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Road Trip Survival Guide

Ah…road trips.  They can be the source of great memories, but also evoke horror in the hearts of parents.  Yes, road trips are a great opportunity to see new sites or to visit family that is far away.  But what if your kids get a bit skittish after about an hour in the car?  Check out our road trip survival tips.  These have been tried and true lifesavers for all of our road trips.

We’ll split up our tips into two main categories: entertainment and preparedness.  We hope that you find this list helps ease your anxiety about a long road trip.

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Read here for ways to entertain everybody in the car.

Non-electronic- games and books:

Road trip book
Photo credit: Ksenia Makagonova on unsplash.

    For older kids:

  • Card games are a good option. Some ideas include War, Go Fish, Old Maid, Crazy 8.  You get the picture!
  • Roadside Bingo  You can grab these at your local dollar spot or grab printables off of the internet.  This a great game for everyone in the car to play together.
  • Trivia question books are great!
  • Look and find books (think Where’s Waldo)
  • Picture books or books to read

     For babies and toddlers:

  • A mirror to hang from the seat headrest.
  • A toy bar that hangs across the car seat handle bar.
  • Fun picture books! My babies *loved* the book series “Where is Baby’s Belly Button.”  These are pop up picture books where little ones guess what is under the pop up.

For more book ideas, take a look at our post about Book Gift Ideas for Kids of All Ages here!

Arts and crafts:

Road trip crayons
Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon on unsplash

I know, I know!  You don’t want little ones to “decorate” the back seat.  There are a lot of options that won’t result in permanent car interior artwork.

   For toddlers:

  • Non-marking color markers and coloring books. An example is Color Wonder.  Just be warned that toddlers might get frustrated at first because the color takes a few seconds to show up on the paper.

  • Reusable stickers books and scene makers (Try Melissa and Doug)
  • A metal cookie sheet. This cookie sheet can double as a lap desk and as a magnet.  If your little one will be playing with magnets, be sure to have someone sit in the back seat to ensure that she does not put the magnets in her mouth.

    Older kids:

  • A play pack These are little pouches you can find at the Target Dollar Spot or dollar store.  They include character theme coloring pages, crayons, stickers, and activity pages.
  • “Adult” coloring books that are much more detailed and entertaining for older kids.
  • Origami
  • Plain paper notepads and pens. Kids can just doodle, write notes to each other, etc.

    Road trip pen and paper
    Photo credit: Tim Gouw on unsplash
  • Kinetic sand  If you bring a cookie baking sheet as a lap desk, it can double as a play surface for the sand.  You can opt for play dough, but I think that the sand is easier to pick up with a vacuum in case of accidents.
  • The cookie sheet works great as a lap desk for older kids too.


Phone on roadtrip
Photo credit: David Grandmougin on unsplash

Hear me out on this one!  Electronics don’t have to be a bad thing.  And honestly, do you want to be sane when you arrive at your destination or not?  Here are some ideas for using electronics:

  • Let your kids take your phone and make videos! My kids came up with this one when we were driving through the Mojave Desert and the scenery started to get a little boring after about 30 minutes.  They started to re-create cheesy commercials they’ve seen on television.  You know what?  They were actually really entertaining for ME to watch!  You would be amazed at how creative your kids can be.  This was technically electronic, but they were using their imagination, working together, and were entertained for a long time.
  • Bring headphones if your kids will be watching or listening to their own thing.

    Headphones for road trip
    Photo credit: Lee Campbell on unsplash
  • Download Educational apps in advance  I’m not an app guru, but there are plenty of apps out there to help a kid learn how to tell time, speak a foreign language, math…the list goes on.  Have any great app recommendations?  Please share in the comments below!
  • Bring an electronic reader. You and or the kids can have endless reading possibilities if you download in advance.  Another advantage?  The electronic reader barely takes up any space!  My youngest has the kid kindle and loves it!
  • An electronic device with movies and shows already downloaded on them.  Once your kids gets past the fact that they don’t have internet and can’t just watch whatever they want in the car, this will go a long way toward keeping the peace when the kids are tired.   Extra points if you can get a gadget to hang it from the seat headrest so that all kids in back can watch.  We got this from Amazon for our last road trip and it worked out great! 


Road trip toys
Photo credit: Rawpixel-on unsplash

There are basically two routes you can go here: bring along old toys or bring some smaller new ones.  I generally allow the kids to bring one toy they absolutely love that is not too big.  Then…I secretly buy some small toys at the local dollar store and pull them out for the kids to play with.  You can pull them out as a reward or just make them the designated toys for the trip.  Inexpensive and highly effective!

For everyone in the car:

Let’s be honest, road trips can get boring for everyone in the car regardless of age.  Here are some things that everyone in the car can do together:

  • Books on tape that appeal to everyone (i.e.-Harry Potter)
    • Learn a Language on cd
  • Play question games
    • I Spy
    • Would You Rather
    • General questions to learn more about each other. You can google a list (How old were you when you learned to ride a bike without training wheels?  What did you want to be when you grew up?, etc.)
  • Google and share facts about the area you’re driving through and share with all passengers
  • App games (i.e.-Heads Up)

Comfort and Emergency Preparedness

Comfortable road trip
Photo credit: Paula May at unsplash

We’ve learned the hard way how to make a road trip more comfortable.  I have compiled a list of ideas here that might seem obvious.  However, for some reason some of these things just don’t occur to you until you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere.  No worries!  We’re here to help.

Comfort and the bare neccessities

  • Leave during sleep or nap times  This helps to reduce stops and beat the heat.
  • Sun shades for the side windows. We’ve gotten some wicked sunburns before.  Babies and toddlers tend to get extra cranky if the sun is in their eyes too.
  • Sun block  Yes!  Use it in the car too!  Sun is coming through the windows and you can still get a sunburn.
  • Dress light for summer. Babies can’t tell you, but especially facing the back, they are probably extra hot.
  • Bring umbrellas and extra sweaters
    Road trip rain
    Photo credit: Peter Oslanec on unsplash

    Sometimes, you hit unexpected weather.  Did you read about our trip to the Grand Canyon in August?  There was monsoon weather.  It was cold and rainy.  Half of my group was prepared; the other half didn’t listen to me.  Insert evil cackle here.

  • Have an extra change of clothes easily accessible  Pack a small bag (outside of your suitcase) of extra clothes that is easily accessible.  Someone might have an accident, spill on themselves, get caught in the rain.  This will make your life so much easier!  Your suitcase won’t become a jumbled mess either.
  • Bring your pillow  This one’s for you!  You’re driving, so you should have the space.  I can’t stand when I go on vacation and get horrible sleep because of the new mattress or flat pillow.  This one is a lifesaver, in my opinion!
  • Bring the kids’ special blanket/stuffed animal.
    Road trip blanket
    Photo credit: Matthew Henry on unsplash

    This is for your sanity.  One of the parents might say, “But it will get dirty!”  That’s what washing machines are for.  This will go a long way toward making sure your kid is comfortable, happy, and likely to take naps in the car!

  • A wooden clothes pin and lavender essential oils  Trust me on this one.  If the kids are fighting or acting crazy hyper, lavender essential oil will calm them down!  Place about 5 drops of lavender essential oil on a wooden clothes pin, then attach it to your car vent.  If you don’t have one, put 5 to 10 drops on some cotton balls and just set them in the car.
  • Bring a thermal bag or ice box  You can have some fruit, frozen yogurt pouches, and juice on hand for the trip.
  • Good music! Play the classics and make some memories

    Road trip music
    Photo credit: Namroud Gorguis on unsplash
  • Portable toilet for little ones
    Gross road trip bathroom
    Photo by Gabor Monori on Unsplash

    I learned about this when my first baby was in the early stages of potty training and we had to take a long road trip.  This is a lifesaver!  It collapses to the size of a small briefcase.  Place the portable toilet and a box of sealable gallon size bags in the trunk.  Pull them out when you can’t find a bathroom or there are only disgusting options along the way for your toddler.  Take a large towel as a privacy curtain if necessary.  Throw the bag away when done and continue on your trip.

  • Hand sanitizer, baby wipes, tissues, and bags for trash  You might not have realized it yet, but baby wipes are magical.  Always have a pack in the car, whether you have babies or not!
  • Portable snacks
    Road trip snacks
    Photo credit: Jasmine Waheed on unsplash
    • Bars
    • Nuts
    • Trail mix
    • Water/Reusable water containers
    • Fruit
    • Crackers and pretzels
    • Fruit pouches

Emergency Preparedness

  • Don’t forget to take portable device chargers!
  • Take a route with available bathroom and break stops at least an hour apart if at all possible.
  • Emergency First Aid Supplies
    • Bandages
    • Ointment
    • Gauze
    • Portable ice pack
    • Thermometer
    • Pain reliever/fever reducer
    • Window breaker/seat belt cutter combo
    • Flashlight
    • Portable cell phone battery
    • Automobile Club (AAA) roadside assistance if you are a member

Enjoy your road trip!  We wish you safe and comfortable travels.


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  1. Wow such a helpful guide. Those kids are so smart to make videos while bored in the car.

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