Every time we start packing the car for a road trip, I’m flooded with fond memories of my childhood. And by “fond” I mean my mother having to tape a line down the middle of the car so my brother and I wouldn’t cross it and punch each other. (Remind me to call my mom and apologize, because I definitely robbed her of some quality together time with my “HE’S BOTHERING ME!” screams from the back seat.)
Knowing how traumatic all that “together time” can be, I’ve adopted some strategies to make the drives more fun and even, gasp, a fun part of the vacation. Here are my best family road trip hacks!
#1 Give each kid a pre-packed snack container.
Pack an easy to open container or bag with snacks ahead of time. Let them know they get to be in charge of choosing when they eat their snacks, but when the snacks are gone that’s all there is. No more constant begging for snacks and no more whiplash from turning around to the backseat to pass food back and forth every 3 minutes.
In my experience, the kids do really well making their own decisions of rationing out their snack supply and enjoy the independence in getting to choose. Be sure to pack a mix of healthy options and some fun, road trip junk food and they can decide which to eat first. They might surprise you!
#2 Download kid friendly podcasts and/or audiobooks.
Our kids get really car sick if they are looking at screens or reading, so just throwing a movie on an iPad isn’t an option. I know, I know. We download book series and podcasts to keep everyone quiet, um I mean.. entertained. We download a series like Harry Potter and we have about six hours of quiet.
We’ve since added podcasts to the mix and we especially enjoy Bedtime History – it’s the perfect length of time to keep the attention of little ones and also learn some really cool history. (Secretly the parents learn some cool history too.) Be sure to download your audiobooks and podcasts ahead of time especially if you are driving through areas with spotty cellular service.
#3 Every hour bags.
Kids, especially really little ones, don’t process the concept of time the same way we can. Telling them you have two hours left in a car ride might as well be like telling them you have 4 days to go. Breaking up the trip into smaller goals helps give them short term milestones to look forward to. Explaining it to them in terms they understand also helps – instead of saying you have 30 more minutes, try saying we have about one more Peppa Pig show left until we stop for a bathroom break.
One way to give them something to look forward to is to pack a small surprise bag for each hour of the trip. This doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive (hello Target Dollar Spot). Grab a pack of brown paper lunch sacks and pop an age appropriate small toy or activity book into each bag. Label the bags ahead of time for each kid and hour of the trip so you can easily pass them out along the way. Hey, and maybe pack a surprise bag or two for yourself as well (sour gummy worms and a new magazine at hour 3? Yes, please!).
#4 Handy tools.
When the kids were little and potty training, the fear of being stuck on an interstate without a bathroom brought panic to my heart. The Potette Potty was a lifesaver when the kids were small and needed to use the bathroom after every sip of water. It packs up small with disposable liners for when you need to make a quick stop or can’t find a clean bathroom nearby. We won’t tell anyone if Mom might need an emergency potty stop too.
Your back will thank you for packing this claw grabber. Need to pass a tissue, some hand sanitizer, or a package of Goldfish to the backseat? The handy claw grabber will do the hard work for you so you don’t pull a muscle trying to reach that third row. Bonus, let the kids use the grabber to pick up the trash from the car at the end of your trip!
#5 Family Games
And my favorite of the family road trip hacks… We play “DJ” together and it’s amazing how fast the time goes. We take turns picking a song, but the next person has to pick a song with a word from the previous person’s title. So if I chose “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston. Penn may pick, “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye.
You can never go wrong with classic family car games like the License Plate game or the ABC game. Car Bingo and Scavenger Hunt cards are easy to pack and a fun way to keep little minds occupied. For kids that are a little older, a family favorite activity is MadLibs. Warning: be prepared for lots of fart and pee jokes. You will keep the whole family laughing and Mom will secretly be happy that the kids are learning their parts of speech along the way (poop can be a noun or a verb!).
What are your favorite family road trip hacks? Share with me below!
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