How to Survive Road Trips with Small Children, Plus 4 Super Low-Prep Travel Activities for Kids

Tomorrow morning we head out for a three-week, 2000 mile road trip…and yet I have time to sit down, relax, and write a little blog post. How could this possibly be? I’ve got a system.

Over the past five years, we’ve taken over 20 flights and driven over 30,000 road trip  miles with our little ones. And when I say “little ones,” I also mean our 115-pound Saint Bernard Lola.

She has yet to ride on a plane, but I don’t think she’s too upset about that.

Anyways, I’ve got a system. It starts with making a list – or several lists – in order to make sure you don’t:

  1. Underpack
  2. Overpack
  3. Forget those really important things that you couldn’t pack until the last minute, like toiletries or refrigerated food.

Successful and relatively stress-free planning, packing, and traveling also requires setting expectations for yourself, your spouse, and your kids. It’s important to remember that the trip isn’t something to be rushed through just to get to your destination. It can be tough sitting in a car or on a plane for a long time – a fact you shouldn’t hide from your kids. Let them know that it’s tough even on you, but you’re all in this together, and patience and love will prevail.

Finally, something I’ve learned is to prep for the trip with activities for the kids. In the early years, I would scan Pinterest for cute road trip ideas, but my land, they require so much prep time and money, and then my kids wouldn’t be occupied with them for more than 15-20 minutes! Not worth it!

So to help you with your own planning, I recorded a podcast on how to Survive Long Road Trips with Small Children, which you can download and listen to directly here.

Let’s also talk some super easy, super low prep road trip activities for your kids.

4 Super Easy Super Low Prep Road Trip Activities for Kids

  1. Coloring books and brand new crayons. Grab a clipboard, some coloring sheets (if you have access to a printer, literally just do a Google image search for “coloring sheets.” Crayola also has some great free resources to print) or a coloring book, and – this is important – brand new crayons. No used crayons. Give the kids the good stuff for the trip. It’s worth the $2.29 or whatever it is. Keep yourself sane and only get the 8 or 16-pack. Otherwise, they all manage to get broken and roll under the seats, or if you’re doing summer travel, melt into the seats.
  2. Stickers and a notebook. You can find $1 booklets of stickers at the craft store. Grab a single subject notebook and ta da!
  3. New music or old favorites. Give kids time with their own music in the car (because no grownup should be forced to listen to Sesame Street for an entire car trip). Maybe it is downloading Sesame Street classics or maybe it’s listening to whatever you already have that they like. It doesn’t have to be “kid music.” My kids request AC/DC sometimes, and my husband and I don’t complain. Something super catchy that kids seem to like, too, is the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night album.
  4. A new (inexpensive) toy. We give the kids a $10 limit and take them to Target a few days before a big trip and let them pick out a new toy. The spending cap makes sure the toy stays relatively small, and doing it within a few days of the trip ensures that they will still be excited about getting their hands on it when the trip rolls around.

You don’t need to spend hours crafting felt busy books or print outs for complicated car games. Keep it simple. Talk to your kids. Make up stories and songs. And let them be bored. It’ll help them work out that big ol’ brain muscle, rather than numbing out in front of a screen (which we only use strategically on trips as needed – hear more about that in the podcast episode above).

What are your favorite travel activities for kids? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

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