Family Road Trip or Bust: Preparing for a Long Drive with Kids

Packing with Ma-Ma
Packing with Ma-Ma

I was ecstatic the day I received THE call from one of my sisters that she was engaged! After the excitement wore off, the wedding details started to emerge. The ceremony was to be held…gasp…outside of Houston! Don’t get me wrong, we were elated for the happy couple and their upcoming nuptials, but for parents of small children they might as well have wanted to tie the knot in Fiji. It is no secret that our children have gotten used to city life, also known as car seat syndrome, so we accepted the idea that driving the 900 something miles, in less than sixty hours, was inevitable. Regardless of whether your children are used to the car seat or not, there are preparations parents can do to make a long drive more enjoyable with their infants and toddlers in the back seat and to avoid a Griswold family vacation.

The Route

Our children are creatures of routine, so we planned the drive to and from considering their nap and eating schedules. We also took into account rush hours in large cities to avoid anxiety and the headache of sitting in traffic with little opportunity for a fast exit off a major throughway. Sometimes driving the most direct route is not necessarily in the best interest of your little ones. As we studied our course, we noticed that deviating a few miles from the shortest route allowed us more opportunities to stop in smaller towns in case of back seat meltdowns, especially during the latter portion of our drive. Also, consider downloading the Google Map app, or a similar mapping app, on your phone to acquire turn-by-turn GPS navigation to your destination, search capabilities for local information and most importantly, traffic updates. Such a tool can help you decide on alternative routes ahead of time to arrive quickly and safely to your destination. In addition, contact your accommodation’s front desk to confirm check-in and check-out times. (As was our case, for a nominal fee we could arrive to a clean room before the four o’clock check-in time.)

Vehicle Check

Before a long drive, verify that the vehicle is comfortable and ready to make the journey. Tire checks, oil and air filter changes and other routine maintenance checks are essential to avoid stops and headaches along the way. Consider renting a well-maintained, new and spacious family car with the most modern technology, if you are short on time or doubt your vehicle. Also, make room for pack-n-plays, bathtubs, bouncers and other daily essentials, alongside your luggage, required to make your family trip a success. Another important item to check before the long haul is the installation of your child’s car seat. (The American Academy of Pediatrics as well as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has their guidelines and updated recommendations posted on their website.)

The kids' first time at Cracker Barrel
The kids’ first time at Cracker Barrel

Stops along the way

My husband and I each scooped a child from their bed, did a diaper check and secured them in their car seat at 4:30am and joined the other early Friday morning commuters and truck drivers on the interstate.  By the time eight o’clock rolled around, we were nearly in Lake Charles. It was a great area to stop, change the kiddos out of their PJs and enjoy a kid friendly restaurant atmosphere. We stretched our legs and let the kids out of the confines of their seat. Other ideas include stopping by a park, an outlet mall, or having a picnic at a rest stop. Note, as was our experience, not all rest stops have (clean) changing tables.

Distractions (a.k.a Entertainment and Snacks)

Perhaps it is the fact that I was born and raised in southeast Louisiana, but my innate skills to pack food and entertainment for the kids reminded me of preparing for a hurricane evacuation. (I hope I have not jinxed us!) Our food bag consisted of non-perishables, including organic applesauce for the little one, Cranraisins, peanut butter and bread along with a stack of baby wipes, multiple spoons and bibs. In regards to entertainment, family road trips have come a long way since my childhood. I recall my parents popping in a Cruisin’ Classics cassette tape from multiple Shell gas purchases in the late 80s. My sisters and I would sing along while playing with a deck of UNO cards and I-Spy along the way. Now a days, there are tablets and other electronic games to keep the little ones busy. It was my mission to fill the times between naps with technology free entertainment. Some popular means of amusement during our voyage included Color Wonder markers, thick crayons and a coloring book, stickers and many tickling games. I also discovered that a nearly empty personal water bottle is endless fun for an infant. In addition, I took it upon myself to include a few renditions of Old MacDonald in both English and Spanish.  (Did you know that animals produce different sounds in other languages?) But, of course, Sesame Street and Dora made an appearance on the Kindle a few times. Keep these devices charged and have a car adapter handy for the road, as well as batteries for their toys and a nursing mother’s pump.

Road Trip Entertainment
Road Trip Entertainment

Maybe the countless prayers and novenas recited by multiple family members helped make our road trip “flawless,” considering the ages of our younger travelers. It is likely our experience would have been completely different with a potty trained two year old, a cranky teething 9 month old or a coffee-less driver. However, I believe having spent seventeen hours with our family, in approximately 16.7 cubic feet, was a blessing in disguise. Where else could I have had my husband’s undivided attention, subjected my family to my singing and been so popular as the tickle monster when I sensed an upcoming meltdown? Since this experience, I have even caught myself humming Willie Nelson’s song, “On the road again. Just can’t wait to get on the road again…”

What road trips do you have planned this summer? What other advice would you share from your recent family road trip?


  1. This is such an interesting post. A group of friends and myself are looking to explore the US like this. Instead of putting all the miles on our cars we were considering something like a tour bus rental to allow us all to travel together.

  2. Love this post! My little guy (2) and my mother and I are heading to GA in a week for my husbands graduation from boot camp. This gives me some great ideas! Thank you 🙂

    • Good luck on your road trip. I’d love to hear any other ideas you might have as well based on your experience! And thank you to your husband for his service!

  3. I LOVED that cruisin’ classics tape! I have such fond memories of riding in my dad’s corvette, t-top down, listening to that tape.

  4. I’m guessing there will be regular bathroom breaks and leg stretching breaks when the kids start to get restless… but all-in-all, I can’t imaging it will be as bad as you think! Good luck! And don’t forget… bring plenty of snacks! 🙂

  5. I’m headed out tomorrow for Pittsburgh! My two toddler boys are going to be crazy!! Thanks for the post! I’m loaded up with snacks, play doh, a coloring tray for each car seat, and a snazzy hookup for the iPad to play movies! I’m most proud of the iPad gadget! It even sets in the middle so they can both see the screen, but neither can kick, touch or change the settings!!!! Wish me luck!

    • Wow Jamie! Sounds like you are prepared and have a LONG drive ahead of you. I hope you and your boys have a safe, and entertaining, drive to the northeast!

  6. We took a 15 hour drive with then 2 year old Jack and me 7 months pregnant and it was actually a surprisingly good time, much like your trip seemed to be. We are contemplating another road trip at Christmas vs. paying for 3 plane tickets to visit family!

    • That’s great to hear that your 15 hour drive went well. It is always a good sign when you are considering taking another long drive…and with two in the back seat!


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