9 Tips for Traveling with Kids

We travel with our children a lot. And no, our van doesn’t have a DVD player. Here are the best tips we’ve learned along the way!
9 tips for travel with kids

Plan to stop for bathroom breaks, often.

Whether you’re potty-training, or have a child in diapers, or everyone is just getting restless: you’re going to have to stop. Depending on where you’re traveling, these stops may take planning. We’ve traveled out west where we needed to know exactly when and where we’d stop because there just weren’t a lot of options. When you stop the motto should be, “Everybody has to try”, unless you want to hear your three year old announce five minutes after you get back on the interstate: “I have to go.”

Plan to stop for meals and snacks.

Sure, you could eat in the car, if necessary, but a change of scenery is nice. Bonus: a stop with a park or playground. If you want to avoid fast food (or a least the “all fast-food all the time” diet) consider bringing along:  Jell-o in individual cups (who knows why but that makes it more special), packaged Trail Mix(although you do need to be aware of your own kids’ propensity for choking), cheese (sticks or cubes), boiled eggs (they travel well, although the peeling can be messy), fruit (apples, bananas, oranges are all fairly sturdy), cut up veggies (broccoli, carrot sticks, celery with peanut butter or other filling), cereal bars, Pretzels(these travel better than chips), crackers & peanut butter or cheese, and plenty of bottled water. Don’t forget a no-spill cup for the youngest traveler.

Bring lots of audio books.

You can check your library for CD or mp3 editions. Just be sure these are family friendly. No need to traumatize your kiddos with the latest spy thriller. Some podcasts make a nice change from stories. These can be surprisingly educational, too. For audio books, Jim Weiss is a favorite narrator with our crew, with many available titles like these:

And this Chronicles of Narnia radio theater set is a family favorite:

although we’ve also enjoyed these unabridged versions (read by some familiar voices of British actors):

Bring music.

Whatever’s on your personal devices, of course, but maybe some new CDs, too. You never know when a battery might die and you’ll need to go old school. Bring a variety, and be sure that the driver has veto power. No need to listen to a certain classical selection if the driver claims he’ll go to sleep listening to it. And, just as a family togetherness thing: limit earbuds. Earbuds can be handy for keeping the peace, or they can keep the family isolated from each other. Try to listen to at least some music together because then someday you’ll hear that song and be able to say, “Remember when we all sang along to that while we drove through those tunnels?” Or something like that. Music is evocative and will help you remember a good time.

Activity bags for the kids.

Some ideas for filling these: Twistables Crayons(so much better for traveling than old fashioned crayons), Color Wonder Markers, coloring books or pages, blank paper, a child’s atlas or folding maps, magnet dolls or toys, small Doodler Pro, stickers, books, card games, magnet or travel editions of favorite games, hand puppets, and a small toy or two. If you have small children the bag should never, ever, under any circumstances contain markers, play-dough, silly putty, or beads. I speak from experience. Include a clipboard. They’re handy as a hard writing surface and kids love them for some reason. Try to keep handheld devices or DVDs to a minimum. (Who has time for all those batteries or the constant beeping?)

No matter what’s packed in your suitcases, have a change of clothes handy.

We started making up a bag with a change of clothes for everyone, separate from our overnight bags. If you need to break up the trip and stop for a night, have a small suitcase with a change of clothes and your nighttime needs separate from your other bags so you don’t have to unload everything. Children can usually pack in a backpack that they are responsible to carry.

Baby wipes or some other type of cleaning wipe will be useful, even if you no longer have a baby along for the trip.

A roll of paper towels is usually more helpful than the little handful of paper napkins they give you at a restaurant. You will need them. Something will be spilled, it’s just a matter of when. Don’t forget a couple plastic grocery bags: they can hold wet things or they could really come in handy if someone gets carsick.

If you have a larger family a motel / hotel with suites may be more cost effective than a cheaper motel with two rooms.

Our family looks for Country Inn and Suites or Holiday Inn and suites.  A bedroom with two large beds and a pull-out sofa or spot for a roll-away will usually accommodate all of us (that still might leave a family member in a pack ‘n play or in a sleeping bag, depending on ages).

Never underestimate the power of a swim.

On our cross country trips we usually drive 10-12 hours a day. Starting the day with a quick swim or ending it with one go a long way to helping the children break the monotony of a long trip.

These are a few ideas that have helped us survive multiple long (and many shorter) trips.

What are your favorite tips for traveling with kids?

9 tips for traveling with kids
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  1. Excellent tips! Thanks for joining the #laughlearnlinkup!

  2. Hey Karen, I really appreciate your tips on packing extra clothes and wipes regardless if your child is in diapers. We recently traveld 68 hours half way around the world with our 14 month old, and I have to tell you, it was a real parenting wake up call for me. Making sure that you have enough toiletries and wipes and clothes to get you all through in case you get held up somewhere…that’s my tip. We got stuck in a foreign country and it extended out our trip. Having extra essentials made all the difference in the world. Have a great day! #laughlearnlinkup


  3. We traveled with a tiny potty chair in the back of the car for a couple of years. It came in handy on MANY occasions.

    • Never thought of that one – probably we never owned a potty chair. Road trips with potty training kiddos is horrible though, seems like this tip could save a lot of trouble.


  1. […] Living Unabridged has nine tips for traveling with kids. This is great practical advice. […]

  2. […] No matter what’s packed in your suitcases, have a change of clothes handy. Karen from Living Unabridged […]