Heading out on a family trip can be an exciting time, but it can quickly become chaotic and frustrating, especially when you are on long car rides with kids. Is there anything you can do to make it better? Absolutely! A lot of it has to do with your attitude and expectations. The more prepared parents are both mentally and physically, the easier it will be to cope with stressful situations when they inevitably arise.

Mental Prep For your long car trip with kids

Before I talk about all the physical things you can do to prepare for a long car trip, I believe it’s crucial to talk about the mental prep side of things as well. You can be totally physically prepared and still have things fall apart sometimes. This is where adjusting your mindset comes into play.

Building Empathy

In order to understand why long car trips with kids can be challenging, it helps to view the trip from your child’s perspective. Having a little extra empathy for your child can go a long way. A lot of kids’ fussiness in cars has to deal with discomfort. When you look at being stuck in a car through your child’s eyes, it will make more sense why they are upset.

Sad child in a carseat.

Why Are Kids Grumpy on Long Road Trips?

Boredom – Without direction or distraction, children quickly become bored on long rides.

Restraint – For their safety, children are restrained in their seats. The younger the child, the less wiggle room. Young children in car seats are basically stuck in the same position for the duration of the ride. Even if you have purchased the top-of-the-line, most comfortable car seat, your kid’s going to get tired of it. No wonder they get upset and scream sometimes!

Sibling contention – If you have multiple kids, contention in the car can be a significant issue on short rides, let alone rides that go on for hours. The prolonged close proximity lends itself to bickering over the slightest things. “He looked at me weird” kind of arguments.

Bathroom needs – Little bladders do not tolerate long stretches without an opportunity to empty. The distance between restrooms can prove very trying for young children.

Car sickness A lot of children are susceptible to car sickness. It can strike when you least expect it, even when your child is sleeping.

Exhaustion – A long drive wears kids out.

Overstimulation – Sometimes the devices we bring to entertain our children contribute to their discomfort. Staring at screens too long can cause eye strain and headaches.

Hunger/Thirst – If there is one thing you can count on, it’s that kids are constantly hungry and thirsty.

Excitement/Anxiety – Children often alternate between excitement and anxiety. One moment they can’t wait to get to your destination, the next, they feel homesick and want to go home.

Feeding off Parental Stress This is a huge issue. As parents, it’s okay that we feel stressed. We have a lot invested in our road trips. We carefully plan, and prepare, and still unexpected things happen.

Freeway noise – Riding in the car for hours on end can be noisy. This is especially true when you have multiple kids in the car.

Uncomfortable lighting – Even with tinted windows, the sun can creep in their faces causing annoyance.

Temperature – Maintaining a temperature that is comfortable for everyone can be a balancing act! On trips when it’s just me and my husband, we sometimes debate how hot the car should be.

What can we do to make long car rides easier?

Facing a long car ride with kids will be better when we keep our expectations within the realm of reality. Somewhere in the back of our heads, we believe if we pack the right things and use the right communication, our kids will magically behave the entire time. When we go to great lengths to prepare only to have the first meltdown occur as we leave the driveway, it can be demoralizing.

Remember,  we cannot control how our children feel. There are a lot of things you can do to prepare, but even the best-laid-out plans can crumble to pieces sometimes.

A frustrated mom in her car.

Why are Car Rides With Kids Hard For Parents?

Speaking of empathy and patience, why are car rides with kids so hard for adults? Car rides with kids can be a daunting task for adults. Your kids require a great deal of patience and empathy, especially when you’re traveling long distances. Here are some of the reasons why car rides with kids can be challenging for adults:

Exhaustion

Even if you’re just starting out, you may feel exhausted from all the preparation involved. It’s likely that you didn’t get enough sleep the night before, as you were distracted by the long trip ahead.

Anxiety

Parents often worry about reaching their destination safely, running out of gas, or the car breaking down. They also worry about their kids getting sick or having endless meltdowns. These concerns are valid and can add to the stress of the journey.

Navigation Issues

When you’re traveling to an unfamiliar destination, navigation can be stressful. Although online navigation tools have made things easier, they’re not always reliable.

Traffic Jams

Getting stuck in a huge traffic jam or missing your exit because other drivers won’t let you in can be frustrating and nerve-wracking.

Comfort Issues

Kids aren’t the only ones who get uncomfortable in the car. Adults can also feel restless and overstimulated during long car rides.

Kids’ Contentions and Meltdowns

It’s inevitable that you’ll hit some bumps in the road when traveling with kids. When your children are melting down in the car, it’s essential to have a plan:

Ask yourself, “What am I going to do when I feel like I’m melting down?” Notice that I said “when,” not “if.”

A family spends time outside of their car.

Strategies to help parents cope when kids meltdown:

  • Pull over to regroup
  • Take a few deep breaths
  • Pack a special treat for yourself
  • Play some of your favorite music
  • If you’re driving with another adult, switch seats
  • Find a way to distract your child

When kids are melting down in the car, it’s important to:

  • Acknowledge their feelings
  • Empathize with them
  • Approach their frustrations with curiosity instead of judgment
  • Use creativity to discover solutions
  • Craft a compromise if needed

It’s okay for your kids to feel frustrated on a long drive, and it’s okay for you to feel frustrated too! By using empathy and patience, you can help your family get through even the most challenging car rides.

How to physically prepare for your long car trip with kids

Picture of a cell phone and a map.
  1. Plan your route and estimate travel time:
    • Use navigation apps or maps to determine the best route and estimate the duration of the journey. Pack a map in case your phones die or you lose reception.
    • Identify rest stops or attractions along the way, you and your kids are going to need breaks!
  2. Pack these three types of kits
    • Car sickness kit with barf bags, garbage sacks, and items to clean up vomit.
    • First Aide Kit with basic medical supplies, such as band-aids, pain relievers, and any prescribed medications.
    • Roadside emergency kit including items like jumper cables, flashlight, spare tire, and tools.
  3. Prepare a travel bag for each child:
    • Pack a bag for each child with their favorite comfort items like blankets, stuffed animals, or pillows.
    • Include spare clothes, diapers, wipes, and any necessary baby items.
  4. Bring healthy snacks and drinks:
    • Pack a variety of nutritious snacks like fruits, granola bars, trail mix, and cut-up vegetables. Feeding your kids a bunch of junk food will contribute to bad moods and sick tummies.
    • Each child should have their own refillable water bottle. Bottles with straws are best to limit spillage while driving.
  5. Plan entertainment options:
    • Bring a selection of car activities for kids: This includes books, coloring books, and activity pads to keep kids busy.
    • Consider portable electronic devices like tablets, loaded with educational games, movies, or music.
    • Prepare some family-friendly road trip games
Mother laughing with kids in the car.

Family-friendly car games

  1. I Spy: This classic car game is played when one person selects an object within sight and says, “I spy with my little eye, something that is (color/shape).” Others take turns guessing the object until someone guesses correctly.
  2. 20 Questions: One person thinks of an object, and others take turns asking up to 20 yes or no questions to determine what it is.
  3. License Plate Game: Spot license plates from different states or provinces and try to collect as many as possible. Keep track of the ones you find and see who can find the most.
  4. Name That Tune: Play a few notes of a song, and see who can guess the title or artist first. This one can be fun to try different categories such as “Disney songs,” “Preschool songs,” or “musicals”. Use music that your family is knowledgeable about and enjoys.
  5. Alphabet Game: Start with the letter “A” and take turns finding words outside the car that begin with each letter of the alphabet in order.
  6. Spot the Car: Choose a specific color or type of car, and count how many you can spot during the trip. The person who spots the most wins.
  7. Animal Name Game: Take turns naming animals alphabetically. Each person has to name an animal starting with the last letter of the previously named animal.
  8. Memory Game: Start with a simple sentence like “I went on a trip and packed…” and each person adds an item to the list, repeating the previous items and adding their own.
  9. Would You Rather: Pose fun and silly hypothetical questions, and have each person choose their preferred option and explain why. There are multiple versions of this game that you can purchase in card form, or you can just make some up on your own.
  10. Storytelling: Begin a story with a sentence, and take turns adding to the story. Each person adds a few sentences to create an imaginative and collaborative tale. You can spice it up by playing “Fortunately, Unfortunately” where players take turns adding positive and negative twists to a story. One person starts with a fortunate event, and the next person follows with an unfortunate event, continuing the alternating pattern to create a fun and surprising story.
  11. Sing-Along: Sing favorite songs together as a family. Create a playlist of everyone’s favorite songs before the trip.
  12. Tic-Tac-Toe: Draw a tic-tac-toe grid on a piece of paper and play the classic game against a fellow passenger.
  13. Simon Says Drawing edition: One person acts as Simon and gives instructions starting with “Simon says to draw a circle.” Others follow the instructions, but only if they start with “Simon says.” Simon draws with the contestants so there is a key sheet. At the end of the round, everyone passes their papers to Simon. Whoever gets it the most right wins.
  14. Mad Libs: Fill in the blanks of a story with random words and then read the silly story aloud.
  15. Rock-Paper-Scissors Tournament: Hold a rock-paper-scissors tournament and see who can win the most rounds. Make up new creative ways to play the game. You could make it silly pitting different things against each other such as Ghost-monster-little girl. The ghost scares the little girl, the little girl scares the monster, and the monster scares the ghost. You make up the characters and the rules!
  16. Guess the Movie: One person gives clues about a movie, and others try to guess the title. The person who guesses correctly gets to give the next clues.
  17. Car Bingo: Create cards with various road trip items such as a red car, a billboard, a truck, etc. Players mark off the items they spot during the journey and the first to get a line or a full card wins.
  18. Word Association: Start with a word, and each person has to say a word that is associated with it. Keep the chain going as long as possible.
  19. Spot the Alphabet: Look for letters of the alphabet on road signs, license plates, or billboards in alphabetical order. Start with the letter ‘A’ and see if you can find all the letters.
  20. Storybook Character Game: Think of a famous storybook character, and each person takes turns asking yes or no questions to guess who it is.
  21. Geography Challenge: Take turns naming cities, countries, or landmarks, and each new answer has to start with the last letter of the previous answer.
  22. Rhyme Time: Pick a word, and each person takes turns saying a word that rhymes with it. Continue the rhyming chain as long as possible.
  23. Category Countdown: Choose a category such as “fruits,” “colors,” or “movies,” and take turns naming items within that category. Keep going until someone can’t name another item, then they are out.
  24. Celebrity Name Game: Choose a celebrity, and take turns naming other celebrities whose first name starts with the last letter of the previous celebrity’s last name.
  25. Riddle Me This: Take turns asking riddles and see who can guess the correct answer first. You can look up riddles before you go, or purchase a riddle book.
  26. Car Brand Game: Look for different car brands on the road, and each person takes turns naming a car brand and the first person to see that brand wins a point.
Uno cards

Card games that are easy to play in the car

  1. Go Fish: The classic kid’s card game where players try to collect sets of matching cards by asking opponents for specific ranks.
  2. Crazy Eights: Players take turns playing cards that match the rank or suit of the previously played card, with the goal of getting rid of all their cards.
  3. Uno: A fast-paced game where players match colors or numbers, use action cards to disrupt opponents, and aim to be the first to empty their hand.
  4. Old Maid: Players try to avoid being left with the “old maid” card by taking turns drawing and discarding cards in pairs.
  5. Snap: A quick reaction game where players try to be the first to “snap” the pile of cards when two matching cards are played in succession.
  6. War: A simple game where players compare the ranks of their cards, and the player with the highest-ranking card wins the round.
  7. Slapjack: Players take turns flipping cards onto a central pile, and when a Jack appears, players race to slap the pile, and the first to slap takes the cards.
  8. Memory: Lay out a grid of cards face down, and players take turns flipping over two cards to find matching pairs.
  9. Pig: A dice game where players roll to accumulate points, but risk losing all their points if they roll a certain combination.
  10. Rummy: A card-matching game where players aim to create sets or runs of cards and be the first to empty their hand.
Person playing chess

The best travel-sized games to play in your car

  1. Connect Four: An easy to play strategy game where players try to connect four discs of their color in a row.
  2. Scrabble: Be sure to find a magnetic version of this classic word-building game.
  3. Battleship: Siblings will love duking it out with this strategic guessing game where players try to sink each other’s hidden fleet.
  4. Chess: A timeless game of wits and smart moves.
  5. Checkers: Quick to play and fun to learn.
  6. Travel-sized Guess Who?: A beloved guessing game where players ask yes-or-no questions to determine the opponent’s mystery character via the process of elimination. These boards are easy to hold in the car.
  7. Boggle: A fast-paced word-searching game where players try to find as many words as possible within a grid of letters.
  8. Spot It!: An observation and matching game where players race to find the matching symbols between cards.
  9. Bananagrams: A portable word game that challenges players to create their own crossword grids using letter tiles.
  10. Apples to Apples: A mini version of the popular party game where players match red apple cards to green apple cards for hilarious comparisons.
  11. Scattergories: A portable version of the creative thinking game where players brainstorm words that fit specific categories and start with a certain letter.
  12. Magnetic Tangram: A magnetic puzzle game that challenges players to create specific shapes using geometric tiles.

These travel-sized games offer a variety of options to keep everyone entertained during a long car ride. If you have a favorite game at home, look it up on the internet and see if there is a travel version of it you could try.

Kids reading books in a caar

Best Activity books for kids on a long car trip

  1. Brain Quest series: These books are designed to challenge and entertain kids with various subjects such as math, science, English, and social studies. They come in different age groups, so you can choose the appropriate level for your child.
  2. Mazes for Kids books: Mazes can be fun and mentally stimulating for kids. Look for maze activity books that offer a variety of difficulty levels to keep them engaged.
  3. Spot the Difference books: These books contain sets of pictures with subtle differences that kids need to find. They are enjoyable and encourage observation skills.
  4. Coloring and Activity Books: Look for coloring books that also include puzzles, mazes, and other activities. They provide a mix of creative and problem-solving tasks to keep kids occupied.
  5. Sticker Books: Sticker books are popular among kids, as they can create scenes and stories using stickers. Look for themed sticker books based on their interests, such as animals, superheroes, or princesses.
  6. Mad Libs books: Mad Libs offer interactive and creative storytelling experiences. Kids fill in the blanks with random words to create hilarious and often silly stories.
  7. Travel Games and Puzzles: Look for compact activity books that feature travel-themed games like tic-tac-toe, hangman, word searches, and crossword puzzles. These books often come with a pencil or dry-erase marker.
  8. Puzzle Books: Choose puzzle books that include age-appropriate challenges like word searches, crosswords, Sudoku, and logic puzzles. They can keep kids entertained and help develop their problem-solving skills.
  9. Paint with Water Books: These books come with special pages that can be painted with water. They are mess-free and perfect for younger kids who enjoy coloring and painting.
  10. Tape Activity Books: These books come with colorful tape strips that kids can use to complete various activities like creating scenes, decorating objects, or playing games. They promote creativity and fine motor skills.
  11. Doodle Books: Doodle books provide blank pages or partial illustrations for kids to complete with their own drawings, designs, and doodles. They encourage creativity and imagination.
  12. Stenciling Books: Stencil books come with stencils of various shapes and designs that kids can use to create artwork and patterns. They are ideal for kids who enjoy drawing and want to experiment with different shapes.
  13. Story Writing Books: These books offer prompts and story starters to inspire kids to write their own stories. They can engage their imagination and help improve their writing skills.
  14. Travel Journals: Travel journals are a wonderful way to encourage kids to document their experiences and observations during the trip. Look for journals with writing prompts, drawing spaces, and areas to add photographs or ticket stubs.
Happy family in the car together

The best toys to bring in the car

  1. Fidget toys: Fidget toys such as fidget spinners, squishy balls, or sensory toys can help keep kids occupied and focused during the journey.
  2. Travel-friendly puzzles and brain teasers: Consider compact versions of puzzles like Rubik’s cubes, brainteasers, or handheld maze games. They provide mental stimulation and entertainment.
  3. Magnetic blocks: These blocks stick together and make it easy to build even when you are moving.
  4. Travel-sized dolls or action figures: Compact dolls or action figures with accessories can keep kids engaged in imaginative play. Look for ones that come with small carrying cases for convenience.
  5. Craft kits: Find a minimally messy craft kit that is age appropriate for your child.

Final Thoughts

When you’re gearing up for long car rides with kids, doing some solid planning is always helpful. Take a moment to map out your route, estimate how much time it’ll take, and consider any interesting places you might want to visit. Adjust your mindset and recognize that meltdowns happen sometimes despite all of our planning.

Don’t forget to pack essentials like car tools and emergency kits, and make sure you bring along items that’ll keep you comfy throughout the ride. And, entertainment is a must! Whether it’s books, music, or gadgets, be sure to have something fun to keep everyone entertained. Remember, by planning ahead and considering everyone’s needs, you’ll have a better journey.


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