Tips for good family road trips

Taking a road trip with your family is a little bit like Russian roulette, it’s all fun and games until one of your children kills the other in a weird parking lot just outside Reno.

tips for good family road trips

No, really.

A bad road trip is enough to make anyone risk death at any opportunity.  But if you really plan ahead and prepare for the sort of contingencies that pop up with kids {which is to say all of them}, a road trip can be the most ridiculous fun you’ve ever had.  It’s still my #1 preferred method of family travel.

family road trip

We haven’t ventured too far east in our road tripping but we’ve ventured all across the Western United States in our trusty little Subaru wagon, and I think it’s safe to say we’re road trip veterans at this point.

I’ve made all the rookie mistakes: no crayons for your toddler {they melt in the sun}, juice boxes are like open fire hoses of purple stain, silly putty is a BAD idea, and whipping out your big gun surprise treats in the first 30 minutes of travel sets a bad precedent for the next 72 1/2 hours of driving.

tips for a good family road trip

I’ve made every mistake possible in our road tripping, but let me share what does work.

Tips for good family road trips:

For starters, make a car kit for each kid to minimize the number of cage matches in the back seat.  Use IKEA bins, Tupperware, canvas bags, whatever makes everyone happy and keeps the kids from killing each other {theoretically}.  A few summers back I made a Pringles can carrying case for each of my spawn so no one could claim PENCIL STEALING, HE HAS MY ERASER, SHE STOLED MY PAPER FROM MY HAND!  We still have the carrying cases and load them up with new stuff every road trip.

tips for good family road trips

Here’s what I pack in each car kit:

  • DVD player for the back of each headrest. I was a HUGE opponent of this until I took a 500 mile road alone with two kids, now I’m a convert.
  • DVDs for each kid/take turns watching favorite shows
  • the maximum number of library books allowed per child
  • magazines for the older crowd {the younger crowd are destroyers of all things paper}
  • markers or colored pencils, crayons break and melt in the car
  • coloring books
  • activity books
  • matchbox cars with an aluminum baking sheet for a track
  • magnets for the baking sheet
  • window decals
  • stickers
  • card games
  • hand held portable devices {again, convert. Nintendo DSi’s, whatever you have}
  • portable music players
  • individually wrapped presents from the $1 store {my #1 tip}
  • pipe cleaner
  • reading lights
  • dollar store crafts
  • travel journals
  • healthy snacks {road trip food gets old really fast}
  • reusable water bottle for each kid
  • laminated kid maps of your travel destination
  • headphones and back up headphones
  • batteries of every size for every unseen contingency possible
  • wet wipes
  • trash bags
  • Ziploc bags {shells from the beach, random nonsense from the backseat}
activity travel bag for adults

I also pack a sanity bag for myself:

  • Journal
  • SEVERAL books
  • Every magazine I haven’t had time to read {6-7+}
  • Nook filled with books
  • headphones
  • cell phone
  • cell phone charger{s}
  • book of crossword puzzles
  • earplugs
  • knitting
  • laptop {work, boo!}
  • stationery to catch up on correspondence
  • iPod {or other MP3 player}
  • sleep mask
  • protein bars
  • wet wipes
  • makeup {the car is the best place to try out new looks}
  • tweezers {visor mirrors = best. brows. ever.}
  • DVDs for grown ups, after the kids go to sleep in the back it’s fun to listen to your favorite movies even if you can’t watch
tips for good family road trips

— What do you pack for family road trips?  I’d love to hear any tips you’d like to pass along.

Happy trails.


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Hello there! I'm Allison Czarnecki, founder + editor of Petit Elefant, a blog all about style on a budget for every part of your life: style / home / travel / family. I do a lot of how-to beauty + style tutorials, travel posts, easy recipes, home remodel projects, and cool DIY crafts you totally want to try. I'm super happily married (to a hot Polish immigrant) and am the mother of two kids, a daughter and son, all of whom are featured here on the regular. We live in the country but we're a little bit rock + roll. Welcome!


  1. Emily :

    Ah, so full of ideas of what not to do and what to do. I not so secretly wish I could be sedated on every road trip. I get super car sick. The portable dvd player is a lifesaver for our 2 year old. The last trip we took we got her some new dvds but couldn’t stand them. haha.

  2. Carol :

    What great ideas, even for short trips! I am going to fill up two bags for my Grands, when they ride with me! When my boys were young I found a set of 2 plastic tic tac toe boards in a catalogue with pictures of all things found outside, such as animals bridges, etc. it was really fun for all of us! Especially when we found a draw bridge!

  3. dgm :

    My son seems to get carsick on roadtrips whenever we leave at o’dark thirty in the morning, so I have him wear accupressure bracelets. They’re magical! We don’t do the DVD player, but we do make a trip to the library before we hit the road so we have a variety of books on tape/CD. We take turns picking what to listen to. It’s actually a really nice way to share the experience, and my kids are old enough to listen to things we adults find interesting as well. Sometimes it’s a story, sometimes humorous essays, sometimes nonfiction items of interest (well-told history or biography, for example). Our kids are 9 and 13, so each is responsible for packing their own bag of entertainments, which includes sketchbooks and writing implements, lots of books. My 9 yr. old gets to bring his Nintendo DS.

  4. amelia :

    I’m just gonna second the spare ziplocs. Freezer ones work great for little kids who get carsick when driving through mountain passes where you can’t pull over.

  5. Laura :

    I feel so vindicated! I’d always thought I was nuts for firmly believing in plucking my eyebrows in the car (red lights, car lines, or just sitting in the drive). Thank you for sharing my love of the visor mirrors!