21 Helpful Tips for a Holiday Road Trip with Kids

Are you hitting the road this holiday season? Before you spend hours in the car with your loved ones, you might want to have some tips and tricks to survive the ride. Planning a road trip with kids is easy if you take the time to prepare well and pack a lot of patience. If done the holiday road trip can create special memories that will last a lifetime.

21 Tips for a Holiday Road Trip with Kids

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What to do before you take a road trip with kids

1. Plan your route

How long will this adventure take? Will there be stops along the way? When will you leave? All of these are questions to ask yourself before you plan to embark on any road trip.

2. Print a map to keep in the car or buy one

Be prepared for possible delays. There could be construction, traffic, or both. Having a hard copy of a map instead of relying on a GPS or your phone allows you to make decisions about taking alternate routes.

3. Make sure your car is ready for the long trip

Check to make sure wipers are working, tires are properly inflated, and signals and brake lights are in working order. If your car is anywhere close to needing service, by all means, go ahead and have it done before you leave.

Filling oil car before road trip

4. Check with your car insurance to find out about roadside assistance, sign up for AAA, or see if your credit cards offer coverage

If you research this information ahead of time you won’t be scrambling to find the phone number when you need it the most.

5. Fill up your gas tank before you leave

No one wants to stop 30 minutes into a road trip to fill up for gas, trust me.

6. Look at the weather report

If there is going to be snow or rain along the way, be prepared. If you are heading to the mountain and need snow chains, be sure to pack them in the car.

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7. Be mindful of traffic

Know when everyone will be leaving for the holidays. Tuesday before Thanksgiving will be bad, Wednesday will be worse, and the Sunday return drive will be a nightmare. Don’t forget the best day to travel can be the actual holiday itself.

How to Survive a Holiday Road trip with Kids Traffic-Kids Are A Trip
No one wants to end up in a traffic jam like this…YIKES! Photo credit: Creative Commons

How to entertain kids on a road trip

8. Have a game plan

What time will you leave? Will you eat before you go? Where will you stop to eat? Are you stopping to see any attractions on the first day that will require additional supplies or clothing? If so, be sure to pack the car so you have easy access to these items. If you’re traveling with an infant, you’ll need tips for a road trip with a baby.

Podcasts for Road Trips-Kids Are A Trip

9. Pack plenty of snacks and bottled water

Children will get hungry, and as a result, they will complain. Have food located within easy reach in case of meltdown emergencies.

Looking for snack ideas? Check out our 25 Easy to Pack Travel Snacks. If you are worried about your children needing to use the restroom after drinking water, make sure you take this into account.

10. Be prepared for motion sickness

Since we have a child prone to motion sickness, we are always ready (it only takes one time being caught unprepared to make this a habit). We try to prepare him by loading him up with ginger ale and motion sickness bands before we head out. 

We also have an easily accessible kit that includes: plastic trash bags, a roll of paper towels, Lysol wipes, and hand wipes. We keep it right next to our car sick child for the duration of the ride. Don’t miss all of our tips for motion sickness in kids.

Survive a Holiday Road Trip with Kids Motion Sickness-Kids Are A Trip
Sometimes the best way to deal with motion sickness is to sleep it off!

11. Have plenty of road trip activities for kids

We aren’t big believers in letting our kids play with an excessive amount of technology on road trips (but we do allow movies). We try to keep road trips old school by playing games as a family. Here are some of our favorite road trip games: 20 Road Trip Activities for Kids.

We also like to listen to audiobooks to help pass the time. Here are our favorite audio books for a long car ride.  Also, we download some movies ahead of time or bring along some DVDs if it is a long trip. We also have a list of our favorite podcasts for kids. I may try to discourage technology, but I can only hold out for so long. (Here are some great holiday movies).

12. Know your kids’ limits

How long can they go before they need a bathroom break? How long can they wait before stretching their legs? Do they always have to go to the bathroom right after they eat?

Be sure to take all of these things into account, especially when handing out snacks and drinks in the car. We try to limit the liquids.

13. Plan for fun stops along the way

We once drove from Chicago to San Antonio and back. Once I mapped the route, I started researching fun attractions along the way.

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We decided to stop at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas to dig for diamonds. We didn’t strike it rich, but the activity definitely helped to break up a long day of travel and the kids always remember our day in the dirt.

Crater of Diamonds State Park-Kids Are A Trip

14. Stow frequently used items within easy reach

I try to pack a large Ziploc bag that contains medicine, bandaids, hand wipes, headphones, and chargers that I keep up front on the passenger side or in the armrest. It prevents me from digging through all the bags when I need these things at a moment’s notice.

Let the kids bring a pillow and a small blanket to keep near their seats. Hopefully, this will encourage them to nap along the way.

15. Keep an eye on the gas tank

Nobody wants to run out of gas on a road trip, so be mindful of your tank and how far you can drive between filling up. You can use an app like GasBuddy to find the cheapest gas near you and check their gas prices.

16. Carry small change and cash for tolls

Throw a handful of change in your cup holder just in case. We have had to pay a fine after the fact on more than one occasion.

17. Find a place to keep a spare key

Been there, done that. We’ve locked the keys in the car, and on another occasion slammed my hand in the car door (that’s another story, equally as painful), without a spare set.

It cost a pretty penny and some valuable time waiting for the locksmith to arrive. (Note: AAA will help with this too).

Tips for Overnight Road Trips with Kids

If you need to stop overnight on a road trip, consider taking the following into account.

18. Stay at a hotel with a swimming pool

After a long day in the car, the kids will be wired. They will need somewhere to spend all that pent-up energy and swimming in the pool for a couple of hours is the best answer in my opinion.

Let them swim for a while, eat dinner, and then put them to bed for the night.

Holiday Road Trip with Kids Pool-Kids Are A Trip
A pool can be a great tool for tiring kids out after a long day in the car!

19. Have an overnight bag

Instead of bringing every piece of luggage into the hotel, pack an overnight bag with the essentials needed for a one-night stay. Pajamas, toiletries, swimsuits (if needed), and outfits for the next day.

Only do this if you feel comfortable leaving all your luggage in the car overnight, otherwise, you should bring everything inside with you.

20. Find the recommended restaurants in the area

The last thing anyone wants after a long day of travel is a horrible meal. Use an app like Yelp or ask the concierge at the hotel to help you find somewhere kid friendly with decent food to eat.

21. If you find yourself without a hotel reservation

Use an app like Hotel Tonight, Hotels.com, or Booking.com. They all have options to locate hotels available at the last minute with some great deals and they may help you avoid staying at the Bates Motel.

With any road trip, the important part is to savor the uninterrupted family time and embrace the unexpected detours along the way knowing you are creating something special for you and your children.