Successful road trips

Turn dread into enjoyment for your next family road trip. Photo: monkeybusinessimages

With summer quick-ly approaching, many of us will be preparing to hit the roads for vacation. Nothing brings more dread to a parent than the thought of a long family road trip. I can almost hear the calls from the backseat, “are we there yet?” or the constant bickering and invading each other’s space. However, after our road trip over last Thanksgiving to Southern California with three children, I can honestly say it wasn’t that bad. It had its rough moments, but it also provided a lot of quality family time, and we did most of it without the use of screens or technology. Here are some strategies we tried that can help make for a more memorable family road trip.


It can be very tempting and easy to throw an iPad or device in the backseat, and depending on how long the trip, this might be needed; however, there are other types of entertainment that can be just as engaging. I suggest trying a CD audio collection. One of our family favorites is Roald Dahl’s collection that includes some of his best, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and Billionaire Boy to name a few. Depending on whether you can connect your phone, you may also try some family-friendly podcasts. Our family recently was introduced to these and have found some truly compelling stories that can teach history, science, and life lessons. Some popular ones the whole family can enjoy are Dream Big or NPR’s Wow in the World. Older children might enjoy Eleanor Amplified, which has a “Road Trip Edition” with the entire first season or The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel, which many call a Stranger Things for tweens. This podcast will have them hooked for nearly five hours.


The stories may hold their attention, but you will also need something that will keep them distracted and less antsy about the duration of the trip. It could be last spring’s biggest fad the fidget spinner or these days my kids are obsessed with squishy toys. These are slow-rising toys that kids literally squish and watch rise, but it can keep them occupied for hours. Depending on the age of your children, friendship bracelets are also easy to bring along on a road trip — all you need is a piece of tape for the seat back and the thread, and they can make those for hours.

Another easy distraction is snacks and plenty of them. Pack healthful snacks that don’t make a mess like sliced apples, carrots, or blueberries. You can even pack a few special treats such as homemade cookies, or my mother-in-law always makes us her special chocolate chip banana bread for a road trip. It can be tempting to rely on fast food or gas station convenience stores for snacks, but these will be full of sugar and may not always be available when you need them. Also pack plenty of water so everyone stays hydrated and you are not tempted by sodas or sugary sports drinks.


A fun way to engage everyone in the car is to play a game. I recently read a great tip that suggested getting a good old paper map for our trip so the kids could highlight and follow where we were going. This provided so much entertainment. Not only did they learn a few map-reading skills, but we made a fun math game out of it, and they had to keep track of where we were and figure out what time we would arrive at our destination.

Another popular one in our car ride was the game of categories. Each person takes a turn thinking of a category such as fruits, sports, or colors and each person takes a turn naming one of those things until something gets repeated or someone can’t think of another answer. We also had a lot of fun with The Kids’ Book of Questions. The answers were highly entertaining and we even learned a few new things about each of our children.

These tips for inside the car are helpful, but don’t forget one key component for a successful road trip, which is to take breaks and give the kids and adults time to stretch their legs and get their wiggles out. Even just 15 or 20 minutes at a rest stop or nearby park to run around will make a huge difference in their behavior inside the car. I like to carry a soccer ball or football in the car, which can come in handy for these stops.

My hope is with these tips and suggestions your next road trip won’t be one you dread but actually one you are looking forward to.

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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children. Formerly, she was a news producer in Washington, D.C. and in San Francisco.