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10 Tips for Roadtrips with Kids

Two little boys stand at a rail overlooking a waterfall in Yellowstone.

After multiple multi-week, multi-state trips, I wanted to share some of the tips and tricks we found when going on long camping, roadtrips across country with our elementary school aged kids.

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1. motion sickness/Car Comfort

We learned this one the hard way. One of our boys is prone to motion sickness, though our other has also unexpectedly gotten hit with it in the middle of a long drive. There’s nothing worse than hearing your child say ‘I don’t feel good’ when you’re in the middle of nowhere. We have frantically typed in GPS requests to reroute to the nearest drugstore as our child was getting sick in the backseat.

We now carry a pack of kids dramamine in the car (it’s chewable), and plastic bags in the back seat pockets. We have also used kids motion sickness bands before, but the dramamine normally does the trick and you don’t have to listen to them complain about the bands on their wrists.

2. Audio Entertainment

Before long trips, we make sure to download one or two audio books that the whole family can listen to. Harry Potter has been a big hit as Jim Dale does an amazing job narrating the novels. We start every drive with audio book time of at least an hour, if not more, before we set them free to do other things. We usually download the audio books from our local library on the Libby app, but in a pinch we’ve used Audible for more immediate needs.

If they start getting antsy or I need something for a shorter drive or to get them off of devices, I’ll turn on some family podcasts. A couple of our favorites are:

  • Family Road Trip Trivia Podcast: They cover so many topics that you’re bound to find episodes that work from your family. Mine loved the Pokemon, Minecraft, and Mario episodes. They also cover Disney, Stranger Things (for older kids), animals, and countless other topics that would entertain kids.
  • Whose Amazing Life from Wondery: It tells the life story of a famous person in history and reveals who they are at the very end.

3. Devices

We try to limit devices on our trips, and once we have reached our destination, they are off limits. But for our own sanity in the front seat, and if a drive is particularly long, we’ll allow them some time on their devices. This might be a kids pad or Switch, but if it’s the former, make sure you have the latest downloads needed so they’re not begging for WiFi in the middle of a drive.

4. Rainy Day Prep

Whether it be a rainy day, or just a quiet day at your campsite, we have a bin of activities that we keep in the camper. We keep activity books, some of our favorite board games (Splendor was the big hit of our most recent outing, but Karuba is another good one), one person puzzle games, etc. We tuck the bin away unless we’re staying at the site; it helps keep the novelty fresh.

5. Walkie Talkies

I have a love/hate relationship with walkie talkies, but as the kids have gotten older, it gives us some piece of mind at the campsite. They can stay within range of the campsite to go to the playground or other activity space, and we setup rules and regular checks via walkies for peace of mind. Of course, you have to explain to them how to use it (I.e. don’t hold up the line by talking gibberish and let people reply) and it helps to lock your channel into place so they don’t accidentally hit a button and lose it. Just make sure to have batteries or chargers on hand for when they’re running low on power.

6. Books

This seems obvious but it’s one of the items we don’t pack to heavily because they’re… well… heavy. But let your kid bring some books they’ve been wanting to read or take a trip to the library to pick some new ones out for the trip. We have them read before bed as reading in the car brings us back to tip 1.

7. Stuffies, lovies, or other bedtime routines

We had a Sophie’s choice moment with this trip because my youngest wanted to bring his entire collection of stuffed animals, and my eldest wanted to ‘offer the amount he could bring’ to help the cause. We try to set firm limits for multiple reasons:

  • Space
  • The change of a beloved plush getting lost along the way
  • There’s a good chance we may pick up a new one if we’re somewhere special
  • This brings us back so the first point: space

But consider any regular routines or comforts that you may have at home that make bedtime more peaceful. Or if there’s quiet time and your child likes to play with their toys, this can offer comfort and some piece of mind. We don’t bring them on every short trip, but for long trips we try to allow a couple to join the adventure.

8. Park or site Activities

Depending on where you are going or your stops along the way, make sure to check out what amenities or programs are available for kids. National Parks have Jr. Ranger programs that can be fun and help your child learn more about the location. My kids will usually request the books and work on them at their own pace. They have a few Jr. Ranger badges but far more books that they casually worked on while at the parks. It’s fun to hear them talk through the book or brainstorm together on responses.

Depending on your destination, you may have limited to no signal to research activities. If we’re heading somewhere smaller or I’m unsure of the offerings, I try to look it up ahead of time.

When we’re out exploring, we give the boys their own hiking bags with water, snacks, and other items for the specific adventure. They each have a monocular, compass, safety whistle, and clip on first aid kit. They like feeling included in the adventures and it keeps a little less weight our of our packs.

9. Collectibles

Tying back to the Jr. Ranger options, we picked up a National Parks passport book on one of our first trips and the kids have eagerly worked to get their ‘cancellation stamps’ at each site we visit. If you can’t find them, ask a park ranger (national parks/sites) and they can point you where to go if they don’t do it themselves. My kids have their own books and love doing the stamps themselves. We also collect the park tokens and penny presses. The tokens are often in the park gift shops and are usually a couple of bucks, max. Penny presses can be harder to find, but I’ve found every national park has one somewhere, you just might have to search for it. Again, the rangers can point you in the right direction. We have little albums for both the tokens and the pennies, and the kids love looking through their latest finds and seeing the albums fill up.

10. Remember to breathe

Long road trips can be taxing on patience and your behind. I try to remember that we’re all outside of our usual routines and comfort zones. We know our drive time threshold: we aim for 4-5 hours a day, max but understand there may be an occasional day that’s a little longer. Always add time in your estimates for bathroom breaks and rest stops. We plan a stop about every two hours to stretch our legs, freshen up, and check-in on what we need (snacks? more hydration? time to set down devices?).

Sometimes we may have an unexpected detour like a road being closed unexpectedly, or in the case of larger parks with novel animals, there may be an animal crossing miles down the road causing a backup. Talk them through it (and yourself if needed), and pull over in a safe spot if you need to. Or maybe take advantage of the pull through sites on the shoulder to check out an amazing view. Just try to remember to enjoy the journey, and you’ll learn more about works for your family every trip that you take.

Do you have any other tips that work for your family? Or do any of these work particularly well for you?

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