Road Trip with Children

When it comes to traveling, we’ve all heard the common phrase “half the fun is getting there”. However, the author of that quote must have never been on a long car ride with a fussy or stir-crazy child. That’s why it’s necessary to focus on addressing the issue of how to keep your child(ren) both entertained and content while taking that long drive to the destination of your choice. Getting there can truly be a fun experience for all, but at times it may require a little planning before you hit the road. By offering refreshments, fun and games, you can help your children enjoy both the ride and your destination.


Whether it’s as you’re heading out the door or hours down the road, you’re bound to hear a chorus of “I’m hungry” coming from the back seat. Car rides can get lengthy and with your child’s high metabolism it’s only natural for this to be expected. So be prepared. Make snacking or meal options in the car part of your packing process and keep it healthy. With your child(ren) trapped in a stuffy car, sitting for hours on end, their body needs something cool and refreshing rather than something that will weigh them down or leave them with a heavy stomach. Try keeping a small cooler or insulated lunch tote filled with healthy options. While you may have plenty of room to store these items in your trailer’s refrigerator, storing them in the car allows you to have snacks available before your children start to get “hangry” (i.e. a combination of hungry and angry). Fill up this cooler with items such as chilled milk or water, baby carrots, apple slices, string cheese, or pre-made sandwiches. Aside from the cooler, you may want to pack crackers, pretzels or other family favorites. For small children who can self-feed you will obviously want to avoid foods that are potential choking hazards. Go for foods that can easily dissolve in their mouths such as Gerber puffs-cereal or yogurt bites or if they are old enough to handle them offer drinkable yogurt or applesauce pouches. You may find food pouch tops helpful for your little one. They are designed to control the flow of food without creating a mess.  While satisfying their hunger needs don’t let your car take a beating. Consider the mess factor and your child’s ability when selecting food or drinks to be taken on the road. Keep trash bags close by or within reach of your child to corral empty bags, wrappers or containers. You may also want to consider keeping moist napkins or baby wipes available to handle potential spills or sticky fingers.


If the thrill of adventure seems to dwindle as the miles pass, keeping a stock of music, movies, or books on tape can offer hours of entertainment for use as your family sees fit. No built in TV screen on board? No problem. Placing a tablet in a car back seat organizer  allows great access for your child’s viewing pleasure along with incredible storage. These organizers provide extra holding pockets for drinks and snacks, and are great for keeping loose toys, books, cds or dvds. Investing in an inexpensive organizer will help keep clutter at bay as you clock away the miles.

For added variety to your entertainment without paying a dime, don’t overlook the benefit of picking up dvds, cds, or books on tape at your local library for use during your vacation. Just keep in mind that some items may check out for a shorter amount of time, so check the due dates in advance.

Tired of listening to children’s music for hours? Don’t forget this is a family vacation, not just for your kids. So, bring along some of your own family friendly music to pass the time. Some of my favorite traveling memories growing up include listening to cassettes of my Dad’s favorite artist Jim Croce, or my mom’s favorite Manhattan Transfer album. While your music preference may not be your child’s first pick, use this as an experience to share your past or current interests with your kids. This may help them learn to appreciate music of many kinds just as it did for me.

Have a fussy baby or toddler? Bring along some lullaby music to help sooth them to sleep as their tired bodies wind down for a nap. If there are longer periods of crying as your child tries to sleep, this soothing music will also be greatly appreciated by the driver and other family members to help calm things down. If your child uses a pacifier or favorite toy to go to sleep, consider using a pacifier clip to keep these from falling. This can save a lot of stress as opposed to you reaching back blindly from the passenger seat searching for that lost item.

Personal Belongings

Over the days or weeks on the road, your child may find both comfort and entertainment in bringing some toys or special items from home. But practice caution - while some blankets or stuffed animals may be soothing or security items and come without debate, non-security items that are irreplaceable may be better left at home. Along these lines, be careful what you let out of the car or trailer. For example, our family rule was “no important items out of the car at rest stops.” Bring out a ball, or an inexpensive toy, but keep your child’s blankie or beloved baby doll in the car. This will help ensure there is no turning around for cherished belongings left at the park or other areas you stop at on the way to your destination.

Toys and Games

When traveling with a little one, musical toys that light up are sure to be a hit. Some of our favorites include toy pianos that hook on the back of a seat, and stuffed animals that play a song when you squeeze them such as the fisher price soothe and glow seahorse. Both of these items have been life savers when our son gets extra fussy in the car and we don’t like to leave home without them.
For older children put together an art kit with pencils, paper, stickers, crayons and coloring books. It may be helpful to provide a writing surface to help keep everything on their lap and in place. Another option is to bring a for your little artist to create one masterpiece after another.

Having travel games ready can keep things fun and exciting for your child. Invest in a couple of your child’s favorite games in a travel version (if you also have small children on board, remember to consider the risk of tiny pieces landing in their hands since they may be in close proximity to your older children). I remember passing time with my sisters playing travel Trouble, Guess Who, or simply a card game. Classic travel games such as Auto Bingo or the License Plate Game never go out of style and keep your child looking forward to all they get to see just from the car window.


Whether you’re planning a short weekend getaway or an extended family vacation, give a few of these ideas a try. See what works for you and your family and maybe like me, years down the road, your kids will continue to look back on these family road trips with great memories that will last a lifetime. Wishing you peace and joy for the miles ahead!

Emily Helgeson
Author: Emily HelgesonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Emily Helgeson lives with her husband and two children in Eastern Washington. They enjoy adventuring together and are learning how to use their RV to continue this lifestyle with their growing family.

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