Tips for Long Road Trips with Kids

As we get closer to summer break (woot woot!) I’m starting to think about fun vacations we have taken in the past and what we’ll do this summer. We like budget travel, so trips like our road trip to South Dakota last summer are always on our radar. We even drove to Disney World a few years ago! I’m not sure where we will go as a family this summer but while I’m reminiscing I thought I’d share some tips I’ve learned along the way for taking load road trips with kids. 

Create packing lists

Yes, more than one. I often have many going. When we went to Disney World, I had four lists! One list of things that had to be packed in our van for the road trip portion (busy bags, snacks, etc), one for things we would bring into the park, one for the clothing and toiletries that would be going into our hotel with us, and one for what we needed to enjoy the beach! So many lists! And we also packed strategically so items that were needed on the road were within close reaching distance. 

Have a loose itinerary

The last way I want to spend a trip is stressed out! I always make sure to leave some options for flexibility in our travel plans. When we travel long distances with kids, I make sure I plot out several different parks and places along the way that we can stop and stretch our legs if need be. If the kids are happy and don’t need the break, we don’t stop! I like to have options, and with three kids we need to be able to go with the flow. 

Detail your vehicle before you go

It’s not a bad idea to get an oil change and a tune up before heading out on the road, especially if you drive an older vehicle like we do. If I’m going to call my van home for a long drive, I want to make sure it looks and smells nice. It also makes me feel more secure to make sure the spare tire is full of air and ready if I should need it on the road. 

Let the kids keep themselves entertained

It’s tempting to let the kids watch movies the whole way on the DVD player (if you’re lucky enough to have one built in to your vehicle) but I like to limit their screen time. There are so many fun games to be played on the road. Remember the license plate game or the ABC game from yesteryear? I recall having to find a plate from every state and checking them off the map when we would travel. We’d also have to find letters A-Z on signs as we drove. The first person to find each letter in consecutive order wins! Who am I kidding…I love me some technology and a built in DVD player saves the day on a long road trip with kids.

Have an “oh shit” plan

The last time we went on a long road trip with our kids, our van ended up needing a major repair the week before we left. Talk about sucky timing, right? Since we drive an older vehicle, I always make sure our bases are covered before we leave. I have a Costco membership which comes with roadside assistance. And if worse came to worse, we could finish our trip with a tow and a rental vehicle. Think of all the things that could go wrong, and plan accordingly. Winter weather can be unpredictable, which needs to be accounted for when planning too! 

Plan around the potty

During our last long family road trip, we had one in diapers and one potty training. It felt like we were stopping every 5 minutes, but in reality we would plan to get gas about every two hours, and make each kid use the bathroom. There’s nothing worse than hearing “I have to go potty!” and being nowhere remotely near a bathroom. Plan around the potty!

Keep a fun mindset

Family vacations can be stressful, or they can be super fun. With kids, it’s always unpredictable and I try to keep in a lighthearted spirit and choose my attitude. I want to create awesome family memories that will last a lifetime. Even a super long time in the van that would usually make me cranky isn’t going to get me down. I won’t let anything stop me from achieving an epic family trip! This is what it’s all about yo! 

Invest in a family-friendly vehicle

If you’re a family on a budget who still loves to travel, think about that the next time you go to purchase a new vehicle. We’re still saving up for the Toyota Sienna we tested out last summer. We basically fell in LOVE with all the features and know we need one in our lives. I would still recommend this over any other vehicle if you’re looking for a family-friendly ride that will be awesome for road trips.


Do you have any tips for long road trips with kids? Share them in the comments below! 

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