WFMW: Driving with Kids

Last week, my ghetto mom van was in the shop for over a week. We had a few issues the dealership agreed to fix on our paid-for 2006 van and we weren’t about to turn them down. Because we like free. A lot. In exchange for my minivan, they gave us the tiniest car that seats 5 people.

I never thought I’d say this: but I missed my big white stinky, crumb-filled automobile something fierce.

Because noise and smells are magnified in a small car and the little people are VERY close to you.

For a split second, I rethought the whole driving for days and miles in a recreational vehicle.

The tight space reminded me that I really needed to have some activities ready for the long drive (it also reminded me to wash my son’s shoes).

Moving on.

A couple of years ago, I wrote this mega post of travel tips while on-the-road with kids. I thought I’d share it again with y’all:

  • Audio books (my library checks them out) or you can download them here
  • Ice chest w/drinks
  • DVD player, preferably with movies that haven’t been seen
  • We’ve been driving our smaller less gas-consuming car that doesn’t have a built-in TV.  So, we strap our laptop on an ice chest with a bungee, so the kids can watch a movie. (Yeah, we are THAT family).
  • Bag or backpack with coloring books and small toys for each child.  
  • This site says pack a plastic box for kids personal things and then use the lid as a tray to eat on.
  • Lap Desk for writing and drawing
  • Headphones for MP3 players and/or DVD player
  • Kid’s camera
  • Sketch pad/pencil
  • Extra change of clothes, separate from luggage.  Because if it can happen, it probably will.
  • If you’re traveling with a toddler, leave when they are tired.  If you leave first thing in the morning, this is their active time and they don’t make the best travelers
  • A package of pipe cleaners (to bend, twist and create)
  • Pack paper towels, wipes, and a couple of blankets.  Remember, we’re talking kids.
  • Buy $5 Tape Recorder and ‘Read’ stories to your kids in your own voice
  • Put a trash box in the back seat
  • Travel Journal
  • Sing silly road trip songs
  • Travel games from the store  (Target has some great ones in the stationary section that are cheap and magnetic!)
  • Travel freebies-links to free stuff for traveling
  • Play the I spy game with license plates
  • Wipe-off white board/marker
  • Magnetic sets (paper dolls, fire trucks, found in book sections)
  • Snack bag filled with pre-portioned zip-lock bags of non-messy foods
  • Kid’s music
  • Tin foil for creations
  • Play Go Fish
  • Make string figures
  • Check out these awesome games (like Noah’s Ark, Build a Story and Fooler, Fooler) to play in the car!
  • Kids pillow and blanket
  • Treasure Jar
  • Rest Stop Box-stock with jump rope, frisbee, inflatable beach ball and Nerf ball, according to July’s issue of Parents Magazine.
  • They also encourage travelers to ‘crank up the radio, open the doors and have an outdoor dance-a-thon).
  • Printable Car Trip Check List
  • Child-safety scissors and paper (it worked on a long flight w/my preschooler)
  • Invisible markers/Magic paper
  • Chalk Cloth Oil Mat
  • Moon sand on a tray
  • Post It Notes-draw on them, then decorate the car (Women’s Day, July Issue)
  • Spill-proof Bubbles (yes, in the car.  My toddler loves this).
  • Printable Car Bingo
  • Stickers
  • Band-aids (again a toddler-pleaser)
  • Leapster, DS Lite or hand-held game
  • Magna Doodle
  • Cookie sheet with magnetic alphabet letters
  • The following incredible ideas came from MomsMinivan:  travel tickets, surprise packages, and more (Actually EVERY idea on this site is amazing!)
  • Printable Boredom Busters
  • I spy bags/jars
  • Ear plugs for when the “how much longer questions begin”

What works for you on road trips?
Thanks for joining in, you can read the WFMW guidelines here


  1. 2


    I LOVE your tips. I wrote a similar post loooong ago. In a couple weeks we’re taking a family trip across a few states with all six kids. eek. I get anxiety just typing that. I’m going to bookmark this particular post to inspire me during my preparation. Thanks!

    P.S. Spill proof bubbles? Where do you get those?

  2. 3


    Bible Pictionary (we revised it for in the van convenience on our trip to TX this month – 2700 +/- miles)

    Also I do lots of reading aloud to the kids – big chapter books – my kids and husband find these so interesting. Recent ones are Jungle Doctor (missionary bio), Jim Kjelgaard books and Little House on the Prairie series. As long as my voice holds up, it keeps their attention.

    With all the traveling we’re doing as part of Wycliffe, I do limit how much we take along or our van full of 9 people gets very, very crowded. I try to maximize the use of everything we have in the van and at every stop throw trash out. Also regularly changing seating arrangements really helps when you have more than a couple of kids.

    Thanks for your great ideas! Several of these I want to try on our next trip!

  3. 5


    Holy Smokes what a list. I am totally not doing my kids justice. We pack snacks, drinks, toys, books and count on good old “I spy” to help entertain us. Thanks for the list of tips.

  4. 6


    Wow! That’s an intense list! I’m a lame mom — I totally limit stuff in the car because I hate keeping track of it all and I stress out when things get messy. But we have found our answer in the humble DVD player strapped to the back of the headrests. #majorlifesaver

  5. 9


    WOW. that is a GREAT list…i am so scared to travel with my kids…traveling to the closest place means at least 5 hours on the plane!

  6. 10


    I love that you call your van the “ghetto mom van”…lol! We call mine the “big ol’ rolling green turd”…if you’ve seen the movie “RV” you’ll understand. It is Army green and the inside looks like General Mills exploded I took mine in to get two new tires on the front before we go on a float trip next week (THANK YOU for the list above!!). While the mechanic was backing the van out, someone was backing out right behind him and they crashed into each other…yes, really. So now the shop owes me one minivan liftgate. The impact was such that the windshield shattered into a bazillion pieces and some was found in the vents in front of the dashboard. The BEST part of all of this is how they “temporarily fixed” the problem until the new gate comes in. They taped two plastic trashbags together and rimmed it with neon green duct tape. Lovely. We are so white trash. It wasn’t until later that I read what it says on the trashbags…”Thank you for your business. We care about your vehicle!” I could not make this stuff up.

  7. 11


    I love the laptop idea!!! We are traveling with a toddler in September, first famiy road trip ever I might add, and I will have to print this list off!!!! Thanks for the list!!!!

  8. 13


    Yes, yes, yes. Especially the water idea. We used to need to travel a lot, and learned to drink ONLY water in the van. No stickiness, no stained clothing, no sugar highs, just a few extra bathroom breaks.

    For our carsick toddler, we just spread a receiving blanket over him. When he threw up, we’d pack it into a garbage bag, and spread out the next one. Of course, he needed a clean cup each time to rinse out his mouth, so those have to be packed as well.

    We no longer have to be on the road a lot, and he has outgrown the carsickness. :)

    Annie Kate

  9. 14


    Love these ideas! There are so many of them I don’t even know where to begin! I wish I had known some of these when we drove to Texas from Massachusetts last year with a 3.5 year old and 18 month old. Crazy!!

  10. 15

    Mary says

    We’ve traveled a lot of miles with our 5 kids. Here are a couple of things that have worked for us. Everybody has a camera–the older 2 have “real” cameras and the younger ones have the disposable type. Short, periodic quiet times. Enough atlases and maps for everyone–even the youngest children like looking at them and it’s a great way to help head off some of the “how many more towns do we have to go through before we arrive?” questions. Ziploc bags–quart and gallon (actually these stay in our car at all times and are conveniently placed in all the pockets on the back of the seats)–paper towels, wet wipes and gum or mints. Child #4 gets car sick quite frequently–always on straight roads, never mountains. Weird. Ziploc bags are great for this. She throws up in the quart size bag, wipes her mouth and puts that in the bag and then we put all the accumulated bags in the gallon size bag ’til we can find a trash can. Greatly reduces smells, spills and clean-up is easy. It’s gross but it is reality in our car.
    Hope you’re having a fabulous trip!

  11. 16


    Great tips! We took our first long (two full days) car trip when my son was just two. Before we left home, I filled two small tote bags with toys, books, and other activities. On each driving day, I opened only one bag; that way, he had “new” toys for the second day. We also played phonics games, like clapping out the syllables of a word.

  12. 17


    this could not have come at a better time! we’re leaving in a few days for our longest driving trip with the kids. i bought my older boys (5 and 7) the kids’ atlas, which they will love, and i have a couple of fun candy things to dole out when we’re near our destinations (so that they don’t go sugar crazy in the van). i’ll definitely be using a few more of these ideas!

  13. 20


    Gosh…I think your “ghetto mom van” looks really nice! What does that say about me?

    Hope you are having a wonderful time on your luxurious RV!!! Must feel good to STRETCH after the loaner car! 😉

  14. 21


    Thanks for the tips. We are in the planning stages for our vacation, later this summer, and I need some new ideas for the kids. Thankfully, two out of three are readers, but something different is much needed.

  15. 25


    I loved this post! We will be driving from St. Louis to Washington DC at the end of August with our seven year old and our two year old (who has two gears: fast & faster!). I will definitely be incorporating some of these ideas into our trip. Thanks!

  16. 26


    You look organized and ready to go. We are at the stage where the kids pack their own things. They are happy with laptops and ipods. On occasion they will pack a crafty thing. Our road trip will be late this summer, can’t wait.
    Thanks for hosting.

  17. 27


    Wow, what an exhaustive list!! Great job, mama!

    Our family just made a quick, 8-hr round trip to pick up my mom (she’s here to visit until our 4th baby is born!). We have 3 other small children, ages 6, 4, and 2. Since we were sitting in a vehicle (ours is a mini van) for HOURS, we brought lots of yummy, healthy snacks, drinks (water and lemonade), and toys!! The girls packed their own “purses” with little dolls, colors, coloring books, note books, and their favorite Storytime felt dolls. They also brought several DVDs. It entertained them for hours (thankfully!).

    Our 2-yr old son is a little harder to keep amused and happy for that many long hours… he brought his pack-back full of favorite toys and slept a lot.

    Thankfully, on the way back home we had Grandma to keep up occupied!

    Kristy @ Homemaker’s Cottage

  18. 28


    Great list! But Moon Sand? That stuff is terrible! You’ll have colored sand everywhere!
    Other than that I love it. I never thought of pipe cleaners. I’ll have to give that one a try. It makes traveling so much nicer when you have a few boredom busters up your sleeve. Thanks for the great post.

  19. 29


    Hi, linked up for the first time. I’m a little confused, could you clarify if this is a theme link up, i.e. this weeks was Road trip ideas for kids or is it a general link up in which everyone is to share what works for them on a variety of topics. It seems to be the later. Anyway, fun to link up too and I LOVE your list. Thanks for all the great ideas.

  20. 30


    Great list! One more tip that I learned from my mom: divide some (or all) of the fun stuff up into bags and hand out the bags at intervals throughout the trip. Everyone got her own bag (all girls in our fam), and we got new things just when we were getting bored of the old ones.

    Personally, I like to shop at the dollar store for that kind of stuff, too. And Target’s dollar spot.

    Also, when we traveled with my grandma, she’d bring music and radio shows she listened to when she was growing up. We loved them, and I really loved getting to know my grandma that way.

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