40+ Tips for Road Trips with Toddlers & Preschoolers

I dread going on long trips with kids in tow.   We have driven across the country at least once a year for some time now and have learned a few things about traveling with children.   Here are some tips to make road trips with toddlers and preschoolers easier.

To keep a bit of sanity.

over 40 tips for road trips with little kids

Road Trip Games & Activities:

  • Apps for Kids: I know that screen time isn’t always the most popular way to occupy your kids, but have you tried out the ABC Mouse Apps? There are 4 of them and they are incredibly educational for kids ages 2-8! Try them out with a 30 day FREE trial! Perfect for when the kids get antsy in the car.
  • Cheap Car Entertainment:   Get a bunch of cheap toys (stickers, figurines/dolls, trinkets, magnifying glass, noise makers, etc). Individually wrap them before hand so part of the fun is unwrapping them or put them into a nifty Travel activity box or bag {we made this one for a friend and it might give you some ideas}.
  • Make a felt activity board:   Do you remember those flannel-graphs from Sunday School classes decades ago?   Why not make your own to bring on your trip.   You can make stick figures and dress them up, or pretend to create a new and better car or bug or alien!   Use you imagination.
  • Make a map of your journey:   Create your trip map and track it with the kids.   You could add a “treasure map” component by rewarding checkpoints along your trip.   As you reach certain points they can get a toy/snack.   This teaches them map skills while also occupying them with toys and the anticipation of the destination.   We printed our map off of Google maps and inserted it into a plastic sleeve.   A dry erase marker wiped off of it nicely and it was nice to have a retort to, “are we there yet?”
  • Mini-white board:   Color with dry erase markers (these can stain your carseat cover or kids clothes) or with the new Crayola wipeable crayons (these don’t stain).     Take a CD case and replace the cover with white paper.   You can store a tissue, or better yet, a dried out diaper wipe – they are more sturdy – to wipe with inside the case.   It is an instant mini-white board.   Another adaptation, use a hand held mirror to color on.   Magnadoodles are great too!
  • Books on CD:   Take some books on CD or better yet, read to the kids aloud {CDs take up less space}.   One thing we did was take ribbon and tie it through a book with a slip-knot.   Then safety pin the ribbon to their carseat.   Then they had their book to read.   After our next stop the kids would swap books.   Having the book tied to the seat eliminated (or decreased the complaints) of “mommy I dropped it”.
  • Photography on the Move:   Let them take pictures of what you are driving by with a disposable or better yet, a digital camera (if you trust them with it).
  • Doctor on Call:   A Box of Bandaids and a rubbing alcohol pad.   Let them play “Dr”.   My preschoolers love the way the evaporation feels on their skin!   They can use it to disinfect their seats while they are playing.
  • “I spy” Jar: Make a jar of tiny treasures (paper clips, candy, hairbow, button, penny, ring, key, etc.).   Fill the jar with rice, wheat, dried lentils, whatever, and glue the lid onto the jar.   Have the kids find the items by turning the jar.

Road trip with kids tips

  • Balloon Challenge:   Give the kids balloons and see if they can blow them up themselves, or tape a punching balloon to the seat in front of them.   Let them swat or kick at the balloon – assuming it won’t irritate the person in that seat or harm the upholstery.   If you don’t want an inflated balloon, give the kids some crayons and a balloon.   See who can put the most crayons into their balloons.   Obviously if your children are to o young to play with balloons or the only adult in the car is driving, skip this one.
  • Bubbles?   Blow bubbles out the window or at the kids – you don’t want to do this too often as things can get sticky, but it is all washable – and it can double as bath/bubble wash that night at the hotel.   One less bottle to bring with you!
  • Goop (aka homemade silly putty):   Homemade putty is great for a non-residue playdough.   You can use it to create shapes, to stretch into snakes, to imprint the bottom of their sippy cups, whatever!   Be creative!
  • Personal Light Show:   Each kid has a flashlight {or got one in their cheap entertainment bag}.   The kind with different colored lights is best for the longest play.       A great way to entertain them once it is dark out – assuming you couldn’t get them to go to sleep.
  • Catalog “shopping”:   Toy magazines – these keep my kids entertained for hours.   You can even let them cut out pictures of the things they want and make a “wish list” collage with a couple glue sticks, if you are feeling adventurous.
  • Desperate times call for desperate measures:   DVD and a portable player for when you are desperate.
  • Other Random Games like “I spy”,   the alphabet game or license plates, etc.   This site has a list of a dozen or so.

road trip with kids tips

Road Trip Art Projects:

  • Body art:   Use washable tattoos or have the kids create their own by drawing on themselves with washable markers.   It is a great way to entertain them and sure to get lots of laughs!   Light colored markers wash off the carseat covers easily (like yellow, light blue, pink, etc.).   We had some stains with the black and dark blue markers.
  • Aluminum Foil:   Foil animals and statues can be made and re-made.   We use it to bunch and mold into shapes.
  • Puppet Show on Wheels:   Make paperbag puppets.   Tie the crayons/markers to their carseats with string so they can’t loose them if they are dropped.
  • Sticky Sticks:   Use Sticky Sticks to mold imaginary creatures, trace letters or make a road on a book for your matchbox cars to drive on.
  • Always a hit:   Pipecleaners.   Make into jewelry, animals, springs, braid, etc.
  • Fingerprint the suspects:   Use a washable ink pad to make finger print creations.   Inspired by Draw Thumb People.   Let your kids make finger prints and transform them into a variety of creatures.
  • Board Game Bag: If your kids enjoy board games, here is a site that explains how to make your own board game bag.   They use it for checkers and Tic-Tac-Toe, but it can be adapted to use for “Make a Match” or Bingo

Road Trip Snacks:

  • Portable food:   Boxes of raisins, string cheese, crackers, grapes, apple slices, juice boxes. We have over 150 snack ideas for kids here.
  • “Surprise” Mix: Nuts, M&Ms, dried fruit, granola, goldfish crackers, pretzels, gummy fruit snacks, etc.   Use your imagination and go crazy – the more diversity the better.   They get a scoop of the mix and it is different each time.   Half the fun is picking out what they want to eat out of the mix first!
  • Fruit roll-ups or fruit leather:   You can make edible tee-pees or pretend they are blankets for your dolls, etc.   Bring cookie cutters and let them “stamp” their food!   Edible fun is always preferable on a long car ride!
  • Marshmallows + pretzels:   These are great to stick together.   Make a snake of pretzel, marshmallow, pretzel, etc.   Make an edible spider (give your marshmallow eight pretzel legs), etc.   Eat your creations when you are done
  • Pepperoni sans the pizza:   Pepperoni slices are not super healthy, but my kids enjoy them and they are a source of protein on a long carb-packed trip.
  • Drinking games:   To limit juice intake (so you don’t have to stop ten times for potty breaks) Nicole from Activity Mom has a great tip: Play Letter Drinking game!   “When you find the letter T you can take a sip”.   This definitely limits the chugging of fluids.

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Road Trip Must-have items:

  • Storage space:   Bring LOTS of ziplock baggies.   They are great for everything!   A permanent marker to label things isn’t a bad thing to have either.   I know my kids want to eat “their” snack or keep track of “their” toothbrush.
  • Easy wipes:   Diaper wipes are a road trip necessity (even if your kids are potty trained!).   These are great for cleaning faces and surfaces, even as a form of entertainment if you are desperate.
  • Just in case:   A first aid kit with tylenol (for both kids and adults).
  • a few dishtowels for spills and with a clothespin they become great bibs
  • Don’t jump! Bottle bungees can be used to contain sippy cups, toys, books, snack bags, etc.   I’ve also created a pulley system to pass things between people.
  • Spill-proof cups:   Sippy cups work great   – even if your kids have grown out of them.   The squeeze bottles are good too, but if they are dropped still can loose a great amount of liquid and the last thing you want to do is hunt down liquid during a roadtrip!
  • Painter tape:   The kids can play with it, you can use it to label things and it can be used to cover outlets in hotels.   Painter tape is better than masking tape as it is removable without harming the surfaces it was on.
  • Cups NOT for drinking:   I use plastic cups for snack service.   They can be easily held by a child or stored in a cup holder when not snacking.   No liquid allowed in these!

road trip kids

Things for your kids to play with at your destination:

If you are arriving somewhere that doesn’t have toys and you have limited space in the car, check out these simple play solutions.

  • Is there a cardboard box?   Box = tunnel, house, decorate it, etc.   We have also used a rubbermaid tub.   Packed it with out belongings and let the kids decorate it with those clingwrap stickers once we were at our destination.   It is a great pretend house, pool, cage, whatever!
  • Blow it Up!   Beach ball or other inflatable ball – I like that they are cheap so we can ditch them for the way home.   We have also used punching balloons.
  • Instant Paint: Shaving Cream – This is great as it is instant finger paint on almost any solid surface and cleans up easily.   Kids are starting to get cranky at grandma’s?   Give them a pile of this on the table and let them have fun smashing and smearing.
  • Surely you have a sheet.   Sheet = tent, dress up, bouncing things, etc.
  • Portable store:   If you are staying at a hotel that provides those little note pads {or throw some post-it notes in your suitcase}, you have the makings of a general store.   The kids can price all the furniture and luggage.   My kids use paper to create currency as well.   Don’t be surprised if you have to buy back your toothbrush.

Random Tips For Keeping Your Sanity Traveling with Preschoolers:

  • Be prepared for a mess:   Cover your seats with a sheet, or if you are going to the beach (as is the destination of many of our road trips) use the beach towels that you’ll need when you get there – this means all you have to do is unhook the car seats, shake the sheet out and you suddenly have a clean car again!   Also saves having to pack the towels or the “play sheet”.
  • Take along a toilet:   If your kids are potty trained, put a disposable diaper into the bottom of your portable or toddler potty.   This will save you from having to use the nasty gas station bathrooms.   The diaper in the potty will soak up the urine and limit spills till you can find a place to dispose of the waste.
  • Be prepared:   Pack the night before and leave as early as you can.   Hopefully, the kids will sleep through most of the morning!   If you are able, maybe drive through the night.
  • Stopping slows you down:   Try to limit your stops, but when you do stop plan on stopping for at least an hour so the kids can burn some energy.

Road Trip with Kids Resources:

Have any other tips?     Add them to the KOA Campfire conversation HERE.

41 Comments

  1. I think I already read this post. You are way more organized than I am. I was just trying to be funny really! I don’t count myself as an expert on anything!! haha
    .-= Brandie´s last blog ..My tips on Traveling with Children =-.

  2. Visiting here from JDaniel4’s Moms and I’m so glad I did! What a creative list! WTG, mama! I’m passing along your 40+ Tips to the moms in my moms group.
    .-= Run DMT´s last blog ..BlogTrotting through Tampa Bay =-.

  3. Oh my goodness, so many great tips! I am totally bookmarking this post! Thanks!

    BTW, jumped over from JDaniel4’s mom blog.

  4. Wow! Now that is a list of stuff. I love it. My main travel distractions are the snacks, the map and of course the DSi and Ipod. My son does like following the maps but nothing tops games on the Dsi or Ipod. Sanity svers for sure!

  5. All these ideas are so fantastic! We just got back from a 7 hour drive on vacation. Need to print this out for next time 🙂

  6. Regina Jones says:

    Why should parents take responsibility for entertaining their kids in the car exactly? We need to stop spoon feeding our kids. Let them entertain themselves once in a while. What do you say?
    -Regina from <Awnings Durban

  7. Thanks for the tips. I’m going from NY to California with my 2 year old son and my wife tomorrow and we were pretty nervous about it. We’ll take into account what you said 😀

  8. I also love file folder games – use velcro and zip lock bags to hold the pieces and they are wonderful – the added advantage is that if a piece gets lost on the journey when you get home you can print it out again – so the game is ready for next time. Type file folder game into your search engine and then pick your favourites!!!
    This is an awesome list and I am bookmarking it for the next big trip we take – thanks for taking the time to create it and for sharing your great ideas.

  9. Awesome tips! WE travel mostly by plane, so some of these ideas may involve too much stuff to carry esp. with the new luggage restrictions, but there are several ideas that are small enough and clever that we can enjoy.

    Thx

  10. Wow! So many great ideas! We love to travel, but it’s a bit more difficult with our 20 mo. old. Pinning these to use when we do go on our trips!

  11. We spent a looooot of time driving around Europe, on trains, boats and in hotels and restaurants with 2 young kids.

    My best advice is to go to the $2 shops and opportunity/charity shops and get a funky bag and lots of little toys and books. That way you do not care if they get lost or broken and you can easily change them up between trips by recycling back to the charity shop and getting more.

    Of course you can’t beat paper, marker pens (washable of course) and stickers…who doesn’t love stickers!

  12. Awesome list! We’re leaving very SOON for a fun trip!!!! Great timing on your post 😉

  13. These are some great tips! I will definitely have to revisit this as my boy gets a little older. But I particularly like the treasure map idea. What a fun way to get them into the journey for the journey!

  14. Nyree Cheff says:

    I love all the ideas except the flash lights in the car. That seems a little dangerous while driving.. great for when you arrive to play in a hotel or something…seems like the lights could be distracting to the drivers or those driving around you.. just a thought!

  15. Great tips! I’m about to take my daughter on the ultimate road trip— a year long, cross country tour! Wish me luck!

  16. Wow! What an extensive list of tips and tricks. Most definitely a fantastic resource for the holidays. Thanks.

    Thank you for sharing on Kids Get Crafty!

    Maggy & Alissa

  17. Very nice and lots of great info for those long road trips! I love that you wrap the individual items – how fun! We’ll have to try that this year.

    One thing we’ve learned over the years is to have each child bring a ‘collection bin’ – for us, sometimes it’s a tin can with cover, or a canvas bag. The kids can decorate it before their trip, and then it’s a place for them to keep all the ‘treasures’ they find while we travel. It helps to keep all their new stuff in one place and not on the floor of the car 🙂

  18. great tips! i always pack one gallon size zip loc freezer bag for each kid when we visit the beach, so they each have a bag to bring home their new shell collection in. it also helps them to carefully choose only their favorites! 🙂

  19. My kids love the alphabet game when we’re on a trip for any length of time. Depending where we are, we either have to find the letter (on a sign, license plate, etc.) or something that starts with the letter. The only challenge is keeping them interested long enough to find Q, Y, and so on 🙂

  20. These are some awesome tips. I really like the one about the potty. My sister is just in the process of training her 2 year old twins. They will be leaving on holidays in a few weeks. I will be sure to share this with her. Thanks 🙂

  21. Hi I am a Hollywood nanny and in addition to doing tons of arts and crafts with kids and learning from websites such as yours I wrote The Cupcake Counting Book on Amazon.com. If you are looking for a cute counting book for your toddler on your ipad or kindle, please check it out. Kindles are wonderful for kids! Endless entertainment!

  22. These tips are fantastic! I love it!!! Road Trips can be a nightmare or tons of fun. Best to try and make it tons of fun lol.

  23. Another fun idea is to put some washable paint into a quart size ziplock bag and tape the zipper end closed, you can remove the label part with rubbing alcohol. It’s like finger painting but contained! My 2 yo will entertain herself for at least 1/2 hour with this one! Plus if it busts it’s washable paint, I’ve never had one bust. My 6 yo loves it too.

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  26. I have found sleep to be the best option when traveling with toddlers. Get them tired and drive through the evening/ late night and have them drift away quickly. Most games only work for minutes and are so hard to organize…

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  33. Barbara zeman says:

    Great ideas for traveling. We sing ” If your happy and ya know it” and each child has to come up with touch your ears etc. They can come up with funny things.

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