Family Road Trip Tips

Family road trips can be a bit overwhelming. When kids are involved, you just never really know what to expect. Gone are the days of taking a quiet drive with your honey as you take turns listening to your favorite music, and stopping at fun local stores and restaurants just because you’ve got all the time in the world.

No, on family road trips, we’re pretty much at the mercy of our kiddos, their needs, and their schedule.

When Hudson was a baby and a young toddler, we used to fly everywhere. Hudson and I frequently flew to see my mom and dad in Dallas, and we had that whole process mastered.

But when Hayes came along, the idea of flying with two babies– alone– just seemed like too much. And too expensive. So we started driving. In Hayes’s short little life, we’ve been on at least five 12-hour road trips. And they’re not all that bad.

I wanted to share our tips with all of you that have young children.

Cue the Vacation “Holiday Road” theme music, Griswolds…


1.  Set up a special toy bag. If the oldest child can reach it, that’s ideal. But if the front seat passenger can reach it that’s good, too. Pack the toy bag with some fun new toys and old favorites. We like to bring sticker books, a Magnadoodle, the boys’ favorite animals, and favorite books. Little ones just need something to hold on to and chew on. Older ones need something very hands-on. We also pack puzzles for when we arrive at our destination.  We put all of the small toys and small pieces in Ziploc bags so everything stays together and nothing gets lost. I love the Thirty-One Large Utility Tote for holding our toys in the car.

2. Prepare your in-car entertainment. We have a portable DVD player that we have hooked up to the back of one of the front seats. We prefer to play longer Disney movies so we’re not constantly trying to switch out the DVD. And my boys love all the music in the Disney movies. We also bring the iPad, and have some kid-friendly apps downloaded and have also downloaded some of their favorite movies and TV shows. We also listen to some of our family’s favorite songs. Our boys both love music, so we like to keep music on hand that keeps them happy.

3. Set up a little diaper station. We bring our regular diaper bag on the trip, but for the actual road trip, we set up a station in the back of our SUV. You could also do this in the front seat of the car when you stop. Sometimes there is a dirty diaper and there’s not a clean restroom for diaper changing. I actually love the Thirty-One Organizing Utility Tote for this purpose. We pack it full of diapers, a pair of clean underwear, and a change of clothes for each boy. And it holds a big container of wipes. The portable changing pad fits in the bag, too, so we can just change a quick diaper in the car. We also bring the small portable potty for this reason. You just never know when someone needs to go.

4. Bring the comforts of home. Hudson is attached to his lovie and Hayes sleeps with a lovie and a certain pacifier. This are my boys’ “sleep triggers” and instantly make them feel comfortable. They go to sleep so quickly when they have these little comforts. I also bring a little blanket for each of them, so they don’t get too cold when they nap. And we bring Hudson’s pillow for when we arrive at our destination. Fortunately, their carseats have large side impact protection padding that gives them a nice little pillow.

5. Don’t forget the snacks. We pack a bag full of snacks. We bring “clean” snacks like crackers, oatmeal bars, cookies, graham crackers, and Goldfish. Just things that they can eat without making a huge mess. And for road trips, I’m not overly concerned with packing healthy snacks. I just want to keep them happy, and quiet. I also pack a few very large bottles of water so we can refill sippy cups as often as needed.

6. Food stops and sanity stops. Stop as often as your kids need. We always build in time for extra long stops. We know we’ll need more potty breaks than usual, and we know that when they need lunch, they really need lunch. We try to stop at a fast food restaurant with a playground so the boys can run around and burn off some energy. If we have to spend an hour for lunch just so they can get their wiggles out, that’s okay. Another one of our favorite places to stop is Cracker Barrel. We can always count on a decent meal for our kids and we can count on clean bathrooms.

7. Time your trip around your kids’ schedule. We always try to leave immediately after breakfast. This way they are full from breakfast and they’ve been awake at least an hour. We know that we can get at least three hours in on the road before we have to stop for lunch. And then we know that after lunch they’ll be fed, full, and tired. Then we can count on a good, long afternoon nap. But if it’s clear that our kids are just over the trip and aren’t going to tolerate it another second, we try to be flexible. If we need to stop for the night and finish the trip the next day, we’re prepared to do that. Which leads me to my final tip…

8. Pack strategically. If  you are planning to stop halfway, pack one overnight bag that has a change of clothes and pajamas for all of you. It will need all the toiletries and whatever you need for one quick stay at a hotel on the way to your final destination. We pulled up very late one night to a hotel about halfway to the beach. I unloaded the boys and Todd grabbed the one bag we needed. Make sure your overnight bag is easy to access from the rear of the vehicle.

What tips would you add to this list?


*Thirty-One Gifts did not sponsor this post, I just absolutely love their bags and never go on a trip without these bags. I have many friends that sell Thirty-One and I have ordered quite a few bags over the last two years. They really are the best.

Road trips aren’t bad at all if you’re a preschooler who hollers out that you need to go potty. And if your brother is snoozing next to you in his car seat, your daddy will take you into Burger King to get a milkshake and a crown.



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  1. says

    Good tips and I love those bags! I don’t have any but I need to get one. Only comment I would add is on snacks. This is your chance! If you pack apple slices or cherry tomatoes, they might eat them if that’s what there is. (Unsolicited advice, but thought I would share–this was something I discovered on car rides home from school.)

  2. says

    Wonderful tips!! I have a diaper changing station in my car at ALL times. Something about those in store changing stations grosses me out, so unless it’s an emergency we always head for the back of the car.

  3. says

    Great tips! I love our Thirty-One bags for road trips also. I’ll need to remember all your trips when we head to the beach at the end of this month!

  4. rbs2 says

    love this post! we do lots of the canvas storage totes now that lands end has those. they don’t have the compartments like the 31 bags, but work just as well for most uses (toys, beach towels, pet stuff, etc) and are a whole lot cheaper since lands end almost always has a promo code for so much off % and free shipping (and you can monogram them too). just thought i’d share 🙂

  5. Elizabeth says

    Thanks for all of the great tips! I just love your blog. We have a little one, and I was wondering what type of CDs/music you play for your boys. I have just started searching for praise music and just fun music for my little girl to listen to at home and in the car. Thanks!

    • says

      Hey Elizabeth! We have a few CDs that we like. I love the Praise Baby CDs for praise music. There is also a really sweet one called Sing Over Me with praise songs sung like lullabies. It’s so sweet.

      There is a really fun DIsney CD full of the old classics like Old MacDonald, Hokey Pokey, Happy and You Know It…. It’s a man singing the songs, but Hudson always LOVED that CD.

      And we even have a playlist of some current pop songs that they just love! 🙂

      Also, the Baby Einstein CDs of classical music are nice for when we want them to try to calm down and relax. 🙂

  6. Emily says

    I grew up in Michigan and my dad’s family was in Louisiana, so we took road trips down there once or twice a year-a nice 21 hour drive. One thing that we usually did, although I’m sure it’s not right for everyone, is leave at night, around bedtime, and all of us kids would go to sleep pretty easily and sleep for a large chunk of the trip. I know occasionally my parents would have to stop and sleep if they got too tired, but that didn’t happen every trip I don’t think. From my perspective when I was young that made the trips go by so much quicker. I’m sure it depends on if the drivers can stay awake and alert, but it does work for some people.

  7. Diane says

    Great post and tips, Erin! I can’t believe you’ve done 5 long trips with little Hayes. What little troopers you have! We did one 11-hr trip to Myrtle Beach and waited until he feel asleep for the night. But that was torture for my poor husband, driving in the pitch black darkness! We’ll never do that again! We just did an 8-hr trip for my SIL’s wedding and Rhys did great! The last hour though is the worst – it’s like he knew we were getting close and couldn’t take it anymore!

    Love the 31 large utility tote – that looks fabulous for a long car ride.

  8. says

    I love this post! We just returned from a little road trip with our twin two-year olds and I wish I would have read this beforehand 🙂

    Thanks again for stopping by our etsy site (bayt boutique) and for your support! I’m so glad I found your blog and am excited to be a new follower!! It is a beautiful site 🙂

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