Tips For Traveling With Kids By Car

You want to know my number one trip for traveling with a ton of little kids across the country?  Don’t do it.

Well, okay.  I know sometimes we just have to or we really really want to.  So I’ll give you a few ideas on how to make it happen in the least insane way possible.

Obviously traveling with one or two kids is going to be different than traveling with 5 or 9, so take what you can from this!Tips For Traveling2


When I know I’m about a week out from a trip (or the moment I find out, if its a really last minute trip), I start making a list.  I pretty much keep it with me throughout the day and write anything down that I think of that we might need to take.  Once I start packing I can pare down, deciding to not take something if I later think its unnecessary.

When you choose what to pack for your trip- consider if you will have access to a laundry facility.  If not, pack twice as many clothes as days for your young children and pack an extra outfit or two for adults.  If you have access to laundry facilities and you have a short trip, plan on one outfit per day, per person.  For a longer trip, plan about one outfit for every two days and plan on doing at least one cycle of laundry.

Also consider what access you will have to shopping centers.  I’m not sure there are very many cities without a grocery store and you can always stop along the way to pick up something you’ve forgotten.  So don’t plan on taking things that are easily purchased (ie: diapers in large quantity, food to last the entire trip).

Packing the Car:

In the past, my husband has pulled out every backpack and duffle bag we own and I’ve packed all our stuff in mis-matched luggage.  This typically wasted space in some bags and over stuffed other bags.  This last time I tried something different- we used crates!  These

Crates give ample room for a 10 trip of folded clothes and they stack well in the trunk of a van.
Crates give ample room for a 10 trip of folded clothes and they stack well in the trunk of a van.

are the cheap crates that Wal-mart sells every summer for back to school.  For our 10 day trip I gave each of my girls one crate and put both my boy’s clothes in another.  I then allowed one crate for all toiletry items and diapers and another crate for the miscellaneous things we needed to take (phone or tablet chargers, books/papers). Once packed in the car, these six crates fit easily in about 2/3s of the car with plenty of room left over for the playpen, stroller, stair gate, and other items we knew we would need to bring home.  I packed myself a duffle bag that would fit easily on top of the crates without obstructing our view.

Once we were coming home, anything extra that the kids picked up (new shoes, toys, clothes, books, etc) could then be placed in their own crate to come home.  The only one who actually had her crate filled was my 7 yr old, who wanted to bring home an entire shoe box, rather than just the shoes!

For the Car Ride:

Long car rides are hard on anyone.  Young children often have a difficult time grasping the passage of time and an hour can seem like a day in a car seat.  We let the kids out to stretch their legs at every gas stop and occasionally in between if we had access to rest stops.

I would advise against packing a ton of stuff for your kids to play with.  Small pieces are easily lost and unlike airplane rides, its very difficult to get to the important pieces when you have to pull over to get something that dropped.  Also, don’t pack things that can get very messy, like playdough or gak.  I made the mistake once of giving my daughter some home made gak and she fell asleep with her sleeve in it.  After she woke up the gak was salvageable but her shirt sure wasn’t!

Before one trip I remember thinking I should pack enough different activities that my kids would have 5 different big things to play with every day (about one thing every 2 hours). I organized coloring books, dress up clothes, chunky beads, new cars, magnet boards, as well as books and picture books. It ended up being a disaster with kids fighting over things, dropping things on the floor, or deciding 2 minutes after getting back on the freeway that they were done.

My kids are taking advantage of the tablets they rarely get to play with.
My kids are taking advantage of the tablets they rarely get to play with.

The last time we went on a cross-country drive I packed a small basket for each child with a few books, cheap plastic toys from the dollar store, a bag of crayons and a small notepad, and for the toddlers I included chunky beads and finger puppets.  The older girls got a trivia book.  I also brought all of our tablets to pass around as necessary.  This trip went quite a bit smoother.

What about…throw up?  Yeah, thats a big one.  Before any trip I shove a huge bag of grocery sacks in the car.  Handy for garbage.  The kids who are old enough to know how to throw up into a bag get a bag (or two).  I always pack an entire roll of paper towels, keep wipes handy, and have a specific bag for wet clothes.  On my last trip one of my daughters threw up every time we fed her.  On the way home she got applesauce and crackers and still threw up.  We started feeding her only when we arrived at a gas station or a rest stop so her stomach could settle before we started driving again.  With any little kids, just plan on dealing with throw up so you are prepared.

When Should We Drive?

One thing that should be considered when you start a long drive is when you leave.  There are a few options that are valid.  Sometimes driving straight through is required, and, as long as you have two drivers, is a good idea.  You can choose to start driving at night time, thereby giving yourself 8 hours of uninterrupted driving right at the start. The down fall is that you are getting tired from lack of sleep at the point where the kids start their tantrums from being cooped up in the car toward the end of the trip.  The other option is to start driving first thing in the morning.  By the time you are starting to get tired and can’t deal as well with kids screaming the kids are falling asleep.

This was his first time seeing snow outside of movies.  He was surprised by the footprints!
This was his first time seeing snow outside of movies. He was surprised by the footprints!

Personally, I thought it was fun to see the kid’s faces when we left at night and they woke up in the morning to see snow! Three of our kids have no memory of snow and one had never experienced it.

General Tips:

1.  Before you go anywhere, inspect your vehicle and make sure all your fluids are filled and your tires are sound.  Breaking down halfway to your destination is not ideal.

2.  Most insurance companies offer roadside assistance so call your insurance company and verify what benefits you are already paying for.  Consider adding on roadside assistance just for the month if you don’t have it.

3.  Kids are going to cry, scream and fight.  That’s just what they do.  Make sure you know how to handle the screaming in a way that doesn’t have you threatening to leave your child on the side of the road!

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