Family Road Trip Survival Guide

Whether it’s a weekend getaway a few hours away or a multi-week adventure across the country, a little planning goes a long way towards a successful road trip.

Safety, Health & Cleanliness Matters

  • Before the trip, remember to get your car checked out to be sure that it is road trip ready.
  • Pack the car so that nothing heavy/hard/large is in the cabin of the car.  In an accident, these items can cause serious injury if they are thrown around the car. 
  • If you are driving in another country, be sure you are familiar with the traffic laws and signs.  You also may need to obtain an international driver’s license as well before departure.
  • Remember to pack:
    • Road safety kit
    • First aid kit
    • Extra blanket(s)
    • Cold-weather car supplies, if applicable
    • Extra water
    • Extra plastic garbage bags
    • Diapers/wipes/portable changing table
    • Wipes (even if your little isn’t in diapers anymore… they come in useful for all sorts of clean ups!)
    • Portable toilet, if desired
    • Hand sanitizer
    • Ziploc bags (various sizes, various uses)
    • Pillows (for comfort, but be sure they do not interfere with seatbelts… a travel neck pillow is a great idea)

Route Planning

  • Longer drives (8+ hours)  Depending on your child’s sleep habits, you may want to consider one of the following:
    • Get up really early (4 am-ish) and start driving while the little one gets the rest of their early morning sleep.  This only works if your child doesn’t wake up ready to go in the mornings.
    • Leave later in the day and plan on driving through part of the night.  Kids can get a start of their night sleep after dinner on the road.  
  • Shorter Drives (up to 7 hours)
    • Consider turning the drive into its own adventure by identifying a couple of fun places to stop along the way: state/county parks, interesting restaurants, a cute town, a roadside attraction, historical site, or even a short hike to a waterfall or viewpoint.  
  • Planning Stops/Breaks
    • Traveling with infants – If you are traveling with a baby, I recommend timing your departure for any trip with a naptime.  Your child’s napping and eating schedule will likely dictate how often you stop. 
    • Up through age 3, you’ll probably want to stop about every two hours.  Plan your route ahead of time, considering places with either playgrounds or at least some grassy area for children to stretch their legs.  Because children this age can shift in mood so quickly, unless they are asleep, I suggest sticking pretty close to this schedule.  
    • For ages 4 to 7, because this age is entertained by electronics for longer periods of time, you can generally push it to stopping every three hours.  If things are going well, don’t feel that you need to stick to a rigid schedule for the breaks with this age group.  
    • For ages 8 and older, it can be tempting to just push through and only stop for gas and food.  If you choose to take this approach, I suggest turning these breaks into longer breaks and allowing the kids to run around, stretch their legs, etc.  Otherwise, the recommended frequency of breaks is still about every three hours.

Fun Along the Way

  • Whether it’s an app, activity book, book or small toy, bring something new along for the journey.  The novelty will buy you some extra time on the trip.
  • Although children will probably use more technology than usual while driving, consider setting time limits.  Variety of activities throughout the drive will make the drive go faster.
  • Consider sitting in the back with the child(ren) at some point in the drive.  Having the full attention of an adult in the car will help break up the ride.
  • Things to consider bringing for entertainment:
    • Tablet or phone with downloaded apps, shows, etc.
    • Charger/battery pack & headphones for tablet/phone
    • Sticker books, activity books, coloring books, etc.
    • Lap desk
    • Markers or colored pencils
    • Action figures, plastic animals, etc. 
    • Non-messy craft activities (origami, string for friendship bracelets)
    • Kid-friendly music for singing along
    • Kid-friendly podcasts or audio books
    • Magnetic car games.
    • A ball, bubbles, frisbee, etc. for getting energy out during pit stops.
  • Activity Ideas – Games and other ideas to pass the time:
    • License plate bingo: Keep track of how many different license plates you can find.
    • Alphabet game: While the original requires the letters to be at the beginning of words or on license plates, we modified this game with our younger son to include all letters.
    • Guessing game: One person thinks of a person/place/thing and gives one hint at a time.  If the guessing person gets it wrong, they get another hint.  This is repeated until the guesser gets it correct.
    • 20 Questions
    • Sing along songs.
    • Rhyming game: Take turns listing words that rhyme with ___________.
    • Category game: Take turns listing items in different categories (items in the bathroom, things to take to the beach, vehicles, etc.).  You can increase the challenge of this by adding in an alphabet component, taking turns listing items in the category in alphabetical order.
    • Show kids ages 5+ the map of the route and let them keep track of the journey.

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