Traveling with Children: Keeping Kids Happy on the Road

The Bagaso's home on wheels!

Christy Bagasao, Contributing Writer

My husband and I have been traveling with our children since our youngest was a few months old.  She is now 15 years old.  By “travel” I mean a minimum of a 4000-mile road trip...minimum.  Now we tour the country full-time with my husband's music mission.
By “we” I mean my husband and me, seven children ranging from infancy to 15 years, and a 130-pound dog. 

Experience being the greatest teacher, I have a few tips to share from our travels.

20 Tips for Keeping Kids Happy on the Road

1. Make sure everyone is comfortable with plenty of leg room, a small pillow for naps, a blanket for personal temperature preferences, a cup holder if possible, and a small bag of activities. 

2. Stop frequently.  Rest stop picnics can be very refreshing, and running around a bit can prime kids for a nap.

3. If your children are asleep, keep driving!  I don't care how badly you have to go to the bathroom. Just. Keep. Driving!

4. Keep your total daily driving time down to a reasonable amount if possible, particularly if you have children strapped into car seats which dramatically limit their mobility.

5. Change diapers at every stop.  Nobody wants to sit in...that.

6. If one person has to go, everybody has to go!  Otherwise, five miles down the road, you WILL hear, “I hafta go!”

7. Divide snacks into small containers so they can be easily passed out and rationed. Do not give your children sugary snacks.  You are asking for trouble.  Also avoid choking hazards and foods that melt. 

8. Sit in the back seat.  If you have a very young child or several, give up on the co-pilot idea.  It isn't exactly comfortable, but you can nurse a baby who is buckled in a rear-facing infant seat. 

9. Occasionally stop at a store or roadside stand and let your children pick out a treat within your family's treat guidelines. Be sure to try out regional favorites.

10. Give children driving games to pass the time.  I like to make a booklet of activities for each child.
11. Keep a stocked activity bag in the vehicle, suitable for the age of your children.  Pass it around when people begin to get tired of what they brought along.

12. Relax your standards a bit regarding the quantity of movies you allow.  At home, we have one movie night a week, but on the road, we are looser.  You can install screens and a small DVD player in your vehicle for a reasonable price—we shopped around and installed it ourselves. (By “ourselves” I mean “my hubby.”)

13. Do not get your children used to having a movie going all the time. Not only is it inhumane to expose an adult to 15 straight episodes of Dora the Explorer, but if you keep the screen on constantly, the prospect of a movie loses its novelty and effect as a distraction for your littles.  If your children can't travel two or three hours without a movie, you've got some work to do.

14. Let loose and be fun! Sing, play games, nibble little toes, tell jokes and stories, sing some more, and read fun books.  Be a part of the action.

15. Pull over to explore something interesting.  Your children will forever remember the detours, like popping out of the van on the side of the highway in Texas to investigate the massive number of male tarantulas booking it across the road to find their soulmates...or webmates. 

16. Plan ahead.  Nothing makes a long day longer than finding all the area hotels or campgrounds booked up.

17. Pull out a few surprises during the trip, like a dollar for a treat, a new coloring book, a favorite snack, a new handicraft to work on, or a homemade slideshow/movie of your children. 

18. Give your children maps to follow along on the trip.  Mark your day's destination so they know “how much farther” without asking.

19. Books on tape are great!  Look for free downloadable books at for the older set.

20. Be patient. Something will go wrong, but if you can make it fun, or at least not flip out, your family will get through it just fine.

If you are interested in the travels of a “roadschooling” family of 9, follow our adventures at TheTravelBags. 
What are your best tips for keeping kids happy on the road?

Christy blogs at The Simple Homemaker where she focuses on keeping life simple. She encourages her readers to "clear their life queue" of stress, expectations, over-commitment, and the lies that homemakers tend to believe that make their job so much more difficult than it needs to be.


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Kasee said...

MUSIC! We are all into various genres of music, and the key is to let each person (young or old) hear one of "their" songs at least once per hour. Luckily for us, our youngest prefers adult music to preschool tunes! And having the ability to hook an iPod or my iPad to the stereo in our Excursion makes trips much easier. No more "but she just heard one of her songs!" My answer is: Sorry, I just hit shuffle and the iPod does the deciding. said...

Kasee, That's a great idea! Thanks for sharing. :)

Christy, The Simple Homemaker said...

Good idea, Kasee! Before our CD player died in the Bagabus, two family members dominated it. This would definitely solve that problem. Thanks for sharing. :)

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