Making Memorable (and Manageable) Road Trips with Kids


With summer break right around the corner, many families are planning out their summer vacations or PCS plans. If you have ever travelled by car with children, you are probably already aware of the challenges that many families encounter during their travels. Despite the challenges that car travel presents, our family has always enjoyed taking road trips, even with young children and babies in tow. Sometimes, it makes more financial sense for us to drive to our desired destination, as opposed to flying, but more often than not, we simply enjoy the experience of road tripping as a family. As a military family, we recognize the unique opportunities afforded to us to travel to parts of the Country (or world), that we may not have otherwise had the opportunity to visit. Traveling together as a family is something that my husband and I have chosen to prioritize in our family. We honestly love sitting down together, picking a location on a map, and planning a road trip to get there. Over the years, our kids have become seasoned road trippers and we have developed a system that works well for us, regardless of the ages of our children. Below are some ways that we have managed to make roadtrips memorable AND manageable. 

1. Make travel baskets/bags for your kids.

I started doing this years ago when we decided to begin taking long road trips. I purchased a soft bag, with handles, and filled it with activity books (our personal favorite are these sticker books), twistable crayons (they are less likely to break or melt in your car), road trip games (like a deck of Scavenger Hunt Cards or this portable memory game from Melissa and Doug), car safe snacks, a few small books to read, a map of where we are going, Wikki Stix, and other small arts and crafts that they can play with in their seat. It felt like a lot of work at first, but once I got some general ideas of what works best for my kids in the car, it became easy to place a quick Amazon order a couple of weeks prior to our trip. Once I made the bags, I placed them in their seats the night before the trip, so that when we loaded into the car the next morning, they were surprised to find a bag full of travel goodies for our trip. Even with multiple days of driving, they have stayed busy and will sometimes trade activities with a sibling, to try out a game or activity book that someone else received. The kids now look forward to seeing what new activities are waiting for them in the car on the morning of our trip.

2. Make a reasonable travel itinerary.

This one is so important! We have learned, often the hard way, the importance of understanding your family’s limitations, during your current season of life. If you have a baby, you will obviously need to plan on lots of frequent breaks with sufficient time to feed and change the baby. With toddlers, plan for opportunities for them to get some wiggles out. If possible, break your days up into reasonable chunks of driving time and don’t try to push “just one more hour”, if your kids really cannot handle that length of time. Being mindful of everyone’s capacity can greatly improve your traveling experience.

3. Expect the unexpected!

While this is true of life in general, we have found this to be especially true during road trips. Car sickness, traffic, inclement weather, you name it, something unexpected will likely happen during your roadtrip. So, while you cannot plan for every possible hiccup, you can have a few helpful strategies in place to ease the tension when something goes awry. Having some flexibility in your itinerary can relieve some frustration if you end up needing to stop somewhere unexpectedly for the night, change routes, or change plans altogether. When possible, opt for refundable reservations/tickets. For potential illness, pack a bag of medicine and first aid to have on hand. I also always bring several plastic bags, a roll of paper towels, Clorox wipes, hand soap/hand sanitizer, and a change of clothes for each child, in the event that someone gets car sick. Whatever you think may alleviate stress for your family in the event of something unexpected, is worth planning ahead for. 

4. Pack a hotel bag.

This is my favorite and (personally) most helpful tip! I started packing a hotel bag a few years ago and it has revolutionized our one-night hotel stopovers. In the past, we would arrive at a hotel, late in the evening, after a long day of driving and have to unload almost every single suitcase and random bag, so that everyone would have what they needed for the night and next morning. It was such a laborious task, having to unload and reload everything in our car in such a short period of time. Enter, hotel bags. When packing for a road trip, I set aside a smaller bag that is just for hotel stops. In this hotel bag, I include everything the kids and I will need for the evening and the next morning. I typically include; pajamas for everyone, required hygiene items, diapers/pull ups for any kids still using them, a bathing suit (in case the hotel has a pool) and an outfit for the next day. This single change in our trips has made stopping for the night so much easier and more streamlined. As a gentle reminder, it’s best to also bring in any valuable items as opposed to leaving them in the car overnight, (we have also learned that the hard way). 

5. Bring a lot of food/snacks.

Anyone with kids (or a husband 😉 ), knows that being hungry can negatively affect attitudes and moods. Keeping little ones (and big ones), fed and hydrated will go a long way in staving off grumpy attitudes. Through trial and error, we have learned what snacks work well for road trips and make the least amount of mess. For us, snacks like beef jerky, fruit, veggie sticks/cucumber slices and apple sauce packets work well. We also have a tradition of bringing a pack of licorice as a treat. We steer clear of anything that makes crumbs or can melt if dropped and forgotten on the floor. I also try to avoid dairy, to prevent tummy upset. Everyone keeps a water bottle next to them throughout the trip, to keep them hydrated and happy. 

6. Dress comfortably.

This one may be obvious, but dress comfortably and wisely for your day. I prefer to dress my kids (and myself) in layers, so that if we encounter a change in temperature, we are prepared. We always opt for comfortable, loose fitting pants or shorts (no jeans), and soft material clothes. We also wear easy slip on/off shoes, like Crocs, so that the kids can kick off their shoes in the car, but slip them back on quickly when we have a restroom break. 

7. Last, but certainly not least, HAVE FUN!

Seriously. Road trips are a fantastic way to make lasting family memories. Whether it’s a road trip just for fun, or a PCS move, make the most out of your drive and family togetherness. Find songs that your whole family can sing along to, and have a family jam session. Listen to an audiobook or podcast together. Play classic roadtrip games together as a family, and get everyone involved, like I Spy, Would You Rather, or the license plate game. Sometimes we bring along a book of jokes, or just Google them on my phone, and take turns asking either jokes and riddles.  So many laughs have come from this and even teens cannot resist guessing the punchline of a good joke, or solving a riddle. Maybe make a point to stop at every new state line and take a photo. Whatever you choose to do, just make sure to choose fun!

Road tripping together as a family can be an incredible way to make lasting memories for you and your children. Wherever your travels may take you, enjoy the ride!

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Amy Smith
Amy is married to her active duty Army husband and together, they have 5 children. Though Amy was an Air Force brat for part of her childhood, she considers Pensacola, Florida to be home. Before becoming a stay at home mom, she earned her M.Ed in Deaf Education and worked as a Teacher of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing. Amy is passionate about her faith, mothering, families and embracing the military lifestyle. She enjoys adventuring with her family, traveling, new experiences, cooking, listening to audiobooks, and trying to keep the chaos of her house under (somewhat) control. She and her family are currently stationed in the Midwest.


  1. These are really great trips. Coming from someone who just came off a PCS, I can say, take note of all of the above. The second tip, make a reasonable itinerary is really important. You don’t want to overdo it, especially if you have children and pets. Nice piece, Amy!


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