Nothing beats packing the family in the car and hitting the open road for an exciting adventure. However, road trips with kids take a lot of planning, organization, and hard work.
When I’m not busy with my latest DIY project, you can bet I am planning our next family adventure. Our family has made it a goal to visit as many places as we can. In recent years we’ve made road trips to Yellowstone National Park, Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, Mt. Rushmore and lots of places in between.
Being in the car with five kiddos on many a cross-country road trip hasn’t come without its challenges though. I’ve learned valuable life lessons after being met with the unexpected. Today I’m sharing those lessons with you. Here are my five favorite tips for having an amazing road trip with kids.
1. Pack a car “busy bag.”
The time spent in the car is the hardest part of the trip. Keeping kids busy and entertained as you drive is no easy feat. That’s why I always pack a special car “busy bag” for each kiddo when we take a family road trip.
Fill these bags with goodies to keep them entertained on a road trip. With the right items in their bags, they’ll actually look forward to spending time in the car.
I found this cute chevron bag at the craft store for under $5. I simply used iron on vinyl to add a cute car and each kid’s name to the top. Backpacks work just as well for older kids.
If you are not particularly crafty, just grab a recycled bag from the grocery store and fill it up. It doesn’t have to be fancy or personalized. What really matters are the goodies inside!
Fun Things to Include in a Road Trip Busy Bag:
- markers, crayons or colored pencils
- coloring books
- crossword puzzles
- window clings
- paper dolls
- cardboard sewing cards
- clipboard with paper
- tablet or gaming device
- cookie sheet*
*You are probably wondering about that last item on the list — a cookie sheet. Cookie sheets are an amazing addition to any road trip bag. They fit perfectly into most bags, and kids can use them as lap desks!
One fun idea is to cover them with some vinyl and turn them into a Lego village! A toddler will have a blast building Lego houses and driving their cars on the pretend roads. Since cookie sheets have a lip all the way around, they work great at keeping all of the Legos on the tray and off the car floor.
Cookie sheets are also magnetic, so you can use them with ABC magnets to write words and sentences. You could even print out fun shapes onto magnetic paper. Cut them out, and then your kids can use the cutouts to make fun stories. The possibilities are endless.
2. Have a plan, but be flexible!
I LOVE to have a plan, especially when we are trying to fit in as much as we can in one road trip. But sometimes it’s fun to do something spontaneous.
One time my family stopped on the side of the road in Montana just to stretch our legs (and take jumping pictures). It was so beautiful there, and I’m glad we stopped to enjoy it for a little while.
On another road trip, the kiddos wanted to stop at a park in Cherokee, North Carolina. It wasn’t on our list of things to do, but we decided to go ahead and eat our picnic lunch there, too. We found this beautiful bamboo forest right behind the picnic area. It was amazing!
I’m so glad my kiddos convinced me to stop. We still talk about this magical forest to this day. My advice here is to have a plan, but make sure you fit in a little wiggle room and downtime, too. Don’t be afraid to let your kiddos take the lead.
3. Make sure to pack a lunch and lots of healthy snacks.
Packing food for a road trip saves tons of money and time. It’s also a fun opportunity to have picnics as a family. When’s the last time you did that?
Snacks are essential for any road trip with kids. It can be so easy to load up on junk food on vacation, but everyone feels better and has more fun when they are eating healthier. Pack dried fruit, oranges, apples, raisins, nuts, granola bars, juice boxes, bottled water, and fruit snacks instead. Not only are these snack options healthy, but they’re also clean and easy to eat while in a moving vehicle.
A great road trip hack is to use a tackle box for snacks. You can find them in the outdoor section at your local store. They’re handy for holding in the car, and they slide right into the kids’ busy bags. The little dividers keep all the food separated, and you won’t have to pass snacks back and forth every 5 minutes. That’s a win-win for everyone!
4. Be prepared for the unexpected.
You can never expect for every detail to go perfectly. That’s life! So be prepared for the unexpected.
We ended up having car trouble on the top of a mountain in Yellowstone National Park one summer. Scary! Thank goodness my hubby brought a few tools along. We were able to tape up a leak in our radiator hose and make it back down the mountain to civilization.
We also got lost on Salt Lake City’s transit system one year. (Can you tell we’re from a small town?) We made a quick call to my sister and we were on our way again.
It’s important to go with the flow while on a road trip with kids. When challenges come up, try to remember you’ll cherish these family memories forever. You’re making amazing memories, even if they are a little wild and messy. You’ll probably laugh at some of your crazy adventures years down the road.
5. Postcards make great souvenirs!
Kids can be persistent when it comes to souvenirs. When you visit gift shops and the kids start asking for them, consider steering them toward postcards. Postcards are inexpensive, easy to find, and can satisfy a kiddo’s need to buy something at a gift shop.
A few years ago, we started collecting postcards from all of our adventures. They make great keepsakes to look back on. As soon as we get home, we laminate our postcards and add them to our “postcard book.” We love flipping through the different postcards and remembering our amazing family road trips, fun times, and memories.
Road trips with kids can be stressful, especially when life throws wrenches in your plans. But with the right attitude and preparation, they can become your most cherished memories.
Take road trips as a family. Go as many places as you can! You can always make more money, but you can’t always make more memories.
Have you learned any life lessons while road tripping with kids? Share your advice in the comments below.