Best Tips for Long Car Rides with Kids

A peek inside this post: Are you looking for the best road trip activities and ideas for long car rides? Fun road trips with kids are possible! We’re sharing our tricks for not just enduring long car rides with kids, but to actually enjoy them! We’ll share our best mom advice and talk about our favorite activities for a road trip, including free printables for a road trip binder! Gas up the vehicle and make your next car trip with kids one to remember (in a positive way)!

“What do you think of taking a 10 hour road trip to Tennessee?”

My husband’s innocent question invoked immediate fear. Can you relate? I don’t know about you, but it didn’t sound like a super awesome time to me.

You see, we’d never taken a long road trip with our kids. I truly had no idea how they might act or how many times we might have to stop with four boys ages 4-9 (at the time). But camping in the Great Smoky Mountains was on Handsome Hubby’s wishlist. So, after we worked out logistics, I got to planning some sanity savers for the car.

Let me tell you—that first trip went amazingly well!

So well in fact, that we’ve done many, many more journeys in our vehicle. We’ve become a road trip family for life. We have had some of our greatest laughs in the van when we reached the “slap-happy” point of no return.

Traveling in the car together creates life-long memories and opportunities for tremendous family bonding.

Jenna Punke-Bendt, Just Homemaking

Now that we’ve done this several times, I feel like we have a great system and clever ideas for long car rides that will keep everyone in the vehicle happy with just the right amount of stimulation!

If you’re concerned about a lengthy travel, or just looking for some great road trip ideas for kids, keep reading! I’m going to share all of my road trip hacks with you and give you some free printables to make your own Road Trip Binder!

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Suggestions for a Long Road Trip With Kids

The following are all the things I would tell a friend if she needed ideas for long car rides:

1| Create a Post-It Countdown

First, we write down every hour we anticipate being on the road on post-it notes and stick them on the windows like this:

Every time the clock reaches the top of the hour on our trip, we remove a post-it note. This eliminates the “Are we therrrrre yet?” questions, as the kids can clearly see exactly how many hours we should have left on our trip. They don’t have to ask “How much longerrrrrrr?” if they can see 6 post-its waiting their turn to be freed from the window.

Not only is removing a post-it note a satisfying and fun visual, it also serves as a reminder for when it’s time to introduce new activities in the car. Which brings me to….

2| Keep a Separate Basket of Activities for a Road Trip

I’ll share my favorite activities for a road trip a little later, but first I want to go over the system we use for said activities.

We keep a basket of activities that are ONLY used for road trips. These toys and activities are kept in a tote in the garage so the boys won’t play with them at home, lose them, or grow tired of them.

Because they are only used for road trips, our kids look forward to getting to play with them. This is essential for keeping excitement high and boredom low on long car rides with kids.

However, we don’t give them a free-for-all with these items in the car, either. They would have their fill in no time if we let them have free reign.

What we do is, every time we remove one of the post-it’s on the hour, we rotate toys. So, on the first hour, Boy 1 might be playing with a maze ball, Boy 2 might be playing with the Magnadoodle, Boy 3 could be using electronic solitaire, and Boy 4 might be playing Bop-It. They get to use that toy/activity for an entire hour. Then, when we remove the next post-it, it’s time to rotate or pull a new item out of the bucket.

This system has helped so much with keeping them interested in the activity they’re doing. Sometimes they may choose not to play with their item for the entire hour, and that’s ok. They’ll usually read the book they brought instead or ask for their road trip binder (more on that below).

It’s also really nice because some of these activities are great to use once we reach our destination — whether that be camping in the mountains or crashing in a hotel for a few days. You can tailor your road trip bucket to fit the space you’ll have available in your vehicle, your child(ren)’s interests, and your budget.

>>Will you be camping on your road trip adventure? Don’t miss this free camping devo, Dear God, Pass the S’mores: Family Devotions for Camping!

I’ll go over the best road trip activities we’ve found a little later.

3| Make a Road Trip Binder

Road trip binders are pretty much a staple for making a car trip with kids fun. They’re great for keeping all the writing and doodling supplies in one place when on the road.

I made some printables so you can easily make your own Road Trip Binder! Don’t miss them towards the end of this post.

4| Use Electronics for Road Trips, but in Moderation

I know you’re wondering about these!

Our vehicle doesn’t have screens for movie watching on the go. For longer trips, we have brought the iPad with some movies downloaded. On our shorter 7 hour trips, we rarely even bring the iPad. When we did a 24 hour drive from Illinois to Arizona (broken up over 2 days), we definitely used it! 

Usually our kids will pair up to watch one movie together, and then give it to the other two. Headphone audio splitters make this super easy. 

We do allow the boys to bring their Nintendo DSes too, but just like the other toys/activities from the Road Trip Bucket, they only get to play them for one hour. This keeps them from overstimulating on screens, and keeps everybody’s spirits high.

5| Pack Road Trip Snacks Wisely

A road trip MUST consist of snacks!

Maybe you’ve seen the cute snacks assorted so perfectly in one of those plastic containers with all the little compartments. They are so aesthetically pleasing! 

However, I took one look at those on Pinterest and knew instantly that they were a no-go for our family. For one, the boys would devour all the snacks in mere moments. And secondly, the potential for spilling their entire snack ration with one bump (or rumble strip-check that my husband CONSTANTLY DOES, usually as I’m just starting to doze off…) was too great a risk.

I keep a container of snacks up front by me and pass one back every other hour (so every other post-it note removal). We keep a couple plastic grocery bags in the back with the kids to toss their trash in when they’re done, and do a quick trash check every time we stop.

Buying or making snacks that aren’t complete junk will help ensure that nobody in the car has to deal with the effects of a sugar-high. 

The boys also keep their thermoses full of water with them in their seats, and I usually keep a jug of water handy for refills when necessary.

6| Don’t Say “NO” to the Blanket

I know it takes up some extra space and may be a little annoying for you (especially if spills happen or it gets trampled on the floor of the car), but there are 4 Reasons I ALWAYS let my kids keep a blanket with them on our road trips:

  1. Their blanket is familiar and comforting to them. If they start to get moody, I will sometimes suggest they snuggle up with their blanket and read the book they brought, and it almost always brings a sense of calm to the individual.
  2. The coziness often encourages a catnap or two.
  3. We have come across some gruesome accidents while traveling. One time, a truck full of live pigs was involved in an accident on the highway and there was a disturbing scene splashed across the road. One of my boys has a very sensitive sniffer and stomach, and instantly threw his blanket over his head so he didn’t have to smell or see anything until we passed the unpleasantness.
  4. My husband will often blast cold air to keep himself alert while driving, especially at night. To make sure we all still love each other after the trip is over, we’ve learned to bring some blankets and just say thank you for getting us where we needed to go safely.

5| Do Not Overlook the Power of Good Music

Good tunes have the power to turn cranky, stir-crazy people (young and old) into joyful travelers!

Sometimes if the boys start arguing incessantly during a trip, we crank up the volume so we don’t have to hear them squabble anymore. Before long, everybody’s belting out, “Life is a Highway!” and the entire mood of the car is lighter. 

Make a playlist with everybody’s favorites. This would be a great task to delegate to your older children while you’re dotting other i’s and crossing other t’s.

Buy a classic on CD and introduce your kids to something new. Our boys now have Johnny Cash’s’ Greatest Hits memorized simply because we grabbed it out of a $5 bin at Walmart before one of our trips. And I know a lot of people don’t buy CD’s anymore, but we were grateful to have them when we traveled through New Mexico and couldn’t find ANY working radio stations!

Our Favorite Activities for a Road Trip

Now that I’ve shared all my best advice for long car rides with kids, let’s talk about the best road trip activities! We keep all these items in our Road Trip Bucket, and ONLY use them on road trips!

1| Maze Balls

We love these maze balls so much that we bought two different sizes. They stay in our road trip bucket and are great for quiet entertainment that also teach perseverance. You might say they’re pretty amaze-balls. Yeah, I went there.

2| Magnetic Puzzle

This is another quiet, calming activity. We’ve had this magnetic puzzle for several years and even though my boys are older, they’ll still opt to play with it in the car. I don’t know if it’s nostalgia, the fact that they only see it on road trips, or because kids literally just love magnets and will always find them satisfying.

3| Bop-It

Okay, so not so much on the quiet… but there are different volume settings. Plus, the competition flag flies high in a house (or van) full of boys, so they’re always ready to try to beat the stored high score. And, alright, *I* like to smoke the kids in this childhood favorite and show ‘em Mama knows what’s up.

4| Magnadoodle

We actually need to replace our Magnadoodle. It melted in the hot, Georgia sun when we moved and didn’t take it out of the van right away. Whoops! ? I was reminded though, what a hit they are with kids, when we recently went to the optometrist’s office and one was waiting to be fought over.

5| Scrabble Twist

Kids practicing their spelling? Yes, please!

6| Electronic Solitaire And Yahtzee

We’re suckers for these handheld games. They’re great at keeping the kids entertained individually.

7| Silly Sticker Faces

This is one of my secret weapons. If the boys are being particularly moody, I’ll slip them these Silly Sticker Faces and can almost count down to the uncontrollable giggles that are sure to escape. They’ll create backstories that go with their crazily pieced together characters and the whole van will be in stitches.

8| Cookie sheets with Laminated Games

You can laminate a Yahtzee score sheet, put 5 dice in a container, and use a wet-erase marker to keep score so nobody smudges it off accidentally.

You can also print simple game boards like Snakes and Ladders. (A simple Pinterest search will do.) Laminate it, and use a large magnet to keep it in place on the cookie sheet, and two smaller magnets as game pieces. Keep a die in a clear container with a lid so the kids don’t lose it when they’re rolling.

——>> ——>> Side Note for the Mama with a Toddler or Young Preschooler… buckle/zipper toys like this are AMAZING car companions! The one we had when my youngest was smaller kept him from feeling the need to take his shoes off in the car, too! You can secure one of the buckles to a part of their car seat to ensure NO dropping it while mid-car ride. It’s the perfect toy for ANY car trip.

How to Make a Kid’s Road Trip Binder

I made each of the kids a Road Trip Binder for our first trip and have been able to just replenish items as needed. They’re great to refill at the end of the school year when the kids come home with a bag full of half-used supplies!

Supplies for a Road Trip Binder:

  • a 1-2 inch 3-ring Binder with protective front cover sleeve
  • Pencil pouch
  • Pencils, crayons, wet-erase markers
  • Coloring pages 
  • Notebook Paper
  • Plastic sheet protectors
  • Our free printables!

Assemble your Road Trip Activity Binder any way you choose. For my boys, I put the cover printable in the front cover of their binder, then put pencils, crayons, and wet-erase markers in their pencil pouch.

Next, I three-hole punched some coloring pages, and also added some blank notebook paper for any kinds of notes or stories they felt like writing or doodling.

Last, I printed off the tic-tac-toe, hangman, and 50 states printables (which you can get here) and inserted them into some plastic sheet protectors. This way, the boys would be able to write on them with dry or wet erase markers and reuse them over and over.

The thing that’s so great about making a Road Trip Binder is that you can really tailor it to the individual needs of your kids. For younger kids, you might consider opting for Crayola’s Color Wonder coloring books and their amazing no-mess markers!

For tweens and teens, you could consider letting them do a photo scavenger hunt, where they take snapshots of listed items you would normally see on a road trip.

Truly, the sky’s the limit here.

Your Free Printables for the Road Trip Binder

We’re offering these Road Trip Binder printables for free as a thank you to our newsletter subscribers. As a new subscriber, you can expect one e-newsletter in your inbox weekly, and can unsubscribe at any time. But you probably won’t want to because our newsletters are full of goodies like:

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  • Free Printables (like these!)
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>>Click here to get those perks listed above and the free Road Trip Binder printables.

Wrapping Up These Ideas for Long Car Rides

If you’ve put off traveling with your family because you were afraid or just inexperienced, I encourage you to give it a go! A few simple road trip hacks can make it a wonderful experience with memories that will last a lifetime.

Do you have any ideas for car trips with kids I haven’t mentioned? Please share in the comments!

Other Helpful Parenting Posts:

Simple Family Command Center

Best Tips for Long Car Rides with Kids


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