Road Trip Tips and Diversions

Going on a road trip 8, 10, 16 hours long and wondering what you can do to keep the little ones occupied? Here are tips from parents about scheduling and how to fill the hours, and days, in the car.


Road Trip Diversions

Planning and Scheduling

"Planned rest stop breaks are a must."

"If your 1yr old is walking or walkingish, it really helped us to stop every 2-3 hrs and go on a micro hike or find a playgrounds on route. At that age they really want to practice their new skillz, and being strapped down when you just learned how to walk yesterday is extra frustrating. If the weather is terrible, our daughter loves/loved climbing/crawling inside our parked car, as if it is a cushioned jungle gym."

"We used to drive to the coast of Maine and my parents would break up the trip. I think we would leave in the afternoon and then stay overnight at a cheap motel with a pool halfway there. We made the trip when I was older and I was surprised at how short it was and wondered why we had broken it up into two parts. Now that I'm a parent I understand!"

"Last year we did the drive all the way to SC with our then 2 yr old and it was definitely interesting. We broke it up into a 2 day trip, stopping over in DC on the way down, and stopping over in Richmond on the way back up. It really helped (plus we were able to see family and friends)."

"I definitely would recommend making an overnight stop for a 7 or 8 Hour drive. They really needed to get out and run/roll around, eat snacks, potty etc. and it makes it for more of a fun adventure."

"Big fan of driving overnight for those kinds of trips. Drove from DC to SC with a 1yo, and then with our 2yo and 3mo from DC to Savannah, and of course, from DC to NYC with a 3yo and 1yo. We get the hotel the night before (or do an early check in Airbnb) so we can check in early in the day.

To do this successfully really depends on when/how you or your partner drive best. It also depends on whether the kids can sleep in the car (majority can I think), or whether the kids can fall asleep in the car (it all depends). Re this last point, we put them to bed or a half hour, load the car, then load the kids. We did it the other way and it was rough for a couple of hours."



Eye Spy
"We played 'eye spy' and we re-enacted his favorite story as a puppet show with his stuffed animals- which he loved! Once he understood that we’d be in the car a long time- he accepted it and enjoyed looking out the window."

Old MacDonald Had a farm
"she picks the animal and makes the noises, we all sing"

Find the...
"We name shapes, names or numbers and she has to find them in road signs or other other signs along the way). I also play a game where we make up stories. One of us starts, the next one adds a character or plot point, designs a costume, etc. She loves that one."

The ABC Game

The License Plate Game



Invisible pen books
"there are many themed ones- Frozen,princesses, Cars, etc. that are fun"

Sticker books
"Same type of book as above, but sticker ones where it is a puzzle and you have to put the picture together."

"On the electronic side (which i hate to resort to but I do when it gets desperate), our child likes to take pictures with our phone and there are "stickers" and other things to decorate and change the picture."

Paper pads and magic markers
"We try to pack paper pads with a few markers and pencils."
"I also used to get those Crayola mess-free marker sets that come with a coloring book. NOTE: keep these all a secret until you are in the car and driving, so it is fresh and new and very exciting for them! Have safe travels!"
"Our guys really like to draw.  On a long trip, I will always pack tablets and pens/pencils for them."



"We used to get a ton of mileage out of the portable DVD player and iPad but the sudden onset of motion sickness around the age of 2 totally derailed that. If your kids don't get carsick, I'd highly recommend having it along for when all else fails."

"We also have shown an entire movie on our ipad before when stuck in traffic before also."

"I'm sure others will have lots of creative and educational ways of entertaining their kids in the car, but we just give in and go unlimited TV watching. I have a 5 and 2 year old myself and we drive to northern Michigan each summer (16 hours and we usually do it in one day) [...] They can either watch their own thing or the 2 players can be tethered together. It's not ideal and perhaps when they're older we will be able to have other activities for them to do, but my goal is for all of us to get to our destination with as little stress as possible. When dealing with 2 young kids in a car for an extended period of time, I go the path of least resistance!"

"Maybe a movie or two."

"We brought a wide range of movies that are age appropriate."

"Mostly a tablet or video game system with a couple educational games."

"Also just around this age [15 months] we started resorting to screentime for travel. We were pretty strict about this and didn’t actually start doing it at home until he was 2.5 and we’d just had another baby and we just desperately needed it, but for car trips we thought it was ok to keep him happy when we were all trapped. I’d load up my iPad with a bunch of kid appropriate stuff (Pete the Cat, Bubble Guppies, Storybots, wtc) and just b let him watch for a while to keep him happy in between naps and snacks. And if he drops it it was in a case and couldn’t get far anyway. Another good screen based activity was opening the photo app on one of our phones and letting him flip through. We called them Mommy-Daddies and he loved to look at all the images of his family and friends that we have in there. (We’d turn on guided access so he couldn’t get to other apps by accident.)"

"As far as TV or movies, we are big fans of Yo Gabba Gabba. Biz Markie does beat boxing tutorials, The Roots, Erykah Badu, Solange, Weezer, Chromeo, Mix Master Mike, The Faint, Devo, lots of really good guest stars.  it has the best kids show music by far and you won't have to get the songs surgically removed from your brain afterward (like Baby Shark). my favorite episodes are 'Clean,' 'Sharing,' 'Bugs,' and 'Babies.'"



"Audio books! my friend gave this suggestion and it is great."

"Kids sing along music for the stereo (which you will hate by the time you get home)."
"older kids have own adapters to ensure iPhones and music to block out siblings (and parents) are functioning."
"Last weekend I drove alone with my child 2 hours in each direction and spent the last 30-45 minutes of each trip singing Baa Baa Black Sheep and Old MacDonald on repeat.  So, my plan for our next trip is to have some good kid songs ready to play on spotify or XM radio (per google, here are the kids stations: 77 - kidz bop, 78 - kids place live, 79 - disney).  Will also bring a toy that plays music, which could be annoying, but it's better than having to do the singing.  We have a small peanut shell song player that was on her infant mobile that she still likes, and this."
"We’ve been in the car quite a bit lately too. I agree that fun music works well! I’ve been resisting playing full-blown “kids music” (for my sanity)... and my daughter really loves the new Taylor Swift album, haha! She claps and even makes some singing noises when she’s really into it! Sometimes she even seems to like it when we play podcasts... maybe the sound of someone consistently talking is comforting."
"I know a lot of other people mentioned music and we agree with that. If you’re looking for stuff that’s fun but not torture to listen to, They Might Be Giants have a few really great kids albums and also the Storybots have a bunch of excellent collections of songs from the show. We’ve also listened to classic Sesame Street songs and they’re kind of fun."

TIMIO Educational Audio Toy
"The Timio kids audio device has been a lifesaver for us for long drives."



Make memories
"It is kind of corny, but I’ll always try to point out things on the road/have a teaching moment about things that may have a historical or personal significance."



"I’ll always go to Barnes & Noble a week or so before the trip and get each of our kids a book and some magazines for my wife, etc. and will wrap them individually and hide them onboard and then surprise them about half way through the trip to give them a little boost/freshen it up."


Eating and Snacking

Chewing gum
"For the olderchild- chewing gum is magic!"

Stocked supplies
"Stocked cooler that has cold drinks and snacks to feed for two weeks."

"Ensuring I get everyone's order correct at Dunkin Donuts is a must"


Road trippin' toys

Sliding toys
"Another driving activity I tried when my son was about two, was to tie a string across the back seat from one side to the other on the coat hooks/handle and strung small toys and blocks so they would slide back and forth while driving,and he could reach and play with them. I think it ended up on the ground but definitely entertained for a while."

Books and games designed for road trips
"We picked up a fun game on the road that had pictures with little windows to close when you find the item along the way- street lamp, stop sign, tractor trailer, airplane, etc. is fun for everyone to play."
"Rush Hour Traffic Jam Puzzle"
"Any travel bingo matching games (Melissa and Doug make some)."
"Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things that Go has words but is very enjoyable just to look at. it has a lot going on and it's about cars and you're in a car. They can find 'goldbug' on every page and it's long. This book basically babysits my daughter sometimes. We also really like Professional Crocodile and Good Dog Carl for wordless books that can be enjoyed on many levels."

"Our child also started sleeping with a stuffed animal when she was 1, so we bring that on car trips now, and it is often soothing/helps with a car nap."


"We drove, and found that a colorful tapestry over the seat that our little one faced was super helpful."

Lap desk
"We did buy a bunch of toys for her that were easy to use in the car including a lap desk that fit over her car seat with road tape, tiny vehicles, and art supplies."

And more...
"We usually have a couple small textured board books that keep her interested (the finger-puppet ones have been good lately), a curly ribbon bow that she likes to fidget with, and her lovey."
"When my older son was this age [15 months] we would usually just bring a few of his favorite chewy toys, a few board books and a few pacifiers, so each time he tossed something where we couldn’t reach it we’d just hand him something else."


Other tips:

"Keep toys/bottles/wipes within reach to all."

"I have an extra large coffee to get me through the family bonding in the car..."

"The games and activities actually become quite funny if you leave up to the imagination of a 5 year old"

"Only because I’m nutty, I’ll make a spreadsheet that tracks mileage between segments(i.e. 99 miles from home to PA State Line, 150 miles to Charleston, etc.), that also has a rolling total of miles traveled and % of the trip for each segment.  Again, I’m nuts.  But it is a way for them to keep track of how far we’ve gone and to cut down on the asking of “how much farther?”

"We even told him to 'rest his eyes' at one point, and that it'd get us there faster......and it kinda worked!"


Further Reading on Park Slope Parents

Motion Sickness

Travel toys and activities (for the PLANE)