My Eight Tips for Happy (Screen-Free) Road Trips


Since the birth of our first child 4.5 years ago, my husband and I have taken our daughter(s) on 26,054 miles worth of road trips divided between about 20 trips. That means we have driven more than the equivalent of once around the world with little kids in the backseat! We travel a lot. We travel because we live hundreds of miles away from many people that we love, and we like to travel. I’d like to think we are becoming experts on traveling with little kids, and we have yet to occupy our children at all with screens. Here are things we do to make traveling smooth:

1. Packing List: We always make a packing list. If we did not we would forget something essential. At times we have forgotten essential things, but usually we do not. Further, it keeps us from packing things we don’t need.

2. Food for the car: I know that a lot of families have rules about food in the car. On road trips, food is essential for happy, well-contented children. Some people like to stop for lunch, even when it is just a sack lunch. On full-day road trips we always eat lunch in the car, sometimes even dinner. If it takes your children 30 minutes to eat dinner, that is 30 minutes of content and happy road time, and 30 miles of road gone by. Sometimes we even do dinner on the road. When choosing food for the car I like to pick easy to chew foods. One of my favorite foods for the car is string cheese, even our 10 month old could eat this in the car. We always bring a small cooler, since having cold snacks is a nice break from room temperature crackers and pretzels. The kids each have a snack cup that they can easily hold, which we refill with snacks and meals at each stop.

3. Toys and books for the car:  We have several essential car toys. The first is a magna-doodle per child. baby doll per child. Since our oldest was one she loved having her doll in the car. It is perfect for seated, imaginative play. I am not sure what would be a good comparable toy for a boy (dinosaurs?). And finally, lots and lots of books. The girls have a basket of books placed between their seats and they spend much of each trip looking through these books. I always pick out books that are thin paper backs with lots of pictures. We have a number of children’s magazines that they love to look through also. That is it. We started our road trips four years ago with these types of toys and they have not failed us.
We bought them here.

Our 2.5 and 4.5 year old spend hours drawing on their magna-doodles every road trip. Since the pen is attached, they never lose it, and it is mess-free! The second is a

4. Good Music and Audiobooks: My husband and I both collected a lot of music before we met, and after many years of road trips we have our favorite road trip music. The whole collection of our favorites usually gets us there and back again. Plus, our kids have a taste for and enjoy the music as well. Our oldest is now able to simple chapter books, so we have started to use audiobooks for the family to enjoy. Though we did our last 1900 mile round trip with just music.

5. On the Nursing Baby: I have traveled with three nursing babies over the past 4.5 years. In general my babies have been able to wait 2-3 hours in between nursing, which is generally about how long we drive between stops. I have always brought a pump so that I can bottle feed the baby when a stop is not convenient or we are trying to make better time. I know some mom’s who exclusively pump while on the road. For us, we have found that we can do a stop in 20 minutes even with nursing if I take the older girls to the bathroom while M changes the baby’s diaper in the car (with a minivan there is no need to take the baby into the restroom). When I return to the car, I feed the baby and M get’s his turn on the restroom. When he comes back, he sets up the kids with snacks and gathers the toys and books back to their basket.

*I would advise against nursing the baby while the car is moving (leaning over the carseat). I did it once, but shortly after read thispost about the dangers of doing so. The safety of a baby is more important than saving 10 minutes.  
6. Rest Stops: I explained the basic idea of rest stops above, but I will reiterate it. We find that arranging them so that no parent is waiting around is the most efficient way to stop. Further, everyone has to go at EVERY stop. If we had boys, I suspect we would stop even faster since then I could go to the restroom alone… Another tip I have is for newly potty-trained children to travel in a diaper or training pants. Accidents happen.

7. Empty Gas Station coffee cups (with a separate lid) are great for road sickness. Trust me, you don’t want your child to miss the cup…

8. When possible travel with favorite pillows, toys, blankets, white noise machines, travel beds.  I could devote a whole post to my favorite travel items. Our favorite white noise machine is this: 
Dohm-DS Sound Screen
 It pulls air through itself, making a soft but powerful sound blocking white noise to make the sound of home anywhere we are. We use a Pack N Play for the baby, and this portable cot for toddlers.

That is about it. Happy traveling!