How to Survive a Long Car Ride with Kids

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Learn how to survive a long car ride with kids on your next family road trip with these 6 easy tips.

Two girls in the backseat of a car on a roadtrip.

We are practically family road trip experts. With dozens of long road trips under our belt, I know exactly what it takes to keep everyone comfortable and happy for a long drive.

When you’re taking a long road trip with kids, you need to set yourself up for a successful vacation with these easy tips for making your car more comfortable for the drive.

With just a little bit of prep, everyone will be comfy, entertained, fed, and happy and the miles will just fly by!

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How to Survive a Long Car Ride with Kids

We regularly do 8-hour drives to Disney with the kids. I’ve traveled for 3 days straight from North Carolina to Minnesota with the kids by myself.

For the most part, the drive is actually a fun part of the journey because of these simple tips:

1. Start with a Fresh Space

On an average day around town I would be mortified to let you see the inside of my car.

Crumbled crackers, random shoes, crumpled receipts–my car has it all.

But ahead of a big road trip, I take a large garbage bag out to the vehicle and empty it of every single last item. Even the car seats!

A quick run through a car wash that does both inside and out service is about $15 in our area. SO worth the money!!

Starting with a clean slate helps you to take advantage of every nook and cranny of your vehicle for packing storage.

As you clean, take note of all the cup holders and pockets and hooks you may not have noticed before. You’re about to need them.

2. Set Up the Car for the Drive

First, find a good spot for a garbage bag to hold wrappers, napkins, tissues, etc. I just use a plastic shopping bag and keep a few clean spares in my glove compartment for swapping it out as it fills up.

If your back doors have pockets, place a container of baby wipes or hand wipes in each one. They’re perfect for quickie clean-ups of all kinds and for wiping off dirty hands before/after eating snacks.

Make sure every seat has a cup holder that is open for a drink. If your car is short on cup holders, consider adding one or two of these to your shopping list.

3. Keep the Kids Comfortable & Happy

Nothing makes kids crankier than being uncomfortable.

These little tips help avoid the biggest causes of annoyance on a longer road trip.

First, feet dangling from raised car seats can cause tingling after an extended period of time.

We secure small pieces of luggage just beneath their feet to take advantage of the space and give them a spot to rest their tootsies (rather than propping them up on the back of our seats!!)

A girl's feet rest on top of a grab bag.

Keep the traveling lovies you need right in the cabin of the car. They make great pillows or wraps if the temperature dips.

If your kids don’t have lovies, just be sure to bring a travel sized blanket for everyone in the back seat to avoid arguments about the air conditioning.

Use those cupholders you’ve now recently discovered from your clean up to host water bottles & snack cups.

You could put them in the car before your kids even hop in so their drink and snack is already waiting for them or hold on to them and hand them out at the first sign that the kids are getting tired from the drive.

4. Keep Everyone Entertained

A girl places a game in the car.

Boredom is for sure the biggest concern on a long trip.

Remember to bring a mix of activities that are both short term distractions and longer term games.

Shorter term distractions like coloring activities and connect-the-dot type puzzles can be fun for kids who don’t get car sick. Keep a clipboard handy in the pocket in front of their seats, it makes a perfect portable desk top to stabilize both.

Longer term distractions like this fantastic Travel Bingo game or discussion starters like the this one are activities meant to be worked on over the course of your trip as a whole family and work better for kids who need to look out the window to avoid being car sick..

Listen Together

Have a special playlist planned out for your iPod with music your family doesn’t listen to very often so it all feels somewhat fresh and new.

For our trip to Disney we listened to an awesome mix of songs from Disney musicals mixed together with some pop favorites for mom & dad.

You could also try to listen to one of the picks from this list of the best audiobooks for family road trips.

Listen Separately

However, sometimes everyone needs a break from all the together-time.

Plan ahead and make sure everyone has a separate set of headphones and device to stream the music and/or audiobook of their choice.

The adults could listen to a laugh-out-loud funny audiobook or a suspenseful mystery audiobook together.

5. Keep Everyone Fed

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t get hungry when they are bored. If you took no other piece of advice other than “be prepared with snacks” from this list, you’d still be better off on your long drive!

Make sure to have lots of small portioned snacks so you can dole them out frequently. Look for low-mess things that they can nibble on over time.

6. Take Breaks

No matter how comfortable your car is before you go, at some point on the long drive everyone is going to get a bit squirrelly.

Take time for longer breaks. Get out of the car, stretch your legs, do a few jumping jacks.

Maybe even build some time into your travels to eat at a real table inside the fast food spot or have a picnic at an outdoor table at a rest stop.

Everyone will feel better after a little fresh air.

More Road Trip Tips

With a little bit of planning, your family road trip can be filled with fun family memories. Check out our best advice for making your long drives much happier:

A photo collage shows several scenes from the back seat of a family car.

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