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.

About the writer


Joelle Wisler is a writer and mom living in the mountains who believes in sarcasm, winging it, and raising children who won't ever live in her basement. She writes regularly for Scary Mommy and can also be found at The Huffington Post, Mamalode, Babble, and on her blog. She has made The Today Show's List of Funniest Parents on Facebook and contributed to the anthology, Scary Mommy's Guide To Surviving The Holidays. You can find her on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter.


Carissa 11 months ago

My son has a knack to ALWAYS want food when we are in the car… I always have snacks on hand even if its a 15 minute trip to the store to pick up more snacks!! I made a joke one time that my purse makes me feel like a damn pack mule because of it.

Kelsey 1 year ago

I seriously needed this! I am leaving on Saturday morning with my three little kids to MOVE to Southern CA from Denver. We picked the most piss poor time of the year to move when driving through the midwest but meh…has to be done. My husband is driving the moving truck with our car sickness prone Dog and I will be driving our minivan with three kids who don’t like road trips. Yay me! I am just hoping that the projected major snowstorm holds off until after we’ve left the state. I probably won’t be that lucky though. Thanks for the laugh!

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lulu bells 1 year ago

I love this post, planning an eleven hour trip with a five year old next august, im not sure how it will go but it will be a learning experience. I am Definitely going to pack that cooler, I dunno whos worse for snack, me or the kid, one of us always hungry and if it isn’t me or the child then its the DH.

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momma22boys 2 years ago

We will be driving from Northern MI to South Carolina in April. We did this last year, we drove for about 8 hours each day…it was not horrible…they had movies, toys, snacks…the worse part was when my then 2 year old threw up and then the dog threw up…pack extra changes of clothes where they are easily reachable and LOTS and LOTS of babywipes…and a few empty plastic grocery bags. They take up little space but are immensely helpful. This year I just hope that we drive it straight or nearly all the way…the second day was by far the rougher of the two.

whitehawk 2 years ago

Very well written. I could add something about road-tripping with a car-sick child :(.

MomChalant 3 years ago

I’m making a four hour roadtrip with my 17 month old in two weeks and I’m dreading it, but you better believe my stop-what-you’re-doing-face will be nice and ready.

Debbie 3 years ago

love all of these!

We have been taking the kids on road trips since they were 5 weeks and 4 weeks old.
they are now almost 4 and 16 months. And we just got back from a 3 week road trip from NC to newfoundland and back again.

We have done many of these suggestions.

HD 3 years ago

Loved it! Especially the Stop It Face. I need to practice mine in the mirror, it ain’t quite cuttin’ the mustard at my house (or minivan).

Penny Chevalley 3 years ago

I give you props! We have a hard time going 20 miles down the road to Target much less and huge road trip like that but the advice is great and appreciated!

Kristen Mae at Abandoning Pretense 3 years ago

We regularly travel across-state with our littles, about a 3 1/2 hour drive. We thought that was long until a few years ago we started making the 9-hour drive up to GA to spend Christmases with my sister and her family. That one’s a doozy. If our DVD players ever gave out on us during that trip, we’d for sure search for the nearest Wal-Mart and go buy a new one. GOD BLESS WHOEVER INVENTED PORTABLE DVD PLAYERS.

Patricia Kausal 3 years ago

I always found that while I was working grave yard I did all my driving at night the kids all slept through most of the trip and we usually arrive at 5 am just enough time to grab a quick nap for me and no stops from the sleeping babies in the back we the parents had a blast even did a 7 day va to ca trip and it was a wonderful experience not much sightseeing but we did get more drive time done checked into motels during the day let them swim take turns with the drivers one sleeps while at the park the other sleeps while at the pool the kids got warm baths food in the bellies then at bed time all loaded up in the car and drive for a solid 8 to 12 hours with only the drivers needing bathroom/coffee breaks of course you mostly truck stops are open 24 hrs but they are wonderful places to explore now a days like a little mini mall never had a horror road trip yet.

Annie 3 years ago

We have done one 5+ hour road trip PER MONTH every month since my son was born – he’s 10 months now. Thats what happens when grandparents live out of state.

As an added bonus, he hates sleeping in his carseat during daylight hours. We have survived by driving mostly after his bedtime and making a “baby cave” to replicate his bedtime as best we can – I crank up the white noise app and cover his carseat with his blackout curtain to make it totally dark.

Also, feeding him one berry or Cheerios at a time as sloooooowly as possible keeps him entertained while awake 😉

Shan 3 years ago

You forgot #11: Big Bucket Of Legos. Priceless hours of quiet building! You can clean out the cracks between the seats later. Oh, and by the way, my husband’s answer to ,”Are we there yet?”: “Yes, get out!” (I’m waiting for him to try to enforce that someday!)

    Kristen Mae at Abandoning Pretense 3 years ago

    ^^^ SO stealing that!

Marci 3 years ago

As a seasoned road-trip with a 3 and 4 year old, the princess potty has been my best friend! No worries about squatting, wet shoes or freakouts (cuz there are BUGS on the ground)!
A pampers box fits perfectly between the front seats, to hold a menagerie of items to pass back, and my passenger seat is reserved for the cooler.
With practice, I promise you can become a one handed pro at changing dvds too!
Props to all the other traveling mommas out there!!!

    Debbie 3 years ago

    I have a Grand Caravan and the pampers box fits so nicely between the seats.

    its filled with books and toys for the 3 year old and 1 year old.

    I have had the kids on road trips since they were 5 and 4 weeks old.

Jihee 3 years ago

I just posted a comment on your Newbie Blogger Prayer piece but had to drop by to tell you how much I loved #4 on this list. I’m currently in NYC aching to visit a spot like where y’all live and missing my CA palm trees.

Jess 3 years ago

Great points! Never thought of most of them haha

Amy Taormina 3 years ago

I live in the Black Hills, too! lol One year we thought we'd drive from here to Pennsylvania. I was trying to be positive about how there was snow in the hills etc. We got out to the Badlands and there was snow everywhere. My youngest lost it, "WE'RE IN PENNSYLVANIA!" Also, totally master outdoor peeing because even though I-90 has more rest stops than in did when I was little, the kids NEVER have to pee the halfway point between socially acceptable bathrooms. Just make sure your kid is peeing with the wind instead of against it. Wet shoes are gross :.

Laura 3 years ago

“Don’t forget to plan your answer to “Are we there yet?” One of my son’s teachers provided us with the perfect answer, which annoys the crap out of the little rats so much they stop asking it after a while — “Yes, we’re almost halfway there!” Even if you’re pulling up to the door of wherever you’re going. Never deviate from that answer; they’ll give up on the question sooner than you believe possible. Thank God.

    Autumn 3 years ago

    Brilliant answer to the world’s most annoying question! I will definitely be using this in the future!

    Nan 3 years ago

    OMG This is brill! My kids are going to hate me…

    Joelle, excellent tips!

    Em 2 years ago

    OMFG this is brilliant. Seriously, brilliant. I know what response we are now going to say to our kids for the 761290th time on a two hour drive…

Ariana 3 years ago

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.

Mary 3 years ago

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!

    Mary 3 years ago

    However I’m not sure it would have worked any younger.

Jackie Hoard 3 years ago

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. :)

Brianna 3 years ago

Saved for future trips!

Amy – Funny is Family 3 years ago

You had me at “Do your best to ignore them.”

Frankie Laursen 3 years ago

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.

Arika Von Kannon 3 years ago

My family is in the Hills too! Love it. Thanks for the article, very funny and useful.

Cynthia 3 years ago

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!

grownandflown 3 years ago

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.

ThePioneerMom 3 years ago

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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