15 tips to survive holiday road trips

You’re going to Grandma’s for Thanksgiving and that means 10 hours in the car with impatient, fidgety kids. Our road-trip survival guide will ensure that you arrive with your sanity and a smile.

Kids road trip tips

If you’re traveling this holiday season, you’re not alone: more than 100 million other Americans are also heading to Grandma’s for turkey and all the fixings. How can you ensure it’s a fun-filled trip that your kids will recount fondly for years to come rather than a scene out of a slapstick holiday comedy where everything goes wrong? These 15 tips cover all the bases.

  1. Plan your route

You’re probably used to jumping in the car and letting your GPS guide you to your destination, but for long road trips it’s a good idea to look at your options ahead of time. Routes that contain tourist attractions or construction are more likely to be congested, so try to avoid them.

  1. Travel on less busy days

The day before Thanksgiving is always one of the busiest days of the year on American roads. And with Christmas landing on a Tuesday this year, it’s fair to presume that Saturday, December 22 through Monday, December 24 will be laden with heavy traffic. If you can afford to leave a few days before the crowds or you don’t mind traveling on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day, you could save several precious hours.

  1. Check the weather report

If heavy rain or snow is forecast, you may want to delay your trip until the weather has settled.

  1. Have your car serviced

Avoid breakdown disasters by having your car serviced before you go. If it’s been recently serviced, check your oil, tires, signals, wipers, antifreeze and brake lights. And don’t forget to fill your gas tank before you hit the road.

  1. Pack an emergency kit

Be prepared for any emergency by buying a pre-packaged emergency kit for your car or packing your own. In addition to all the equipment needed to change a flat tire, items you may wish to include are a first-aid kit, a small fire extinguisher, road flares, jumper cables, a flashlight, a multipurpose tool, a warm blanket and drinking water.

  1. Sign up for roadside assistance

If you don’t already have roadside assistance, sign up for it and save the phone number in your phone or download the app if there’s one available. You won’t regret spending the money if you break down or lock your keys in the car.

  1. Pack a car phone charger

Make sure you always have a working cell phone to use in case of emergencies by packing a car phone charger. You can also charge your phone by plugging it directly into your car’s USB port, but it won’t charge your phone very effectively and could drain your car battery.

  1. Pack snacks for an army

Boredom is often mistaken for hunger by children (of all ages!), so pack plenty of snacks to keep the troops happy. Water, sandwiches, fruit, veggie sticks with hummus, cheese sticks, crackers, granola bars, trail mix and squeezable yogurt pouches are healthy options. It doesn’t hurt to have a few small special treats – to pull out when everyone is starting to lose it!

  1. Bring plenty of games and activities

Pack books, coloring books and travel toys for each of your children into their own backpacks so that they can keep them at their feet in the car. It’s also a good idea to pack a small pillow and blanket for each child to encourage resting.

  1. Play road-trip games

Play games such as I Spy, 20 Questions and Travel Bingo as a family to pass the time. You can also load your music player with Christmas carols and sing along.

  1. Watch movies and listen to audiobooks

Load your children’s tablets with holiday movies. While a ton of screen time isn’t great, a good old holiday classic can save your sanity when the kids are getting restless. Another great option is to listen to audiobooks that the whole family will enjoy, such as The Harry Potter series or Judy Blume’s Fudge series.

  1. Pack a mom bag

You know the bag I’m talking about… it bulges with “essentials” and steals all your legroom in the front seat. But every time someone cries out for something or makes a mess, everything you need is right there. Think baby wipes, diapers, tissues, bandaids, changes of clothes, lip balm, moisturizer, painkillers, chargers, headphones and loose change for tolls. Packing the items in separate Ziploc bags can help you easily find them within your mom bag.

  1. Take frequent breaks

You’ll be amazed and discouraged at how often you’ll have to stop for bathroom breaks, leg stretches and meals. But instead of fighting the process, factor the breaks into your total travel time.

  1. Plan some fun stops

While I did suggest avoiding routes with tourist attractions earlier, you may want to visit some if they happen to be on your way. Or you can stop and play mini-golf or race go-karts. These little pit stops will turn your trip into a journey rather than just a race to your destination.

  1. Plan any overnight stays

If you need to stay overnight at a hotel on the way, book it ahead of time to avoid driving around looking for a room with hungry kids moaning in the backseat. Pack an overnight bag with essentials for each family member so that you won’t have to unpack the whole car for one night.

Happy trails, holidaymakers!