A Guide to Surviving Long Road Trips with Toddlers


If your children are anything like mine, they do not appreciate long car rides. As a momma to a 5-year-old, 4-year-old, and 2-year-old, the thought of a family vacation can be really intimidating if it involves a long ride to get to the destination. So when my husband approached me about taking a long road trip last month with our kiddos, I had mixed emotions.

However, we have since conquered a road trip that ranged from Ohio to NY to Niagara Falls and places in between… in the car with all three children, and it was a total success! I have compiled some tricks and tips that we utilized to achieve this feat.

1. Prepare to plan ahead…

Road trips can be a little intimidating to begin with when you have small children. My husband and I sat down and we made a list of areas we would really like to include on a road trip. We listed off several destinations that were about 10 hours from our home, and then we looked for places to stop in between that would provide family fun. We wanted a trip that we would enjoy as adults, but would provide ample opportunities for family fun. In the end, we were able to cover Hershey PA, New York City, Scranton, PA, Buffalo, NY, Niagara Falls, CA, Lake Erie in PA and Cleveland, and then head home to Dayton. When looking back, we were never in the car for more than five hours at a time, the longer trips we would do when the kiddos fell asleep.

2. But also allow for flexibility and spontaneity.

Even though we had mapped out our major destinations and stops, we knew while on the trip we needed to be prepared to make small stops and to sometimes end a route a little early for a break when the kids needed it. For example, once we got out of New York City we drove for a few hours but noticed the kids were getting restless. I would Google fun parks in the area, and that would land us somewhere that would allow for stretching and play. We would tire the children out, and start back up again. Taking breaks allows for everyone to keep their sanity and not be cramped up in a vehicle for too long. When we planned our trip, we allowed for a few extra days just in case we had to make extra stops or decided to add to the trip. In total, we were able to do our entire trip, allowing for plenty of time at our destinations and stops in 10 days.

3. Bring all the snacks and entertainment.

When we packed up for the trip, we made sure to start with plenty of snacks and beverages for our children to avoid any hanger monsters from appearing. We took the kiddos out prior to vacation and let them help us pick some DVDs for the road trip and snacks. We are fortunate enough to have a built-in DVD player, but honestly, if we didn’t, I would invest in a portable DVD player or tablet for movies. They loved getting to do this as they felt a part of the planning process and they were excited to watch their movies! Letting them each pick some of their favorite snacks and a few sugary treats was a great incentive for a long car ride. When we made gas station stops, we would allow the kiddos to go inside to pick out a treat and beverage. They really liked these opportunities to get out of the car and we all know how children love being able to control a few of their decisions, this allowed for that.

4. Talk to your children in the car and play games.

As a worn-out momma, it can be easy for me to want to pull up Pinterest, read an e-book, scan FB, and do all the things on my phone while in the car. I did have time for this, but I quickly learned that playing a few car games with the kids and taking time to talk to them after each destination proved to not only be a bonding experience but a sanity saver. They loved when I asked each of them to tell me what their favorite activity or experience was when we left a location. I loved listening to their little voices telling me they loved the Statue of Liberty, a boat ride, or simply going to a pretty cool park. I have to admit I got a little teary listening to them talking to each other about the fun they were having. Knowing the memories made would last a lifetime.

Some games we would play in the car – I spy, where we would take turns describing something we see so someone could try to point it out. We also played a guessing game where we would describe an animal or object and try to guess what it was. I had the kids take turns trying to make up their own games, which was fun and interesting to see their creativity. The overall takeaway here, if you spend bits of the trip interacting with your children, it makes the trip seem shorter and it helps keep their minds distracted from being stuck in a vehicle.

These are just a few of our strategies for conquering a car ride with littles, what are some things your family does? Do you have any other neat ideas to share with us mommas? Please comment below! I know I am always looking for fresh ideas, especially now that we have cracked open the ability to take a road trip with our children!

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Hello there! I have been a proud Daytonian for the past ten years. My husband and I have three beautiful kids together, ages five and below so the adventures never stop. Although I am passionate about helping others as a nursing educator and nurse practitioner, my most challenging and rewarding role is being a mommy. I enjoy sharing the journey of motherhood and life with other mothers out there. I believe we all can learn from each other's experiences and work together so that no one feels alone as they navigate through the sometimes murky waters of life and motherhood. We are in this together and I look forward to sharing in this journey with you! ~Jen