How to Survive Road Tripping With Kids



When we aren’t traveling by plane, my two children and I will often take off in our car for the Black Hills of South Dakota to visit my parents. This is a 6 and a half hour road trip from Boulder and we manage the round trip about 3 times per year. Easy, right? Well, I have definitely figured out what works for me and what does not. Here it goes…

1. Do your best to ignore them. To any helicopter moms out there, this advice might shock you. But in my experience on the road, the more I interact with my kids, the more they want to interact. Which is great if you are into singing She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain one thousand times and catering to two tiny despots with unreasonable demands for many hours, but I am not.

2. Do figure out your You-Better-Freaking-Stop-What-You’re-Doing-Face. ‘Cause this is basically all you’ve got if you are the driver of a car going 75 mph down the road and your kids are going psycho in the backseat. My mom had this face absolutely nailed. In fact, I still getting sweaty palms just thinking about it. You’ll know when you look appropriately frightening if your kids immediately stop what they are doing and try to back away from you like you are a live grenade. Don’t be ashamed to practice this in front of the mirror.

3. Do master the art of helping your child pee on the side of the road. This is probably illegal but emergencies often happen to short people with bladders the size of, well, a pea. And you can count on such emergencies always happening the second you see a sign that says No Services For 1 Billion Miles. Pull off onto a side road…park on top of a hill if possible to decrease other cars’ visibility and open both doors on the passenger side. Have the young child squat or stand in between the doors. To the people that this grosses out, I’m sorry but you need to toughen up.

4. Do prepare a cooler with a few types of food that you can easily toss into the back like scraps to pigs. Cheese sticks, cut up sandwiches, pieces of fruit; all good. But those little packets of food with the funny half-straw-sucky-tops and are a miraculous invention, they will explode all over your child, likewise for yogurt tubes. Don’t ever give your toddler a yogurt tube in the car. Ever.

5. Don’t worry about potty training for at least the length of your trip. Just forget it. Strap a diaper onto the little pee machine and drive.

6. Do turn to AM static during a complete and total freak-o-rama (see also, plane-ride freak-o-ramas). Imagine an inconsolable baby, who has a full tummy and fresh diaper but is generally pissed off about the car and over-tired and wailing at the top of their lungs. Music and your soothing voice enrages them more because they don’t understand why you won’t just f*&%#ing pick them up. AM static can sometimes calm them. Horrible but effective.

7. Do check the weather. Nothing, I mean nothing, is worth a road trip in bad weather with your kids. I can’t emphasize this enough. Our motherly instinct to protect goes hay-wire and trying to keep it together while driving on slick roads is horrible. I think I am still scarred from driving with my 6-week-old son on a trip that should have taken 6 hours and ended up taking 9. There was a snow storm, I had to stop and nurse 5,000 times, he was crying, I was crying. Not worth it.

8. Do insist that your children look at the world once in awhile. Well, not necessarily in the middle of South Dakota, sorry South Dakota. Once, while traveling down the coast of California with my children and mother, I had bugged my son about this so much that after a couple of hours he asked me, “Do I have to keep appreciatin’ the scenery mom?” Yes, damn it, you do.

9. Don’t waste effort on trying to listen to something that your kids will enjoy. Invest in earphones for them and a car charger for their DVD player/iPad/iWhatever and get yourself an audio book (you can even get them free at the library), maybe a young adult book so you don’t freak anyone out. Remember the motto; Happy Mama Driver = Happy Family.

10. Don’t stress. Go with the flow. You will most likely have moments, or hours, where you will want to toss your seriously un-musical child out the window after their 500th rendition of Bill Grogan’s Goat. Dig deep to find that spare well of patience and mother’s instinct to keep them alive. And remember you can always get revenge when they are hauling your wrinkly-ass butt around someday.

How to Survive Road Tripping With Kids on Scary Mommy


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  1. ThePioneerMom says

    OMG! Yes, on all counts. Bravo for taking that hellacious trip 3 times a year! You’re either crazy or kick-Ass amazing! I especially liked the snack food tossed randomly at the kids in the back of the car. If they weren’t already buckled, they’d be sprawled out on the floor of my van like a bunch of dads trying to grab a home run all at a major league baseball game. I haven’t mastered ‘the look’ yet in the car. My kids get a hand gesture, equivalent to ‘the look’. It’s hard enough keeping my eyes on the road when they are bitching about who saw a slug-bug first. Great post! xoxo

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  2. grownandflown says

    Where were you when my kids were little? Great list to which I would only add, try so very hard to sleep well the night before. Like terrible weather, drowsiness is terrifying when you are the one behind the wheel.

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  3. Cynthia says

    OMG, I laughed out loud like a total maniac at “Do prepare a cooler with a few types of food that you can easily toss into the back like scraps to pigs”.

    We have a 5 hour one-way trip planned on Monday and wow did I need to read this today.

    Thank you!

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  4. Frankie Laursen says

    These are great tips, thank you! We’ll be doing the 9-hour drive to Disneyland soon (without kids the drive takes 5.5 hours).

    I also put ear plugs in. My son feels guilty and stops shouting.

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  5. Jackie Hoard says

    As a seasoned road tripper with 3 kids and 2 dogs, my best piece of advice is to start them young on long road trips. My children, ages 3, 9 and 15 are professional road trippers, and I am so thankful. Older kids to help with the youngest and the dogs is a blessing, and they know damn well that I mean business when I am the driver. I'm sure my "look" scares the hell out of them, too. :)

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  6. Mary says

    We invested in a DVD player for the 7 hour trip to my Moms for when the kids were little. However, we decided to drive from Minnesota to Yellowstone when the kids were 10 and 6. DH decided the week before that there would be no electronics in the car ( other than CDs). He said they needed to learn to be bored and appreciate scenery. Even though my plan was to turn everything off as soon as we got to scenic areas.
    It went great. I’m sure because the drive was completely new. They looked at books, used the new fashion stencils I had bought them and just stared out the window. It even worked across North Dakota and the eastern half of South Dakota!

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  7. Ariana says

    Love this. Love car trips actually, no better way to see the country. My very favorite kids road trip tip…if you are normally anti- McDonalds , give it up for the trip. McDonalds and their playlands are the best, most wonderful things ever when one has been driving with the kids 4 or more hours.

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