Six tips for surviving a road trip with kids.

The R House has been on vacation. Did you miss me? I wish I could say that I missed you, but, you know, it was a vacation and we don’t really see a lot of those around these parts. I can’t wait to share the inspiration I found in Northern California with you. My creative soul was touched to the point of tears on several occasions. I know it’s nerdy, but I don’t care. I think I finally found my decorating voice. It was extraordinary. Giddiness continues to ensue.

But I digress as I am prone to do.


I wanted to share with you a couple little tips that I discovered for surviving a road trip with children.


Tip #1: Prepare your children emotionally.

My kids knew what day we were leaving for California. We had it circled on the calendar. They knew it was going to be an all-day drive and they knew that I was making secret plans to make it super awesome. They knew this for months.


Tip #2: New outfits are not just for Mamas.

One of the things we told our kids in preparation/anticipation of the long drive was that they would get to wear their jammies all day long in the car. This is something that they rarely get to do. (Although today we are all still in our pj’s.) Since the main reason we were headed to California was because my BIL was getting married and his nickname is Superman, I found darling Superman pajamas on sale at Old Navy a couple days before we embarked on our journey. The night before we headed out, the boys slept in their new jammies–not only was it fun and new, but they were also already dressed when we woke them up bright and early the next morning. They called them the “California jammies!”


Tip 3#: Incorporate Children’s Literature

The night before we left, when the boys were all prepped in their “California Jammies,” we read The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant. I love this book. The illustrations are wonderful and it captures the crazy that perfectly describes when our family gets together. I love that the relatives come from Virginia as that is where both of our extended families hail from. It put sweet dreams in my kids little heads of the reunion that was awaiting them on the other side of this long drive.


Tip #4: Every party needs a goody bag.

The kids were not the only ones that were anticipating our vacation adventure; Mama was looking forward to it too. While at the store a few weeks before I looked for cheap toys and candy for the ride. I pulled a couple items together in a goody bag (sunglasses, lollipops, mints, glow-in-dark bracelets, gold fish, etc.) for the kids and put it in their car seats along with two new movies each ($4 at Walmart) and a new coloring book with fresh pages. You have never seen two kids more excited to get strapped into their car seats for a full day on the road. Sidenote: Those are not curtains you see on the windows of my car. We tucked in those cheap Delta Airlines blankets (which we have a billion of) into the windows so that the kids wouldn’t complain about the sun in their eyes.


Tip #5: Presents help every situation. Amen.

The night before we left, I wrapped presents for the kids so that they could open a present every 2 hours. Between snacks, boxed drinks and movies on our car’s DVD player, they watched the clock until it was “Present Time.” The gifts were designed to be cheap things they could enjoy in the car for a little bit. Each toy was almost exactly the same for each child so that there wasn’t any jealousy. (On the ride home to Utah I forgot how important this little nugget of info was and got Tyson a mini Darth Vader and Gavin a mini R2D2. A meltdown ensued. Learn from my mistakes, people.) Mr. R packed a backpack for each one of the boys which sat between them in the car. The front pocket was filled with snacks and the main pocket was filled with books, their light sabers and the new toys they collected every 2 hours.


Tip #6: Marry a foodie.

Mr. R is a foodie, bless his heart. He did a little research and found the most delicious places for us to eat on the way. This kept us from fast food drive thrus (although we did have a shake from In-N-Out on the way home) and gave the adults something to look forward to. In the words of Mr. R’s Facebook wall, “The pork at Carolina Kitchen and BBQ in Reno is for real. Hidden gem on the I-80.” We ate at The Squeeze Inn on the way home which you may have seen on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. In fact, our whole vacation was full of delicious food, but that is another post.

Also? Pandora’s Led Zeppelin and Adele stations are killer.


What tips and tricks have worked for you on long car rides?




  1. Rebecca says

    Going along with the prize every 2 hours — in my family growing up my mom would tie a piece of yarn across the car right behind the driver’s seat (on the hanger hooks we had in our van) and there were beads on there. 1 bead for each 25 miles, with every 4th bead (100 miles) a special bead. It was on the special beads that we got our prizes. It was great for a visual to prevent the “are we there yet” questions, because we could see exactly how far we had left in relation to how far we’d come. Your ideas are great! I love incorporating Diners Drive-Ins and Dives on road trips. Thanks Guy Fieri!

  2. says

    We use a cookie sheet for wee one to use as a desk. The lip keeps the crayons from rolling off into the nothingness under the front seats and gives wee one something hard to put her coloring book on.

  3. says

    Love the idea of jammies in the car AND a little something every two hours. For me, it’s Redbox every time we stop, some fun, new little toys, and fun snacks they wouldn’t normally get at home.

    Also, if you can slip some Benadryl into their sippy cups, that works sometimes too. (Kidding. Kinda.)

  4. says

    I have also heard about a dollar store present every couple of hours. And – feel free to judge me all you want – I always pack children’s Benadryl. I have not ever used it, yet, but I feel more comfortable knowing I have it on hand. Yikes!

    I love the mental prep like the book. Leave it to a teacher to always know the perfect story to read! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Darci says

    We do the gifts every hour too. We’re planning a long drive to Disneyland at Christmas and I’ve been collecting little Disney gifts for them all year. I keep finding more cute things so It’s getting to be a little ridiculous! We also have the DVD player with headphones for the kids so we can listen to books on CD up front. At rest stops we try to play tag or race the kids somehow to get some energy out too. Our boys look forward to traveling because they know they’ll get special things, and because they know we’re going somewhere fun!

  6. Lychelle says

    Such good ideas! Love doing special jammies. I have one child that she would be in heaven if we had special car ride jammies. I’ll have to do that. I do have to ask, we are taking an RV trip to northern california next week. Any must sees sights or beaches that are great with kids that you would recommend? Still planning our itinerary.

  7. says

    Great ideas!! Lots of breaks help too. Know where the rest stops are for emergency bathroom breaks. Headphones are great too (for the kids not for mommy ;) ).

    P.S. Wouldn’t try the benedryl because some kids actually get more hyper on it or no sleepiness. I know because ds is one of them and we’ve had to use it for allergies occasionaly. :(

  8. says

    OK THIS IS AMAZING!!!!!!!! I hereby request that you raffle off a seat in your car for your next road trip and I’ll pay you big $$$ to fix the drawing and choose my name :) Lucky kids! What fun. What a great way to break up the monotony and make it an adventure. Awesome mama!

  9. Becky says

    Pull ups saved MANY stops. Even though our 3.5 year old has been potty trained for close to a year, I followed a friend’s advice and put her in a pull up for our 8 hour trip. Since she literally had to go 10 minutes into the trip (after going at home), I was SO happy I did that. And we didn’t have any problems going back to underwear after. Other tips are pretty much the same movies, cds, special treats. We also just started car games – I spy, sing along, etc.

  10. Kim says

    Amazing ideas. Most parents I know make no effort at all for car trips and just complain about their poor kids!