Q:  Now that summer is  here, how do I prepare my young children for long outings/road trips?
Dr. G:

Great question! I just travelled 1,100 miles in the car alone with my 4 boys (ages 10, 7, 5 and 3) over Memorial Day weekend. I’m often asked for tips for family road trips with young kids.

So here it is, my best list for ways to get kids 6 and under ready for and to enjoy long car trips:

1.  Clean out the car together! Everyone except babies can help. So put the pack-n-play outside by the car, plop the baby in and get everyone else armed with garbage bags and rags. Take out all the car seats you can, fold down seats, yank out the mats, pull the vacuum outside if your kids can handle the noise.

Give them a spray bottle of vinegar and water. Get the dashboard, the inside doors, the cracks and spaces and “underneaths.”  This will give you a new lease on driving and your kids a sense of pride in the car itself. Don’t forget to put the car seats back in securely, maybe even stop by your local police or fire station for a car seat check before you go.

2.  Decorate a little. Spend some time surfing the web (yes, I’m telling you to – enjoy!) looking at posts about products that make life simpler in the car. A couple of storage boxes, an over-the-seat organizer, some great window stickers will help all of you feel more at home in the car.

3.  Plan a “Trial Trip” to someplace fun but not so far away. Make a packing list with your older young kids for the car. They will LOVE to pack their own stuff in a fun suitcase or backpack. Wheels help so they can help you load up! See what goes well and what needs work.

4.  Decide on your media policy. We do DVDs in the car. Our rule is the DVD player goes on if the trip is longer than an hour. Each kid gets to pick one DVD and then we take a screen-break. During that break we play games, or someone (who doesn’t get carsick) reads a book for the group. Or we jam to the radio.

5.  Gather games. There are games that any child old enough to talk can play. Endless varieties of the alphabet game and the license plate game really do work (and teach). We play some other games, like “What DON’T you want to be when you grow up?” and “If I could live in another country it would be…”

6.  Plan your trip with more stops than you think you’ll need. Bring a ball or some jump ropes or sidewalk chalk or bubbles. Our “Rest Stop Box” is really helpful and burns off quite a bit of energy with a soccer game or follow the leader.

7.  Pack a cooler and a snack box. This is a great way to save money and go farther. Make sure there is stuff for you as well as the kids, and stuff they can open without too much help. Prepare some bottles or sippy cups if that is what you need!

8.  Be flexible. And patient. The trip is supposed to be fun too!

Happy travels!


Dr. Deborah Gilboa is a Board Certified family physician, mother of four, and a professional parenting writer and speaker (for parents, community & business). Her signature individualized workshop, “How to Get the Behavior You Want, Without Being the Parent You Hate” captivates parents through her humorous straight talk, which lifts the guilt out of parenting. Her mission is to help parents raise children they can respect and admire. Visit her website.


Maria Lianos-Carbone is the author of “Oh Baby! A Mom’s Self-Care Survival Guide for the First Year”, and publisher of amotherworld.com, a leading lifestyle blog for women.

1 Comment

  1. Depending on the age of the kids, scavenger hunts are fabulous. Really easy to do on MS Excell. 50 squares front & back pages & it will help your time go by faster too. Plus, we offer a penny an item & they get to start a new one on the way back. Leaving early in the morning (like 7 am) & getting fast food gives you a good 3 hours before you have to make that first stop to go potty & stretch the legs. If the kiddos can’t read yet, have them search for & color in letters of the alphabet. MS word lets you make them in 120 pt type & then use the “outline” feature in whatever font you choose. Crayola has some cute things that you can create travel bags with and never underestimate the power of a ring pop or some other vintage candy that they aren’t used to seeing. Surprise candy makes mom everyone’s hero! 6 years in a row, 750 miles one way to from MI to TN & back with three kids under 8 starting the first year. PLUS 3 of those years I did by myself and they/we all made it home alive. Biggest tip, relax & have fun, it’s your vacation too. :0

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