How to Survive a Long Car Ride with Kids

a family unloading things in the car
Photo by Kampus Production on

When you have kids there will usually come a time that you have to take a long car ride. Maybe you can’t afford the huge expense of plane tickets, or you want to avoid a long flight with a screaming kid. I mean you can’t just pull over in a plane. For whatever the reason, there comes a point that you question, “can we just make the drive?”. We have asked ourselves this question many times and ended up taking A LOT of long car rides.

We actually decided to take a 16-hour car trip with four kids and one of them was only six months old! I am not sure what we were thinking at the time, but we learned a lot from it. Since then, we have taken many others and here are some of the things that helped us along the way.

First, gas up BEFORE you pack everyone in the car! That way you do not have to pack up an excited family and start with a stop.

Have one adult sit in the back. This has always helped us. That person is what we call the “entertainer”. At minimum, they should know how to play I spy or as my husband calls it “take it old school” on them. But really, incorporate some non-technology related games or moments into the ride. They will appreciate it later.

Have a Plan:

Plan out your trip! This is probably the most important. I am not saying know exactly where you are stopping or what hotel you are staying at because that all may vary. But have a general plan. Know where you are going, how long it takes, what time you could hit major cities, and things like, what you will do if you get stuck in traffic.

I think that having a general plan and overall idea of what you are doing takes away some of the stress. You know that you can pull off when you need to, find a hotel at last minute if things go sideways, and there are lots of different fun places for pit stops. Having a “plan” is a starting point for the unknown.

Research “FUN” Stops:

We found tons of fun things along our 16-hour route to New Hampshire. Make sure that you know where the fun stuff is, in case you need a break. Look up the parks, museums, bounce places, welcome centers, aquariums, and any other things where your kids can get energy out. There are tons of free playgrounds at parks, rec centers, or churches in every state. We have even found some indoor playgrounds, for when it’s raining.

If you know an estimate on how long your kids can last in the car, before they need a break, you can work big fun stops into your plan. We added a couple big stops to our trip because they were really fun things that we wanted to experience together. Those big stops we researched and planned a little more for. Do you need tickets in advance? How much will it cost? What are the hours of operation? And so on. With planned stops, it gives the kids something to look forward to and be excited about.

children playing on swing
Photo by cottonbro studio on

Overnight Stops:

We knew our kids could not do 16-hours, even if it was broken up by fun stuff. So, we have to plan for overnight stays when the trip is really long. We choose not to pick our hotel beforehand because we never know how many hours we can make it before that nightly stop has to happen. This can be risky but has worked so far for us.

When we know the kids are hitting their max, (about an hour before that) we use a travel app to look at hotels in a larger city that is coming up on our route. We DO NOT book the hotel using the travel app. Reason being, you usually get the best deal by finding the hotel and going directly to their website to book it or they will at least match the rate. Then, you can request your bed type and deal directly with the hotel. Finding a room, when you have six (or more) people in your family, can be difficult. Check out my post on things to think about as your family grows for more details on that.

We try to find hotel chains that we have used before, have points at, and have things to do. Pools, gyms, open spaces, free breakfast, and those type of things are all pros. Always pack swim gear! We also make sure to pack a bag, outside of the main suitcases, for the hotel stops. That way you don’t have to unpack ALL the luggage to make a quick overnight stop.


Leaving at the right time, stopping at the right time, and not sticking to a tight schedule can make all the difference. For example, if you know you child doesn’t sleep well in the car, let them nap and then hit the road. Or maybe you have a kid that sleeps great in the car (we weren’t that lucky) and you can leave right before nap time. You know your family. Don’t force a time that you know isn’t going to work or force longer stretches to meet a schedule. You will end up with “hangry” or grumpy kids.

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Stuff” for the Car:

There are SO MANY items made for the car. We have found some really great items and some not-so-great items.

Here are our must haves:

Here are our DO NOTs:

  • Crayons (they melt)
  • Chocolate (it also melts)
  • Car lap boards with white boards/markers (the white board/markers weren’t worth the extra cost)
  • Car games with little pieces (they get lost and never used again)
  • Snacks or drinks with lots of sugar (don’t torture yourself)
Car Seat Organizer
Seat organizers are the best!

Lastly, make sure everyone is wearing comfortable clothes and easy to get on shoes. When you do stop, it’s not fun to untie and tie shoes because they DO always take them off.

These are some of the big items to consider on long car rides. There are so many other things to think about but overall, know that you can do it. Actually, your family will probably do ten times better than you think. Meltdowns, questions, and fighting may happen along the way but remember, that probably would happen on a flight or train too. At least in the car you can stop, you have your own familiar space, and you can pack in a lot more!

-Kristy M., Mommy to Many

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