Tips for easy road tripping with the kids

Spring break is taking place this week and my family and I are spending it on the road. By the time you read this, we will have already traveled from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania. It’s a drive I’ve done many times over the past 20 years. And, since our oldest is 11 years old, we’ve been taking kids along for the trip for more than a decade. All this driving has taught me a thing or two about getting organized for road trips. The following are lessons I’ve learned on how to manage lengthy road trips with the kids.

I sound like my dad here, but make sure the car is ready to go before you leave. I like to make sure the oil has recently been changed, the wipers are in good condition, and so on. I keep a working set of jumper cables in the back of the car, plus a first aid kit, some blankets, a pocket knife, and a flashlight. I’ve meant to get one of these emergency car kits for a while now, but I keep putting it off. It’s a good investment and I ought to do it.

The next step is packing and gassing up, which I always do the night before we leave. As for packing, there are types of cargo and each has its location in the car.


This is the stuff we don’t need during the journey but will need at our destination — clothes, toiletries, stuffed animals, night lights. These items go in what we used to call “the way back,” but what you likely call the bottom of the trunk.


A few years ago we borrowed a portable DVD player for the kids. Now, iPads fill this role for entertaining them. A fully charged iPad will keep the kids occupied for quite a while. Our rule for electronics in the car: the journey must be more than three hours to warrant iPad use. A jaunt to the grocery store does not count. Headphones are also required.

Books, drawing paper, pencils, and portable toys are also packed in the back seat. All of this stuff goes into a sturdy Tupperware bin that fits between the kids’ seats. This way, the kids can retrieve/replace what they want on their own. If you don’t want to use a bin, an over-the-seat organizer might work for your needs. We also keep small pillows within reach of the kids, should they want to take a nap.

Snacks and more

Road food is often expensive (for what it is) and almost never healthy. My wife always packs some healthier snacks and keeps that in a small cooler up front with us. She can dispense snacks and drinks as needed.

And, don’t forget a bin for trash.

A few more quick tips: Magazine holders fit beautifully between mini van seats and hold books so that they’re easy to see. If your kids are older, let them pack and be responsible for their own activity bag. People who travel regularly with kids might benefit from creating a travel go-bag, like Jacki wrote about yesterday. At the very least, keep a list of things to pack in the backseat with the kids so you don’t forget anything and also so you can note afterward what items were a hit and which ones should be left at home next time. Baby wipes and paper towels are a great idea, as somebody is likely going to spill something or need to clean their hands. Finally, if your kids are younger like mine, decide on assigned seating ahead of time. No switching. No upgrading. No changing.

Happy trails!

4 Comments for “Tips for easy road tripping with the kids”

  1. posted by infmom on

    Wowzers. My brothers and I managed to make it from coast to coast, and all up and down the east coast with a couple of trips to Nova Scotia and halfway across the Trans-Canada HIghway with our parents, who loved to travel, without anything more than an AM car radio tuned to the stations my dad liked and a pile of comic books for my brother to read. It was expected that we would actually look out the window at the scenery and find our own ways to keep from killing each other. Holy smokes, how unreasonable. And my dad just tied all the suitcases on top of the car so my brother the comic book reader could flake out in the back of the station wagon. (Yeah, I know, pre-seat-belt days, I certainly would not endorse this now that I know better.)

    Look, guys, don’t overprepare. Let your kids go without electronic doodads for once. If they can’t amuse themselves without something that needs batteries, you need to re-think the priorities.

    One thing my parents did that I highly recommend is stopping by a grocery store first thing in the morning right before you get on the road, and putting the makings for lunch into your cooler. Then you can stop at a picnic area or rest area along the way and eat and be out of the car to let the kids run off some energy.

  2. posted by Nancy on

    When we go on road trips with our 2 boys, now 10 & 13, we have one sit in the middle row of our minivan and the other in the back row with the seat in front of them folded down (provided we don’t have too much luggage.) It gives each of them a bit more personal space and there is less bickering and arguing. And yes, we insist that they put away their electronics and look out the window too.

  3. posted by liz on

    Yes-every car should always have a season-specific and location specific trouble bag. I’d create my own specific to my needs instead of buying a bag on the net. Traveling between urban areas vs rural areas means diffent go-bags. I’d include crank radios and flashlights,water,hi energy bars,space blankets, rain gear,gloves, basic tools. I also carry a small air compressor since I traveled in a storm area and discovered two flat tires when I got up in the morning.

    If I am going to have a road stop, I’ll pack an overnight bag to avoid unloading the car of too much stuff. Any valuables should be in this bag.

    Paper maps – gps systems are not always correct and it is nice to double check.

    Concerning the electronic toys – if you are traveling the same old route, yes…let the kids have them. A cross country trip through new areas, put them away. It’s more fun to look out the window. Of course, everyone has to be willing totake a stop or two to explore!

  4. posted by Marie on

    Naptime spray is all you really need for a car trip with kids. Well, that, and a keen sense of satire.

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