How to Survive a Roadtrip with Kids


Roadtrippin' with my little men

I’ve never flown anywhere with all three of my boys. At their ages(7, 6, and 4), they need so much stuff: car seats, changes of clothes, snacks, toys… it just seems easier to load it all into the minivan and not have to worry how we’d get everything with us on a plane without managing to lose a child or pay a gazillion dollars in baggage fees. Plus, we’d have to rent a car at our destination and bring the car seats with us- it just seems like such a hassle.

So, we drive.

Last week, the boys and I headed off to PA to visit family: a 10-12 hour drive, depending in traffic and pit stops. Hubs had to work and it was our first really long car ride without him- I knew I needed to figure out how to make it doable- to get us all there in one piece and without losing my mind.


  • Snacks, drinks, and meals were all packed to reduce the amount of food stops we’d have to make- both for timing purposes and to save money. Beware getting snacks with too much sugar.
  • All devices charged: iPhone, iPod, iPad, laptop, Nintendo DS: while we do have chargers and outlets in the van, it’s easier if everything starts out charged and we can rotate what has to be charged during the trip.
  • New entertainment: the day before we left, I asked on facebook for your favorite free/cheap apps and downloaded a bunch. While they have their favorites already, sometimes something new is a distraction. We also rented a few movies. Unfortunately, we don’t have a dvd player in this van, but we could Redbox it for movies for the computer and then rent thru iTunes for the iPad- I have to admit that I was wishing for a new Toyota Sienna with its 16.4-inch rear seat DVD screen which can show one DVD in a widescreen format, or show two DVDs in a split-screen format. Someday, y’all. 
  • Barf bag in place. Gross, I know- but my oldest often gets car sick, so I have a bag all set for him and extras to replace it, as well as easy access to a change of clothes and bags to store the gross clothes, in the event I decide I want to try to salvage them after he loses his lunch.
  • Trip mapped out: we usually use our Garmin but Hubs needed it, so I downloaded a 30-day Garmin trial to my iPhone: $.99 was totally worth knowing that we weren’t going to get lost, especially if we needed to take detours for things like potty breaks.

The Trip

  • I space out when I dole out entertainment and food: we try to drive for a little while before anyone gets to turn on a game device or get a drink or a snack. They shouldn’t be bored immediately, right?
  • We stop for gas when the tank gets to about the halfway point, maybe a little under. That timing seems to work for potty breaks. Plus, I’d rather not chance waiting too long and end up running out of gas, especially if we get stuck in unexpected traffic.
  • At one of our pit stops, the boys get a treat, despite whatever food we have in the van already. Something new seems special.
  • Rotate the entertainment: my boy switched off on who was playing/watching what, to keep from getting bored.
  • Keep perspective: my boys will pick at each other at various times during the trip and while I want to tell them hush, Mommy is DRIVING, it’s really not that bad if over the course of driving 11 hours, they fight for a total of 30 of them, spread out over multiple little whines.

What are your tips for successful road trips with kids?


Disclosure: I was selected for participation in the TWIN community through a program with Clever Girls Collective. I did not receive any compensation for writing this post, or payment in exchange for participating. The opinions expressed herein are mine, and do not reflect the views of Toyota.


    • Shell says

      Not really much of a choice if we ever want to head up there. Flying just doesn’t seem very cost-effective. 

  1. says

    My mom used to drive 3 babies from Virginia to Kentucky several times a year, before 64 was through West Virginia. I don’t see how she did it. I don’t see how you did it.. you are a much braver woman than I.
    Angel recently posted..When I was a single mom….My Profile

  2. says

    Rather timely… Just got home from a 7 hour trip that took 10…  (4 traffic jams my 5yo counted!). The last hour involved the 2 yo saying “ow, ooowy, ow” over and over, while the rest of us sang baby songs to keep him from crying…   It will be a few months before it do that again!
    Strugglingforeverafter recently posted..Single mom? A test run.My Profile

    • Shell says

      How about if you drive with my kids and they teach you how it’s done while I fly? 😉 

  3. Meygann says

    You are definitely a very inspiring person Shell! I am sure a lot of people will be amazed with your bravery.. Good luck for your next journey with the kids!
    Meygann recently posted..GoPro HD Hero Fan VideosMy Profile

    • Shell says

      We actually have a 5 hour trip later this week. I have to admit, I was hoping for a longer break between long drives! 

  4. says

    We do road trips too. Next week we’ll be heading down to MD which ought to take about 9 hours. My biggest tip it to try to get them to NOT start up with the video games/movies right away so they don’t get bored too quickly.

    My boys get carsick too. A pharmacist told me some time back that kids as young as 4 can take dramamine. He warned me that it would make them drowsy… but that sounded more like a benefit than a side effect to me :-).
    Victoria KP recently posted..Do it YourselfMy Profile

    • Shell says

      We try that with the games, too- no entertainment for as long as the kids can stand it- definitely helps! 

      I should probably try dramamine. I wonder if it would end up making mine hyper, like benedryl does. 

    • Shell says

      We do I Spy for a while, but it gets harder when I don’t have someone else in the car to help- so we go the electronic route! 

  5. says

    We are just the opposite. My three children are expert airplane travelers and 6 years in with 3 kids I can pretty much do the whole check-in, security, flight routine with them effortlessly. Road Warriors we are not.
    But in about 3 weeks I am driving the three of them 15 hours to my parents’ house in South Carolina by myself. I have to confess that I am more than a little scared. We will totally be out of our element. Thanks for all tips. And so happy you all had a great trip.

    • Shell says

      15 hours is a long time! 

      I hope we can do more flying once mine are a little older. 

  6. says

    I had taken the four kids on several 5 hour trips to Michigan alone.  Not too bad.  Not sure if it helped me, but I have done two trips alone to Aiken, SC a minimum of 12 hours.  The winter trip took a bit longer (weather was ugly enough I choose not to drive through the mountains that time).  Here we are getting ready to do the trip again in a few weeks.

    My tip with 4 kids.  We even play a bit of musical chairs at rest stops.  My oldest two take turns in the front seat (because they are old enough/large enough) it gives them a break from the younger two.  It also helps in the backseat to have different configurations, so they don’t get too bored with each other (helps most with the younger two).

    This next trip, not only will I have the four kids on the way home, I will bringing my ill mother.  This may make for an “exciting” trip.

    • Shell says

      Sending prayers for that trip! xo

      I really thought about putting my oldest in the front seat b/c I know that helps with his car sickness. Our airbag can be turned off, which makes it okay for him to sit there, but it still makes me nervous, so we didn’t do it. 

      • says

        I totally get that.  The only reason my 11 year old gets to is because he is as tall and big as any high school student (probably taller and bigger than many).  He appreciates the break from the two younger kids on the long ride, he also appreciates the room for his legs.

  7. says

    I fly alone with both of my children at least once a year and have since they were little, carseats and all. However, like you, we usually drive because it’s more cost-effective. I do a lot of the same things. I did buy a portable DVD player that hooks over the driver seat so they can watch movies as well. The only thing I do is stop more frequently…every two-three hours so we can get out and walk around. That helps some and I usually treat them to one meal on the road. We don’t usually do fast food other than Chick Fil A, so that’s a treat too.

    Heading out later this week for a long one!
    Sorta Southern Single Mom recently posted..A Single Mom’s Thoughts On Father’s DayMy Profile

    • Shell says

      We used to have a dvd player in our old van and then portable ones in our vehicle before that one. I’d really like to get those again. 

  8. says

    10-12 hours in the car with your kids. God bless you! That is a long time. I’ve never driven that long with the kids. 3-4 hours is our max. We use lots of the same tips you mentioned.
    secret mom thoughts recently posted..PrideMy Profile

    • Shell says

      It’s definitely not my favorite thing to do, but that is how far we live away from family. 

    • Shell says

      We have to- just so we can visit family. Which is why we only do it once or twice a year- it’s too long for more frequently than that! 

  9. says

    Okay, I’m crazy envious of kids today. Looking back, all my childhood road trips were so dreadfully boring and lacking television and apps! Not to mention, my parents did not plan ahead for my inevitable vomiting and thus I have memories of having to walk into a Walmart in a towel.
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  10. says

    I’m definitely going to use these tips now that we have 4 kids and traveling by plane is getting harder. I am so impressed with you driving 10-12 hours by yourself with the kids. The only thing I can think of (for when I drove 5 hours with 3 kids) is good music for me so I didn’t feel sleepy.
    AnnMarie recently posted..Memories Captured: SundaysMy Profile

  11. says

    Sounds like you were very prepared. And I think we do the same things. Oh and this fall there will iOS 6 will be released for the iPhone which will have their own amazing maps built in along with turn by turn navigation. And you will be able to talk to it through Siri- yea I am excited :)
    Emmy recently posted..Just This and ThatMy Profile

    • Shell says

      Oh, that is AWESOME! I’m not eligible for an upgrade til next March, but I’ll be ready for that!!!

    • Shell says

      I almost did, I admit. Not something I want to repeat soon. Doable, but not advisable!

    • says

      Sorry about that.  A little quick with the fingers hitting that “return” button.  LOL!

      Great post!  Huge admiration of you, driving with three boys.  We’ve done road trips to the West Coast to see family but I haven’t done one alone yet with the three boys.   Don’t think I’m mentally ready but your tips make me think I could be one day. :-)
      Melanie recently posted..The Sweetness of Toddlerhood…My Profile

  12. says

    We are heading out on a long road trip in August. We only ahve two boys–9 and 3–so not quite as bad but a long trip, Wyoming to Michigan. I’ve been planning for months for this one. Part of me is looking forward to the challenge, part of me wants to hide from it.
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  13. says

    I’m going to refer back to this while packing. We have a 6 hour car ride at the end of the month. There isn’t much we can do with the baby but the other two should be good to go with these handy tips! thanks for sharing.

  14. says

    This is the story of my life too. Traveling by car with my three. Though we don’t have a 10 hour drive. It’s usually between 7 and 8 hour visiting different family. One thing I try to do to save time is only use interstate bathrooms for rest breaks. (I try to only fill up once.) Each time you leave the interstate and have to deal with traffic, it’s a major time drain. Ten hour. You are a pro.
    SouthMainMuse recently posted..While You Lay SleepingMy Profile

    • Shell says

      Ha! It wasn’t my ideal trip, but we hadn’t seen that side of the family since before Thanksgiving, so it was time.

  15. says

    Way to go on the planning! I definitely think being organized and having all aspects of entertainment available for the little ones is a must.

    When all else fails we play eye spy and see how many tractor trailors we can spot!
    Jenny recently posted..totally obsessedMy Profile

    • Shell says

      No impromptu trips with kids- I need to have it all planned out if I’m going anywhere with them. It makes things so much easier!

    • Shell says

      Nothing should scare you. You just gave birth and you’re already back online! Superwoman!

  16. says

    Those are great tips! Attempting my first flight alone with both kids on the 30th. I’ll definitely be implementing all the applicable tips!

    My best flying thing that I’ve learned from previous flights with the kids (and my husband!) is to be the very last to board and pretty much letting them run as much as they want at the airport before they will be confined to their chairs!
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    • Shell says

      Definitely- no need to do the preboarding for families with young children- that just gets them on the plane longer. I flew a ton with my youngest and we waited as long as we could to get on!

  17. says

    Sounds like you conquered the road!  Nate is a pretty good road warrior, I’m a half tank filler too, Chris is a quarter tanker and holy mother does it stress me out.  We literally almost ran out of gas once, in the middle of nowhere Illinois and about 3am…I was a wreck!!
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  18. says

    LOVE your organized approach. I still only have one child and trying for more. It’s good to know that I can still (try) and be organized about stuff like this once we multiply!
    Mel recently posted..Shhh…It’s SaturdayMy Profile

  19. says

    my only advice is to leave as early as possible and pray that they sleep the first few hours. We have a 12 hour trip next week and are leaving at 3a.m. Hoping to make it close to breakfast time before we have to stop