Try and Drive During Nap Time, Peace at Last, Road Trip Tips by Topsy Turvy Tribe

Tips to Survive a Road Trip with Small Children

Taking a road trip with your children in our case a two and four year old, can be a wonderful experience full of exploration and adventure, or a tantrum-filled, screaming-journey-to-hell… an utter nightmare.

Children in a confined space are hard work, when you have a long road trip to take, either for fun or necessity, we’ve got some great tips to help you survive with your sanity intact!

1. Be Organised:

Fail to be organised and prepare to fail.  Miserably with multiple tantrums thrown in for good measure. Pack your car with any essential items that you think you may need within easy reach.  When we travel we always have water and a bag of snacks in the passenger’s footwell so it is easily accessible. When travelling in Europe you also need to have your passports handy, even if you aren’t crossing a border as in many places, such as Portugal or Spain, it is the law.  We always have a photocopy of our passports when driving within Spain as we prefer to keep the real thing safe at home.

Top Tips for Surviving a Road Trip with Children by Topsy Turvy Tribe

2. Snacks & Drinks

Did I mention snacks?  They really can be your saviour, do not underestimate their power.  It’s pretty common sense to have a variety of snacks but be wary of the demon sugar as you really do no want a couple of hyper kids bouncing off the windows in the back of the car.  Fruit is portable, healthy and a great snack to give in a car, our boys also love these Fig & Nut Energy Cake Bars.  Ration snacks and choose wisely.  Water is also a necessity, do not forget to pack a couple of bottles that you can refill, especially if the weather is hot and you are travelling to a remote place.

3. Pack Light

When you take your car you are much more inclined to overpack, no small suitcases and no weight restrictions, oh I can squeeze it in…no, don’t do it!  Your car journey will be far more comfortable and more economical on fuel if you don’t carry too much.  When it’s not summer in Europe you have to take a variety of clothing, we usually stick to packing in threes for the boys, x3 t-shirts, x3 long-sleeved tops, x3 shorts, x3 longer trousers and socks etc, a few more undies, one zippy hoody and one pair of shoes.  We tend to stay away from PJ’s and take jogging bottoms and use a long sleeved top for nightwear as they are more versatile and save space.  Layers are also the key and we avoid taking bulky, space-consuming clothing.  If it’s cold we put on a t-shirt and long sleeved top under their hoody and waterproof.  If rain is forecast we take lightweight lined waterproof jackets and wellington boots.  If it is sunny we take a high factor sun cream, sun hats and UV swimwear.

As adults we have far less clothes than the boys, the greatest thing about living a simpler life is that we really don’t possess that much stuff, so a pair of walking trainers, flip-flops and at least four changes of clothes each.  Along with toiletries, camera, phone, laptop, baby monitor and chargers/travel plugs.  We take nappies for night time but if we are driving a long journey Mayhem (2.5) wears a nappy, Chaos at four refuses.

We do not take Avoid taking bulky suitcases, Road Trip Tips by Topsy Turvy Tribesuitcases as we find them bulky, instead we use large drawstring laundry bags, one for us, one for the boys, they can be squished into the boot or footwells and are dual purpose, and we end up bringing any dirty laundry back in one of the bags, or both if we run out of clean!
The boys also have a small back pack they each that they can load with portable toys.  A must to keep them entertained on a road trip.

Oh, do not ask your children to help you pack, in fact, pack when they are asleep, otherwise they might want to…’help’!

Chaos and Mayhem helping to 'pack' for a Road Trip. Tips by Topsy Turvy Tribe

4. Entertainment

This is where some of you will include some technical wizardry such as iPads, DVD players, tablets and phones etc.  We only have one phone which we usually use as an offline (free) sat nav so the boys are subjected to good old fashioned toys and books to keep them busy during long journeys.  We also play games, spot the tractor (we do live in the middle of nowhere), who can hold their breath shouting tunnel as we go through the longest ever tunnels and bridges, and of course Eye Spy.  We also tell stories and sing along to whatever happens to be on the radio or make up our own songs.  We did have one kids sing-a-long CD and although it was great the first time, it wasn’t the twenty-fifth, so heed our warning, do NOT play sing-a-long CD’s unless you are willing to agree to your children demanding the CD on loop!

5. Accidents

Hopefully not of the car kind but accidents can and do happen, running in the sea, pouring food all over yourself, bladder problems etc…we always keep a change of clothes for each boy within easy reach in the car.  We also have a simple first aid kit in the car with antiseptic cream and plasters and spare sun cream.  In the summer months we also take mosquito repellant.

6. No Rush

Although you could sit still and drive for a day to get to your most coveted destination you really can’t expect your offspring to sit still for so long.  Build stops into your trip to make it more manageable.  We generally pack a picnic and stop off for coffee or a drink and a bite to eat along the way on longer trips.  If you can find a park or outside space for the kids to burn off some pent-up energy then all the better.  Little people are not used to sitting still and definitely deserve some outside play time after being in a car for a couple of hours or so.

7. Advance Warning

One thing we have found as parents of two pre-schoolers is that you need to warn them in advance about changes.  If you grab the toy from their hands to put away before you go out, start changing their clothes and brushing their hair without first communicating what you are doing…stand back and be prepared for a tantrum.  If your children are the same warn them in advance that you are going on a road trip.  Involve them so they can be pre-warned about your epic journey but also so that they can be involved.  Show them a map of your route, talk about the places you will visit, what you hope to see and do, ask them what they want to do, give them options.  Time spent going through your proposed trip with your children will definitely not be time wasted.

7. Routine

We all relax our routine and rules when on holiday but we have to remember that little people thrive on routine.  If things are too different their little brains kick into overdrive and when this happens you can be sure to have a disturbed nights sleep.  We always used to take Chaos’ favourite teddies on a road trip, he cuddled them in the car and had them in his bed at night, just the same as at home.  It was a great comfort to him and he rarely had trouble sleeping.  Mayhem is a pretty terrible sleeper all round and although he has never liked soft toys he would go into meltdown if he too didn’t have his comforts so we always take his pillow (if limited space just the pillow case) and his lightweight sleeping bag.

8. Nap Time

Both our boys fight sleep and hate to nap.  Chaos stopped napping at three, Mayhem still naps now at two and a half, albeit reluctantly.  Always plan your journeys around their nap-time.  To avoid them fighting a nap we found it best to stop half an hour before nap time, have a bite to eat or a play, then hit the road again; the break makes them much more inclined to drift into dreamland…ahh, a moment of peace!

9. Carriers not Prams

We do not currently own a pram and have found that most of the places that we want to walk around or travel to are really unsuitable for prams.  Prams also take up way too much room in a car, so we use a lightweight baby carrier.  We also like to walk and home.  Mayhem loves to be carried, Chaos walks for the majority of time, unless we are on a very long epic hike (read our tips on how to get your children walking here)   We have a very old an well-used Ergo and a Boba 3G carrier than can be folded down and stashed in a bag when not in use.  Some people love their prams and wouldn’t be without them but do check if your destination is suitable.  Spain is full of beautiful whitewashed villages, complete with cobbled streets, plentiful steps and narrow alleyways where prams really would be much too hard work.

10. Go With The Flow

You can never plan everything sometimes you get stuck in traffic, take the wrong turn and end up in an entirely unexpected destination.

You can also never plan too much with children in tow because let’s face it, pre-schoolers can and are unpredictable.  Be prepared to change your plans if you need to.  Do what they want to do.  No more churches and cathedrals, spend the afternoon in the park or on the beach.  Get out of the car, relax, do something they like doing and enjoy being together as a family.

When all else fails, just remember that travel is the one thing you can buy that makes you and definitely your children richer.

Happy travelling and heres to avoiding the terrible tantrums that car journeys can bring!

Have you any great tips for road trips with your family?  We’d love to hear your ideas and top tips!

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Surviving Road Trip with Kids by Topsy Turvy Tribe


Post Author: Topsy Turvy Tribe

Paul & Andrea ex-pats escaping the rat race with Chaos (aged 4) and Mayhem (aged 2) along for the adventure.

40 thoughts on “Tips to Survive a Road Trip with Small Children

    alex muir

    (May 15, 2017 - 3:55 pm)

    I love that photo of them both asleep – it says it all! And I like the game you play through tunnels, I bet they love that! We play the quiet game – the first one to speak looses, it inevitably leads to them trying to make noises from other parts of their body though, if you catch my drift! #kcacols

      Topsy Turvy Tribe

      (May 16, 2017 - 3:56 pm)

      Oh I love the sound of the quiet game. Will definitely be adding this to our list…ha ha!

    Mama Grace

    (May 18, 2017 - 10:27 am)

    You have it sorted! I agree with involving the kids and letting them prepare themselves for the trip. Also as many space savers are a must. I have a Toto Wrap and have learned the Kenyan and Ethiopian knots. It’s great as it doubles as a blanket and spread on the floor, for when we have a picnic.

    Verily Victoria Vocalises

    (May 18, 2017 - 1:58 pm)

    These are all such great tips – I particularly liked the one about packing in a laundry bag. Fab idea! #SharingtheBlogLove
    Verily Victoria Vocalises recently posted…Thoughts on Being Pregnant at 46 Years OldMy Profile

    Laura - Dear Bear and Beany

    (May 18, 2017 - 5:36 pm)

    Great advice. We have these lap trays that the girls use and they do colouring and stickers to entertain themselves. Best thing we ever brought. Thank you for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove
    Laura – Dear Bear and Beany recently posted…Sharing The Blog Love…#45My Profile

      Topsy Turvy Tribe

      (May 22, 2017 - 1:25 pm)

      Thanks for commenting and hosting! Lap trays sound like an awesome idea. Need to get these for our boys so they can play Lego in the car without losing pieces all the time!

    Katy - Hot Pink Wellingtons

    (May 19, 2017 - 12:21 pm)

    You sound like pros at this! We make regular trips down to Cornwall which is a long trek, and when Max was younger it was much easier as he’d sleep for most of it. But now he’ll only sleep for an hour – one particularly memorable time we had the last two hours of the trip with him screaming in the back, not at all pleasant! We always go armed with the ipad but now he’s a little bit older I think car games are going to come into play. I think we’ll brave some singalong CDs too – despite your warning, I love a singalong! Thanks for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove

      Topsy Turvy Tribe

      (May 22, 2017 - 1:22 pm)

      Thanks for hosting and commenting. When they are screaming it really isn’t any fun at all. I think we’ve all been there! Good luck with the songalong cd’s ☺hope they don’t drive you cuckoo!

    Becky @ Educating Roversi

    (May 20, 2017 - 10:55 pm)

    You are amazing! So many creative ideas and great tips. I’m ashamed to say that I’m reliant on the iPad however I do try and exhaust other options before I give it to him. This has given me a few new ideas. Thanks for linking up with #KCACOLS

      Topsy Turvy Tribe

      (May 22, 2017 - 1:17 pm)

      Thanks Becky. Travelling with kids is hard work. If the ipad works then I’d use it too 😊


    (May 22, 2017 - 1:48 pm)

    We go on quite a few road trips as a family and I agree with quite a few of these tips. We tend to pack more when we drive because we have two kids and a van so we just fold the back seat down and have plenty of room. We don’t do electronics, either. Instead, we pack an activity bag for each kid with books and toys and sticker/coloring books (mostly for the three year old) and usually one or two special treats to have only when they’re on the verge of losing it completely. And we stop often along the way to get out and explore. #MondayEscapes
    Allison recently posted…A Guide to Castillo San Felipe del MorroMy Profile


    (May 22, 2017 - 2:45 pm)

    Advance warning is definitely good advice for any day with a toddler. #kcacols
    Bread recently posted…Mental Health Moments Link UpMy Profile


    (May 22, 2017 - 4:05 pm)

    These are great tips! I love the one about preparing kids for upcoming changes. Its amazing how many meltdowns you can avoid just by telling the kids what is coming up next. Road trips can be so much fun and afford so much opportunity to see things the kids love, thanks for making that a bit easier! #MondayEscapes

    Mini Travellers

    (May 22, 2017 - 9:44 pm)

    A great list of tips I think we do all of these too. Snacks snacks and more snacks! #MondayEscapes


    (May 23, 2017 - 5:06 pm)

    we’ve travelled all over Europe and the west coast of America with 4 kids, we rarely consulted with them as to where we were going or what we were doing as they’d moan like mad about it, i always packed without their knowledge, they got to choose a book and a small toy each and then i’d make sure they had magazines, crayons, snacks etc, that easy they all and the same and there was no arguing on the long car journeys. #MondayEscapes

      Topsy Turvy Tribe

      (May 28, 2017 - 1:53 pm)

      It sounds like you had your kids well organised, you would need to with four! Road trips are epic with two so you have our total respect!

    Wandermust mummy

    (May 24, 2017 - 9:05 am)

    Such useful tips #familyfun

    Wandermust mummy recently posted…Ramadan Qatar – Your Essential GuideMy Profile

      Topsy Turvy Tribe

      (May 28, 2017 - 1:44 pm)

      Thank you for your comment, hope the tips are useful!


    (May 24, 2017 - 10:41 am)

    Some great tips for being organised! Looks like an amazing trip. #FamilyFunLinky.

      Topsy Turvy Tribe

      (May 28, 2017 - 1:43 pm)

      Thanks Kate, hope the tips come in handy for your next road trip


    (May 24, 2017 - 11:00 am)

    These are great tips. I have a 4 year old and 11 month old. My bag is always full of snacks, toys and spare clothes. Carriers are definitely easier than buggies for some trips #mondayescapes

      Topsy Turvy Tribe

      (May 28, 2017 - 1:40 pm)

      Thanks for commenting Claire, it’s hard going with two different age groups to cater for as long as we have snacks we can survive anything


    (May 24, 2017 - 4:05 pm)

    Excellent practical suggestions…. love them. And so happy to have found your site, in general, particularly ‘Frugal living’. We are heading in that direction ourselves, but haven’t really put a label on it yet. In many ways, i just feel that we are returning to the way I was raised in the early 80s. Simply and pretty frugally i guess! I look forward to exploring your site in the future! #MondayEscapes

      Topsy Turvy Tribe

      (May 28, 2017 - 1:39 pm)

      Thank you for your lovely comment Ariana, totally agree with getting back to basis and how we were brought up. Although I admit I’ve never done as much sewing and mending in my life it really is such a relief to not be consumed by consumerism!

    Geraldine Walsh

    (May 24, 2017 - 9:37 pm)

    Hats off to anyone whow survives a road trip with kids. My sister and her husband are doing a 3 hours trip this summer and are chuffed with your post for tips to survive #kcacols

    April Berry

    (May 24, 2017 - 9:49 pm)

    Good advice! I think the key things to have on hand while traveling by car with small children is snacks, entertainment, and spare outfits. 🙂 #MondayEscapes

      Topsy Turvy Tribe

      (May 28, 2017 - 1:37 pm)

      Totally agree April, the snacks are definitely the star in our road trips too!

    Sarah Christie

    (May 24, 2017 - 10:40 pm)

    Great tips, it makes such a difference when you are organised on a trip, we have always chose to ditch the routine when traveling with our boys which has always worked for us. Thanks so much for linking up #MondayEscapes x

      Topsy Turvy Tribe

      (May 28, 2017 - 1:37 pm)

      Thanks for hosting and commenting Sarah, we definitely let the boys stay up late whilst travelling but our bedtime routine keeps them sane!

    mudpie fridays

    (May 25, 2017 - 12:28 am)

    I am glad I found this a we are off on a car journey at the weekend for nine hours and I have been a little worried about it! Fab ideas thanks so much. #Sharingthebloglove
    mudpie fridays recently posted…Omnio Stroller Review – Pushing on with an active lifestyleMy Profile

      Topsy Turvy Tribe

      (May 28, 2017 - 1:36 pm)

      Hope it goes well for you and you get a chance to keep the kids occupied and happy during your journey!

    Charlene | High Heels And Fairy Tales

    (May 26, 2017 - 10:42 am)

    I think my favourite tip (and the one that made me giggle) us to pack when the little ones are sleeping, so as to avoid them “helping.” I agree completely! #familyfun
    Charlene | High Heels And Fairy Tales recently posted…Zeeview | Disney Princess Toddler DollsMy Profile

      Topsy Turvy Tribe

      (May 28, 2017 - 1:14 pm)

      Ahhh, thanks Charlene, yes don’t we all love it when our little ones try to ‘help’!!

    Karen | TwoTinyHands

    (May 27, 2017 - 9:10 am)

    This is very thorough advice and I found myself nodding along all the way… you really have it sorted and I’d like to think I have too… I’m not up on the entertainment side of things yet as my now almost 2 year old seems to be happy just to sit and watch us but I guess this will change as we get older. We do a lot of long train journeys and we’ve started packing a bag that the boy carries with a few little cars and pencils in, gives him the responsibility to carry something which we hope he will be willing to do as he gets older.. it doubles as reigns too which helps but not always necessary!!
    ‪Thank you for linking up to the #familyfunlinky‬

      Topsy Turvy Tribe

      (May 28, 2017 - 1:09 pm)

      Thanks for hosting and commenting Karen, when you take a lot of road trips it’s really important to get it right. Both my boys have their own backpack too, which they often pack with their own toys. I agree it’s great for them to have some responsibility and independence.

    Travelling With Our Kids

    (May 27, 2017 - 9:30 pm)

    We love road trips compared to flying. Agree with the snacks. Snacks are my best friend when it comes to our kids. They always want food! #MondayEscapes

      Topsy Turvy Tribe

      (May 28, 2017 - 1:08 pm)

      You see so much more on road trips don’t you! Snacks, snacks and more snacks! I could honestly feed my two all day, no idea how they can always be so hungry!!


    (May 28, 2017 - 9:07 pm)

    Oh you know what I would rather board a flight for 4 hours than a car journey. I find them hard work. Where we can, we travel at night, usually at the end of the holiday to get home. The kids sleep and I can just lift them in to bed when we get home. That said where it’s not possible like you say we plan around nap times, have lots of snacks and LOTS of entertainment. Like you though it has to be old fashion fun as the iPads make them car sick. Eurgh. Anywho fab tips thank you for sharing at #familyfun x


    (May 29, 2017 - 11:28 pm)

    Loving these survival tips. Our adventures take us on some fairly long road trips in the minds of littlies. #FamilyFun
    Helena recently posted…My Family Adventures – MayMy Profile

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