Things To Avoid While Road Tripping With Kids

We are a reluctant group of road warriors. With family spaced out up to 10-12 hours in 3 different directions, we spend a lot of time making road trips to get in some quality time with them because we don’t have a small fortune to invest in (or an extra child we can put on eBay to fund) plane tickets. And also because you can force me to drive 12 hours with 2 kids (4 and 2) any day before you will ever get me to agree to trap myself in an airport and on a plane with them.

That’s not to say roadtrips are easy. No, it’s just easier to tell the captain to pull over so you can get some fresh air and scream. And I’d argue truck stop potties are a step above plane potties when it comes to dealing with kids and public restrooms.

So learn from my mistakes. Here are some things to avoid while road tripping with kids.


Some parents do the drive-all-night-thing in an effort to enjoy as much silence on the road as possible, and that can be a fantastic plan IF you are certain you will be awake and alert enough for the drive, and IF you remember that when you pull up to Aunt Suzie’s at 7 a.m. the next morning, the kids are going to be refreshed and ready to hit the ground running and you? Well, you’re going to feel like you drove all night without sleeping. Fingers crossed Aunt Suzie is down with babysitting all day!

No matter when you take off on your trip, be sure YOU have had a nap, or at least a full night’s sleep. It’s never a good idea to be carrying such precious cargo while slapping yourself to stay awake, no matter how quiet it is in the back seat.

That sketchy looking roadside burger place that is the only place to eat for miles.

Never, ever, ever trust that you will come across some amazing, kid-friendly, clean establishment to eat at while on the road unless you’ve been that route before. And even then, things happen, trips get delayed and off track, and there’s no way of knowing you’ll be to your favorite Cracker Barrel in time for dinner. It’s always a good idea to have some healthy snacks, a few kid-pleasing easy meals (like PB&J sandwiches), and yes, some instant coffee with you if you’re the type who needs it to function. Believe it or not, some states only have, like, 5 coffeehouses. It’s like traveling back in time to the early 90s. ::shiver::

Parental martyrdom

Now is a great time to cave on that “no more than 30 minutes of TV a day” policy.  Get yourself a kid-proof cover for your tablet, download some movies, and be prepared to hand it over. Invest in a DVD player for the car, or borrow one from a friend. Bring a stash of educational shows with you if it makes you feel better, but embrace the goodness of technology, friends. Even if you can’t/won’t go the screen route, load your mp3 player up (or burn a bunch of CDs full of) kids audio books. If you chose the latter option, make sure you bring a separate audio device and headphones for yourself so you don’t start kicking the windows upon hearing the same song or book the 1 millionth time.

Listen, I promise the kids precious little brains will survive the trip, no matter how long they stare at your iPad. And you can still tell your friends you filled the time with books, flashcards and arts and crafts on the road if you’d like. I won’t expose you.

The empty front seat

Oh sure, you want to be comfortable up front. I get it. But you’re going to have to sacrifice some… a lot of space to make your life a whole lot easier.

Try to get as many essentials into the front seat with you. Within arms reach, keep small baggies of low-mess snacks, wipes, sippy cups of water, small toys, a couple blankies, lovies, and SO MANY EXTRA PACIFIERS if your kid is attached to them. That way you can just reach into your magic Mary Poppins bag and hand back whatever will (hopefully) avert the next major interstate meltdown.

A tight schedule

If you think you’re going to leave your house, drive 5 hours straight, and arrive at Aunt Suzie’s in a timely manner, do yourself a favor and stop thinking that. What would take you and another adult with an average sized bladder 5 hours, will now probably take at least 6.5 or 7 hours with kids. Plan for that. Give yourself plenty of time for extra stops to change diapers, clean up messes, have snacks and meals, and let the kids run. You’ll have far fewer meltdowns, and naps will be easier to count on if you give your kids opportunities to expel some energy along the way. Many major interstates even have playgrounds at a few rest stops. If you see one, pull over! It’s road trip gold.

This post is part of BlogHer’s Family Fun on Four Wheels editorial series, made possible by Mazda CX-9.

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  1. Good tips! Depending on how far the road trip I would still recommend just earning some points/miles off your credit cards and taking a quick flight instead. Then again, I’m not the world’s best road tripper myself. Once it passes the four hour mark I get twitchy. 😉

  2. Even with the disgusting TINY airplane bathrooms and disgusting half-recirculated air, and time-suck crazyvilles that are all airports everywhere? Yes. A thousand times YES I would SO rather fly than drive!!!! Always, every time.

  3. I first found your blog & Twitter account one night when you were driving home from a road trip. Kendall was pretty young and hated his car seat. *shudder*

  4. One word to avoid truck stop bathrooms: POTETTE. Oh, my, how the Potette is a life-saver. Seriously. The best $14 ever spent.

    I yield on the environmental waste…truck stop bathrooms. Blech!!

  5. So, very, very true. Last year, with an 18 month old, we moved 10 hours away from home. Well, 10 normal-driving hours. With a toddler, it become 12-13 hours. We drove that route a LOT, in order to come back home.
    I would also suggest planning a meal/extended break in the middle. Pick a park and let your kid run around. Choose a restaurant with a playground. (IF you’re driving during the day.)

    But I am allll for 13 hours, or when she’s not napping, of full-on media distraction. Please, Dora. Please pacify my child. 😉

  6. Thanks for this! Glad to know someone has braved the storm and survived! 75% of my family is 12 hours away, but we never consider driving because well, we’re terrified. Probably won’t happen anytime soon, but maybe we’ll try to get to Austin or San Antonio as a test drive first!

  7. This was perfectly timed for me! We’re driving from Lubbock to El Paso today with our 10 month old, and I’m bracing myself for it to be a loooooong trip. Fortunately, Mamaw will be in the car with us, so hopefully she’ll be able to provide some distraction.

  8. Such great tips! Obviously I love to fly but there is nothing like a good road trip. We took many family road trips when I was growing up and I plan doing the same with my little guy (and future littles).

  9. Det har vært noe mer en moro. Hvorfor kom ikke denne våren med det den pleide,tenkte jeg her en dag . Mye kan jeg takke dette tiltaket for. livet er fullt av gleder også. vi må ofte se de sorte sidene for å kunne glede oss over de lyse.Takk skal du ha for mange flotte uker vi ses den 15. da håper jeg at pentax kamera er kommet;o) Frida

  10. "She can't wear" One day I am just gonna throw her into a orange shirt and MAKE her wear it. I dunno though she can really kick up a fuss. *hehehe*You look really good in orange Curtise. I think you need some more of it.OoOooO love those old booksAnd that girl *TOTALLY* looks like Emp.s. I like your boots

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