The “Time Pie” and Other Road Trip Tips

The “Time Pie” and Other Road Trip Tips

We just got back from a family vacation to Atlanta, road trip style! Before facing the seven hour drive with my three sons piled into the back of our minivan, I put together a couple of things that I hoped would make our trip easier.

Now, am I a road trip maven? A seasoned long distance driver with kids? Not in the least. In full disclosure, our drive back was an absolute disaster. I don’t think there was one moment during the returning seven hours when at least one of them wasn’t crying. But overall, our drive there was definitely a success, which I credit to the following activities:

The Time Pie

Time Pie Sheet for car trips

My sons are 6, 3, and 1. Their concepts of time range from nonexistent to tenuous at best. Seven hours was hard to fully explain to them. Before we left, I printed out a circle divided into seven sections like a pie chart. Once we hit the road, I showed them the paper and announced that was our “time pie” for the trip. Each time an hour passed, we colored in one slice of the time pie. They LOVED it! It gave them a visual cue for how much longer we had left. When they were antsy, I’d color in half a piece at the half hour to help them feel like we were still making progress. If someone asked, “Are we there yet?”, I’d show them the paper and say, “No, we have (three) more slices of pie to go!”

The Surprise Bag

In the month before we left, I started buying little surprises and wrapping them up in tissue paper. I had six surprises total – three for the drive up, and three for the drive back. When the kids started feeling too cooped up in the car, I’d bust out the bag and announce it was time for the next surprise. The surprises included new coloring books, fidget cubes, Water Wow books, and more. 

Full disclosure: for the baby, I mostly wrapped up things we already had at home to keep my spending down. If his big brothers got new Water Wow books, I wrapped up an old one from home that still felt new to him. He was just as thrilled.

Snack Central

Two of my three kids feel that snacks are better when they’ve been dumped out of their bags and are eaten from the crevices of their car seats. I found some “snack cups” that prevented them from dumping (mostly) and filled those up throughout the ride. We also made Froot Loop necklaces prior to the trip that they got to eat during the drive. Don’t ask me why, but my kids would all agree that Froot Loop necklaces taste way better than regular Froot Loops out of a snack cup. Just having that as a little thing to look forward to added an element of fun to the drive. I also packed some other treats that they don’t normally get to eat at home, which was exciting for them.

Other tips:

  • Bring a car vacuum if you can! Our rechargeable battery-powered stick vacuum has a short nozzle attachment that took up very little space in our trunk. We used it as needed throughout the whole vacation to keep our van from getting to its usual messy level with the kids, and that helped keep the clutter (and my anxiety) down.
  • Invest in a car trash can. I used to just use a plastic bag on road trips to collect trash, but having a legit one that hung off the back of the seat, was designated for trash and only trash, and couldn’t get lost with other bags made a big difference.
  • Reset your car system at each stop or bathroom break. I had a good setup going on in the middle row of the van and knew where everything was within reach at the start of our trip, but as we went on, things got out of place. Resetting that row and the things in it each time we stopped helped keep it organized.

Like I mentioned earlier, our trip back didn’t go quite as smoothly, so take all of my tips with a grain of salt and the knowledge that kids (and traffic!) are unpredictable. I did reimplement the Time Pie for the drive back, and they still had three surprises to unwrap. But we also quickly resorted to big chunks of tablet time on the drive home.

If you’ve got road trip tips, I’d love to hear them for our next journey!

Erica Tran
Erica lives in Kenner with her husband Michael and her three sons, Benjamin, Joshua, and Elijah. After graduating from UL Lafayette with a degree in advertising and landing her dream job, she left her chosen field and now works part time as an administrative assistant for a Catholic retreat movement. She spends the rest of her time at home with her boys, finding lost toys and actively ignoring various messes. In 2019, she self-published her first book, The Sister. There's not a lot of free time between working, reading and writing, and chasing her kids, but in those moments she's usually sprawled on the sofa in casual denial about just how messy her house is.


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