tips for road trip with kids

25 July 2011

Well, hello there! We are on our great road trip traveling across the U.S. to visit/meet up with family in Montana, Canada, and then down to Missouri and Illinois. That means LOTS of quality time in the car, like we’re talking 5,000 miles worth.  Let me show you what has been our little saving grace:
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An old backpack, right? Yes, but for this trip it’s also our “car store.” I got the idea from my wonderful mother in law. She used to do it her kids (my husband+his 7 siblings) on their cross country trips.
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For a couple of months before the trip, I started gathering things to put in the “store.” Then, you give everything a point value and they can buy things with their points when you open the store. Our store was open around 10 and 2 every day. They started every day with 10 points and then could earn a point every hour they were good in the car. Of course you can add bonus points if you want, or points can be taken away for naughtiness. It’s amazing what happens when you turn around t0 shake your fist and threaten sweetly remind them that points are about to be taken away.
Healthy snacks like oranges, apples, string cheese, nuts, etc. were free but they had use their points to buy the candy. You can put a limit on how much candy per day, but let me tell you, some nights when we were all ready to pull our hair out from driving all day, candy was chucked freely to the backseat to keep peace.
Here are some things that were in our store:
Sunglasses from the dollar store (10 pts: HUGE hit!)
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Candy  5-10 pts(pop rocks are fun, but MESSY. I wouldn’t do them again)
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These little bags of nugget bubble gum were the most popular candy:
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Stickers (5 pts) bomb: kids weren’t very interested, so we used them for bingo.
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Books and magazines they’ve never read before from the thrift store 5 pts. I think I thought my kids were going to read a chapter book an hour. I brought waaay too many~like 20 chapter books…what was I thinking?
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These these big doodle books were a BIG hit (20 pts)
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Little notebooks, crayons & colored pencils 5-10 pts. These were pretty popular.

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Just anything miscellaneous that you know they will want. Goggles (10 pts) and lip gloss (5 pts). Goggles went quickly, lip gloss didn’t.
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A few more things:
* I put my oldest daughter in charge of keeping track of points. She did a great job so I didn’t have to worry about it.
*We have a DVD in the car, but limited the movies to about 2 a day since they seem to be much more crabby the more TV they watch. 
*They each got 30 minutes on the DS (they all share one) We were going to put a DS game in the store, but we didn’t need to…maybe on the way back?
*On the days we needed to put 10-12 hours of driving in, we had them sleep in their outfits for the next day, got up at 5 a.m., loaded them up and started driving. The morning was our quiet time where everyone would sleep and the day would go by much faster. We saved the movies, games, etc. for the I’m bored time in the  afternoon and would try to make it to the hotel in time for the evening so we could play in the pool.
*They like these bingo printables to kind of break things up: (I don’t have the site bookmarked, but if you search online, there are color bingo, license plate bingo, etc)
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I laminated them and they used the dry erase markers with the little erasers on top or stickers to mark them off. Winner can get extra points! (Landon just liked to color with them)
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* One of our favorite games is “Your Car.” Someone picks a number and says something like: “this is Dad’s car when he retires.” Then you count how many cars are going in the opposite direction and see what car he gets. It can be very funny. Smile
So, I would love to know if you are the heck yea, let’s take a road trip across country with the kids type,
or no way-not on your life-that is my idea of you know what-are you crazy-what are you thinking-save your money for plane tickets type?
Because, every day we meet people that say both, and depending on the day on this big long trip, I think I could fit into either camp.


  1. Great ideas!!! We love to do road trips!!!! This will make it easy for the "I am board" times!! :)


  2. These are some great ideas! I just posted about road trip tips last month, and I did put a treat bag on there... but your ideas for the contents and the store are faaaab-u-lous. Next time I'm forced to go on a road trip, I'll for sure remember it ;)

  3. I love this idea!  My boys are a little older now and tend to read or play DS and don't mind travel so I will pass your idea on to other families I know who travel quite a bit!  We travel a lot by car and the kids are pretty used to it.  They get a ton of reading done in order to earn their DS time!

  4. Would love to do this.  Not so sure the husband would agree.

  5. These are all great ideas! We dont have any kids yet, but I can remember making the drive from Illinois to Florida as a kid...I'm sure your kids are going to have a great time! Travel safe.

  6. I am the pack everybody and the dog  in the car and lets go my husband will always go for the airplane.   I want to take a road trip back to Denver where we are from, we live in VA. Everytime I suggest it my husband looks at me like I grew another head.

  7. Oh. My. Goodness. This is JUST what I needed to read. We are about to take our first family vacation as a family of four in our compact car driving from Texas to Alabama. I can use this for sure with our oldest who's three. Hopefully the 18 mo. old will take a LONG nap. Maybe mommy needs a bag too- tissues and tylenol. HA! Thanks so much for sharing this. Genius.

  8. Heck yea, I'll take a road trip cross country with my little ones (ages 4,3,and 1)! Here's a post I wrote earlier this month (or last month??) with our travel ideas.  A friend of mine linked me to you when she saw this. Love the road trip BINGO--and here I spent my time making my own!!  And the "your car" game is super cute!

  9. BeckyB@Organizing Made Fun1/8/14, 6:04 PM

    Awesome ideas!!!  Thank you!

    Becky B.
    Organizing Made Fun

  10. melissa*320 sycamore1/8/14, 6:15 PM

    Wow! Love all of those ideas, Sarah~you are so organized and creative!

  11. Melissa Lytle1/8/14, 6:15 PM

    We collect things for the "surprise bag" too. Dollar bins at Target are sometimes a good source for goodies. I throw things back there randomly for good behavior, or if I need her to make it just  bit longer before we make another stop. We save the DVD for evening after she's played out or we've had all the chatterbox we can handle ("it was MY turn to talk!") She's an only child so sometimes we are the entertainment :)

  12. I grew up road-tripping with my family and now we take our little ones all over as well.  Our 20 hour straight-through drive to Florida is our big trip every year.  It can be stressful, but it's also building memories that I know we will laugh about later.  I treasure these times with my little ones.

  13. I love your idea! We're on vacay right now, and I am about ready to pull all my hair out. The girls are so bored b/c the weather is not great. Very, very windy. Makes the beach miserable. I guess I need to hit the Dollar Tree after the aquarium today....

  14. Lisa Cavallucci1/16/14, 10:50 PM

    THANK YOU! I am looking for any and all ideas! We will be traveling from Washington state to Tennessee...taking about 7 days to get there via car. I have been stocking up on ideas and dollar-bin ideas! I also bought some window clings and some magnetic letters/numbers to put on an old cookie sheet. Soooo many ideas! But, I do love the idea of having a point value for each thing! Brilliant!!


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