5 Tip for a Smooth Road Trip with a Preschooler


June 17, 2013 by CassieCravings


Our little family just returned from a trip to one of favorite Texas cities: San Antonio! We adore the culture and the city, but the drive can be quite nerve racking. As our little guy has grown, it is becoming more challenging to do road trips with him. He is more active, more verbal and possesses some very vocal and set opinions about the matter. Now that I’ve sat in a car with a 3 year-old for nearly 14 hours, I have 5 tips to help make the road trip smooth and enjoyable. After all, the road part of the vacation is the beginning and end to the memories that are made.

1. Become a master of scheduling.

photo (14)

We started the trip at sunrise with a sleeping baby and his favorite bear.

When travelling with kids, I have found that it is much easier to leave very late or very early. Taking off on a road trip during the kids’ sleep schedule allows them to rest peacefully during a portion of the trip and to get some miles under your belt which makes for a more peaceful sleep.

If you wait until your child is fully awake and fully excited about the vacation, prepare yourself for a restless, vocal child with countless “Are we there yet?” and “I’m bored.”.


2. Be a magician.Ā 

Eli reading Corey and Daisy

Eli’s favorite book “Corey and Daisy-The Ball” by Scott Clements

Keep a few toys, coloring books, favorite books with you to magically pull out to curb a grumpy spell. Some parents will wrap a little gift (small pack of crayons and a coloring book) to open every hour. I personally wouldn’t put a time stamp on it simply because my son can entertain himself for a good 90 minutes with his favorite book but is only interested in his Bear or ‘Raffe 15-20 minutes at a time.

The key is to be able to read your child and to head that inevitable bored, fussy moments off at the pass.

In my bag of tricks, I had a few favorite toys and a couple of new trinkets. Our best investment was a Color Wonder coloring book. Little Eli was fascinated with opportunity to use markers, and I was delighted that those markers wouldn’t write on anything but the special paper. It was a win-win!


3. Play a tour guide.Ā 


Texas countryside

New terrain is a great opportunity to expose your kids to new sights, even if those sights are passing by at 70MPH. Pointing out the surroundings keeps your child engaged and learning.

One such opportunity came to us when we passed a farm with sizable corn crops. I pointed them out to Eli and said, “I wonder what grows there. What do you think it could be?” Suddenly, he was making predictions, using his past experiences, activating that imagination to figure this out. Once I told him it was corn, we spilled into how the corn is grown and how it ends up on our table.

A road trip is a great classroom and a great bonding moment. It can be challenging to keep the kids engaged, and I encourage needed quiet times as well. Stay aware of moments to do more than pass time in a car. Make some great memories on the way to and from the vacation.


4. Break strategically.


Bathroom, food and stretch breaks are necessary and can be difficult to coordinate. With a car full of people, there are a lot of schedules to mind. Go into the road trip with a rough plan of where and when to stop. Once you make the plan, be willing to flex it a bit to meet the needs of the child.

During a break, everyone went to the bathroom and stretched their legs. It was a careful balance to allow Eli to stretch long enough to express some of that energy but not long enough to let him get riled up.


5. Prepare for rough patches. Ā 

photo (12)

How our road trip ended

Even with the best plans, it is imperative to understand that being in a car for umpteen hours is tough. It is even tougher on a child with little to no concept of time. The trip will probably seem like a life time to him, a boring and un-active lifetime. Be sensitive to that. Keep the encouragement and empathy high and the frustration low. I know that when I become frustrated, then it’s all downhill. My son follows my lead whether I am grumpy or grateful.


Prepare, prepare, prepare and then, in the end, follow your child’s lead.


What are your best tips when travelling with children?

Happy travelling!

14 thoughts on “5 Tip for a Smooth Road Trip with a Preschooler

  1. Mama Carmody says:

    We wrapped little items to give the kids along they way, but I do agree with you, we didn’t do it on a specific time schedule. As a matter of fact, I kept worrying that the kids would realize that they got gifts when they were “being bad”. Not really bad but when they started getting restless and picking on one another that was the time to bring out a gift. It was funny how even a new pencil or pen and a brightly colored notebook could keep them quiet for a while.

    • mamacravings says:

      I was THIS close (I’m holding my fingers super close together) to wrapping his items, but I opted out. It was more for time sake. He loves to open a new present, but I didn’t take the time to get it done.

      I thought about the connection being made with being fussy and receiving a new toy, but I decided that a quiet road trip was better than good parenting at the moment. Lol!

      • Mama Carmody says:

        Oh, yes, I failed to add that my kids never did figure out that they were getting surprises when they were fussy. I would just say, “Guess what it’s time for!”, like I had planned that to be the time to give a gift in the first place. Sometimes parenting takes a bit of acting. šŸ˜‰

      • mamacravings says:

        Haha! Yes, it does šŸ™‚ I love it!!

        Now that my son is getting more familiar with the clock, I’m going to have to get much more scheduled with, “The clock says it’s time to take a bath.” The other day he told me…”But ‘da cwlock got a 8 on it. ‘Da cwlock likes ‘da bath at ‘da 7.” Well…Huh. So, it does. šŸ˜‰

  2. kyrstalenon says:

    Great advice! My son is turning one this month, and I look forward to the day when I can bribe him with crayons and such. Right now he would just eat them. šŸ˜€ I love your blog and all of your stories!

    • mamacravings says:

      Haha! I remember the crayon eating moments. Those days we stopped a lot to fill him back up on breast milk šŸ™‚

      Thank you so much! I appreciate it šŸ™‚

  3. Awesome pictures! And helpful hints. My advice – snacks and drinks. Always. Haha my little one is a bottomless pit, surely she mustn’t be the only one!

    • mamacravings says:

      Thank you! šŸ™‚ YES! We had a bag packed full of raisins, organic fruit leathers, cherry tomatoes, Simply Truth “Cheerios”, etc, etc, etc… It definitely helped get through those patches of normal meal/snacking time when we found ourselves in the middle of the Texas countryside.

      My 3 year-old out eats me for sure!

  4. […] 5 Tip for a Smooth Road Trip with a Preschooler (mamacravings.wordpress.com) […]

  5. miss tehlor says:

    See, we’re still in the fun stage where our little one will pretty much sleep anytime she’s in the car. Definitely looking forward to having some adventures when she’s a little older though. This was hysterical by the way, always look forward to your posts šŸ™‚

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