During my maternity leave, my husband and I decided to get out of the house for a bit. As in, an extended weekend away. We packed up the kids and truck and headed seven hours south to our friend’s house in North Carolina. We were so excited to get out of the house (the maternity leave took place during the winter months so we were a bit stir crazy) and to see our friends and their kiddos. We couldn’t wait to have our toddler play together and our babies cry with each other as we enjoyed each other’s company by catching up, sharing stories, and enjoying cocktails.
And then reality set in. My husband and I were stuck in the car for seven hours with a three-year-old and a one-month-old. Were we completely nuts? On the way down, we were blinded by the excitement of seeing our friends. Without the excitement of seeing our friends, the struggle was real on the way home.
Thankfully, I went to the store the day before our road trip and stocked up on some much needed essentials to help us get through the drive. As my husband took the wheel both to and from our friend’s house, it was up to me to keep the kids happy and entertained.
First and foremost, it’s important to note that you must make sure your car seats are properly installed, children are properly buckled into their seats, your cell phone battery is charged, you have plenty of water, and you have first aid items.
Oh, and be sure to get a good night’s sleep before your road trip. The night before heading to our friend’s house, my husband and I were able to get a goodnight’s sleep which was super helpful. The night before heading home, our one-month-old kept me up all night (I only got about two hours of sleep) and my husband didn’t get very much sleep either. Our nerves were a bit frazzled on the way home, especially with a three-year-old who refused to nap on the way home (of course, he fell asleep when we were 45 minutes away from our home).
Now that the safety measures are out of the way, let’s get to ways to keep kids entertained during a road trip. If you’re traveling by plane, then be sure to check out some of my favorite tips for flying with kids. We’ve packed in a lot of road trips over the past few years and have learned some key takeaways.
10 Ways to Keep Kids Happy During a Road Trip
1.) Plan Accordingly
Make sure you go to the store before your trip and stock up on snacks, beverages, diapers, wipes, formula (by the way, travel formula is awesome), bottles, sippy cups, and anything else you think the kiddos might need during the trip. Bring snacks that aren’t incredibly messy. I like to pack squeezable yogurt and applesauce, cheese crackers (which can be placed in cups), water bottles, granola bars, and Cheerios.
2.) Pack Accordingly
Along with planning accordingly, you must also pack accordingly. Be prepared for when your child asks for snacks, toys, etc. We drive an Acadia which is setup kind of like a mini van on the interior. For our three-year-old, he sits in a car seat that is positioned on the captain’s chair right behind the front passenger seat. Below his feet is a basket filled with some of his favorite toys that are appropriate for the car. When he asks for a toy, it’s easy for me (as either the passenger or the driver) to simply reach into the basket, grab a toy, and hand it to him.
When it comes to road trips, over the years I’ve discovered that it’s super easy to pack a few totes filled with essentials. One tote is filled with snacks. The other tote is filled with diapers, wipes, bottles, cups, and bowls. I keep these totes between the two backseat captain’s chairs. That way, if the kids need the essentials, they are easy to grab. Having designated totes helps to keep items organized too.
3.) Dress the Kids in Comfortable Clothing
Instead of dressing your toddler in jeans, opt for pajamas instead. The last thing you want is for your kids to be uncomfortable during a long drive. We usually leave in the morning after our son has had a good night’s sleep. We bathe him and then put him in a clean set of pajamas. We skip putting on his socks and shoes for the long drive. We simply place him in his pajamas, secure him in his car seat, and give him a blankie for snuggle time in the car. For our one-month-old, we put her in a long-sleeved onesie, placed her in her car seat, and gave her blankets to keep her nice and cozy during the long drive.
4.) Provide Comfort
I prefer to have extra blankets available to the kids just in case they want to snuggle with them or get nice and cozy warm. For car seats, I like to make them comfortable by adding head bumpers and strap guards. Of course, only use items that do not negatively impact the way a car seat functions.
5.) Make Regular Stops
When traveling with kids, don’t think they can sit for long periods of time without getting antsy. Gone are the days when you can drive for long stretches of time without stopping. It’s always good to schedule in stops for food, stretches (let the kids run around or at least get them out of the car seat for a bit), bathroom breaks, etc. The nice thing about a road trip is that you can stop whenever and wherever you please. You can even stop at attractions along the way (you can plan ahead for these types of adventures).
6.) Split the Responsibility
My husband prefers to drive which gives me the responsibility of trying to keep the kids happy. I’m the one in charge of snack and toy distribution, as well as making sure the baby has her binky and the kids are comfortable. Both jobs (driving and keeping the kids happy) are big responsibilities that are exhausting. So, it’s always a great idea to split the responsibilities.
7.) Plan Feedings
Our three-year-old son thinks it’s special to eat in the car. So, for long road trips we stop for breakfast and lunch and eat them both in the car. Having him eat in the car helps to keep him quiet for a little bit of time too.
As for the baby, she is formula fed. So, I purchase travel formula bottles that are already pre-measured (the ready-to-feed variety). When she is hungry, we stop the car, take her out of her car seat, feed her a few pre-measured bottles of formula, change her, and then tuck her back into her car seat. If you don’t want to purchase the pre-measured bottles of formula that are ready for feedings, then pack bottles of pre-measured powder formula. Then, add warm water to the bottle, shake the bottle, and serve
8.) Offer Entertainment
Pack a lot of car-friendly toys for your kids (and make sure they are age appropriate). For our three-year-old, I pack all sorts of cars, books, and trains. If he grows tired of the toys, then I rely on electronic entertainment. He loves to watch kid-friendly YouTube videos. I simply hand him my phone and he scrolls through YouTube and clicks on various videos that are of interest to him (that are also educational too … bonus!). That’s another reason why it’s key to have your phone fully charged. You can pack your iPad or tablet for movies too.
For older kids, you can pack travel games. Growing up, my Mom would always have travel-size versions of games readily available for my brother and me to play during road trips. Click here for more entertainment ideas for kids.
9.) Ride in the Backseat
If you have a designated driver, then opt to sit in one of the backseats to be next to your kid(s). When we only had our son during road trips, I often found that it was easier to ride in the seat next to him. Being next to him helped keep him entertained. Plus, it was easy for me to feed him, hand him toys, etc. He seemed to be more comfortable having me in the backseat next to him.
10.) Take a Deep Breath
Not every road trip is perfect. Believe me. We’ve been on some road trips where our son has cried for eight hours straight. No matter what we did he just was not going to be happy. We’ve been on some road trips where my husband and I get irritable. We’ve been on some road trips where our son hasn’t fallen asleep until the very end of the trip. It’s important to take a deep breath. You’re locked in a car for hours on end with multiple people. Not every minute of the road trip is going to be perfect. Just know that going into the trip. When moments start to get loud, cranky, hectic, etc., take a deep breath. Analyze the situation, try to figure out why the kids aren’t happy, figure out ways to address the situation. When all else fails, offer food or electronic entertainment. I’ve quickly realized over the years that those two items have a way of making kids happy if even for a few minutes … because every minute of peacefulness and happiness counts during a road trip.
What’s your favorite way to keep kids happy during a road trip?