How to Survive a Road Trip With Your Kids

In theory, family road trips sound like a lot of fun. Once you’re actually on the road, though, they can be a total disaster. The trick to having an amazing time? You have to plan ahead; you just can’t hit the highway willy-nilly. Use these simple tips to plan the best family road trip ever.

Get Your Car Checked out Before You Leave

The only thing worse than breaking down on the interstate is breaking down on the interstate with a car full of kids. There’s no foolproof way to prevent a flat tire or dead battery, but a solid tuneup goes a long way. Schedule a basic maintenance appointment a couple of weeks before you leave on your trip. Keep an emergency maintenance kit in your trunk for good measure.

Snack Like You’ve Never Snacked Before

Snacks are one of the best ways to keep kids quiet and happy on the road, but they come with a price, and that price is crumbs. Pack snacks, but pack them wisely. Avoid crackers that crumble easily. But don’t stick to carrots and celery, either — your goal is to make your kids too happy to ask you if you’re there yet. Put aside most of your food standards. It’s vacation time. Your kids will be just fine if they eat more junk food than usual.

Say ‘Yes’ to Screen Time

Allow your kids screen time, within reason. What you consider reasonable at home may be very different than what you consider reasonable when you’ve been driving for six hours. If at all possible, give kids their own devices with accompanying headphones. They don’t have to be plugged in for the entire trip, but every precious moment of silence will earn you another precious moment of happy conversation when you’re driving by cool destinations.

Stock up on Reading Material

Hit the library or your local bookstore to stock up on activity books, comic books and children’s books and magazines. Long road trips give kids plenty of opportunities to play word games and catch up on their favorite heroes and villains. By offering variety, you won’t have to deal with kids complaining about “having” to read on vacation.

Make Time for Breaks

Build a lot of extra time into your schedule when you’re on a road trip with kids. You want to allow a little padding for the unexpected, but more importantly, you need to give your kids time to shake off cabin fever. Stop at rest areas more often than you normally would. Take five minutes to let the kids jump around. It may take longer to get where you’re going, but the trip will feel shorter with happy kids in the back seat.

Reward Good Behavior

Kids aren’t equipped to sit still for long periods of time the way adults are. Cut them some slack when you’re on the road. When your kids are getting along and making good choices, reward that behavior frequently. Try packing a secret bag with small treats and toys. A new book, a building set and even a bag of chips can go a long way toward delighting kids on a road trip. Just make sure you hide the new goodies well, so they’re a total surprise when you hand them to the hooligans in the back seat.

Take Care of Yourself

It’s easy to become so focused on your kids’ behavior and well-being that you completely forget about your own needs. Pack a cooler full of healthful snacks and water. Play music you enjoy. When you stop, do some light stretching and make a serious attempt to shake off the stress of the road. And whatever you do, stay off of your phone while you’re driving.

Do Your Research

Before you embark on your family vacation, research the route. Look up fun local playgrounds and kid-friendly restaurants. Sometimes it isn’t about the most popular tourist destinations but the most appropriate activities for your family. Give yourself a handful of choices at each destination. You can still be spontaneous without wasting precious vacation time trying to find a fun place to stop.