m super excited to see my parents and all, but really, I’m just over the moon about being able to finally unpack these five suitcases we’re dragging around. Living out of a suitcase has zero charm).

In the last year, we’ve made quite a few road trips with the girls, driving to South Carolina, to Williamsburg for Thanksgiving, to Alabama to visit Bart’s brother and his family, to Florida to board a cruise ship, up to meet my parents in Washington D.C., to the Outer Banks, and then up to Utah a few weeks ago.

Ani, in particular, is at a fairly rough stage where she’s hard to entertain in the car for long periods of time (and she is a screamer, so you know very quickly if she’s unhappy with being locked in her carseat).

I’m certainly no expert, but here are a few tricks we have for making it slightly less awful to drive for hours and hours with small children, and also keep the driver from being distracted from the important task of, you know, getting us all safely to our destination:

  1. Audiobooks. You knew I was going to say this, didn’t you? I’m so predictable. My girls are still too little to pay attention to a chapter book on audio, but they love listening to CDs of picture books, especially if they have the book to hold while they listen. We usually just check out a whole bunch of them from the library and stash them in the car. (They save my life when we’re running errands too). 
  2. Eat in the Car. If we stop for a break, it’s almost never to eat. When we pull out the food in the car, it gives us a good long stretch where the girls are happily occupied (yes, the carseats are not crumb-free. It’s a trade-off we’re willing to make. Now if only we had one of those cars that came with a built-in vacuum). If we’re going to stop, we pause at a park or somewhere else where the girls can really run themselves out before we stash them back in their car seats.  
  3. Pull out the bed-time snugglies. There’s never any guarantee that we can get our girls to nap while we’re driving, but after a few hours, we usually dole out the pacifier and blanket (for Ani) and the stuffed lambie (for Ella) which normally they only get in their beds, and both the novelty and the familiarity of these objects either helps them go to sleep or at least gets them to relax and settle down. 
  4. Music. Sometimes, a CD of kids music is just the right thing (and let me tell you, there is no CD so annoying you’d rather hear your child scream). My girls both love music and will sing along in their seats. If we don’t have any CDs in the car (which is the case right now, since we left them all in North Carolina), we just sing all together and it works like a charm. 
  5. Read aloud. Both of my girls will happily pay attention to a picture book if I read from the passenger seat and hold the book up so they can see it from their seats. 
  6. Make everything take forever. When we did the 20 hour drive from Texas to North Carolina last summer (I still get knots in my stomach just thinking about that much driving), my friend Amber packed a bag of little toys and goodies and everything was individually wrapped so I could dole them out one at a time. Instead of the gift keeping Ella occupied for 30 minutes, it kept her going for hours and hours. I try to do the same with food. A little bag of raisins, half a string cheese, and other things that can be doled out a little at a time or take forever to eat. 
  7. Suckers. I try not to resort to candy, but suckers are like magic. They take forever to eat and it’s very hard to scream while eating a sucker. 
  8. Put your phone away. There’s “surviving” a road trip in the sense that you still are speaking to your children by the time you get to your destination and haven’t left them at a road-side diner and then there is surviving in that you actually all made it to your destination alive. We were driving up to Salt Lake City the other afternoon and as we zipped along at 70 miles an hour, I noticed that the driver next to us had her phone out, right up in front of her face, tapping something out on the screen. This makes me crazy – I’m carrying my most precious cargo in the car and other drivers are texting instead of paying attention to the road. The most advanced safety feature in your car is you; keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel.  No text or Instagram update is that important. 

P.S. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the Auto Alliance have teamed up on a Decide to Drive program. You can submit a catch phrase for the contest (it takes about 30 seconds!) and the winners get some serious Visa gift cards.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

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  • Reply Jennifer Lee May 30, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    I've put in more than my share of miles in the van with small children, and I think all of these ideas are awesome. Three more I would add are 1) don't be afraid of movies in the car. I check out movies from the library that they kids don't have access to all the time and they love watching new shows. 2) Plan to take longer so you have time (without being angry about it) for extra stops. Everyone is happier when we get to move our bodies and breath fresh air–even if we are only doing it for 10-15 minutes. I've also been known to stop for more than an hour to give everyone a break from the car, and because I plan for that time in advance it's a welcome break instead of an annoying delay. 3) Save money by purchasing the normal size boxes of crackers/snack/fruit/whatever and divide them into snack-size bags before your trip begins so that you can easier portion control snacks on the road. I am usually traveling alone with my kids and this has been a lifesaver. Good luck with all your travels this summer!

  • Reply KT May 30, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    number 8! Yes. To date the boy is a great car traveler, as long as we build in run around pit stops. I love the idea of stopping at a park type place to run instead of eating and hopping back in the car.

  • Reply Melanie B. May 30, 2014 at 11:26 pm

    Toddlers are the hardest in the car. I actually clicked on this article from pinterest because I live a few houses away from the top of the street that is in the picture. So fun to see it randomly on pinterest! Haha!

  • Reply Iris May 31, 2014 at 1:15 am

    This is so great! I'll have to try audio books! And not just for road trips! We do suckers, too. 🙂

  • Reply Rebecca Lately June 3, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    These are really great tips! I second the food in the car. Last summer, I 'gave up' trying to keep the car clean and carried an obnoxious amount of snacks with us every time we drove to the beach. It was so worth it.

  • Reply Mindy June 9, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    My kids love audio books in the car. Do your kids have any favorites? I'd be interested to try some new ones.

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