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Road Trip with Kids: The 4 Best Tips to Go from Surviving to Thriving

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Intentionally Well: Striving for present intentionality every day.

Going on a road trip with kids doesn’t conjure feelings of rainbows and sunshine. I get it. Having your whole family crammed in the car for an extended time feels overwhelming.

As you may know (or maybe not), we live in Indianapolis. Our entire family lives in Alabama. So, we have become accustomed to long road trips with our kids. I am here to share with you all the things we do to make these trips bearable and fun.

Author, Emily, taking a selfie in her van with 3 young kids in the background as they take a road trip to Michigan.
That time I drove all three kids to Michigan by myself!

Tip #1: Prep Expectations in Advance

If you are familiar with Intentionally Well, seeing preparation at the top of the list. Ha! I like to plan. Here is what I do. First, I talk about the trip with my kids often. I mark the dates of the vacation on my children’s monthly calendar which is always posted on our refrigerator. They love counting down the days until we leave.

Additionally, I remind them the travel days will be spent in the car. I tell them over and over again that we will be driving all day. This helps manage their expectations. I also tell them they cannot ask me how much longer. That is to keep my sanity. Instead, I give them an estimate of what time we expect to arrive.

According to Maps, it takes about eight hours from our house to my parents’ house without stopping. However, stopping often is a given when traveling with kids. Last time, it took us about eleven hours to make that drive. Eleven.

Tip #2: Pack Everyone’s Most Favorite Snacks

We usually keep pretty basic snacks in our house—fruit, Larabars, raisins, etc. But when we go on a road trip with kids, we go all out with the snacks. Gummies…you got it. Chips…you got it. Whatever the kids want, I will pack it.

I promise having everyone’s favorite snacks on a long car ride is worth it. And don’t forget the adults! Enjoy your favorites too. I love strawberry Sour Straws, a Milky Way, and a Coke on a road trip. Treat yourself and your kids, mama.

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Tip #3: Bring Activities for the Car

I did a poll on Instagram, and it was about 60/40 regarding families preferring activity books to screens for road trips. We utilize both. My kids enjoy fun sticker books. My three-year-old also plays with his favorite toys well in the car, which is currently dinosaurs. Additionally, I love these travel craft kits. I am also a fan of listening to audiobooks during long car trips.

Our van does have a DVD player, but I know not everyone has this option. We typically play a movie after eating lunch or toward the end of the trip when we all need some quiet.

I let my children choose how they want to occupy themselves when we travel. I don’t limit screens, toys, or books. They can do whatever they like as long as they are being respectful of others (using headphones, sharing, etc).

Here we are, enjoying our trip to the Gulf of Mexico, about 13 hours away from home.

Tip #4: Make the Most Out of Potty Breaks

First, stop at the big truck stops (Love’s, Pilot…). I find the bathrooms at these establishments are more extensive and cleaner than most regular gas stations. They offer more snack choices and are usually situated at exits with several food options.

Next, take advantage of rest stops along the highway. These are great if you don’t need food. Rest stops almost always have some green space, so kids can go around and get those wiggles out.

Lastly, and this is super specific, but hear me out – Cracker Barrel. If you don’t already know, Cracker Barrel is a southern-style restaurant, and it also has a store in the front. The bathrooms are clean, kids love exploring the store, they’re typically located right off the highway, and it’s just something a little different and unexpected.

I hope these tips and tricks help you thrive on your next road trip with your kids. Do you have any other information to share with others? Please post them in the comments below. As always, please share this post with your friends if you enjoyed it!


  1. Heavenly Imperfections

    These are some really great tips! For snacks, we have craft grid containers that we fill with different snacks for picky eaters!

  2. momsdailydiary

    This is so helpful! We’re about to have our first long trip with the baby and a toddler and it kind of freaks me out.

  3. Shanna

    Prepping everyone for the trip is key! I really like you thought about the larger chain gas stations as I have found that as well especially in the past year. I also purchased a portable potty for my toddler when I don’t feel like it is the best place to take her in to use the restroom. Life saver! AND I totally agree about snacking on what you love as well as screen time as you like. I mean it is the car and most of us are ready to get there as soon as we start. Thank you for the post!

  4. Evie

    Preparation for trips is key! And snacks, yes, you can never have enough.
    We have found that limiting the kids to water while driving helps with keeping potty breaks to a minimum and keeps those sticky spills from occurring too.

  5. Flossie

    Planning out your rest stops is crucial, esp if it is a trip you make often. I know every low-priced gas stop and the cleanest restrooms on all our regular routes BY HEART!

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