roadtrippin' with kids

Let's talk roadtrips with kids, shall we? Right now, it's a little past noon on a super rainy Tuesday afternoon and my heart is a little weary after sending Ethan back to school today. Carmen is napping, I've prepped meals for tonight and tomorrow, and right now I just want to close my eyes and pretend that we're all together in my faithful minivan embarking on some adventure somewhere. Work with me, okay?

Now, car travel wasn't always easy. Ethan was one of those babies that would scream so hard he would vomit, even on a five minute drive to the grocery store. What grief he gave me in infancy he has fully made up for because dude is one hell of a passenger. Aside from having to pee every so often (okay, I'm guilty of this, too), he is the ultimate roadtrip partner. Carmen's first cross-country roadtrip was at 7 months old and I have to say, for a child so filled to the brim in never-ending energy, she seems to love our car trips. Regardless, our first cross-country roadtrip was a little daunting thinking of all that could possibly go wrong with two small kids in a car for so many hours, but it instantly proved to be worth it.

People ask often, so I thought I would throw together this post. Here are some tips and tricks for road trips with kids, zero screens and lots of quality family time instead.

1. Activities

I load up on activity books before we go. My favorite are these by Usborne. Sure, you can go to the dollar store and load up on cheap little maze books but these? These are gold. Ethan worked on one for six hours straight. What I love about these Usborne activity books is each page is something new, something that requires thinking or switches things up a bit. One page may be coloring in a picture and the next may be designing your own car. The Usborne activity books range in books for all ages, from little ones like Carmen (she loves the coloring and sticker books) to kids even older than Ethan. (Click here to browse!)

2. Books

Piggy-backing off my last post, sometimes you just want to chill out and read. Ethan is reading chapter books and loves trying new series, so I tried to find a new series for him to begin and read through on our driving. He fell in love with the Isadora Moon series and couldn't wait to pop back into the car after each stop to continue reading.

3. Pre-plan the playlist

Now, on parts of our route to New Mexico we travel through some rural areas where all signals just end. We learned our lesson the hard way the first time and were prepared with an XM Radio subscription for our second cross country trip. This way, when you lose your signal, you will always ensure you have some music playing. That said, none of us listen to the same music. I'm obsessed with everything from Iron & Wine to '90's hip hop and R&B, Ethan is partial to anything that would be playing over the speakers at Hot Topic, my husband loves Rancid and anything loud and punk rock-ish and Carmen would be happy to listen to the Doc McStuffins theme song over and over (and over and over) again. Yes, we usually rotate but something fun that drums up learning, conversation and exposure to new music? Listening to the artists from wherever you're driving through. It became a game on our first road trip, when we crossed into Oklahoma and I forced -- I mean, gave everyone else the privilege -- everyone to listen to Hanson. If you're unfamiliar with an artist in the city or state you're passing through, a quick Google search will turn up a bunch of results. We listened to a whole lot of new songs written about places we drove through or performed by musicians from wherever we were at the time. This gave Ethan some love for Elvis as we crossed into Tupelo, where Elvis was born. And Ethan and I also made a deal to make Corpus Christi on our route next time just so we can enjoy some more Selena.

4. Find the playgrounds

Whenever the kids are starting to get antsy, be prepared. Use your GPS to look up some nearby parks and playgrounds. Sometimes we would set goals, like five straight hours of driving before a stop and then making plans to stop for lunch. Others, the kids would just feel antsy and want to burn off some energy. By plugging in playgrounds into the GPS, the kids not only got to spend 10 minutes or so running around and getting that energy out, but they got to experience some really cool new parks along the way. If I was able to plan ahead enough, I would seek out some fun parks located near a restaurant the kids would like, and we would turn it into a productive little stop. Seeing what each park would look like was exciting for Ethan, too, and brought some fun energy to the drive.

5. Postcards

Before we left, I made a little address book for Ethan with all of his friends names and addresses, and I picked up a book of postcard stamps. We would try to find postcards at each stop (this is a little more tricky when you hit some more rural areas) and read some neat facts about where we had stopped. He enjoyed sending messages home to his friends about something he had done, learned or saw while he was gone (though he got a little creative on his postcards from Roswell about the aliens he "saw"...).

6. Pack a map

Pack a US map, but not for navigating. This was suggested to me before our first trip and I am so glad I did this. It was a hit the second trip, too. I printed out a simple US map and at each stop, Ethan marked where we had stopped. When we arrived, we connected the dots to see our route and just how far we had gone as well as how many new places we had been! This really puts the driving distance into perspective for kids.

7. Hotel Points

We decided to open a Marriott credit card to earn ourselves Marriott points. While we did stay in an Airbnb at our final destination, having points helped us get free rooms along our journey. This was super convenient because there are Marriotts all over, so one night in particular when we got a little lost and wound up in a Georgia town we didn't intend to stop at, we were still able to find a place to crash for the night (at no cost) and then continue on in the morning.


Call me crazy, but I cherish this time in the car with family so much. I will never fly if I don't have to and am so content just having these wonderful bonding times taking in all the new experiences, scenery and places with those I love the most.

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