The good old-fashioned summer road trip never goes out of style. While family road trips can be full of fun, not every passenger loves being in the car—especially for longer stretches on the road. So what can you do to help your road trip go smoother for your kids? Don't worry, we've got you covered with road trip games and other tips.
Mamas know family road trips call for creative thinking—playing the license plate game and piling up the car with snacks will only entertain little ones for so long.
We spoke with Gregg Murset, CEO of BusyKid (and a father of six who has driven cross country in an RV with his kids) to offer suggestions on getting kids involved in planning a road trip. We also asked Andrew Moore-Crispin, Director of Content at Ting Mobile, to offer a few screen time hacks for extra long trips. We've also added a few "seasoned road trip mom tips" so you can feel confident about hitting the road with the whole crew this summer!
Here's how to make family road trip planning easier—and how to make the most of your time on the road:
Road trips with kids: getting ready
- Pack bags together. Let children select, organize and lay out what they will bring so you can approve it before they put it in the suitcase. "Allowing them to decide what to pack will help them feel a part of the process," says Murset. Also, remember to pack masks, sanitizer, and keep in mind that you'll be following COVID safety measures wherever you go.
- Let them earn money for souvenirs. Have your kids buy their own souvenirs with their spending money. Tell them, this is what you have to spend, but you can always earn more by helping out or completing certain tasks before the trip like cleaning up their room, says Murset.
- Lay the ground rules in advance. Don't want your kids on their screens the entire ride? Both iPhone/iPad and Android devices offer ways to monitor how much time is spent on devices. "Download apps like Screen Time to allow you to set a duration limit for each app or type of app," says Moore-Crispin.
- Plan your entertainment: "Not every kid wants to watch the same program, so make sure the entertainment's set for the long ride," says Moore-Crispin. Prior to leaving, download your kids' favorite movies and shows to your device. Children's podcasts and audiobooks are also a great entertainment idea the whole family can enjoy on the road together.
- Let them pack a lovie. Your child loves nothing more than that cute, handmade bear so bring it with you. Tell them "Mr. Bear" is going on an adventure too and explain all the fun things they will do together.
- Have anti-nausea medication on hand. Talk to your child's doctor about Dramamine for kids, or an over-the-counter antihistamine like Benadryl for kiddos who are prone to carsickness. Pack a bag of ginger candies and keep a window cracked—sometimes the sound and feel of a little fresh air can do wonders. But make sure to have a quintessential "barf bag" handy, just in case.
- Got a baby who hates the car? Make them as comfortable as possible before the ride begins. Make sure they're dressed comfortably in clothes that won't make them overheated, space out mealtime in advance of a car ride to prevent discomfort from gas, and cue up some calming music to sing along to before pulling out of the driveway.
Road trips with kids: on the road
- Bug duty. Kids will love the "eeew' factor of this road trip rite of passage. "At every gas stop, have kids wash the front window and headlights with paper towels," says Murset. "If they are too small, lift them and lend a helping hand."
- Gas watch. Older kids can fill the car with gas and can even help by using a gas app like GasBuddy to find the most affordable prices along your route, says Murset. Be sure to use hand sanitizer after each station.
- Dog duty. At every stop, walk the dog with the kids and clean up after them, says Murset.
- Take pictures. Grab a toy camera and see how many fun pictures your little one takes during the ride. You can even turn it into a game and whoever takes the most pictures can win a small prize at the destination.
- Empty trash. Instead of having a wrecked back seat and door pockets full of debris, have kids collect and make sure all trash is thrown out at rest stops or your destination, says Murset.
- Charge devices on airplane mode: Although you're not going to be on a plane, this hack can come in handy, says Moore-Crispin. If you're low on battery life, put devices on airplane mode to cut down the time needed to charge them.
- Try no-mess activities. The last thing you need is a big mess in a car. Try activities that are easy to clean up, like reusable sticker books, pipe cleaners and colored pencils.
- Don't worry about making great time. If you want to cut down on the car ride complaints, just accept that you'll all need to get out of the car and move around fairly often and that pit-stops are unavoidable. Being flexible about time helps everyone have a more enjoyable road trip experience for both adults and kids.
- Boredom is OK for babies and big kids. Setting aside time to let little bodies just relax and look out the window, or simply enjoy quiet time in the car is a must. Kids don't need to be entertained every moment they're in the car, and if they're feeling calm on the ride it benefits everyone in the car.
A version of this post was published April 12, 2021. It has been updated.