how to drive long distances with preschoolers

how to drive long distances with preschoolers 1When we first decided to travel the country in an RV, I worried about the amount of time we would need to spend in the car. Our then one-and-a-half-year-old wasn't a huge fan of her carseat and we hadn't done many long road trips.

The girls surprised us by being Super Travelers. For the most part, they rarely complained or cried...and any meltdowns usually occurred in the last 30-60 minutes of a trip.

Here are a few of our techniques for keeping peace on-the-road:

1. We rarely drove more than 5 hours in any given day. Our typical length was about 3-4 hours. On our drive west, we did some longer stretches (up to 8 hours) - and that was less than ideal. I don't recommend it.

2. We stayed at most campgrounds between 1-2 weeks. This helped because we were able to get out, stretch, enjoy an area, and not be constantly driving.

3. We packed snacks. I had utopian visions of packing fresh fruits and veggies in a portable igloo for travel days. In reality, we traveled so often that we couldn't be that well-prepared. We usually opted for fruit leathers (individually wrapped in plastic packaging), beef jerky (World Kitchens is one of our favorite brands), apples and oranges, CLIF bars, and licorice.

4. We watched movies. At first, we resisted purchasing portable DVD players. As time wore on, however, we changed our thinking. We don't have a TV inside our RV so our girls look forward to their screen time on-the-road. Made with lightweight plastic components, the players are strapped on the back of the headrests for easy visibility.

5. We listened to Adventures in Odyssey - an excellently produced audio show for kids that I listened to throughout my childhood! Our 4-year-old would often request to "listen to the Bible."

What is the longest distance you've ever driven with your kids? What do you do to maintain sanity/peace in the car?

I am participating in a compensated program by Plastics Make it Possible® in partnership with the American Chemistry Council and Ogilvy PR. 

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22 comments on “how to drive long distances with preschoolers”

  1. Excellent advice! Our first PCS move after we had Connal was when he was two months old (trying to drive 12-16 hrs a day stopping every couple of hours to nurse). I was so worried and it went wonderfully. I remember a friend saying to me, "Enjoy this. It is the first, but probably the only, quiet road trip you'll take with him." He will be 2 yrs 3 months when we hit the road again in Feb to move from Alabama to NY. We get four days to make the trip (though we'll probably take extra days and make it a bit more adventurous). I keep imagining the hours after 3 or 4 have gone by, trying to keep him entertained. Bouncing off #1 on your list, if you *have* to drive more than just a few hours, I think planning something ahead to do during each day of the trip will be helpful. I intent to find some place each day of our trip to spend an hour playing (science museums, parks, etc.).

  2. This summer we drove from Southern Wyoming, up to Yellowstone, then across the country to Green Bay. Like you, we tried to break up the driving to no more than 5 hours a day...and the iPad was entertaining! (Except sometimes they fought over it, and we wished we had two).

  3. We've just returned from the Outback, (2858miles) there and back, nine kids incl baby. We drove each way in 3 days, the longest day we pulled was 15hrs with stops for kids to stretch and for baby (5mths) to feed. (Driving shared with two teens) Most days we did 10 hrs. We didn't have DVDs so audio books were a huge success for the older ones (7yrs up) for the younger ones I made car seat organisers and it was handy to have colouring and pencils etc in them. (I'm slowly writing about our trip

  4. Good tips! I hope you'll write a book about your family's adventures. :) I am working on a post about road trips with kids too. We went through seven states recently, and the longest we were in the car (with potty/meal breaks) was 12 hours. We had to push ahead for the sake of hotel reservations, though....

    Hope you all are doing great!

  5. Traveling with kids is never fun! Once my kids hit 3ish and 5ish I attempted a drive to Kansas - 13 hours for us and it went pretty good with a few melt downs. A DVD player and snacks is the key! Now my kids are expert travelers - We went on vacation and this involved waking up at midnight, driving 4 hours to the airport, 2 - 2 hour flights and then another 2 hour drive to our rental house at the beach. Super long day but the kids were excellent!

  6. Our longest trip was just shy of 3 hours long, so we just settled for snacks and a movie. We have a DVD player in our truck, but we never use it, so the novelty really came in handy for our two older girls. Our youngest didn't do so good on the way up, so I did a lot of creative, um, car-seat nursing. For shorter trips, we do a lot of singing, coloring, and audio books.

    1. Ha! I have SO done the car-seat nursing thing. It requires quite a bit of creative positioning, but it usually works. ;)

  7. Last Christmas we traveled with our girls (10, 8, 4 or 1) from Tucson to San Antonio - 18 hours each way! Our strategies: drive at night when they are sleeping, frequent breaks (kids love new, unexplored playgrounds) and they each earned 1 cent per mile which they could spend at the truck stop gift shops or road-side vendors. I was shocked we could do it. I bough a bag of new "toys" to hand out every two hours on the road, but when we returned home, I found the bag still half full. The girls loved the adventure as much as we did.

  8. We've done a few 8-9 hour trips with our two year old, and she does surprisingly well. She only had a DVD player for her last trip, and that helped a lot. We sing a lot of hand motion songs, and I try to learn a few new ones to teach her during our car trips. Now that she's a conversationalist, car rides are pretty funny. Our newest family member has yet to be introduced to a long car trip, but we might start to travel at night when both kids would naturally be sleeping.
    Growing up, I traveled across the country twice. Once when I was 7 and again when I was 11. Props to my parents... 4 girls 7 years apart (I'm the second)... looking back I have no idea how they did it. I do remember that we listened to A LOT of Adventures in Odyssey and we would leave early so we could get to our destination early. Back then though, there were no DVD players to keep us occupied... heck, there weren't even DVDs, lol!

  9. 36 hours, I kid you not... probably 27 to 28 hours of driving and the rest of that time was stopping for bathrooms, food, gas and a couple hour snooze in the van when both of us adults were too tired to continue driving. My husband doesn't believe in stopping for the night, and flying across country to see my family is more expensive than driving at this point in our lives so... we pretty much drive. I'm not sure how we survived, snacks, books, toys and earplugs I think... :)

    Earlier this year we tried the flying thing to maximize the use of vacation time on the way home I flew with both kids by myself. That wasn't very fun either. The kids loved the airplane but I couldn't get a direct flight and my two year old didn't handle the transition from one plane to another very well, I didn't have a stroller or a carrier and at 25 pounds he was a lot to carry!

    We've done a couple of trips that were 9ish hours and those were ok but I'm going to definitely say that the best mark for us is about 3 or 4 hours on the road a couple of hours stopped and then another 3 or 4 hours then stop for a shortish night, but still stop.

  10. The longest car ride I've taken with my not quite 14 month old is an hour and even that is pushing it most days if it's not just after a nap. He is NOT a car rider. (We had an incident when he was about 6 months that a 15 min car ride home from grocery shopping turned into an out right screaming shuddering fit that took me 45 min to calm him down afterwards.) It doesn't help that he will not sleep in his car seat. We have opted to fly long distances with him instead of drive and he is a fabulous flier (has about 10 flights under him.) We recently moved ~2000 miles north from Southwest Texas to Western Washington - my husband drove with our dog (4 days of 7-8 hours a day) and my son and I flew up later. My son is a much better car rider than he used to be so I have hope one day of a road trip.

    1. Our girls both went through stages like that. In fact, I recall that we used to turn down invitations to friends' houses if they lived more than 20 minutes away!

  11. Great to see you back, I hope that means the morning sickness has lightened up.

    These are great tips. When we take trips with our daughter we try not to drive more then about 6 hours, that's about all she can take (about all we can take too).

  12. Thanks for the great tips! We took our almost-two-year-old on a 7-hour car ride to the Outer Banks this summer. We opted to leave at 4am so she would sleep for part of the time. I wasn't sure that she would go back to sleep once we got her in the car, but she did! Once she woke, snacks, toys she hadn't seen in a while, and a few rounds of 'The Wheels on the Bus' helped us get through the rest of the trip.

  13. Thanks for the Adventures in Odyssey tip. I live overseas and had forgotten about it. I see that they have podcasts online. I'll definitely try to listen to these with my kids on future road trips. Our biggest challenge ahead of us is a ten-hour plane ride!

  14. One time, we drove 8+ hours to the Outer Banks with our was too much for one day. Mid way through the trip we pulled into a Walmart & bought those portable DVD players. I agree with you, 3-4 hours is more manageable.

  15. Love Adventures in Odyssey! :) Definitely good tips. We took our 18 month old on TWO 5 hours trips to campsites this summer. He didn't fare very well. But the hard part was that he would generally start fussing RIGHT away for about an hour before finally falling asleep. I brought a bag ful of small toys and books, which he liked but he also loves to throw things, and they would get lost in all the jam-packed camping stuff we had in the van, so generally once he had thrown all the toys, we were sunk until we stopped. I learned to dole out each toy or 2 slowly to get the maximum usage! LOL.

  16. Great advice! We are making a long drive (nothing compared to your travels!) with our 5 and 2 year old to Disneyland in a few short weeks. I do have a portable DVD player (I resisted, too, but we only use it on trips, and so far that's been one!). Snacks are a must, and because we'll do the 8+ hour drive in one day, we'll have to break it up.

    Hope all is well!

  17. Long time no see! Welcome back!

    Longest distance was to San Diego. We took my sister with us, and she sat in the back as baby entertainment. :) Other tricks include handing back my cell phone to entertain Eleanor, or feeding her a pack of fruit snacks one by one so they last a loooong time!

    1. It's always best when someone is in the back seat. That's been our experience too. :)

      What brand of fruit snacks do you usually buy?

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