Sometimes one of the hardest things about planning a trip or taking a vacation is the car ride with children. Traveling with children is no easy feat and it can be challenging enough just to keep everyone entertained, calm, happy, and safe.

There are many ways in which you can try and make the car trip a good one, no matter what the distance is. Always think about the safety of your children when deciding on entertainment and snacks for the car ride. There are some things that are a safer choice for children than others.

Dr. Roy’s Tips for Car Travel with Children:

Travel during sleepy periods. Consider the time of day or night that you leave for your trip. Some people find driving at night while their child sleeps in the car, especially during long trips, much more enjoyable for all. This allows the child to get their rest and for parents to have a quiet trip with fewer interruptions. However, make sure you are well rested and comfortable driving the distance at night, hopefully rotating with another driver. Also keep in mind that for smaller children you’ll want to periodically check their position in the car seat, as smaller infants can sleep in ways that can compromise their breathing.

Pack safe snacks. If your kids are anything like ours, one thing you can bet on is that regardless of the distance, they will tell you they are hungry! Longer car rides may require stops for proper meals, but when there are little ones with you, you should consider safe snacks to have on hand. Safe snacks are generally anything that won’t be a choking hazard. In addition you may also want to consider snacks that are well contained and less messy. Some good
snacks for car travel include:

  • Puffs or yogurt melts. These items dissolve easily, but only if the pack is fresh. Prepack these in a “spill proof” snack cup so you can quickly hand them to your hungry and cranky toddler.
  • Food pouches. While these may get messy, most toddlers are able to feed themselves a food pouch at around 1.5 years old. Older children may prefer an applesauce pouch.
  • Nut butters like these yummy Justin’s packets are delicious and high in good fats and protein making them filling. The Vanilla Almond Butter one is a fan favorite at our home.
  • For older children, bars like our favorite Go-Macro bars pack a little more calories and nutrients. We each have our personal favorite!

Diffuse oils. Car diffusers are a great way to help calm children while on longer road trips. There are many car specific diffusers that you can purchase like these. Oils like Lavender, Cedarwood, Tangerine or Orange (no Orange in our car, because Debbie hates the smell of citrus!) can create a calm, relaxing environment for children. I recommend trying these oils at home before you find yourself trapped in a car with a scent that has offended your bossy 2 year old 🙂

Provide a toy basket. Toy baskets are a great way to have toys within reach for children so you do not have to keep reaching in the back while driving. Soft toys like dolls are great for younger children who may be prone to throwing toys in the vehicle. Older children may enjoy a book or magazine.

Provide creative outlets. Create a binder with activity sheets for older ones. A good tip is to purchase small Velcro dots and apply it to Twistable crayons which can be then attached to the inside of the binder. This helps keep crayons in reach and from getting lost in the car. Color Wonder books with magic markers are great for younger ones who want to color as well but can’t be totally trusted with messier options.  Busy Books are great to engage children while sitting still for so long. Lastly, all three of our kids have enjoyed age appropriate Kumon Workbooks over the years.

Provide comfort. Whether it is a neck pillow, a favorite pillow from home, a blanket or their favorite stuffy, create an environment that is comfortable and easy for the child to take a nap or sleep.

Think ahead. Be prepared with a medicine bag and baggies for possible motion sickness. Some suggestions include, Band-Aids of varying sizes and favorite theme (such as Frozen or Star Wars), antibiotic cream, Benadryl, hand sanitizer, wipes, Arnica  (for bruises) and Nux Vomica (for nausea). If you have an older toddler who may still have trouble “holding it in”, consider putting them in a pull up or even packing a small training or travel potty.

Take periods of rest. Driving and sitting for a long time isn’t healthy for anyone. Stop at rest stops or safe populated places to stretch legs and take restroom breaks. Use this time to reorganize the car, the toy/art baskets and to make sure everyone has what they need.

Enjoy the trip. Electronics can be entertaining, but sometimes just letting children take in the scenery around them is important. I SPY games or other car games (like Car Bingo) can be fun for the whole family. Consider looking for destinations to stop along the way while traveling such as parks, memorials, waterfalls, etc… to make the entire trip fun for the whole family.

Most of the tips we provided have excluded electronics because long car rides can be a great bonding time for families. However, having electronics on hand can always be a bonus or last resort when needed. We have found that bringing headphones for each child (these are what we bought for our kids) and headphone splitters (we use this one) so they can watch movies together can significantly decrease the overall car noise, which is often a relief to parents.

Hopefully with some of these tips you can safely travel with your children this holiday season and have an enjoyable time together—even while en route to your final destination!


This is Part 1 of our 3-part Travel Series. If you are interested, you can continue onto Part 2: Tips for Airplane Travel with Kids and Part 3: Tips for Traveling with Food Allergies.

About Dr. Roy Steinbock, M.D.

Dr. Roy Steinbock is a Board Certified Pediatrician, practicing Pediatrics since 1999. He practices evidence-based Western Medicine with a holistic approach. Dr. Roy believes that each child is unique and deserves to be understood from a biological, psychological, spiritual and social perspective. He uses his knowledge of general pediatrics, nutrition, mindfulness, and holistic medicine to guide his patients and their families in both well care and illness.

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