12 Tips For Taking a Road Trip with Kids

Use these 12 useful tips for a summer road trip with children to limit the dreaded "Are we there yet?"

I've spent many hours in a car on many road trips visiting nearly every province in Canada and every state in the U.S. Traveling by car is my preferred way to travel as you get to see so many things you miss out on when you fly to a destination. Many of my best memories are stopping along the highway and finding something unexpected.

Now with two young children in tow, my road trippin' has certainly changed from my carefree road trips as a single gal with not many responsibilities. It has changed, but I still love it. I certainly love the look in my girls' eyes as they get out of the car and experience something for the first time, no matter how grand that thing is.

Here are a few tips to make your road trips with kids a success:

1 - Map out your breaks

Research local diners, roadside attractions, waterfalls, parks, or other places to stop. Don't feel like you have to stick to your plan, but know what's coming up so you'll have a place to get out. Twenty minutes of exploring or running around will make the next few hours in the car bearable. Keep in mind that you can stop at places that look interesting and that aren't planned. In Sunset Country, you can find attractions, points of interest, and places to eat along the way. Order a free Travel Guide & Map of Sunset Country to help you decide where to stop around places like waterfalls, museums, or parks.

Kakabeka Falls is one of the many easily accessible waterfalls right off the Highway
Kakabeka Falls is one of the many easily accessible waterfalls right off the Highway

2 - Are we there yet?

We've all heard it, the dreaded "Are we there yet?" Sometimes way too often. To help the kids understand how much longer, why not print out a map beforehand and let them figure out where they are? They can place a star after each town or city they pass or have them colour the highway itself.

3 - Pack a few special treats

Bring a few special things that they normally wouldn't get. If you're really eager, you can wrap a few treats or toys to make it even more special. Just when they are about to lose it, start getting bored, or whining, you can pull out a special treat. Some might think it's bribery, but on a long road trip sometimes you have to let things slide. I'm not a fan of buying junk, but the dollar store does have some things that won't break the bank and will keep them busy for a bit.

4 - Limit electronics

Yes, I can't believe I'm saying this, as it's so easy to give them an iPad to keep them quiet. But think of all the things they miss out the windows if their head is always looking down at their device. That's not to say never give them electronics, but certainly, try to limit them.

5 - Brush up on the history or geology of the area.

You're inevitably going to be asked some questions. "What are those rocks?", "Why is that yellow?", "Is that a Tee Pee?" By reading up a little bit about the area you will not only get more out of the trip yourself, but your little ones will also appreciate the answers too.

The old Steep Rock Mine near Atikokan is beautiful.
The old Steep Rock Mine near Atikokan is beautiful

6 - Let the kids take photos

You'd be surprised at how children interpret things. Even when my eldest was four or five, she was snapping photos that I would have never thought to take. You see the trip through your child's eyes and it really interesting to see what they are getting out of the trip. What they learn will surprise you.

7 - Make a scavenger hunt

A scavenger hunt keeps the kids busy in the car. Make some of the things easy and some harder so that they are always on the lookout for more things. You can download a printable PDF of a Road Trip Scavenger Hunt here.

Click the image to download a high res copy of the Road Trip Scavenger Hunt
Click the image to download a high-res copy of the Road Trip Scavenger Hunt

8 - Bring snacks

Prepare many snack-size food items. Bring a variety of foods like fruit, veggies, and granola bars. Sweets are fine, just remember that too many will have them bouncing off the walls. For drinks, I love my Contigo Kids Water bottles that I bought at Costco but you can also find them at Canadian Tire, Target, or many other stores. They are leakproof and great for road trips.

9 - Keep kids busy with games

Games like eye-spy or 20 questions help to pass the time. Suzanne Rowan Kelleher wrote a great article on the 10 best kids' car games. The best thing about her suggested games is that they are free! If you're traveling in the United States you can download a PDF of the American license plates. I created a Canadian License Plate Game to download here.

Click on this image for a printable high res photo of Canadian License Plate Game
Click on this image for a printable high-res photo of the Canadian License Plate Game

10 - Plan to spend no more than 2-3 hours without stopping

Unless you're driving at night and the kids are sleeping, try to stop and get out every two to three hours. Realistically, that's all they can handle before they will start to melt down and act up in the car.

The Dixie Lake rest area on the Trans Canada Highway is a great place to stretch your legs
The Dixie Lake rest area on the Trans-Canada Highway is a great place to stretch your legs

11 - Take a look at some of the events in the area

You may just happen to be passing through a community that is having its summer festival or a special event that day. Take a look at the events in the area before you go, there may just be something that piques your interest. Ontario's Sunset Country has a calendar of events that's useful if you're planning a trip to Northwest Ontario.

12 - Be realistic

Be realistic, your schedule may change. You might find something really interesting and you spend half the day there or you may run into road construction that slows you down. Don't panic, it's not the end of the world if you don't keep to your schedule; you are on vacation after all. Relax and go with the flow.

I hope these tips will make the most out of your family road trip. Remember it's about the journey, not the destination. If you have any other tips for a road trip with children, I'd love to hear about them in the comments.

About Erin Rody

I grew up on Black Sturgeon Lake in Northwestern Ontario. I am a staff writer for the Sunset Country Travel Association. Through my articles I hope to entice you to visit the wonderful region I call home. We are all about outdoor adventure; with 70,000 lakes and rivers and a whole lot of forests how can we not be? Whether you like to fish, hunt, canoe, kayak, boat or go camping, Sunset Country has something for you. Enjoy!

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