In preparing for a 10 hour drive to the Oregon coast, with three kids, I recalled how my friend Christine recently made a 13 hour drive from Boise, ID to Los Angeles, CA in 13 hours and 27 minutes! I had to know her secrets. She imparted all her road trip wisdom to me, and in turn, I’m sharing it here. I also quizzed our awesome Facebook fans about their #1 secrets to making everyone happy on long road trips.
What I came away with, was the top 25, absolute best secrets to road trip success. Here they are, just in time for your summer travels!
25 Secrets to Road Trip Success!
#1: Surprise Gifts to open on the way
“We just did a 20 hour drive with our four kids (ages 5, 3, 2, and 2mo). Best tip I have is to hit up the dollar store before you leave and wrap each gift individually. Every hour, the kids got a new “gift.” If they misbehaved, it got pushed back 15 minutes.” —Facebook follower TJ
Gift ideas include: activity books, the Boogie Board (LCD writing tablet), pipe cleaners, rubics cube, lip gloss, band aids, silly putty, little flash lights, stickers, books, glow sticks for night driving, toys they haven’t see for a while, easter eggs full of tiny toys or treats, new toothbrush, crayons and coloring books, puppets, shaped hole punches and paper, disposable cameras, etc.
Puppets are a huge hit to break up the time. Also, these stickers from Melissa & Doug can occupy little ones for an hour!
Another highly successful activity was this Melissa & Doug stamp marker activity pad.
#2: Creative Containers for snacks, etc.
“The best tip I found was to have empty wipe containers for each kid. Before you leave, fill each one with snacks that you can refill along the way.”–Facebook follower Lauren H.
For babies, you can also cut up squares of fabric and stuff them in an empty wipe container. Babies love pulling each square out and then doing it all over again!
Other creative container ideas: tackle box full of snacks, soap boxes with suction cups kids can stick to the window, tool boxes, or treat boxes.
“We use this tray on every trip. We LOVE them!”–Christine G.
The snack and play travel tray fits on car and booster seats and has side pockets perfect for storing zippy cups and knick-knacks.
#4: Red Box movies
If you have portable DVD players or a car DVD player, Red box movies are great because they’re new, and you can return/get them wherever you happen to be!#5: Bring something active for breaks.
#5: Bring something active for breaks.
“I like to pack a couple of jump ropes, frisbies, balls, etc. to get the sillies out at rest stops.”–Facebook follower Shannon P.
Other active objects to bring: sidewalk chalk, scooters, running shoes for a quick jog or hike.
#6: Road trip scavenger hunts
“We ‘scavenger hunt’ [on trips], particularly for all 51 license plates (don’t forget Washington DC).”–Facebook follower Sarah J.
#7: Have a reacher in the car
Having a reacher/grabber in the car is a LIFESAVER, especially if you have a large van or SUV and need to get snacks and objects to kiddos in the back. For around $12, it is money well spent!
#8: Car appropriate snacks
“[The best snack are] cuties oranges. They are food, drink, activity, and air freshener all in one delicious little package! Even a two year old can peel one.“–FB follower Melissa J.
Other great snack ideas: popcorn, apple slices, pre-made sandwiches or wraps, string cheese, homemade trail mix, these healthy snack ideas, special treats like Pirate’s Booty or lollypops. Check out hundreds of more great travel snack ideas here on Pinterest
#9: Audio books
Utilize your local library and grab a few books on tape. Family favorites include The Magic Treehouse Series, Charlotte’s Web, Harry Potter, Summer of the Monkeys, and The Chronicles of Narnia. For adults, try The Book Thief, The Help, or Ender’s Game. Here’s a nice list of voter favorite audio books you may enjoy. You can even get a FREE audio book download here.
#10: Have a “Quest for the best…”
One of our all time favorite things to do on any road trip is to begin a Quest For The Best. At the start of the trip, we decide which food item we are going to search for throughout our journey. Once we tried to find the best oatmeal raisin cookie. So at each rest stop or grocery store we stopped at, we bought an oatmeal raisin cookie. On a notepad, we keep track of where we bought the cookie, the brand, its pros and cons, and a rating from 1-10.
Have your own quest for the best: glazed donut, sub sandwich, pickle, jerky, ice cream cone, corn dog, etc. Have fun with it!
#11: Print out a map of your trip
“We print [the kids] out a map and highlight certain cities. When you get to those cities, let them know where are are. That way, you can document the trip together and they can see how much further.”–FB follower Paula D.
#12: Cookie sheets
“We use cookie sheets to hold coloring books, magnets, play dough, etc. They’re also great for holding snacks like carrot sticks, apple slices, and cheese.”–FB follower Janell H.
“I bring dollar store cookie sheets and make car tracks so they can drive their cars on them. They are also good for eating on because it’s a little tray.”–FB follower Stephanie B.
#13: Clothes pins for good behavior
“For behavior, [I like] having a clothes pin for each child, clipped to the visor with their name on it. If they are good, the clip stays and they get a treat at the next stop. If not, their clip comes down and no treat.”–FB follower Anika B.
“We drove 6600 miles last summer with four kids, ages 2-8. With rewarding good behavior, they earned stars [stickers], then for every so many stars, they’d earn a new little toy.”–FB follower Megan F.
#14: Solve the “Are we there yet?” problem
“I have used travel tickets, which is great for kids 4+. Divide the trip into portions. Each kid starts the trip with as many tickets as hours (16 hours equals 16 tickets). Each hour, ask them to give you a ticket. When they ask how much longer, you can say…how many tickets do you have left? Works like a charm!”–FB follower Leron B.
#15: Creative conversations
“Enjoy [the drive]! You get to talk about lots of things you don’t normally get to talk about because you’re all in a small space. It’s a way for us to connect again.”–FB follower Kim H.
“Talk about the outrageous house you would build if you won the lottery (i.e. a bowling alley, kids bar with soda and juice fountains, etc.). Then have them draw out their ideas. My boys can do this for HOURS!”–FB follower Carrison B.
Our family dinner questions would be great to take along on a road trip! Plus, you can download them for FREE!
#16: Travel games
“We drive from NY to Florida every year (24 hours) with four kids. Our secret is car games! Geography, I’m going on a picnic, improv games, The Next Line, 20 Questions, etc.”–FB follower Blake V.
#17: Backpacks for each child
Have a backpack for each person in the car to keep their personal belongings in so they are not scattered all over the car. They can keep their snacks, books, new toys, etc. in one convenient place.
#18: Engage their brains with creative activities.
Although the dvd player can be a lifesaver, you’d be amazed at how long kids can stay engaged doing creative and constructive activities that actually engage their brains.
“We love to make pipe cleaner creations. We also keep a set of dry erase markers in the car for drawing on whiteboards, or even on the windows!”–FB follower Amy L.
Rest the dvd and try: pipe cleaners and beads or Cheerios, Color Wonder books, Aqua Doodle, dry erase boards, hole punches, lacing cards, blank note cards kids can write to family or friends, magnetic puzzles on cookie sheets, stickers
#19: Safety first
Always have emergency info about your destination: local doctors and hospitals, dentists in your network, or a person you can contact in case of emergency. In your car have insurance information or road-side service information handy.
Other safety supplies to have on hand: sanitizer and sanitizing wipes, a basic first aid kit, medication your family may need, an emergency road trip kit (like the one below).
#20: Keep organized and clean
Have plenty of plastic grocery bags handy for garbage or possible throw-up. Use dollar store plastic containers for snacks or supplies. The ones with lids are especially helpful. Just have a few handy, and you’re guaranteed to use them!
#21: Road trip binders
If you have plenty of time in advance to plan for your trip, road trip binders, like these ones from Pinterest, are adorable and keeps kids busy for hours!
#22: Take turns playing DJ
“We take turns playing DJ. Everyone gets a turn picking a song on my phone.” –FB follower Kristen S.
#23: Buy yourself some time.
“Don’t give kids anything until they absolutely need it. You can get quite far without the kids needing anything. Stretch every leg of the trip.”–FB follower Janell H.
“We make snacks last longer by giving them things that take longer to eat. We like separate baggies of cheese, crackers, and summer sausage so they have to put it together as we go.”–FB follower Emily K.
Snacks that take time: Cheerio or Fruit Loop necklaces, Twizzler Pull and Peels (who doesn’t love to play with their food!), cuties oranges, etc.
#24: Wear comfortable clothing (and a change of clothes).
“Wear flip flops so that getting out of the car doesn’t take forever (and because my kids always lose their shoes and socks). Also, have a change of clothes for everyone accessible because someone is going to get messy and uncomfortable!”–FB follower Leigh V.
#25: It’s all about the journey…not just the destination.
Remember, some of the best memories made on family trips are of the journey, not just the destination. Plan interesting and purposeful stops. Or be spontaneous and go see the world’s biggest ball of yarn, even if it’s 15 miles off track.
Try to relax and take it easy. Enjoy the ride.
Happy and safe travels!