5 Road Trip Tips for Easier Summer Travel with Kids

By Jennifer Thorson

Soon we’ll be gearing up for our semi-annual 12+ hour van trip to visit the grandparents. And with that brings the challenge to keep our four children – ages 11, 8, 6 and 3 – occupied and the whole family at peace with each other throughout the journey.

I know that traveling with young children can make parents sweat just thinking about it. We’ve been doing this trip since our first child was a baby. Thankfully we’ve learned a few things to do (and some not to do) over 10 years of long-distance road trips. You really don’t have to go crazy traveling with kids–I promise! The key is to be as well-prepared and ready as possible. Here are five of my best road trip tips for easier summer travel with kids.

Pack Food that Works Well for Traveling

It’s obviously expensive to eat out all the time and so we often pack at least one meal in a cooler for the road. Unless we want too many crumbs on the floor of the van (because we know there will end up being some mess!) it’s best to choose food that is easy to store, not too messy and easy to eat.

What we usually pack:

  • Peanut butter and jam or ham and cheese sandwiches (we’ve also done wraps)
  • Beef sticks, our favorite is the Old Wisconsin brand
  • Squeezable applesauce
  • Homemade granola bars
  • Cut up apples and also grapes. Now that our kids are older and not as messy, we often bring blueberries
  • String cheese or cheese sticks
  • Pretzels, goldfish or animal crackers (those that aren’t too crumbly, we like the Stauffer’s Brand)
  • Dried Fruit (we love the dried strawberries and cranberries from Aldi)
  • Squeezable baby/toddler food
  • Cheerios or baby puffs for little ones
  • We also make sure everyone has a full reusable water bottle – we love our Klean Kanteens!


Choose Some Fun and New Activities for the Kids

Obviously, a long car trip would be really long and boring without anything to do, even though I’d be content to just read a book the whole time! Some of the things we bring along to keep the kids occupied and entertained {we use reusable bags for storage of these things}:

  • Library Books – we visit the local library a couple of days before our trip so the kids have something new to read. For this summer’s trip, I’m also going to read Little House on the Prairie out loud. Audio books from the library are perfect as well!
  • Audio Stories – We love the American Girl audio books and Adventures in Odyssey, a Christian kids radio drama. Some of our new favorites for our older kids include The Adventures of G.A. Henty and Jonathan Park!
  • Puppets or Stuffed Animal – My biggest tip for traveling with a really young child is to bring along puppets or a stuffed animal that can sing to or play peek-a-boo with your little one. I know it will be a challenge to travel with a 15-month-old this summer, but this is one thing that has entertained in the past!
  • Metal cookie sheet – If you have a son like mine who loves Hotwheels or a daughter who can dress her magnetic paper dolls for hours, a metal cookie sheet is a great way to keep small pieces contained!
  • Music and Read Along Stories –We love Seeds Worship, Hide Em in Your Heart and the Wee Sing series. And my husband likes to pull out his old Audio Adrenaline CDs, too!
  • Roadside Stops – Stopping at a park or picnic area along the way has been a lifesaver for our family on more than one occasion. Sometimes we will map our stops at the beginning of the trip and do a countdown to getting to each one.
  • The Trip Clip – My children love all the activities you can do to pass the time with the Trip Clip–check it out here!


Pack an Emergency Bag and Clean-Up Items

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that accidents happen – urgent bathroom needs, throwing up, sore throats and chapped lips have been regular occurrences for us over the years. We’ve learned to bring a few safeguards:

  • Small trash can
  • Plastic bags for when somebody gets sick or for trash
  • First-aid kit with Bandaids, ointment, throat drops, Kleenex, Chapstick, and lotion
  • Sunglasses for everyone and a sun hat for the baby
  • Baby wipes
  • Portable toilet for potty trainers, or an empty water bottle for when there is nowhere for boys to stop for the bathroom!


Have a Set of Clothes and Toiletries Handy

Usually, the time when my three-year-old spills her bottle of water down her shirt is when I don’t have an extra one handy and have to dig deep in the back of the van to find one! I’ve found it’s great to have a small bag with a change of clothes for everyone as well as everyone’s toothbrushes and toothpaste. Of course, if you have a diaper bag, you could just store a few extras in that.

Need more packing tips? You can read my top three tips for packing for a road trip over at my blog, The Purposeful Mom.


Pray Scripture Over Your Journey Before You Go!

We always prayed for safety on our trips, but recently I’ve been considering praying specific Scriptures over our travels.

Psalm 91:10-11, “Then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways…”

Psalm 121:7-8, “The Lord will keep you from all harm–he will watch over your life; The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

Psalm 5:12, “Surely, LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.”

Deuteronomy 28:6, “You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.”

1 Timothy 6:17 NLT “Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment.” (A good reminder about all the beautiful creation we see while we travel!)

Be encouraged by these tips for your trip as you enjoy the summer with your family!