Entertaining Your Kids on a Roadtrip

Travel plans for this summer’s whirlwind vacation? Road tripping to see family or PCSing across the country? Road trips can be beautiful memories of the sun setting, the cool breeze through your hair, and 70’s tunes on the radio. Although the desire for the perfect trip can be there, it may feel more like you are driving on the highway to hell with breakdowns, screaming children, melted crayons, and a hope that everyone can get along for the next eight hours of the car ride. Here are a few mom-approved (tried and tested) tips for not just surviving a road trip but enjoying and making the most of it.


Plan fun stops along the way.

Are you going across the country to a new base? If you’ll have to do multiple days anyway, plan some of your stops in a city with a zoo, a science museum, or a fun festival to make new memories. It’s a good break for everyone and will disperse extra energy outside of the vehicle. If you stay at a hotel, spend the evening enjoying the pool, and the hot tub before you call it a night.


Get the whole family involved.

Multiple moms brought up car games like I Spy, Alphabet Finding, License Plate Games, and 20 Questions. These classic games can take up an hour or more. In between rounds, you can also talk about school, dreams, goals, or what they are looking forward to on the trip. If you are on the way home, use a portion of the drive to reflect on your favorite moments and laugh at silly memories you loved.


When there are no more words anyone wants to speak, an audiobook or podcast can be an excellent way for the family to enjoy something together. Book series like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson can have a little bit of something for everyone to enjoy, and story podcasts are a new way of engaging the family in bite-sized 20-minute to 1-hour episodes if you want something shorter.


Finally, the classic sing-along. Whether you do acapella singing in harmony, belting along to Disney classics, or sing Baby Shark on repeat, you can build out a playlist with input from all your family members to rock out to.


Don’t wing it.

Multiple moms advised on planning your stops and food. If you stop, have everyone take a bathroom break, even if they think they don’t need it. Have them run around at the end of the parking lot if they need to disperse energy. You can search for playgrounds along your route so you know where to stop in case there’s too much frenetic energy in the car.  Make sure to charge all electronics the night before and have all desired playlists, movies, books, and games downloaded to their respective devices. 


Decide whether you want to do a few shorter or longer driving days and what is better for your sanity. Lastly, when you leave can make all the difference, whether that’s early in the morning or later after rush hour and driving through the night. Knowing if you need to drive in shifts or if one person can drive for five hours straight can impact how you decide to divide the drive.


Gameify the Trip

Add a twist to the road trip with challenges. Perhaps the kids need to research each town you drive through or complete a certain amount of reading or creative time before they can watch a movie. You can pick up cheap toys or coloring books for them to unwrap every few hours to play with or behave for a certain section of the trip. If you have a DVD player in the van, you can take gaming to a new level by hooking up a Switch for the kids to play their games.


Best recommendations to pack for the kids to use:

-Reusable stickers or magnetic play sets

-Coloring books or sketchbooks with colored pencils and a sharpener, or the twist-up kind (they won’t melt like crayons if left in a hot car)

-Coloring books that only require a water pen

-Books and puzzle books like I Spy, Where’s Waldo, and Soduko

-Journal and pens

-Ipads with games, movies, and books already downloaded

-Comfort items like blankets, pillows, and a stuffed animal

-Lap trays or a travel bag for each specific kid with their items inside

-A bin for snacks and drinks

-A grabber pole to pick up the things the kids drop so you don’t have to climb in the back.


You’ll discover what works best for you on your trip, but hopefully, these can get you off to a good start. Remember to keep breathing whether it’s heavy traffic, or fighting over the coloring book, that even if things get messy, it’ll make for a good story when you can look back and laugh at it in a few years. 


A heartfelt thank you to the military and civilian moms who gave their tried-and-true advice for this article. All of them agreed that, at the end of the day, the driver’s safety and ability to focus on the road are the most important things, and doing what works for you is always the best call, whether this means more tech, games, stops, or snacks.

Jessica M.B, Jenna M, Sarah C., Kristen K., Erin B., Elissa P., Angelica L., Lindsay C.F., Amanda H.M., Casey M., Ashley S., Sarah S., Christina C., Ashley J., Stephanie N., Stephanie N., Tanna F., Amanda S., Cat H.


About the Author

Aj Smit is the author of the book Red Thread: Weaving an Embodied Life of Joy, life coach speaker, glitter enthusiast, and professional weaver of Joy. She is a military spouse in S. Korea with a pup and houseplants galore. Aj has led various Red Tents, retreats, and workshops internationally over the last ten years to help others discover how to weave creativity and curiosity into their lives. You can find her on Facebook and Instagram at @TheJoyWeaver and TheJoyWeaver.com