Does the idea of a family road trip excite you? Make you panic a bit? Do you look at the number of hours in the car and dread them? Wonder how on earth you, let alone you kids, will manage to stay entertained for that long?
I think it’s totally normal to feel all the feels about family travel, but after 6 years of road trips with our twins we have built up a hefty set of reliable tricks so that I’m usually at least mostly excited when we have a road trip coming up.
We just got back home after a road trip from New York City to Prince Edward Island and back. Our trip, like all events involving small children, had ups and downs but the road trip part was actually a highlight.
Below are tips on how to plan for and enjoy a family road trip with preschoolers and up (infants and toddlers involve an entirely different kind of plan).
affiliate links are included
How to Plan Family Road Trip Activities
In August of 2017 we took a family road trip to one of my bucket list destinations: Prince Edward Island.
We figured this was the closest we would ever live to the eastern edge of Canada so this was the time to take a trip there. So, we pulled out a map and started planning.
- Our road trip took us from New York City to Prince Edward Island with 2 stops in both directions.
- Our driving legs varied from 4 hours to 9 hours. Our 6 year old twins have managed a 13 hour drive at once before (at ages 4 and 5), but we like to avoid super long drives when possible.
- We were in the car for a total of 2,244 miles and about 35 hours total over the course of 7 days.
Planning Road Trip Activities
Three important pieces of advice.
- Variety is the spice of life. Movies, activity books, printables, coloring books – they’re all great for the car but too much of any one thing ensures crabbiness and boredom eventually.
- Make sure to plan for the trip home and anticipate more restlessness on the later parts of the trip so save fun new stuff or trusted favorites for this part of your trip.
- You can never pack too many snacks. We are not huge snack people in general – but all of our good meal eating habits go out the window in the car and I’m certain it helps to keep the peace.
Now, what did I pack for 35 hours in the car with two 6 year olds?
Best Road Trip Activities for Kids ages 3-8
- The license plate game.
We spotted 38 of 50 license plates spotted on this trip. We use the Melissa and Doug Flip Board to make it extra fun and visible. My kids started getting into this around age 5 – I think they were finally tall enough to see out the window.
- Picture Books with CDs and Audio Books
We started using picture books with CDs when our kids were toddlers and they are always a huge hit.For this trip I brought Miss Rumphius Book and Audible Book and BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL since we were driving through Maine, but they are not always related to where we are going.
Audio chapter books are new to us. We started with the Magic Treehouse series – which are read by the author – when my kids were about 4. I wasn’t sure how they’d do without any pictures, but they did great.
On this trip I planned to listen to the Anne of Green Gables audiobook. I should have bought it, but I requested it from the library and it didn’t come in on time. Instead we listened to the Ramona Quimby series narrated by Stockard Channing. It is AMAZING! By far, it was the favorite thing to do in the car. It had all four of us laughing out loud.
- Activities about the Places we are visiting.
To help get my kids excited about where we are stopping along the way I like to find printables or other activities that discuss our stops. These I pull out in the morning when we head towards our next destination.For this road trip from New York City to Maine to New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island (to see Green Gables from the Anne books) to Nova Scotia and back home through Maine – here are the ones I used:*Miss Rumphius Printables from Free Homeschool Deals
*Maine Coloring Page from Crayola
*Coloring Pages and Activity Packet Printables from Boston Kid Friendly
*Canadian Paper Dolls Printables from Adventure in a Box
*Anne of Green Gables Printables from Homeschool Giveaways
*Blueberries for Sal Printable Pack from Teaching with Children’s Books
- General Activity Books or Printables
There are a lot of decent activity books for kids (some of our favorites are listed below) and also tons of free road trip printables available online. I use a combination of both. Here are some favorites:*Road Trip Printables from KCEdventures
*General Road Trip Printables from Playdough to Plato
*Usborne Activity Books are my favorites. We have used a dozen over the past 3 years.
- Other Activities
Along with listening to stories and doing pen and paper type activities I always bring some other things that involve a little more movement. Obviously you’re limited by seatbelts and safety, but listening and coloring gets boring for anyone after a while. Here is what I packed for this trip:*Melissa and Doug Reusable Sticker Pads
I am not a screens whenever person, but also not anti-screens. I know there are some strong opinions on this, so obviously do what makes you comfortable.On our family travels, we usually allow more screen time than at home but try to use it more at the end of the day and especially the end of the last day when energy and enthusiasm is falling apart. I typically pack:* Their Kindles (don’t forget to charge the night before and bring the charging cable). My kids have each had one since they were 3.
* Headphones (we love these kid ones!)
* Movie player
* New movie – I often buy a new DVD for a long trip like this one. I bought Bambi and Beauty and the Beast as surprises for the last day.
As I said above, pack WAY more snacks than you think you’ll need. We tend towards healthy-ish things like apple sauce pouches and granola bars, but my main tip is to aim for a balance between salty and sweet. Let your kids have input and they’ll be happier.Some snack ideas:*Applesauce Pouches (fruit, always a crowd pleaser – my kids ate an entire box on our trip, and relatively mess free)
*This post on Family Road Trips has more great snack ideas
*Ingredients for Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches (and plastic knives) – between driving in remote areas and our son’s dairy allergy we like to have a back up meal with us. We went through two loaves of bread on this trip.
*Important tip: Pack a container for each child to hold food (we use these) or pre-pack everything in snack sized ziplocks.