How to save your sanity on a road trip with kids

THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS. I MAY EARN FROM QUALIFYING PURCHASES.

We’ve done the road trip thing a couple times now. By no means are we experts, but we have a few tricks up our sleeves to help us survive. We’ve done a couple 14-hour road trips that have helped us perfect our travels. With 4 kids. Good times, good times (at least that’s what we keep telling ourselves!) I’m thinking it might be useful to tell you how to save your sanity on a road trip with kids.

7 tips for saving your sanity on a road trip with kids

Thank you to Marathon for sponsoring this post (go sign up!!). All thoughts are my own. And scroll down to enter to win a $50 Marathon gift card, too!

7 sanity saving tips for a road trip with kids.

1. Snacks

Have a lot of snacks in a large variety. Snacks that you don’t typically let them eat. Snacks that can change the tone of the ride. Fruit snacks, lollipops, gum, goldfish, jelly beans, whatever their favorite treats are. Get them! When things go south quickly, a favorite treat can save the day. Don’t forget to also have protein snacks too so they stick with them for a bit. Of course, you can add some healthy snacks, too. Really, try to add mostly healthy snacks. There won’t be revolting, I promise. 

healthy-snacks-for-travel-pin.png

You’ll also want to make sure to have an ample supply of paper towels, toilet paper, wipes and trash bags just in case of a food mess, car sickness mess, or just any mess the kids or grownups might make.

2. Car Maintenance and Gas Up

This one is from Mr. Serious. Get the oil changed. Get the car in for an overall checkup. Check and rotate the tires. Just make sure everything is in good working order. Nobody wants to be stranded on the side of the road because of something you could have caught at home. Just a little added insurance! (And, if you do a really long trip, get everything checked once you arrive at your destination, too.) Your sanity is definitely on the line if something happens or you run out of gas!

Fill your gas tank before you leave. And really, we try to fill up at any stop we do. Nothing is worse than having to stop for gas when nobody needs a potty break!

Marathon is encouraging you to fuel up with their MakeItCount™ rewards program.

marathon gas station

MakeItCount™ Rewards is Marathon’s free and easy-to-use rewards program that saves members money on fuel AND rewards them for shopping at participating Marathon gas stations. When you use  MakeItCount™ Rewards you will get 5 cents off every gallon every day! Just for signing up and being a rewards member.

MakeItCount Rewards at Marathon

Of course, this isn’t just for your next road trip. Anything I can do to save money and add convenience to my life is key. For a busy mom who’s constantly on the move (kid’s camps, school, practices, family road trips, running errands, etc.), saving time and money is huge.

Marathon stations are conveniently located – they’re clean, efficient and I can grab a snack, fill up, and use my MakeItCount™ rewards. Talk about the perfect road trip stop. Gas, snacks and a clean restroom is a total win! Don’t forget, MakeItCount™ rewards consumers for retail purchases like snacks and drinks, so it’s a win/win for you and the kids!

Signing up is free and easy, and I can earn points to redeem towards airfare, hotels, and retail too. If getting gas is a part of your regular routine, you have to sign up.

Sign up at MakeItCount.com or download the free app and “Be Rewards Driven.”

3. Activities

New games, new sticker pads, new marker books, new coloring books, new reading books. Activities surrounding your destination (Disney princess books for a Disney trip, a book about a new state you will be traveling to). Anything age appropriate that will keep them entertained and intrigued but doesn’t have to be plugged in or make noise. Sometimes the kids need an activity that won’t keep their siblings awake. And sometimes, the quiet is just nice. Sometimes we also like to ask trivia questions

4.  Tablet (and chargers)

With 4 kids in at least 2 different age ranges, the electronic entertainment aspect is a bit of a challenge. The younger two are happy to watch a movie, but the older two usually want shows that fit into the teen and tween category.

If my kids will sit and watch a movie or a show and not ask no less than eleventy-billion times “are we there yet?” then it’s totally worth it. Between digital copies of movies and the ability to download apps you will be ready to hit the road.

7 tips for saving your sanity on a road trip with kids

Pro tip: Make sure you have a nice set of headphones for each kid! There is nothing like the noise level of four different recorded shows playing at the same time!

Buddyphones headphones

Think about it: happy kids and parents who don’t have to listen to the same movies or shows over and over again.

5. Travel Friends, Blankets or Lovies

Don’t leave home without them. Don’t let the kiddos go overboard. We let the kids pick one small friend (stuffed animal) and one small blanket. It made them more comfortable in the car. For the youngest, we have a handful of pacifiers and her lovies because when toddlers get fussy, they throw stuff! And when she calms down, I want to be able to hand her another one.

6. No sit down meals

The last thing you want to make them do after sitting in the car for a couple hours is sit down. And, then expect them to behave? I mean I do expect them to behave and I know they will, but they’ve been in the car. They want to run and stretch their legs. Yes, we’ve been that family that stops at the golden arches only to use the restroom and let them play and then grab just a small snack. We then eat that snack and anything else we’ve packed (if it’s meal time) in the car. After #1 (snacks), they usually aren’t very hungry anyways.

7. No big drinks

Yes, they can have drinks. But, they are rationed. With four kids, it’s almost guaranteed that one will need to pee while the others are asleep. So, we try to limit the pee stops as much as possible. Of course, we don’t want them dehydrated, either.

Hopefully, these tips will help keep you and your kiddos relatively sane in the car.

Do you have anything to add that has helped you keep your sanity on the road?

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THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS. I MAY EARN FROM QUALIFYING PURCHASES.

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88 Comments

  1. One other thing we do is leave a little before nap time so “the road” will help put our son to sleep. The motion in the car usually knocks him out and when he arrives he’s rested.

    1. Great tip for car sleepers! We’ve left at all hours and our kids stay awake! 3am..awake. 10pm…awake. 7pm…awake. 11am…awake. 1pm…awake. You get the idea!

      But, for a lot of people, it really helps!

  2. I never do the sit down meals. We grab and go. I have never traveled more than 6 hrs with the kids before but I will make sure we have batteries and chargers filled up. Great tips.

  3. I totally agree with these tips!!! I’m not a fan of sit down dinners with small kids – I end up more stressed than anything!

  4. Our tips: Be sure that you have updated insurance and registration, phone numbers of your car shop back home! (we had a breakdown despite our checkup and needed to call our shop for an area referral!)

  5. These are awesome tips!!! We don”t have the tablet anymore so we have opted for handheld video games but luckily both mine and the husband’s phones play videos. they are definitely life savers.

  6. We are going on a road trip this summer that will be our longest to date! We got a DVD player for the car and we’ll have an iPad with us too! So hopefully it will be a good experience!

    1. Yes, hopefully, those things will help! I guess it does depend on the ages of the child/children.

  7. One word…AMEN! Those are all the things we take special preparation for when I go on trips with the kids. They have made such a huge difference on the happiness of everyone in the vehicle during and after the trip. So worth every penny.

    1. DiscMan? I use a tape player…and had to rewind and flip it over…and I’m not THAT old!

      We played a lot of games on paper.

  8. Super Extra Large spare pull-up diapers even for the 6yo. Sometimes they really just can’t wait.

    1. Not a bad idea..we’ve never had a problem, but one year we were stuck on the other side of Houston when a hurricane came through and flooded the freeway and we were STUCK! Fortunately, our then 3.5-4 year old made it for the entire two hours that we just sat there.

  9. I love these suggestions! The big drinks is the only one I kind of disagree on and that’s because we drive at night so our girls can sleep. Huge sodas and cups of coffee are essential for us staying awake.

    1. Oh the big drink thing…that was for the kids:) The adults get to drink whatever/how much they want! Which usually means the husband..I’m as bad as the kids, if I drink too much, I have to pee a ton, too!

  10. Sleepyheadedmom says:

    One thing I have learned traveling with a little one is to make sure you sit in the back seat or have a helper in the back seat. It’s no fun trying to reach things in the back to give to the little one while you are stuck up front.

    1. That is a good idea. I spend the bulk of my time turning around, but I also can’t sit in the back because I get car sick. I’m hoping that the older kids can help out the youngest this trip!

  11. mrs. hils says:

    We always take a garbage (grocery store type) bag and some baby wipes for sticky fingers. Also, even when the boys were a little too old for them, we always packed sippy cups to pour gas station drinks/juice into. No spills! Now, we bring empty water bottles with the pop up lid. Oh, we also bring a small plastic bowl for each kid to eat snacks out of. My favorite travel tip is to bring a nightlight for the hotel bathroom. No more having to turn on that super-bright overhead light in the middle of the night!

    1. Trash bags and wipes..always a must!

      We actually typically travel with a color..with some sort of cup with lids on them!

      The nightlight…great idea. How many have you left behind?

  12. Great tips!! I need some tips for kids that get car sick.. Sammy gets a headache riding in the car for more than an hour. We also like to bring audio books along with us!

    1. Hmmm…maybe Dramamine? The good thing is, he’d probably sleep a lot, too (our kids aren’t car sleepers). I get a headache and feel icky if I’m anywhere other than the front seat (which isn’t an option for the littles).

    1. Thanks! Hopefully, they help us take a good trip next moth.

  13. We have a couple of roadtrips planned in the next several months. This information will come in very handy – especially number 5. What an excellent reminder that for me to be happy, the kids need to stay (for the most part) happy… why force them to sit down to eat when they’ve been sitting all day! A picnic basket and a nice, safe grassy area might do the trick!

    1. Oh yes, sitting down in a restaurant is torture (my inlaws like to do it, and the kids want to get out and play!).

    1. It’s always good to know others agree and I didn’t miss anything.

      1. Bobby Isom says:

        GREAT info. I love the marathon rewards saving .05 per gallon!

  14. These are all great tips! I’m an adult and I can’t even function on a road trip without snacks and entertainment. 🙂

    1. No kidding…me, either! Bring on the snacks! We just need to make sure to bring a ton of healthy ones this time since the hubby and I have done so good with our weight loss.

  15. We are embarking on our first real road trip as a family of six this July. We’re driving from Portland, OR to Phoenix, AZ with four children ranging in ages between 5 and 18. Should be interesting at the very least! I love and appreciate your tips, I’m going to make sure I have new movies, lots of healthy snacks and water, cameras for photo Bingo and head phones for myself! hahahahaha

    1. Oh goodness…that’s definitely a trip!

      Yes, maybe I should just steal the headphones for myself (as long as I’m not driving!)

  16. We drove down to Florida from Michigan last fall with our (at the time) 17month old. It was rough. If it hadn’t been for the tablet I don’t think we would have made it!

    1. Thanks! It’s been almost a year for us, so I’m glad they are agreeable by other parents.

  17. mksnellville says:

    Great tips! It goes hand in hand with #3 tablet/dvd but don’t forget the car chargers (and for your phone too) and the regular chargers for the hotel/destination. in addition to movies and music, audiobooks are great too – maybe learn spanish on the way? lol.

    We like to minimize the drive time so bathroom breaks are coincided with gas fillups, and food are to-go like you mentioned.

    This goes with #7, make sure you have a spare tire, and know how to change one.

    For longer rides we packed the essentials in a small bag to keep in the car- change of clothes for little kids, sweater/hoodie/jacket if going from warm to cold climate, toothbrushes and toothpaste to freshen up at truckstop bathrooms.

    1. Oh yes, the chargers!

      And, we too always get gas and munchies when we stop for a potty break!

      Good point about the spare tire, too.

      We always have blankets and sweaters in the car, too!

  18. Such great tips. Traveling with kids can definitely be a challenge especially potty training ones

  19. The days I miss when my son was tiny. It was so much easier to travel as the most we travel is 5.5 hours away and he would sleep 70% of that. One pit stop and it would be good. Now even a tablet or movie only last him 1/4 of the trip.
    Thank you for the tips.

  20. When we road trip to Mississippi (about 6 hours from Atlanta) we stop midway in Alabama to eat lunch at a church park. This way our son can eat and get out some of his energy.

  21. These are all great tips! My grandsons iPads are a life saver while on a road trip!

  22. Christophar Jester says:

    Very informative blog love to read it. I got so many new ideas about road trip. Thanks for sharing and it will help me during my road trip.

  23. chris martin says:

    great tips you are discuss about road trips its very useful for me thanks for sharing this amazing tips

  24. Brian Hastings says:

    Great tips! Thanks for sharing the knowledge and keep posting more.

  25. I have a weakness for snacks when we travel. I would buy lots of treats to keep us all happy on the long drive. Yum! Great tips, by the way!

  26. I’d buy gas with the gift card

  27. Gas for lunches or going to clients

  28. I’d buy gas for a road trip.

  29. Ann Fantom says:

    I’d buy gas and snacks for a road trip

  30. Mya Murphy says:

    I’m definitely using $50 for food and cigs..maybe coffee.. These are amazing tips!!

  31. Tiffany Banks says:

    I would fill my tank up!

  32. Carolyn Daley says:

    I would use the gift card to fill up my car. There is a Marathon gas station by my cats vet office and another location near my pharmacy.

  33. I would use it to put gas in my car! This would probably get me almost 2 fill ups!

  34. Julie Waldron says:

    I will use it towards gas.

  35. I’d use it for a road trip this fall!

  36. Robert Young says:

    I will give it to my sister and let her decide what to spend it on

  37. I would use this towards gas and snacks for a road trip to Wisconsin

  38. Susan Morris says:

    I will definitely be buying gasoline for both vehicles.

  39. Melissa Smith says:

    Gas & drinks! I swear that’s our combo every time whether we’re going on a road trip or not lol.

  40. Amber Kolb says:

    I would buy gas and snacks for a fun road trip!

  41. Hollie Jahnke says:

    I would buy gas, it seems like we’re always filling up the van.

  42. Teresa Moore says:

    We have a new Busy Bee Marathon Gas Station and that is where I would go spend this gift card for sure!

  43. Dana Rodriguez says:

    I would use this for our work vehicle. We are all over the the capitol area daily!

  44. Sandy Klocinski says:

    I will keep it for mine and my sister’s “annual old lady road trip” for gas and snacks if it is safe to go in our lifetime

  45. I would use it for fill ups.

  46. LeAnn Harbert says:

    I will get some snacks for my granddaughters and gas for our trip.

  47. Megan Wilson says:

    This will help with gas! Thank you for the chance!

  48. Betty Curran says:

    We don’t have a local Marathon so it would definitely be saved for our next road trip. We traveled from Kansas City to Los Angeles with 5 children under 7 years old. And this was in 1964 long before any electronic gadgets to keep the kids happy. Surprisingly, it was a relatively stress free trip. I remember telling family members later that there was less squabbling and whining than on trips of an hour or less. Go figure.

  49. I drove my oldest daughter since she was a baby to California every summer to visit my father. Piece of cake. Snacks or McDonald’s. Music..we would leave at night so she slept most of the way. Fast forward ten years to daughter number two. Nope. The first trip took us 20 hours because we stopped so much. Not a traveler. Made different choices such as not taking her for a few years, different entertainment. You have great suggestions. I would use this for my husband’s car.

  50. i would buy some gas. i get my new car next week

  51. Bilal shah says:

    After reading your article I just memorized my childhood trip with my parents and siblings that days my elder sister was doing masters in botany so we stop many places for just pick out the different kind of plants that’s a very exciting experience now we must organize a trip with our children’s and must follow your tips thanks for such a wonderful post

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