Road Tripping with Kids

In Lifestyle

If you are like many American families, a vacation or trip might be on the horizon this summer.  For Kat and I, traveling is a staple in both of our families. We thought it might be fun to look at the way we travel with our families and share some ideas, and hopefully gain some from you as well. So we both answered these 10 questions about what it means to road trip with young kids. Here is what we discovered about ourselves and each other!

What do you love about road trips with your kids?

Dani: My favorite thing about road trips is the concentrated time with each other as a family and taking time to explore new places. I love adventures and exposing my kids to all the new worlds out there.

Kat: I enjoy that since we’re together pretty much 24/7, we hear all the little hilarious and thoughtful comments our kids say…and they ask us some pretty deep questions.  It is like no matter how good or bad the trip is, there is a camaraderie built up and it breaks down walls of communication.  Getting to hear them retell stories of what we have gone through years later is also just amazing, I can’t believe the particulars that they remember!

Is there anything you try to avoid on road trips?

Dani: I’m not against TV’s and movies and video games. We watch plenty in our house, however when it came to hours in the car, I really wanted to avoid screens. I wanted them to learn how to handle being in the car for a long period of time without video games and movies, learning how to occupy themselves with limited toys and activities. Even though it sure would be nice sometimes, I do appreciate that we listen to books together, sing lots of songs together, and they play together.

Kat: Like Dani, we try to avoid any electronics.  But we do have a DVD player that came with our van and when we are on a 10+ hour drive, we will totally put in a movie…our discipline has waned over the years.  Honestly, we firmly believe that your kids rise to whatever standards you set, so we never did the whole screens in the car thing, so they don’t know what they’re missing. Of course this means we can’t be buried in our phones either, the kids will totally cry foul, so it helps us ditch the electronics and be present in the moment, which is good for everyone.

We try to avoid any sort of negativity on our trips, and though John and I are forcing it sometimes, we attempt to make everything an adventure.


How do you pack for your trips?

Dani: I give each kid a list of what they need to pack and I let them do it. They each get their own suitcase and one small activity bag for the ride. Because they are great lovers of animals, they are allowed one stuffed friend. When we travel with my husband Paul, I pack up one food bin, because of food allergies, and we pull over and stop for meal times. When I am alone traveling with the kids, I pack each kid a small gift bag of new dollar store activities and their food and they are in charge of managing it. My kids are 9, 8, and 5 so being self sufficient is easier now. When they were younger, I would pack a surprise bag of activities that they didn’t know about so when they got bored or anxious, I could pull something new out and they would be entertained then for the next hour or so. We also make sure to hit the library before we go for books on CD and listen to quite a few stories together.

Kat: Like Dani, each kid packs their own stuff (our suitcases are actually laptop cases from Ikea).  I pack underwear and socks for a week, and each person has 4-5 shirts, 2-3 shorts, a pair of pants and something a little more dressy.  The type A in me does make sure that the outfits we pack coordinate just in case some awesome portrait opportunity comes up.  The kids get a pillow, a blanket, one stuffed animal each, we have a bag of books, an emergency kit, and a cooler of snacks, fruit and some sandwich fixin’s.   John usually sneaks his disk golf disks in there and some camera equipment, too.

We pack very light.  I figure if we truly find we needed something we didn’t pack there is always a Target nearby, but normally, people don’t use half the things they pack and it is just easier to wear the same comfy clothes over a couple days and travel very simply.  We fit everything we pack in the back trunk of our minivan and don’t even block the window.

This picture is of Lyra on our Minnesota to California road trip…plenty of room!


Are you an over planner or under planner for your time in the car?

Dani: I try to balance it out as much as possible. Make sure they have stuff to occupy themselves, but not so much that they can’t be bored and have to figure out to be in the car for long periods of time. We also like to stop randomly at places that look interesting to us to always maintain a level of excitement and adventure. So I guess the answer is, we plan enough, just not too much!

Kat: I underplan because I organize the stops for maximum fun that the car becomes down time.  We also take many historical marker stops that often involve John doing some sort of game or activity to get the sillies out.  So we organize more of the out of the car time than in the car time.


How do you handle fights in the car?

Dani: If our kids are fighting over a toy, it is easy to take that away for a time till they can handle it. If the kids are just getting on each others nerves, then we try to distract them with music, food or I give them each a different activity they have to accomplish till they can go back to their game or activity. Most often I give them a wood search and by the end of it, everything else is forgotten.

Kat: the moment something is fought over it is gone.  We have a mini van, so we have enough space that the kids aren’t on top of each other, we rotate seats quite a bit, and if things are getting really crazy John will read to them in the back and they create a little fort with blankets.  John is way more patient than I am, so he tends to deal with the discipline as I drive.

How do you handle food on long drives?

Dani: Because we have food issues in our family, road trips can be a little tricky. I plan down to the item what we will eat in the car for each meal. I try to avoid really messy and easily spoiled food like bananas and chips. There are some items I make, like muffins and granola bars and hard boiled eggs. Then there are some simple items I like to buy for convenience, nuts, raisins, and snack mix. I also buy all beef summer sausage because the kids love it, and with its protein content, it helps fill them up. That’s the goal, find food that will fill them and not leave them hungry. These are more snack items, but easily are turned into a meal.

When we travel together as a family, we don’t eat in the car, we stop and have meals somewhere fun. When it’s just me, I put together a small gift bag with their whole food allotment and activities. I tell them the bag is their responsibility and they can eat what they want, when they want, but there won’t be food till we get to our destination. I love this because they can eat their brownie for breakfast, but it teaches them to be responsible with what they have and learn to plan ahead. It’s awesome, and I don’t have food to worry about as a single parent in the car.


Kat: we are pretty bad with this part, it is something I want to get better at and learn from Dani on how to pack.  We tend to have snacks for inbetween times, we don’t like stopping at gas stations for food.  In general, we still succumb to the easiness of buying individual bottles of water (we have water bottles for our upcoming trip to not consume plastic), and having little bags of chips or applesauce.  We buy bulk everything for those trips, no homemade from me.

What do your kids do on long road trips?

Dani: With electronic devices not being allowed, I like to pack a new word search for the kids or find a couple random activities from the dollar store. They love them and are enough to keep them busy because they are new. We also listen to a lot of music and books on CD. The last trip we were on, they played with their stuffed animals for 3 hours, so its different all the time. Our favorite family activity is MAD LIBS. They are so fun and help the kids learn their nouns, and verbs and whatnot.

Kat: my kids are actually super quiet in the car (I know, yell at me all you want, they have always been this way) so our time involves answering their questions once and a while but it is a lot of just listening to music.  John and I will chat quite a bit and that generally leads a kid to asking questions about whatever we’re talking about.  The kids are very imaginative, and will either make up a game with each other or themselves…I get carsick and so do my littles, so not a lot involves looking inside the car, though sometimes they read or play cards.  I do try to talk about the history of where we’re going or what we’re seeing and they are used to frequent stops so we can take a picture of something interesting.


What is the main goal of your time on the road?

Dani: The trip is part of the adventure. Not the means to the adventure. Enjoy the road and the time together.

Kat: Really embracing time together, even if it is in silence while we listen to music, we’re there together.  Our main goal is to show the kids something new, to teach them how to observe, to foster an early love for travel, and to show them how big the world is.

Why do you prefer to travel by car instead of plane?

Dani: It’s more in my control and it’s just us. I like the concentrated us time. It also allows us to see so much more and experience our country and find great little “off the beaten path” places. Those are our favorite

Kat: cost is part of it, but I hate the crowds, stress and atmosphere of an airport.  we have control over the environment in the car, we can say no screens and have quiet introspective time, and it is more comfortable…John’s long legs can’t even fit in a plane seat anymore.  We also love seeing things that most other people just fly over.  We even take side highways over freeways when we can…you never know what you’re going to experience.


What do you dislike most about road trips?

Dani: I am tired at the end, and it can feel like it takes forever.  I also hate hearing, “I’m bored”

Kat: Potty breaks…seriously…it is the death of me.

What is your advice to parents traveling with kids this summer?

Dani: Find your own way. Take time to learn what works for you, and do that. Don’t try it anyone else’s way. When you do it your way, you will have the most fun.

Kat: take TIME.  If you only have a 5 day vacation, find somewhere close to drive to and not make it a trudge to get somewhere.  Give yourself enough time that if you see something cool you can stop.  Let everyone have a say in the trip, even if it is small, each kid gets to choose a place to eat or a sight to see…it gives them ownership of the adventure.  Having the luxury of time, for kids to just wander and explore is priceless.


Together (2 mamas and 6 kids 9 and under!), Dani and Kat have road tripped locally and across many states.  With their individual families they have been to Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, North and South Dakota, Missouri, Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arizona, California, Nevada, and Canada.  Soon to add Alaska!

We enjoyed answering these questions, but would love to hear from you too! What are your travel tips and advice for many hours in the car with your family? We want to hear from you! Otherwise, we hope these ideas has you inspired towards more purposeful road trips. Remember, every family does it different, there is no one way or right way to spend time with your kids in a car, where they can’t go anywhere:)

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