Top 10 Tips for Traveling with SMALL KIDS! (and Car CHECKLIST!)

So we like to travel.

We really do!

And…….. we have FOUR small children. Like, under the age of 10, small children.

But we still travel.

And guess what…….. we LIKE to travel as a FAMILY!!!

I know. I talk to enough moms out there, that I KNOW that it is HARD to travel as a family. Not only for SANITY…. I mean….. you are all squished in a 100 sqft for how many hours?? Then a hotel room or grammas basement? I mean….. it’s going to get a little rough from time to time.

ANd the money… my word! To eat out for the days you’re gone? What about sight seeing? And snacks? And water? And entrance passes? Fuel expense…..

And the TIME? The potty breaks…. The endless desert plains…. the freeways and what’s the name of that game again? Eye Spy????? License plate Alphabet? Oh man.

Like I said. Its going to get a little rough from time to time.

HOWEVER! I have traveled with my immediate family of….. TWELVE…. in a 12 passenger van across the country before, and had MANY other smaller road trips as a kid as well. And now I love to plan and execute my own family vacations!

So if you are wanting to get out of the house, but don’t have a ton of cash to drop on Plane Flights and Eating out…. well? I got you covered.

Here are my top 10 tips for Traveling with Small kids on a ROAD TRIP!

1. Have a plan. You don’t have to FOLLOW the plan 100%, but have a plan. What plan? An itinerary. I know. Sounds old school, or just plain SCHOOL… but it is essential.
Take the time to map out where you are going, what the stops/cities will be along the way, and what hotel you are staying at each night. Use mapquest or google maps to see how long the drives are, and even nowadays, you can see where construction might be happening! AWESOME. So map out your drive, and KNOW how long it will be from place to place.

2. I like to do a little research on our destinations so I can tell the kids about where we are going each day, and I have even had them watch short documentaries about historical sights we are seeing. Sounds like too much? Well— I have never regretted it! It is so fun to see my kids point out things they learned in the videos we watched, and recognize sights that were in the videos. And I just find these things on YouTube or whatever. Example: We watched a short 15 minute documentary on Mt. Rushmore before going just last week, and when we got there, the kids’ eyes were HUGE. It was like a movie coming to life for them! When we took the “Presidential Hike” to the base of the mountian, they were all chattering about how they carved it, and pointing to the rocks below that had visible chisel marks, and my 7 yr old told us all about the crack down Jefferson’s face….. and the other tourists there, just sat and marveled that our kids knew so much. 🙂 SO do a little digging and learn about the places you are going!

3. About 4 days to a week before the trip, do the meal planning. Map out an 8.5 x 11 paper with your Days at the Top, and the meals on the left hand side. You will create a “table” if you will. And in each box, you list the meal choices, and about where you’ll be on the trip. This acts as sort of a little “menu” for everyone when the dreaded question arises, “What are we going to eat?” We LOVE to utilize hotels that offer breakfast. This simplifies things SO much! So breakfast is Taken CARE OF! Lunch…. we often want to see several places a day, and eating out takes too long and too much energy, so we take a cooler with us with LUNCH supplies in it. Usually our trips are 4-5 days, so we have ice, fruits/veggies that travel well such as apples, grapes, carrot sticks, etc.  And makings for Sandwiches! I try to have variations: pb/j, turkey and swiss, ham and cheddar, turkey with Strawberry Cream cheese. Nothing too fancy, and then I buy a bulk bag of those little lunch chips from the store- bring plastic spoons to spread the mayo or jam, and we are GOLDEN. Dinner is always on the fly, we just see where we want to eat in the city we happen to be in at Dinner time. And we don’t go all out, we just eat simple. Rarely do we spend more than $40 each dinner time. (I realize this will change as the kids grow, but this post is about SMALL children families, so it works.) Then all you have left is snacks!

4. Packing SNACKS. What kind of Snacks do you bring for small kids that won’t ruin your car, or their clothes, or the carpet and windows? (You might laugh…. but its REAL!) I choose chewy granola bars, gummy snacks, hard crackers like Wheat Thins, trail mix, Cereal like life or Corn pops, and WATER! NO cookies, or juices, or fruit leathers, or other things that kids have to hold for a long period of time and NOTHING that easily mashes up or crumbles. I bring Ziploc Baggies and at snack time, I will give them three things from the MASTER snack box, and each child gets a baggie with their choices in it. They LOVE it! As for the WATER… we let the kids pick out a water bottle at the store. Those dumb $2 character spill proof juice bottles or gatorades or whatever can double as a water bottle, that they love, they get for the trip. 🙂

5. The master SNACK box. What is it like? I have baby wipes in it, Ziploc baggies, and bulk bags of trail mix, gummies, cereal, a few boxes of granola bars, a box of crackers, and a gallon of water. This is my box to re-fuel the kids every few hours. 🙂

6. Garbage in the car….. First thing: Make sure your car is clean BEFORE you go. There is NOTHING worse than starting a trip with a messy car. Clean that baby out, and start FRESH. Stash your car with 2 garbage bags per day. I simply use grocery sacks! They are great to pass around and have the kids use. 🙂 And a few times a day, it gets tossed! And a new one gets put out.

7. Movies and MUSIC! My husband and I believe that kids need to learn to be bored. Honestly!!! It is a skill to have to sit still, and look outside and have day dreams and wonder at the world. We don’t stick on movies all day in the car. EVER. We only do DVD’s if the trip will be longer than 7-8 hours. When we traveled 13 hours, we did one movie in the morning and one in the late afternoon, and that was it. On this last trip to South Dakota, about an 8 hour trip for us, we didn’t bring any movies! And it was awesome! The kids didn’t even watch TV at the hotels! But the MUSIC….. is a MUST! We’ve tried books on tape, but it didn’t fly…. maybe when they are older. But Disney music is always a hit, and they do quiet down and listen to it! Other classic road trip songs are great!

8. Scheduled time in the car. What does this mean? We have routine IN the CAR! Just like HOME. We have snack time, we have quiet time, we have book/coloring time, etc. My kids like doing this. And honestly, they look forward to quiet time, when they have nothing but their totes to work with, and no one is touching them or bugging them.

9. The TOTES! These are ESSENTIAL! Each child has their one tote. They are 16x12x4 little plastic totes that have clip on lids and are CLEAR plastic. It is important they are clear, so I can monitor what goes in and out of them….. 😉 mom’s KNOW what I’m talking about it…. They have a flat surface for coloring, and a lip to hold the crayons from rolling off. Got them at WalMart. They are AWESOME. The day before the trip, we fill up the totes! Each child has their name written on theirs, and here is what goes in them: Paper, a Ziploc with 10 crayons, a MAP of where we are going that is laminated or in a sheet protector, 3 small toys of their choice, a coloring/activity book that we pick out at the store that day, and they also store their various souvenirs in these totes as well. 🙂 They know their stuff has to fit in their tote, so they pick small things. (YAY.)

(See that PAPER size one on the bottom of this picture? THAT is what I use!)

10. Money and hotels. We usually spend $50-80 for hotels, so they are not cheap nasties, but not presidential suites either. Then its about a $80-100 trip for the lunch supplies and snacks and totes. And then gas money, and the dinners out, and souvenirs. We have a souvenir limit for each child, depending on where we are going. For our trip to Disneyland, there was a $30 limit. That was a 10 day trip that included a LOT. This last trip we did to SD we had a $10 souvenir limit and it was PERFECT. The SD trip was 4 FULL days, 3 hotels, 3 nights, an indoor waterpark, 3 national parks and awesome tours/hikes, and 4 other attractions in between. It cost $625. I’m tellin’ ya. If you plan it right, road trips are FUN, and don’t have to include Auntie Marge’s house 2 hours out of the way for a free night, and imposition on someone else’s home as a quick stopover. I KNOW family ALWAYS offers to let you stay at their homes. I do too! But honestly, it is SO nice to just DROP your bags, make a mess, shower as early or late as you need, eat when you want and what you want/need (with kids its tricky sometimes), watch TV at your leisure, and come and go as you need. And you leave without feeling like you need to help clean or do laundry. 🙂 I am ALL about that!

And honestly, at the end of the day—– there are fun memories made on road trips. Family bonding that doesn’t happen any other way! It is a good form of recreation and family time that I hope more families will get brave and try. 🙂 My kids love our trips, and I usually make a memory book of each one. It is a great tradition for us, and these tips have made it that much easier to pull off! And that much easier to see this amazing country and many of God’s creations and life experiences that we otherwise would not get to see!


Here is a Checklist that you can use if you are a checklist type of person!
SHARE this article if it helped you at all! I’ll pin it to my Pinterest as well. 🙂