Car Rides with the Kiddos

Car Rides with the Kiddos

Roadtripping with Preschoolers


Who loves a good road trip? I have always been a fan of them. Grab some books, my walkman (discman, mp3 player, ipod or iphone depending on the era), snacks and I was/am good to go. As kids we traveled to visit family frequently. In fact, my parents could probably tell you wonderful stories of my brother and I fighting in the back seat of the car. It never failed, an invisible line dividing the backseat of the car would eventually have to be drawn. I was the voice of all request radio from the backseat, making my suggestions for the next tape (!) or radio station. (Or signing along to my walkman) My brother wrote the book on “are we there yet?” and “what town comes next.” All four of us clearly remember the summer vacation we once took in a minivan–each of us kids had our own seat which significantly reduced the fighting!

Now as a parent, my turn has come…

The first time I heard Bug call whine, “Mom, tell Monkey to stop looking at me” I had to call my brother! Pretty sure I called my parents to apologize as well. As I prepare for car rides with my kids I realize my parents were geniuses! My mom made us special pillows that we kept in the car just in case we wanted to take a nap. “Just in case we wanted to take a nap?” No, they were likely praying for us to have a nap! Books, books and more books. I don’t think there was a limit to how many books we could bring. Each of us got in the car with a well stocked bag of books to keep us occupied. On special trips my parents pulled out the surprise activity bags to keep us occupied and out of trouble. I have such an appreciation for this now :)

My kids are used to the car–our families are two to three hours away from us, and we try to visit friends that are about six hours north of us at least once a year. As I write this, we are packing our family up for an overnight stay at nearby Niagara Falls. Not a huge road trip–only about an hour and a half from where we live, but we really wanted it to go as smooth as possible.

We have a few tricks up our sleeve when it comes to packing up our family for a road trip:


My husband is rolling his eyes–of course I think of food first!

“Super Snack Mix”–I hit up Bulk Barn and pickup little bits of many different items to make an interesting snack mix. Some of the items are just different–pretzels in different shapes, chocolate Cheerios, neat shaped crackers, dried fruit. There are also a few special treats–fruit flavored jelly candy, chocolate Teddy Grahams, m&m’s scattered among the healthier stuff. The most successful item in our past snack mixes? RINGOLOS! “Mommy look at my beautiful rings!” was what we heard from the backseat…

Pack extra ziploc bags or small plastic containers. I can pour small amounts of snack mix or other treats into individual containers, without risking the girls spilling everything in one shot. We can also easily put the lid on to ave some for later. For little Monkey, I love snack catchers. They slow her down and lessen the chance her dumping her snack in one shot.

2. Bathroom

Pack a potty if someone is training or new to underwear. Avoid the terror that rips through you when they announce they “have to go” by having a potty with you. I put a disposable diaper in the bottom of ours and left it there. (If you can’t empty it right away it’s going to soak up that liquid for you.) We never did use our potty while on the road, even though it spent much of last summer in our truck. The two times it would have come in handy–Murphy’s Law–we did not have it.

When Bug started to make trips out of the house wearing underwear, I ordered a Piddle pad for each vehicle. This cushion fits in the bottom of the car seat and if your child has an accident, this cushion will soak it up, meaning you do not have an entire car seat to clean!!! Whip the wet pad out and you still have a dry seat for your child to sit in. Wash it, let it dry and it’s ready to use again.

3. Comfort

Pretty obvious, but we often try to travel when the kids may nap in the car. If we’re travelling in the evening, I dress my kids in pj’s or comfy clothes. Actually, if we’re making any sort of road trip over about two hours, we try to dress the girls in comfy clothes rather than stiff jeans, tight waist bands or scratchy fabrics.

Boots, shoes–who needs them? Off they go, so those toes can get comfortable!

Keep activities and comfort items (blanket, pillow, doll/stuffie, etc) accessible for the kids. I love this Diono Travel Pal. Soft sided, it sits on the seat in between the girls car seats. Cup holders on the front and lots of pockets to hold the army of small items that keep finding their way into the vehicle. Seat Back Protectors/Organizers are dual purpose. My husband likes them for the protection they offer the seat. I like these for their ability to keep small items close at hand. Sunglasses, napkins, crayons, toy cars, books, snacks, sippy cups–Bug can reach many of these things on her own. You can also DIY this with a hanging shoe organizer.

The girls each have a small blanket we keep in the vehicle (love these blankets from Skip Hop that fold up into their own little carry bag/pillow.) Use them for the obvious–to keep them warm. Use them for the baby doll who came along for the ride or for an impromptu game of peek-a-boo.

4. Activities

Invest in a Travel Activity Tray if your little one like to stay busy in the car. You can either purchase these or make your own. The DIY cookie sheet version I like is obviously metal, for use with magnets on one side and I glue felt to the other side of the tray. I use my cookie cutters as stencils to cut fun and colourful shapes out of felt for the girls. Felt sticks to felt and stickers can be stuck and removed, stuck and removed, stuck and–well you get the picture!

Stock up on a few little toys/trinkets. I have a collection of unopened Happy Meal toys or random dollar store items I save for road trips. Happy Meal Ballerina Barbie’s have been a hit. On one trip, I swear Bug played with that figure for almost two hours!

Pull books off your shelves they may not have seen in a while, or visit the library or bookstore for some new to your family selections. I tend to collect books when I see them on sale, or when I am checking out the mom to mom sales, etc. I don’t always give them to the girls right away, instead tucking them in the rainy day box in the cupboard. I often try to pick books with a mirrors and/or different textures for my little Monkey. Our current favorite is “B is for Bear” by Roger Priddy. We can hear her singing to herself as she looks in the mirror, from the front seat!

A couple of our favourite car activities are:

Load a couple apps or music your child enjoys onto your phone, tablet, etc. We have so far avoided the DVD players in our vehicle, but I’m sure that day will come! A couple of our favorite apps are Make It Pop and Zoo Train. These tend to practice letters, colours, etc. We usually don’t offer phones and iPads up right off the bat. They are usually for the last leg of our trip. Also useful if my daughter declares she has to go to the bathroom. One of her favourite counting games (Make It Pop) can distract her for 5-10 minutes while we select a restroom stop.

We do however have some of the kids well-loved music (the soundtrack from FROZEN) available on CD or iPhones/iPad. That was a big change when Bug stopped napping in the car–she can talk for an entire 2 hour car ride! So for the sake of your sanity, don’t forget the headphones! My daughter uses an old set of Sony headphones that somehow survived my Discman days of long ago! Family and friends have recommended the LeapFrog headphones for kids as well (in case your old headphones are not still kickin’ it in your desk drawer!) We leave the headphones in the console of our vehicle so we know we have them. We once drove 30 minutes home from dinner at Red Lobster listening to “Polly Put the Kettle On” on repeat because that’s what the two year old demanded, (rather loudly), before she fell asleep 5 minutes from home!

Plan your stops with the kids in mind. I admit I find this much easier in the warmer months. We plan our stops around parks with play equipment and try to have meals/snacks picnic style so the kids can stretch their legs and get some wiggles out. We try and build some time for them to play into our itinerary. I often leave bubbles, a beach ball and a few sand toys in the vehicle spring to fall.

Well, we made it to and from Niagara Falls. On the way there, snacks were handed out, boots were off, blankets distributed. Bug had one of her Melissa and Doug big sticker books (this one was food themed) and she handed out “snacks” to all of us! On the way home, the girls were too tired from their play at the waterpark to need much. Bug slept most of the way. Monkey sang to herself in the mirror (the mirror attached to the headrest and in her book) for about an hour. It’s such a happy sound when they have found their voice, but don’t have a lot of words yet. The few words or sounds they have, they will sing over and over again.

Sorry for the long post. As I got thinking about it, it just kept coming!

We still have tears now and then, and sometimes “are we there yet?” comes from my husband or I, but we try to make our road trips as smooth and pain free as possible. I hope you might find something here you can use for your own road trips with your family.

I’m all ears for your suggestions as well! What works for your family when you pile in the car for a road trip?







Written by Melissa


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