Road trips can be long and draining at the best of times. Throw in some kids and they can become positively stressful.
To help you get to the end of your journey without a meltdown by either you or the kids, we’ve put together our top family road trip hacks. These tips cover everything from planning your route and rest stops to dealing with the inevitable “how much longer” questions.
- Prepare the car for the trip by planning seating arrangements, creating a first aid kit and car sickness emergency pack, building a playlist, and downloading apps and audio books.
- Other helpful hacks include creating a visual timeline for kids to understand distance and time, bringing portable LEGO kits, and activity packs.
- It’s also important to have essentials like a fully charged battery, properly inflated tires, and topped-off fluids, making sure child car seats are correctly fitted, and having post-vomit hard candy or gum.
30 Road Trip Hacks Every Family Needs
1. Prepare Your Car For A Road Trip
Take the time to give your vehicle a general health check at least a week before your road trip.
Make sure your battery is fully charged, your tires are properly inflated, and all of your fluids are topped off. Now’s also a good time to check the tread on your tires.
2. Plan Your Seating
Think about where each of the kids will sit, and if you have younger children or kids with a tendency to fight, consider mixing up the regular seating arrangements.
Now is also an excellent time to check that child car seats are correctly fitted, and the belts are properly adjusted.
3. Put Together A First Aid Kit
It’s good practice to have a first aid kit in the car, but it is usually in the trunk.
In addition, put together a road trip first aid kit with simple items like Band-Aids, pain killers, and antiseptic wipes. These essentials can go in a Ziploc bag and into your glove compartment.
4. Create A Car Sickness Emergency Pack
Even if your kids have never been car-sick before, they can still be hit by nausea on a road trip. You’ll need nausea essentials such as the children’s versions of Dramamine and Pepto-Bismol and some empty grocery bags to catch the vomit.
Don’t forget the post-vomit hard candy or chewing gum and some wipes for a quick refresh.
5. Build A Playlist
Road trips and tunes go hand-in-hand, but listening to kids’ music for too long can drive the best of us to distraction. Nothing ruins a road trip like the 20th rendition of Old McDonald.
Ensure everyone has a good time by building a playlist with music for every member of the family.
6. Download Apps, Audiobooks, And Podcasts
Avoid using up valuable data on the road by downloading apps, audiobooks, and podcasts for your kids via your wi-fi at home.
Not only will this potentially save the pain of data overages, but it will also mean you have new diversions on hand and something for the grown-ups if the kids fall asleep.
7. Are We There Yet?
The younger your kids are, the more difficult they will find it to grapple with the concepts of distance and time.
This timeline and map hybrid provides an easy to understand visual for your children. You can make one for the entire trip or several smaller ones for each leg.
8. Portable LEGO Kit
If your kids are LEGO fans, these kits are easy to throw together at the last moment. Rather than other kits that require you to glue base plates into boxes, this option can be emptied back into the LEGO box when you get back home.
9. Activity Packs
Take a trip to the dollar store and load up on crayons, stickers, small notebooks, activity pads, and coloring books. Put them together into a soft-bodied make-up bag or a plastic lunch box, and you have an instant busy kit.
10. The Teen Roadtrip Survival Box
Don’t forget your teen or tween when you’re putting together entertainment packs. Some will be happy to spend the time on their phone or tablet, but others will appreciate some alternative distractions.
Playing cards, adult coloring books, and puzzle pads are all excellent options, as well as gum.
11. Road Trip Chat
A road trip can be an excellent opportunity to chat and discover more about each other, but it can be challenging to think up conversation starters on the spot.
This road trip chat set can be made as-is, or you can write out a list of your own starters ahead of time.
12. Surprise, Surprise
Another dollar store idea is to fill a paper bag or an opaque plastic box with small, quirky surprises.
Then either hand them out when the kids are getting fractious or label them with “Do not open before” and a town name.
13. In A Bind
Build a reusable game pack and keepsake in one by putting plastic pockets into a binder. In some pockets, place paper or puzzles and give your kids dry erase markers. This way, they can write on and wipe off.
Leave some pockets empty to store postcards, menus, and other fun souvenirs.
14. Charge Up With Breakfast
If you are staying at hotels, book those that offer a free breakfast. Not only will this save you the time, money, and effort of arranging breakfast each morning, but it will also ensure the family can start the day with a full tank.
15. Kid-Friendly Hotels
When you’re planning your road trip, don’t leave a night in a hotel to chance. Instead, spend some time researching which hotels are the most child-friendly and book them well ahead of time.
In particular, look for hotels with swimming pools. Finding hotels with family rooms that have a kettle and microwave can be invaluable for snacks.
16. Food Trays
It can be a pain for kids to juggle a drink and one or more food items on their lap.
Inexpensive but sturdy, shallow plastic boxes are ideal for keeping your older child’s food under control. This works for both the refreshments you bring yourself and any food you grab on the road.
17. Pack Snacks
Travel packs or individually wrapped food items tend to be more expensive and create a pile of garbage you then have to deal with.
Instead, pack a compartmentalized box with lots of snacks. Not only is it more affordable and less trouble, but you can ensure your kids have a variety of healthy snacks.
18. Straws For Pots
For younger kids who are not yet big enough to be trusted with a tray full of droppable snacks, fruit pouches and yogurts are a viable option.
You can make them easy to consume in the backseat by leaving on the lid and putting a straw through it.
Make or buy tethers for sippy cups, snack containers, and favorite toys. Then use them to attach those essentials to the seats of anyone too small to reach if they drop them on the ground.
This helps avoid the dreaded car yoga as you try to find things lost under the seats.
20. Make Change
Even if your route doesn’t have any tolls, it is always helpful to have some change on hand. You never know when you might need to pick up a snack from a vending machine or fill your vehicle’s tires at a gas station.
21. Shoe Bag
An over-the-door shoe organizer is an excellent option for keeping a variety of road trip essentials within your reach.
And this isn’t just for toys. Diaper changing supplies, phone chargers, battery packs, sunscreen, and other similar items can be stored.
22. Car Seat Cover
Take a spare bed sheet and spray it with Scotch-guard or another similar moisture repellant coating. Then, use it to protect your car seats.
This way, your car will have some protection from snacks, drinks, pens, vomit, and anything else your child might throw at it.
23. Visor Clips
Continually nagging your kids to behave can be draining. Minimize the amount of time you spend telling your kids to stop misbehaving with these easy to recreate visual reminders.
Everyone in the car is represented by a clip, and when somebody misbehaves, their clip is removed.
Minimizing the amount of packaging you produce is the first line of defense against trash in the car. However, you can’t always avoid it, and even travel trash cans can take up room.
Use a removable sticky hook in the footwell and hang a bag on it for an easy to access and quick to dispose of a garbage bag.
25. Travel Pillow Bag
Juggling boxes of snacks, books, travel pillows, and more can become a significant pain. This is especially true if you’ll be stopping off at multiple hotels during your trip.
Make it a little easier by giving each of your older children a travel pillow and bag in one for which they will take responsibility.
26. Seatbelt Phone Holder
Adults and kids alike can benefit from a seatbelt pad. This homemade example combines a cushion and a phone holder.
Not only will your kids stay comfortable, but it will minimize the chance of phones going astray, especially if they doze off with a phone in their hand.
27. Ready To Eat
Say goodbye to the kids complaining they don’t have ketchup or discovering you forgot to pick up straws. A Ziploc bag with some mealtime essentials can be a lifesaver on a family road trip.
We always keep one on hand that has napkins, spare utensils, straws, moist wipes, and condiments, plus some candy to take away bad tastes from ill-advised food choices.
28. Phone Number Bracelets
None of us imagine our kids will ever be out of our sight, but even with the best of intentions, it’s not unknown for a younger child to wander.
In the unlikely event you and one of your children become separated, these phone number bracelets ensure they’ll always have your number.
29. Bucket Pulley System
If you’ve ever spent time twisting around, trying to pass things back and forth between the back seat and the front, you’ll appreciate this easy to recreate bucket pulley system.
Drop things into the bucket, pass them back, and pull the bucket back to the front. This prevents the kids from playing with the bucket and minimizes the amount of vehicle yoga you have to do.
30. Stop Them From Unbuckling
Young children are capable of unbuckling their seatbelts, even when you think they can’t (1). If you have a little one who repeatedly undoes their seatbelt, then this plastic cup hack is for you. It not only prevents kids from attempting to break free when they shouldn’t, but it also avoids accidental unbuckling.
Meanwhile, it maintains quick and easy access to the buckle for adults and can be easily removed without causing damage.
How Often Should You Stop During Family Road Trips?
How often you stop during family road trips really depends on how well everyone in the vehicle copes with being on the road. Some kids can go for hours without a break, while others quickly get restless.
On average, I’d recommend stopping every two hours or so.
How Many Hours Should I Drive a Day on a Road Trip?
You should not drive for more than nine hours a day, not including the time you take for breaks.
For every 4.5 hours of driving, you will need at least 45 minutes of break time.
Plan For Success
Getting ready for a family trip can be exhausting. With so many other things to organize and arrange, it can be tempting to ignore the time you will spend in the car. However, spending time squashed together, with no chance of escape, can put the most relaxed families to the test.
Plan your time in the car and use our family road trip hacks. That way, you’ll have a fighting chance of not fighting and maybe even enjoying yourself.