How to Travel with Kids By Car


If you need to get to your destination by car, fear not.  I have been driving up and down the length of California since my oldest was 11 weeks old.  Sometimes solo.  The secret to driving with little kids is to assume you are never going to go longer than 2-3 hours without an extended break.  And start your trip so that your nap schedule will fall within the early portion or middle of the trip to further break things up.  So your 6 hour trip might look like this with a younger, twice a day napper (see the bottom section for preschool and elementary ages):

Babies and Young Toddlers

Leave home by 9am (don’t start things out in the thick of rush hour)

10am it’s nap time and baby nods off to the white noise of the car/the sound machine app on your phone/whichever music you are now sick of but baby loves (for my oldest it was Enya, cranked way up)

Baby sleeps until 11 or 11:30.  A younger baby likely needs a stop to be changed and fed, but an older one may tolerate a bit more driving and get you through until lunch time…

Stop for lunch and walking around to see new things

12:30 back in the car

2pm baby is nodding off for afternoon nap

3:30/4pm baby wakes up and needs to be fed and changed but you’re likely already at your destination! If not, take another 30 minutes to get out and see some new things, then it’s back in the car until dinner/your destination (driving from 9-3:30 this way gives you 6 hours on the road)


Older Toddlers and School Kids

If your kid is not a baby, you’ll need fun things to pass the time.  Pack a little bag with car-appropriate toys (remember the risk of hard, heavy objects becoming projectiles – if you don’t want it thrown at your head, don’t give it to your kid lest it fly at them or you during a crash).  My kids are often happy with a few figurines to play pretend with for the first hour or so of the drive.  Then we can gain another 30 minutes to an hour by playing our Super Champion Quiz game (ask each kid a knowledge question at their level and the first one to earn 5 points is the winner of that round).  If nobody has to stop for the bathroom by then, I hand out an easy snack like string cheese, give each kid an iphone with free downloads from Amazon Prime (did you know you can download Prime shows to watch while offline?) or a selection of their favorite movies while wearing volume-limiting children’s headphones.  Then it’s a stop for lunch and the bathroom, back to the car for a new round of the Super Champion Quiz game, new toys, then my oldest gets to quietly watch something else while the youngest naps.  After that it’s a choose your own adventure until we arrive at our destination.

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