When the Great American Road Trip becomes the Great American Road Trip WITH KIDS, things change a lot! A LOT!!! It takes a good deal of planning fun ideas for long road trips with kids. When you RV full-time with kids, spending hours in a vehicle become the norm!
We traveled full time for 5 years and our kids are pretty adept travelers! This doesn’t happen a lot (thankfully) but sometimes we were on the road for 3 – 4 days at a time. Long days like this are challenging and exhausting on everyone, and it’s my job as the mom to make sure everyone survives!
These are our top road trip tips for families along with a list of family road trip essentials to bring along. I hope these tips help you as much as they have helped me.
We have a business online so I work while hubby drives and the kids need to be somewhat quiet so Frank doesn’t end up driving off a cliff because of the ruckus in the back seat!
We have tried many long road trip tips and these ideas have worked the best for us. Our full time travel started when our kids were a little older (4 & 5), but many people wonder what to take on a road trip with a toddler, so we have included some useful tips for them as well. So fasten those seat belts and get ready for cross country road trip hacks and road trip activities for kids!
My #1 Tip For Road Trips - Look Out Your Window For Wildlife
This works much easier when you are traveling through the West! We embarked on this journey to see what life has to offer and what we’re missing. Two years ago when we were leaving Yellowstone my 7-year-old son stared out the window looking for animals all through the drive from Yellowstone to South Dakota. There were animals everywhere and he was mesmerized, my daughter joined in and they kept trying to outdo each other as to how many animals they could find.
Treasure hunts and printables are so much fun, but looking out the window and taking it all in is what it’s all about. It is amazing just how good they get at spotting all kinds of animals from distance AND they start to pick up on a lot more as well. After some success at spotting critters, they want to find even more, so “look out your windows” becomes a GOOD thing.
We were at Glacier one day on the bus riding up to Logan’s Pass. The kids were sitting together in the front seat glued to the window looking for animals and enjoying all there was to see.
Suddenly I saw my son look at the seat behind me where there were two kids staring at a tablet playing a game, on the other side sat the father staring at his phone. Nobody was taking in the beauty that Glacier has to offer. Their intention was to head to Logan’s Pass to do a hike, but they were missing everything in between. Conor was very unimpressed, which made me very happy :).
Of course, as all good things come to an end, soon comes the inevitable “Are we there yet?” That means it is time to pull out some time-consuming activities. Here are a few of the ones that have worked well for us.
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13 Essentials For Road Trips To Keep You Sane
1) Bring a SketchBook on the Car Ride
Our kids got a gift of a sketchbook from their aunts and they bring it on all road trips. It was a brilliant idea on their part. They used it to make notes along the way, or if they see something pretty they draw it. It’s also great for doodling and for playing X’s and O’s. I found something similar on Amazon or you can pick up a notebook at your local Dollar Store. Works well together with Wildlife Spotting. If you are taking long road trips with a toddler, a sketch book can be very useful as well.
2) Coloring Book and Pencils Are Perfect For a Road Trip
Taking coloring pencils in the car has been a nightmare for us, they end up on the floor, behind the car seat, or they fall out of the truck every time the door opens. But the kids love coloring in the car, and it’s a great distraction for them. So I needed to figure out a way they could color without me picking pencils off the floor throughout the trip.
We were at a stop light in Jensen Beach and I saw what I needed. Two kids were in the back of the car coloring, they had a red plastic cup in their cup holder and all the pencils were sitting nicely. It looked very calm and serene. The mom was sitting in the front seat gazing out her window – not looking stressed!!
Naturally, I ran out the next day and bought some cups at the dollar store and they have worked super well. It turns out they work great for snacks too. These coloring books work great for the older kids too.
3) Travel Organizer For Easy Access
To keep all of those activities together use a backseat organizer for your car. You can include some pencils, notebooks, books, stickers and an iPad for movies. The kids love the fact that they can access everything they need, and I include some surprises in the pockets which adds to the fun. It makes them a little more independent and prevents you from having to turn around every 5 minutes. That’s a win-win for everyone!
4) Sticker Books
When they were little my kids have always loved sticker books and can happily spend an hour putting stickers on the pages. Now that they are older, that time has passed- but it was an awesome trick while it lasted. It’s a great way for kids to pass the time in the car on a long trip QUIETLY.
I usually pick some up at the dollar store but if you don’t have one close by, you can take a look at these.
5) Fisher-Price Travel Doodler Pro
We bought two of these when we first started traveling and they were awesome for a long road trip. I love that the pen is attached to the doodler because otherwise it would be lost within seconds of opening the box. The size is perfect for younger kids to still be able to hold one, plus it doesn’t take up a lot of room in the car/truck.
When our kids were small, we would throw them in backpacks so when we went out to dinner, the kids would play on these and we could have an actual conversation. The screen is a nice size, its big enough so the kids can actually see what they are doing. Ours lasted for over a year with the magnetic strip still working, shortly after that part of the screen wouldn’t erase but it didn’t really bother my daughter as it was only a tiny part of the screen.
Unfortunately, by the age of 6, these are no longer fun for kids! But it was AWESOME while it lasted.
The one we had is no longer available, but here is a similar one:
6) Netflix For Movies
We don’t allow the kids too much screen time, but on long car trips, some screen time is essential. We bought the kids 2 inexpensive tablet computers for Christmas. They are mostly for school, but on travel days we download one family road trip movie each and some educational shows for them to watch.
If it’s an exceptionally long day (or things go wrong), they can switch movies and watch their siblings movie. We love The Magic Schoolbus, Wild Kratts, Spirit Running Free, Veggie Tales. There are always some great movies to watch on a road trip no matter what age. Movies give everyone some quiet time and are excellent road trip activities.
If you have a DVD in the car, you could pick up The Magic Schoolbus on DVD.
7) IQ Twist For Travel Day
I’m a HUGE FAN of IQ Twist, it keeps them amused for at least an hour and sometimes more in the car. The games come in a travel case so everything can be kept together neatly. There are 100 puzzles for the kids to do, we purchased this set when my kids were 7 & 8 and they were able to do the puzzles no problem. They love competing against each other to see who can solve the puzzle first. You can find the game here.
8) A Classic Card Game Of Uno
The classics are always classic. We started playing UNO with the kiddos earlier this year and we are absolutely addicted to it. Each morning we all sit down and play a few rounds before getting to our day. Now we take it in the car for the kids to play and it keeps them amused for quite a while plus they have a lot of fun with it. You can find Uno here.
9) Reading Books They Will Love
The first thing that comes to mind when wondering what to bring on a road trip with kids…is books. Good ol’ fashioned books are a great way to pass the time on the road. We have the kids pick their favorites (ones that I know they will actually read) and this keeps them entertained for at least an hour. We recommend The Magic Treehouse Series, our kids have read every single book at least five times! We also love audiobooks for the car if we can get some from the library.
10) Travel Lego
I’m warning you this will be messy but let’s face it, the vehicle is going to be a wreck when you arrive at your destination anyway. You can try to keep things clean, but kids are kids and crumbs are bound and determined to make a mess and they do and so will this. You want this set because it will provide hours of play time for your kids.
My son is 9 and LOVES his lego so this was perfect for him. He will sit in the back and play with this set for hours, yes he gets frustrated when bits and pieces fall on the ground as they do. The case is nicely lap sized so it helps hold the pieces in.
11) Etch a Sketch
We remembered out how much the kids loved these when we ate out at a restaurant in Williams, AZ a few years ago. They offered these to the kids and they never looked up until their food came. I couldn’t believe it, so naturally, I ordered two the next day from Amazon and we’ve been using these for road trips ever since.
12) Goodie Bags
Goodie bags are a fantastic way to pass the time in the car when hitting the roads. If you have a dollar store nearby, take a wander through the aisles and see what you can come up with, my kids love word search, anything arts and crafty, sometimes you find books in there for nothing. I also might pick up a small pack of gummies and throw it in there. In the toys section, you can usually find cars for $1. I put stuff in their backpack where they have to search for it and that’s part of the fun too!
13) Online School
Our kids are homeschooled where they follow an online program. When we are on long road trips I have the kids do some school, usually stuff they won’t need help with and that they enjoy like science, easy math, spelling etc. They don’t love doing that but then they know that once we get there they won’t have school to do. If you’re new to homeschooling, check out my post how to get started homeschooling, it will really help you out if you are new to full-time RV living.
Prepare For A Family Road Trip With the Right Snacks
One of my best long road trip tips to keep the kids happy in the car was to change up the type of snacks I was buying. I was so used to buying the same snacks because for us moms, it can be a pain grocery shopping and putting all the food together for a road trip, especially if it’s a multi-day one!
But over time I found that the kids were getting bored eating the same snacks! This of course led to unhappy kids, which led to a bad RV travel day. So now I change the snacks up each time we have a long drive and for each day of the trip. Yes, it’s more work for me but it helps to keep everyone entertained so I do it.
Here are some suggestions for snacks for your “food aid kit:”
- Vanilla Pound Cake that I cut up into individual pieces and put them in a Tupperware, I do this with muffins too.
- Croissants work well too
- Cheerios work great for breakfast in the car, I put them in individual Tupperware.
- Apples Cut up
- String Cheese/Sliced cheese
- Smoked Sausage Cut Up
- Crackers and Cheese
- Celery and Peanut butter
- Peanuts (I buy a large jar from Sams Club and use that to make individual baggies)
- Animal Crackers
- A variety of sandwiches, PBJ Uncrustables after the first 2 days because I can’t look at another sandwich!
- Cheeze-it packets/Fish Crackers
- Hummus and Chips (I buy the large one at Sams and scoop it into individual Tupperware)
- Carrots and Ranch
- Chocolate for the driver to ensure he says awake!
What To Take on a Family Road Trip With Kids
The best thing you can take on a long road trip with kids…is BREAKS. At some point during your road trip and you will know when this is happening, you will need to find a rest area where everyone can get some much-needed exercise.
They can be found easily on Google Maps which we use for GPS. Park the truck and/or RV and let the kids run around. This is a great time to give them a little treat (gummy bears, a small piece of chocolate) and let them go nuts, let the dog pee and take a walk around yourself and get your muscles moving. After that, you’re good to go for another few hours.
Tips for Long Road Trips With Toddlers
When traveling with the young ones, special tips and hacks apply. One of our favorite blogs is Travel Mamas. Colleen Lanin is a Freelance Writer and Uber Guru for traveling moms. She wrote an awesome article called 7 Helpful Tips for a Road Trip With a Baby or Toddler. She lays out some really practical advice and road trip ideas for toddlers and babies:
- 1. Don’t overdo it.
- 2. Get in the backseat for playtime.
- 3. Distract with snacks and meals.
- 4. Keep all family members safe during your road trip.
- 5. Listen to music during the journey.
- 6. Bring a bucket.
- 7. Watch movies on the road.
Go and check out the full article.
We have been on our American road trip for the last three years and survived! I hope you will too with these suggestions.
Did we miss anything? What long road trip tips can YOU add to our list? Let us know and we may update the post to include YOUR road trip tips.