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How to Keep Your Kids Happy on Road Trips so You Don't Lose Your Mind

These fun tips will keep your kids (AND YOURSELF) happy all the way to your destination.

I'm not tooting my own horn (see what I did there?), but as a military wife, I have some hefty experiences as a 'Road Trip Mom'. Driving my four kids 13 hours to visit family (alone - because, thanks U.S. Navy!) has become normal around here. We've even driven all the way across the United States with our kids in tow when we moved from California to Maryland.

Today, I'm sharing my best tips and tricks - and sometimes bribes, for a smooth road trip with kids.

1. Audiobooks

My kids love audiobooks, and so I! They have re-listened to Harry Potter more times than I can count and still are not bored. Find a good book that the whole family will love and they'll be so sucked in they won't want to "get there". Seriously. If you're new to audiobooks, I highly recommend Audible, powered through Amazon. You can sign up for a 30-day free trial and see if it's something your family will enjoy.

2. Podcasts

I'll just say it - my family is obsessed with podcasts. They're free, entertaining, and there are so many topics and interesting shows that you're sure to find something everyone loves. If you're not familiar with podcasts, you can listen via your smartphone through an app. I use Podcasts on my Apple, but there are similar apps for Android.

My kid's favorite podcasts are Wow in the World and Highlights Hang Out, which are specifically made for children (but I enjoy them, too!). However, my kids also beg for some really awesome podcasts that are not made specifically for kids, such as Ridiculous History and Stuff to Blow Your Mind. Keep in mind when choosing podcasts made for adults, there may be language or inappropriate content - I always recommend downloading a few episodes and listening on your own before sharing them with your kids.

3. A Few Special Surprises

A big part of my road trip packing plan (get your freebie here!) is to pack a bag with several 'new and shiny' special surprises. The trick here is not to give the bag to your kids at the beginning of the trip but to slowly shower them with these small surprises as you go. So what do I put in my road trip bag? Here's some ideas that my kids love:

Interactive Books - There are some really detailed lift the flap, sliding, finger maze books that have groves for little ones to follow. I know they'll keep your kids entertained for hours. Our favorites include:

Babies & Toddlers:


Ages 5-8

Ages 9+

  1. National Geographic Fact Books - not interactive in a physical way but kids love these fact books and can quiz each other!

Sticker Books - these things will keep toddlers and preschoolers (and my 10-year-old...) content for long periods of time. Plus, they're not going to make a permanent mess. For toddlers and preschoolers, check out Melissa and Doug's selection. Early elementary will love Dress-up sticker books like this one from American Girl, or this one from Lego. Teens and adults enjoy the Paint by Sticker books.

Magnetic Drawing Board - My girls love this drawing board because they can be creative, then wipe it away and start again, and they're learning their letters. Plus, older kids can play games like Tic-tac-toe.

Magnetic Mazes - brands like Melissa and Doug and HABA have created these ingenious magnetic mazes that kids can use the wand to guide little balls through the mazes. Plus, there's no mess and no lost pieces!

Invisible Marker Coloring - I love these little On-The-Go Colorblast books from Melissa and Doug. My kids enjoy them and there's no mess. Plus - these are great for in the car because they only require ONE marker, versus other products on the market that require a different marker for each color.

4. Snacks

I'm probably not telling you anything new, but snacks are life. So I'll keep this brief. We purchase bulk packs of snacks (multiple types of chips, cookies, nuts, granola bars) and allow the kids to pick a snack everyone once in a while.

These are not free range snacks. Distribute them out strategically so that they're exciting - even after hour 8 of driving.

5. Electronics

I've saved the big dog for last. That's because, in our family, hand-held electronics are the LAST thing we pull out (if at all). Why? Because my kids turn into overstimulated tech-zombies who won't take naps because they're wired. But, you do you. No judgment here - sometimes it's survival mode! Remember to fully charge all electronics before the trip, and you can even pack a back-up battery like this one.

My Favorite Road Trip Bag

Road Trip With Kids

I love Scout Bags. They are ultra-lightweight, durable, wipe clean, and they come in a variety of sizes. The Errand Boy is my favorite because it folds up flat, holds a ton, stands upright AND has a zipper. Can you tell I'm a fan?

*By the way, all of the linked items are things we have actually purchased and loved in our home. By using my affiliate link I get a very small percentage back which helps support my small business and family, so thank you!

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©2023 by Megan Halberstadt, Travel Advisor.

MH Custom Travel is an affiliate agency of Heather Christopher Travel Consulting, LLC

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