5 Tips for Surviving Summer Road Trips

By May 6, 2010Summer Planning

We live in Texas. Texas is awesome. Texas is big.

When we take a vacation, it takes half our time just to get out of the state. Our road trips are always at least 6 hours, but more often 12-26 round trip.

As a result, we have to be very intentional about planning in order to stay sane and keep the children content for such longs stretches in the car.

Our last vacation was especially long, but it went really well. Here are the tactics I used to make our trips run (relatively) smoothly.


I planned what each of my kids wore on each day of the trip. I made a little pile for each day that contained pajamas, outfit for the day and any accessories. I then put all those items into a ziplock bag, compressed it and labeled it with the child’s name and the date it was to be worn.

It sounds really obnoxiously organized, but I promise it has been a sanity saver for us.

This was helpful for several reasons. If you’ve ever traveled with little ones you know how annoying it can be to try to search through a bag for one tiny pair of socks or pants. It can also be tiring to try to figure out what they will wear WHILE trying to get them dressed.

With this method, Jimmy or I could just grab a bag for each kid and then we had everything needed for the day.

It also took up less space in the suitcase.


Instead of bringing a giant bag of pretzels or trail mix and passing it out in the car, I divided up the snacks into little snack bags so that whenever someone needed something we didn’t have to worry about crumbs or making sure little hands didn’t drop things.

We could just pick out a small bag and hand it to them.

When my kids were babies, I premeasured all the baby cereal they’d eat for the trip into small bags. Before each day I put together 3 meal kits (containing the baby cereal, baby food, spoon and disposable bib) in preparation for the next day. In the morning, I’d just put the kits in my diaper bag and I was ready for the whole day.


In addition to packing their favorite toys and books, I also went to the dollar store and bought a few new surprises. I wrapped the new items along with some old forgotten favorite ones and hid them in the basket of books and toys.

Every few hours or when they got really restless, I’d let them dig for and open a “present.” They LOVED it.


We also had several stories on CD that we listened to and that was something everyone really enjoyed. My kids were literally mesmerized by Pollyanna, Anne of Green Gables, Adventures in Odessey and Little House on the Prarie. It was especially nice when Jimmy and I needed them to be quiet (like when one was napping) because they didn’t want to talk for fear they’d miss any of the story.

(I just love this sweet pic of my oldest and youngest. They fell asleep holding hands.)


Now, we do bring a DVD player (my laptop) on our trips, but we really prefer that they look at the scenery. Often, we’ll hook the sound up through the car stereo and just listen to their favorite movies so they can still see the sights..

Normally, everything else keeps them so entertained that they don’t really ask to watch videos, although it is certainly a nice option and we usually pull it out at least once or twice.

Well, that’s what worked for us. If you go on a road trip anytime soon, I hope some of these ideas work for you.


I’d love to learn your road trip/vacation tips, please share them in the comments.

Did you take road trips as a child? Love “em or hate “em?

Leave a Comment



  • Vicki says:

    We drove from the East coast to West coast with toddlers a few years ago and I packed “restaurant” bags that we would pull out only when we stopped to eat. The bags included little toys (little people, old happy meal toys, Pollys, little notepad and crayon, etc.) that could be played with only during stops or at restaurants.
    My sister also sent us a care package with a little present to open for each day of the trip. Looking forward to opening the presents created lots of anticipation and made the trip fun.

    • Kat says:

      Oh, that’s a good idea. Our kids got a little restless at restaurants. I’ll definitely have to employ that idea next time! And what a thoughtful sister you have!

  • mindy says:

    I have to say the car DVD is one of the greatest inventions of our time. We usually try to buy or rent ones they haven’t seen before. Word of warning: some of the library or video store DVD’s are scratched and then they skip or stop – very frustrating to parents and kids alike!

    We also try to fill a small backpack for each child with crayons, stickers, notebooks and fun little individual snacks. We put these in their seats the night before and it’s a great start to the trip as they find their treasures once we get on the road. The dollar store or dollar aisle at Target is a great place to find things like that.

    • Kat says:

      So true about library DVD’s. We’ve experienced that more than a few times. So sad…

      Another great place to get videos is on iTunes. If you have an iPod and the cable to connect it to your DVD player, they have lots of 30 minute shows that only cost $1.99 – which is way cheaper than the videos at the store.

  • ShiningStar says:

    We lived in Texas for eight years while my girls were little and we LOVE road trips. We pack snacks that are not normally “allowed” at home (including soda and processed snacks) and our new “trick” is to take our 24-oz Tervis tumblers (worth the $$) as our travel mugs and at virtually any gas-station or truck stop, we can refill with any beverage (including cappucino, icee, etc.) for 89 cents. Plus we don’t have empties going into the landfill or crowding our car. We play the “lottery game” which means everyone getting to imagine how and where they would live and spend their time if money were no object. It’s revealed some very interesting hidden desires for each of us!

    • Kat says:

      Tervis tumblers…I’ve not heard of them. I’ll have to look them up. I definitely loathe road trip car trash. So anything that would help sounds good to me!

      Road trip games are the best aren’t they? My kids are just now all old enough for them. Can’t wait for our next road trip.

  • Kyle Suzanne says:

    Books on CD- Johnathon Park from Vision Forum is a great CD set. At our library we can borrow books on CD so we usually check out a couple of them from the library. Also we spend a lot of time listening to the Bible on CD while we are driving. So our time in the car can be fruitful.

    DVD- We only watch 1 movie on the DVD player and only a movie we’ve seen before and usually at night. We really prefer our kids to watch the scenery and we do not want them dependent on entertainment.

    Lunches – We stop at Wal-Mart before or during and pick up one of their subs, chips and drinks for just under $10 for a family of 5. You could stop and eat at a park but we usually just cut it up eat in the car.

    Snacks – We only pack healthy non-sugary snacks. Not because I am a health nut but because we are in a confined space with small children.

    Carschooling – This is a book that has lots of ideas about fun & educational things homeschooling (and I would think all child loving) famlies can do while traveling. We are going from Central Texas to Michigan this summer for a family reunion so I will get a lot of use from this book!

    I think I am going to do the ziploc bag thing for this trip. It will save me a lot of time planning, packing and thinking!

    • Kat says:

      Kyle Suzanne,
      Texas to Michigan! Wow! You’ll be a car trip expert after that one.

      Thanks for the Carschooling tip. Sounds good.

      “Snacks Γ’β‚¬β€œ We only pack healthy non-sugary snacks. Not because I am a health nut but because we are in a confined space with small children.”

      I literally laughed out loud at that comment. πŸ™‚

  • I love the ziploc thing. Need to do for our next trip with the babies.

    I do that for my stuff – no actual ziploc (except to keep undies together) but I pack pants and top for each day on top of each other. It’s lovely – no thinking!

    Also love the baby cereal tip. I make their baby food and I did actually pack that all ziplocked, more for the mess than anything else πŸ™‚

  • I am impressed! We lived 10 hours from my grandparents when I was a kid (but 8+, not tiny) and I always liked road trips because it was an excuse to read for a long time. Still is!

    Right now I have a very busy 18-month-old, though, and I dread going anywhere more than 2 hours away with her for fear of breakdowns. Do you have suggestions for that age?
    .-= Vanderbilt Wife´s last blog ..A Few Awkward Pictures … and Oh, Happy Mother’s Day! =-.

    • Kat says:

      That was always the age when I remember CONSTANTLY turning around to retrieve toys that had fallen. Yes, that’s definitely a tougher season because they’re less likely to fall asleep but not old enough to really enjoy audio books.

      I think this is where the little gift idea could really shine. Just the joy and anticipation of opening a little gift (we just wrapped ours in brown bags) will help keep her happy. We put legos (the bigger ones), coloring/sticker books from the dollar section, books (you could get a bunch of new ones from the library just for the trip) and a few little treats.

      We also had a leap pad (the toddler kind with the little pen and the spiral bound books) and that was really entertaining for all three of them at that age. In fact, they still use it sometimes. It might take her a bit to get the hang of it, but once she does, she’ll probably love exploring each book.

      Some fun music and maybe a family singalong every now and then will keep her entertained as well.

      Of course, the idea isn’t necessarily to entertain our kids the whole trip, but to help them self entertain for longer and longer stretches.

      I hope some of those ideas help! She’s a CUTIE, by the way. Love the curls!

    • If I may jump in, I wrote a post last year about our long car trip and what we did – you can see it here. Our daughter was 2.5, so some things may not be appropriate for your little one but it might give you some ideas. She really weathered the trip well, though!

      Great post and great comments – I’ll be linking on my weekly roundup. Thanks!
      .-= Lenetta @ Nettacow´s last blog ..Spring Cleaning Carnival – Get the Pesticides Out? =-.

    • Kat says:

      GREAT ideas Lenetta! Thanks for sharing!

  • I LOVE your packing ideas…I’ll definitely put your tips to use! πŸ™‚

  • Janna says:

    Last year we did our first long road trip–NE-CT and back again with 4 kids in between the ages of 2-7. My goal: to do it without DVD. ;o) And we did accomplish that! Some of our favorite things . . . pipe cleaners to bend into various shapes, cookie sheets with magnets (or use the cookie sheets to play with toys, particularly those “Toobs” you can find at Hobby Lobby or Michaels), books on CD (we did Heidi, The Boxcar Children, and Anne of Green Gables), calming classical CDs to play during more “crazy” times, my girls (5 and 7) had beads and elastic cording and made themselves bracelets/necklaces and also had a bunch of Rand McNally kid activity books (Amazon). And of course paper/crayons! ;o) They did really well.
    I love your clothes idea! That would greatly simplify things!

  • shauna says:

    We just returned from a 6-hr (each way) road trip. I brought a cookie sheet for each child. They got to use fridge magnet toys they haven’t seen for a while and were entertained. The cookie sheets also worked well to keep crayons from flying everywhere when they wanted to color.

    When I was a kid, we lived in NOLA, so we often drove through TX to visit family. It seemed to take an eternity in my mind. In those days my parents made a bed for us by folding down the seats in the back. I’m glad we survived!

  • Chasta says:

    When we go on road trips (IN to GA about 12 hrs with 4 children, 6, 5, 5, & 2), we try to leave a few hours before their bedtime. They sleep almost the whole way there. When they wake up, we stop for breakfast, and we’re usually almost there.

  • […] 5 Tips for Surviving Summer Road Trips will come in handy as we plan a week in Colorado in July! […]

  • My mother used to do the ziploc thing when I went away to camp. Love the idea to do it for road trips!

  • JessieLeigh says:

    Such great tips! Love the ziploc bag idea because, you’re right, it’s frustrating to dig out all those little clothes each day. It would require a ton of bags, but they could all easily be re-used, so that’s not a big deal either. πŸ™‚

    We frequently tackle long car trips with our little ones (IN to CT most frequently)… we moved with them when they were 4, 3, and 2 weeks old. My van has a dvd player, but I think we only used it once. We play a lot of car games and listen to Steve Songs CD’s (LOVE Steve! His songs are fun for kids but not terribly annoying for adults! ;))

    My number one tip is to have realistic expectations about how long it’s going to take you… when it was just my husband and me, we made the IN to CT trek in a single day with no problems. That’s just not our reality right now. And that is A-OK. We get to the hotel by about 5 or 5:30 so the kids can swim off that pent-up energy, we can enjoy a sit-down (though inexpensive) meal together, and prepare for a normal bedtime routine. This keeps things as normal as possible for our children and keeps us on track.

    Enjoyed this post!
    .-= JessieLeigh´s last blog ..A Tale of Customer Service… =-.

    • Kat says:

      Excellent advice!!! Having realistic expectations is key!

      Regarding the ziploc bags: It does take a lot, but I write each child’s name on each of their bags and then underneath I write “Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 etc” By using generic labels like that I’ve used the bags over for years.

      Also, I have two extra bags for each child – a swimming bag with all their swim stuff and their pj bag.

      Thanks for chiming in JessieLeigh!

  • Heather says:

    Great advice! We are road-trippers for sure! 2 weekends ago we drove 10 hrs one way to Spokane for a long weekend.

    We love books on the Ipod also. We are also reading through Little House on the Prairie series right now, and read most of one novel – the kids (6 and 4) couldn’t get enough of it.

    I always pack a Leapster for each child, with 2 games each, but the biggest necessity to keep them entertained are art pads and a box of pencil crayons. I buy the art pads with the carboard ‘covers’ so they are very sturday to draw on. They will play leapsters for maybe 30 minutes, but draw and create for hours, literally. Oh, and silks – silk scarves are a must. They have so much fun with them, and they can be squished into the smallest space. I’ve learned to leave the toys at home, since they get played with the least.

    Thanks again for the post. πŸ™‚

  • Sharon says:

    LOVE the plastic bags idea! Will be usiing that for our trip to Port A later this month (we too live in the great state of Texas). We all love to sing songs together. We love Veggie Tales and the Biscuit Brothers cds.

    You are such a blessing to me. I so enjoy reading your blog and e books.

  • […] I planned what each of my kids wore on each day of the trip. I made a little pile for each day that contained pajamas, outfit for the day and any accessories. I then put all those items into a ziplock bag, compressed it and labeled it with the childÒ€ℒs name and the date it was to be worn. via inspiredtoaction.com […]