How to survive a cross-country road trip…with kids

IMG_3896Every other summer for the past several years, we have made the trip from Oklahoma to Orlando, Florida by car.  When we tell people we are driving to Disney World, they think we are crazy!  But…we love it!  The road trip is all part of the fun for us, so I thought it may be useful for you all to see what others do to make long car rides bearable.

1.Try to break the trip up into a few days.

We used to make the 20-plus hour trip in two days, but since we’ve had three children, we take three days to get there and, depending on our second destination (we usually hit a beach after Disney), 1-2 days to get home.  Our kids love to see the sights in a new town and eat at unique restaurants, so we try to stop in different places each time.  Two years ago, we went to West Monroe, Louisiana on Day 1 to do the Duck Dynasty thing.


On Day 2, we made a dinner stop in Pensacola and walked around for awhile before heading a bit outside of town to stay the night. We use Priceline to book a hotel and don’t have many requirements–just a clean room and maybe a hotel pool for the kids to burn off some energy.

2. Eat at new-to-you places

Haha!  He was so little here!

My husband and I are both in the education field (I am a high school librarian, he is a teacher/football coach) so we vacation on a budget.  However, we don’t want to totally sacrifice the vacation feel and eat all of our meals in the car.  I pack snacks (more on that below), but lunch and dinner are eaten in a restaurant.  Sometimes, we do stop for fast food at places we don’t have in our home town (Zaxby’s is a favorite), but most often, we try to find a local eatery using an app like Yelp or Roadtrippers.  This gives us time to unwind and lets the kids move about a bit before we get back in the car.  Plus, it gives us an excuse to eat foods for which each specific area is known.  Texas=barbecue, Louisiana=gumbo or jambalaya, Florida=seafood.

3. Pack snacks

While we don’t mind spending money at meal times, I refuse to buy soda, chips, and candy at every gas station or rest stop we visit.  Junky food makes for cranky kids!  I like to take a cooler with bottled water, baby carrots, cheese sticks, yogurt tubes, and other portable, healthy-ish items.  I also usually make some peanut butter energy bites (recipe here) for a sweet treat and pack some dry cereal or crackers.  Each of our kids has a Yeti cup, so we have them fill those with ice water before the trip begins and we just refill as needed.  I’m not a TOTAL grinch, though, so we do grab a couple of quick snacks at least once on the trip.  Usually we reserve that for driving day 2 or 3 when the kids are bored with whatever it is that I packed.

4. Make sure they are comfortable


Every person in my family has a different temperature at which they are comfortable.  Therefore, we all pack blankets and pillows so there is no whining about being hot or cold.  My husband is almost always the driver so he sets the temp, which is freezing.  If you are headed to the beach and don’t want to bring blankets due to them taking up car room, use beach towels for this.

5. Have plenty for them to do

And this is where this post gets really long!  If you are going to be spending multiple hours in a car with kids, they WILL get bored and you WILL lose your patience, so…plan accordingly.  I only allow one bag of fun stuff in the car because we have loads of luggage.  After many years, I think I have it down to a science!  Here is what we take:

Coloring Books/Workbooks/Blank Notebooks/Crayons


The kids will have coloring contests, work on school skills, draw, write stories, etc for HOURS.  I try to bring a variety of these and usually buy everyone a new box of crayons or markers before we start the trip.  You can find these things at many places–most of our things come from Sam’s Club, WalMart, or Target, but I just bought this from Amazon.

Make song playlists

My kids love music of all kinds, so we make some killer lists of tunes before we head out on the road.  We use iTunes and Amazon Prime music for this, but I know many people also use Spotify.  Normally, we listen to the music all together, but we also make the lists available on the kids’ Kindles and our old cellphones so they can listen on headphones if they want.  If they are getting restless, we’ll take turns picking songs and that seems to get everybody in a good mood.  They like to have a little control of what we listen to.

Play Games


We play lots of car games, including I-Spy, Road Trip Bingo, Would You Rather, and, our very favorite, Rubberneckers.  If you don’t have this game and you are taking kids on the road, you need it.  It is so fun and we will play it several times over our 3-day drive.

Electronic Devices/Movies

Believe it or not, this is the activity my kids do the LEAST when on a road trip.  However, sometimes we need a little quiet and we turn them loose on either a device (my kids each have these or we let them watch a movie on our portable DVD player.  Our local public library has Overdrive, so we will download some books/audiobooks for the kids before we leave town and we make sure they each have a few games they can play without using data.

6.  Pack a family overnight bag

It takes some strategy to get our car packed for a 10-day trip for 5 people and the last thing we want to do on the road is unload everything each night.  We pack one big bag with toiletries and a couple days of outfits for each of us.  This is the one of the smartest things we do on our roadtrips and has helped us tremendously over the years.


I hope you find some useful tips here for traveling with kids.  We are headed out to Disney in a few weeks and I’d love some new ideas if you want to share in the comments!

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