Road trips with kids can be exhausting…but they can be really fun, too. After many hours on the road and both short and long road trips, we’ve found ways to make the road trip part of the vacation. Keeping things simple helps make this part of the journey relaxing for everyone – traffic issues excluded! – and let’s you focus on getting into vacation mode. 

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Road trip tips8 Minimalist Road Trip Tips

When I used to think about road trips with kids I imagined there was some magic time limit that we could all handle – 6 or 8 hours was probably the max.

Then, Louisiana happened.

The trip from Texas to Florida was already longer than any trip we had attempted – 10 hours. But, due to horrible traffic and road work in Louisiana, those 10 hours morphed into 18.

It wasn’t fun and there were some bathroom issues I’d rather not discuss but…it wasn’t horrible. The kids were pretty good and we made it.

From that point on, we felt like we could survive any road trip length…if we planned it out correctly. Miniamilism is the art of focusing on what’s most important. We’ve discovered that when we plan our road trips with that concept in mind, things work out much better.

The most important parts of a road trip, then, besides safety, is keeping everyone feeling good {eating well and and fairly entertained} without resorting to devices the entire time.

Here’s how we usually do it.

1 – Keep basic supplies handy

Keeping the cabin area as open as possible is important so they kids don’t get squashed out and to prevent the backseat from getting cluttered. Depending on your car size, this can be a challenge. We have a Subaru and the cabin size is relatively small. We don’t want to crowd out the kids but they need to be able to reach necessary supplies easily.

A basket in the middle of the seats is filled with: wet wipes, tissues, lip balm, and a car trash container. (We actually just use a plastic bag.)

To hold other necessary items such as water bottles, sunglasses, and books, we’ve used containers that go over the front seats but they weren’t deep enough to hold books. Has anyone found any that holds larger books well? Please share if you have!

2 – Provide a rotating routine

We don’t just let the kids stay plugged in the whole trip. Instead, we try and keep the day a bit balanced. So, each hour or two we switch activities. Here is an example of what a 10-hour trip might look like.

Hour 1 – Look out the windows or talk

Hour 2- Eat breakfast in the car and read

Hour 3/4 – Watch a movie

Hour 5 – Eat lunch and run around

Hour 6 – Read or play with toys

Hour 7/8 – Play video games

Hour 9 – Eat snack and talk

Hour 10 – Listen to a book on CD

3 – Choose entertainment wisely

One of the best things we do is pick good entertainment. What works for your kids will vary but there are things that just aren’t worth the effort it requires to keep track of.

Pay attention to what holds your child’s attention in the car. Keep in mind that this will change over time and that motion sickness may affect what some kids are able to tolerate in the car.

Here are some ideas and some of our favorites:

  • Reference Books

Mistakes That Worked

The Kid who Invented the Popsicle

Ripley’s Believe it or Not!

  • Sticker/Activity Books

Melissa and Doug On the Go Secret Decoder Activity Book Sets

Kids’ Travel Journal


Melissa & Doug Puffy Sticker Play Sets

  • Nintendo DS

  • Magna Doodle

    My daughter loves to draw so we play this very easy and highly engaging activity with her. She hands us the Magna Doodle and we draw a line – curvy, straight, short, long, etc. From there she has to create a picture using that line.

The other thing we do is rotate the toys so that everything isn’t stuffed in the backseat. If you have a large mini-van, this might not be a problem for you. For us, it’s nice to get everything out of the way except whatever the kiddos are playing with or reading.

4 – Give the kids jobs

When we get out of the car to take a break, let each kiddo know what job they have to do. One can empty trash, another can straighten out the backseat, another can be responsible for bringing unused toys to store in the trunk, etc. This frees you up to do other things and puts the responsibility of their space in their hands.

5 – Keep comfort items nearby

If we’re going to be in the car for a while, I want the kids to be able to sleep or close their eyes and relax. We have neck pillows and small blankets for the kids in the back trunk, out of the way but close enough that they can reach over and grab.

6 – {A few} small surprises are a lifesaver

Another thing that’s fun to do is surprise the kiddos with something fun and unexpected during the trip. Once we gave them Animal Crossing New Leaf for their Nintendo DS and they happily played it for almost the entire trip from Texas to Alabama. I wouldn’t go overboard on this {see #3} because it’s easy to buy cheap stuff that doesn’t entertain longer than 5 or 10 minutes. Pick fewer, better things over lots of tiny trinkets.

On Pinterest I saw a fun idea I’m going to try for our beach trip. You fill a few paper bags with items and every now and again, pull them out for the kids to check out and use.

Here are some ideas!

Spot it – only one of the BEST games ever

Colored Gel Pens – for drawing

Candy Bag – a small combination of fun candies

7 – Partition out food

I’ve tried the whole snack thing many different ways and the best way seems to be the simplest. I  don’t stuff the front of the car with tons of snacks. Instead, each kid has water and maybe a small snack they can have whenever.

Instead, we actually stop to eat meals or we pull over and pull food from the ice chest.

8 – End the question – How much longer?

My  youngest does not have  sense of time yet. After about an hour of an 8-hour trip she’ll ask if we are almost there. Oy.

It doesn’t help  to tell her we have an hour or two because that doesn’t mean anything to her yet. While this isn’t necessary, bringing this will really help me keep my sanity. This is one of the most helpful parenting tools I have and I’m mad that it’s something I just recently started using.

This timer provides kids {and time blind adults!} with a visual way to see time passing. By using this, my daughter will be able to tell how much longer before an hour. At that time, we usually switch activities anyhow so it gives her some idea of what is next. While this timer is really great, it’s pretty big. You may consider getting a smaller version.

Here’s wishing you luck on your travels!

If you liked this article, check out:

8 Mistakes to Avoid on Your Next Family Vacation

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