Mom Life, Uncategorized

How to Survive and Thrive on Family Road Trips

With the sudden death of my uncle several weeks ago, I am reminded of my childhood and road trips from the West Coast to the Mid-West. I’m even considering making that same trek later this summer with two of my boys. The term road trip gives off different inuendos. To the college age student, it’s the idea of carefree fun without a worry in the world. It may even include friends. For the retired couple, it implies a RV and sightseeing. But for families, the idea of a road trip can cause great distress. How can you survive the constant bickering, ‘are we there yet’s, and whining of a road trip with kids?

1. Attitude is everything.

My first road trip of any real length occurred when I was eight years old. My family moved from Iowa to Washington. The two thousand mile trip could have been a disaster with three kids, a car, a moving truck, and another family of three. Instead, mom and dad looked at it as an adventure. We explored the whole trip. Even when mom saw the barren wastes of Eastern Washington and in shock said, “If this is your beautiful Washington, send me back home,” even then, there was a feeling of adventure. Other trips followed. The Christmas visits to see grandparents litterally was over the mountains and through the woods. Usually, with wind howling around the station wagon as we traveled the monotonous oil fields of Wyoming. Yet, the adventure of stuffing blankets up against the doors to block out the enemy wind still permeated the family. The wonder of being able to stay awake past the normal bedtime to keep the driver awake filled our young minds with a sense of awe, especially when our city eyes beheld the vast expanse of the sky.

Your attitude on a road trip can determine the whole mood of the event.

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Will you go in grumpy and grumbling? If so, your kids will pick up on that as will your spouse. Been there and seen that! Will you view it as a necesity? If so, the trip could turn into just doing what has to be done. Frustrations will build as what has to happen gets waylaid by life’s unexpected happenings. The final option is to do like my parents and treat the trip as an adventure! Who knows what we’ll find around the next hill! Your kids will pick up on the excitement and their attitudes will adjust. Yes, there will be the inevitible issues of tired, cranky kids, but you’ll be able to handle it better and may even get the kids to adjust as well.


2. Have daily routines.

One of the great memories from my first family road trip almost forty years ago was the daily unwrapping of a small toy. Grandma had purchased small car-friendly toys we could play with along the way and as a way of remembering her. One of those toys was a wind up doll about three inches tall. Mine was a baby in a walker. When we wound her up, she would stroll across a surface. I had that doll for twenty some years. My daughter may still have it in her doll collection! Creating a meaningful gift for your child doesn’t have to be expensive. I don’t think Grandma would have paid over $3 in today’s economy for each gift. She counted out the days of the trip and had each gift wrapped up. Each child had their own little basket and we could choose which to open on which day. There was a set time each day to open up our toys.  As a parent, you could create some fun daily routines in the car, whether it’s opening a gift or having a treat at a specific time.

3. Have fun car activities planned.

There are a ton of car games you can play with your kids. If they’re old enough to have gone on school trips, they’ll even have some of their own they could teach you!

The alphabet game:

This activity is a fun paced game in the city or a slightly slower one out in the country. The interstate is a great place to play. Everyone wants to find words that have the letters of the alphabet in them. However, you’re looking for them in alphabetical order, and you’re trying to be the first to get all the way to the letter Z. If you’re playing with little kids, then you may want to allow everyone to use the same word that someone finds. However, with older children, it becomes a challenge to find the word first. An additional challenge is to find words that start with the letter you need.

The license plate game:

I play this game every summer. I look to see how many different states and Canadian provinces I can see in our town. It’s always fun to see where all the tourists are coming from. For the car, you’re trying to find as many States and Provinces you can. Don’t forget to look at semi-trucks. They provide many of the harder to find States. You can print off a map of the US and Canada and laminate it or put it in a sleeve protector and kids can color in the States they find. You could also download a pdf copy and put it into an app like Bamboo Paper and then electronicly mark them off.

Audio books:

Our family loves to listen to audio books on road trips. I find as a driver my brain stays alert more when there’s a plot happening. For some reason it’s not the same if I’m creating the plot in my head versus hearing it outloud. Audio books are available through audible, or your local library. You can download them from the online library that services your local area, or check out CDs from your public library.


With today’s technology, parents can plug in a video in their vehicle and keep the kids busy for hours on end. Since the purpose of most road trips is to spend time with family, I would discourage movie watching. However, if it is kept to a minimum and everyone gets to watch the same one, it could be used as family time. This could fall into the daily routine activity as well.

4. Look for inexpensive places to stop.

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I vividly remember watching the signs for free ice water from Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota. We would count down the miles until we could stop for that refreshing taste. While there, we’d usually spend the extra for an ice cream cone as well. In the winter, we’d eagerly search for Little America, Wyoming, as a place to warm up and get hot cocoa. These places still exist today.



Whether they’re historical markers, rest areas, or small town attractions, free or inexpensive stops can be a lifesaver on a trip.


This summer, if you’re planning a family road trip, take some time to make it bareable for everyone involved. Set aside some daily activities, plan some games, map out the inexpensive stops, and above all don’t dread your trip. View it as an adventure ready to happen!

What's your take?