5 Tips for Taking Road Trips With Kids

Being in the car for multiple hours at a time with young kids can sound like the last thing you would want to do this summer. When our kids were babies and toddlers we dreaded long car rides to visit family. We often drove late at night so they would sleep most of the time and the trip would go faster for all of us. Now that our kids are out of that stage, we have begun to take 10-12 day road trips during the summer and it’s made for some of our favorites memories as a family! Today, I’m sharing 5 tips for having a successful and fun road trip with kids.

Kids jumping at Bryce Canyon while on a road trip

5 Tips for Taking Road Trips With Kids

Last summer we spent 12 days road tripping through Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Flagstaff Arizona, and ended at Great Wolf Lodge in Scottsdale! We absolutely loved our time together and all-in-all our kids did so great on our long drives. Here are a few things we did that helped.

Image of the entrance to The Narrows at Zion National Park

1. Break Up Far Destinations into Smaller Chunks

Bryce Canyon was our first destination where we had a camping reservation for 3 nights. However, it was a 9.5 hour drive! We decided rather than drive the entire stretch in one day, we would break it up into two days and spend the night at the Hoover Dam along the way. This way, our kids were never in the car for more than 5 hours at a time. In my experience, something happens during hour 4 where suddenly no one is nice to one another. This goes for myself and my husband too-ha! Our next three destinations were only a few hours apart. Zion National Park was a day trip that only took us an hour and a half each day. Getting to Flagstaff, Arizona from Utah was about 4 hours, and then Scottsdale was a 2 hour drive from there. Our final stretch to our hometown, San Diego was only 5 hours. While we clocked a lot of miles and total hours in the car, breaking our trip up into small stretches of drives really helped our kids not burn out in the car.

Image of kids seeing a deer while on a road trip

2. Bring New Activities, Snacks, and Movies For the Car Ride

The week before we head out on our road trip with the kids, I stock up on new library books (or put them on their kindle), yummy snacks we haven’t eaten in awhile, and download new movies to our devices. I also love to hit the dollar store for crossword puzzles, word searches, and coloring books. I do not let our kids touch ANY of these things prior to loading up in the car for our road trip! This gives them something to look forward to while we are driving. I also like to structure our car ride. My boys could play Minecraft for hours straight, and then end up with a headache and car sick. I purposefully block out 30-60 minutes of just resting and relaxing, and hour of screen time on their iPads, reading time, and movie time. Time blocking our car trips makes it go much faster and diminishes the amount of “are we there yet”.

Kids looking at Bryce Canyon while on a road trip

3. Pack For Each Location, Rather Than Each Person

This is the mistake I made last year. I packed one bag for each child, which meant 4 times I was taking out 6 bags from the car, unpacking them, and re-packing them. This summer when we go on our road trip with our kids, I will be packing one bag for all of us for each location. That way when we reach our first destination-a hotel halfway to Yosemite!-we will have one bag to take out of the car that has our overnight clothing in it. I’ll also keep all of our toiletries in one bag, so that it’s altogether and we aren’t digging through several suitcases to find our toothbrushes. Obviously for longer stays, such as our 6 night camping trip, we will need a few suitcases or large plastic containers, but I think this will make packing and unpacking much more simpler.

Image of The Narrows at Zion National Park
Image depicting road trip with kids
Kids hiking while on a road trip

The Fourth Tip for Taking Road Trips with Kids is To Include Them in The Planning

We have four children. Four very opinionated and passionate children. You can only imagine what our conversations are like when it comes to choosing where to eat lunch on the road, or whether to go for a bike ride together or stay at the camp and play Uno. Something I like to do at home during the summer, is write my kids’ names on popsicle sticks and draw one when it’s time for us to choose something. Popsicle sticks are very fair and never biased! When we have a choice to make, we let the popsicle stick choose which child gets to make that choice. Win-win.

Image of a road trip with kids
Bell Rock
Image of Bell Rock at Flagstaff, Arizona

5. Have A “Down Day” After 2 or More Adventure Days

One of the hardest things about road trips with kids, is their stamina for activities. Even though we are out of the baby and toddler stage, our kids are still relatively young. My husband and I have learned that if we are out and about hiking or exploring two days in a row, then the 3rd day needs to be mellow. We also have learned to read our kids and what they are capable of, even if it means changing our plans. I had hoped to hike The Narrows at Zion. We had friends whose kids were able to do part of it and we hoped ours could hang as well. However, we quickly realized that our kids’ limit for hiking is about 2-3 miles round trip. This meant that they could make it to the entrance of The Narrows, but we wouldn’t be hiking in. This doesn’t mean we won’t have a chance one day to see this beautiful hike, but for now we’ll just look at it from afar and enjoy pictures. 🙂

Kids hiking through Bryce Canyon
Mom with kids on a road trip

Happy road tripping!

XO, Desiree

Desiree Jacobs Photography is based in San Diego, CA