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Tips for Fun Road Trips with Kids

Daniel Thompson

As road-trippers go, the Thompsons are pretty much Grade A Elite Class Trippers.  This comes from a combination of factors.  First – Dan and I both have awesome parents who took us places and did things with us when we were kids.  Second – We moved far away from those parents and now need to visit them yearly with our kids, our gear and our many gummy treats.  Third – We rock a sweet mini-van that’s practically a home on wheels.

Every year we make one 28-hour round-trip pilgrimage to Billings, MT to visit my parents and one 28-hour round-trip haul to Salt Lake City, UT to visit Dan’s parents.  We must deliver unto them the grandchildren for the hugging and the squeezing and the filling with sugar.  This year we decided to shave off several hours of driving by taking two and a half weeks off work and driving in a triangle from Seattle to Montana to Utah and back home again.

A three-legged trip that includes nearly forty hours of driving with an 8-year-old, a 6-year-old, and a toddler is quite an undertaking, so I took it upon myself to brush up on my road trip skills.  I organized well and we actually had a great time.

My mom has taught classes on how to travel with kids and she used most of her ideas on me and my four siblings as we traveled around the US and Canada so I harvested some of my ideas from her.  Others came from a great site I found called Mom’s Minivan and others I made up myself.  Here are a few:

Mile Tickets – This was probably the single best idea I got this summer.  This one comes from  I gave the kids a baggie that contained tickets, one for every 30 miles of that day’s trip.  Then whenever we passed another 30 miles on the odometer they had to give me a ticket.  They could watch our progress in their baggie and they got really excited when they started running out of tickets.  This was the first trip that I haven’t been repeatedly asked, “HOW MUCH LONGER!?” 

Yoga at Rest Stops – When we got out of the car at rest stops, I led the kids through some basic and silly made-up yoga poses.  We did a little child’s pose, cat and cow, sun salutations, downward dog, and walk back to the car like a soldier with the highest steps possible.  It was really fun and we got a good stretch.  I don’t know much yoga but with the kids, I didn’t have to.

License Plate Map – I grew up doing license plate scavenger hunts with my family.  Moments where you find a plate from Rhode Island or Hawaii are about as exciting as you can get on a 4-week cross country trip.  I spiced the game up this time by printing off a map from  Laylee (8) had control of the map and when we’d see an interesting plate, we’d call it out and she’d color it in.  It gave her a little geography lesson, we got to interrupt her reading and force her to interact with us, and it was fun making her read back the state names with her crazy literal pronunciation.

Travel Coupons – I gave the big kids each an envelope with several coupons they could trade in throughout the day.  Pick the music on the stereo for thirty minutes, choose a song for us all to sing, ask mom to tell you a story, get a trip present, choose a treat at the gas station, play the DS, pick a movie, decide which game we play next.

Geocaching – You know I love me some geocaching.  Playing this game along the way makes it seem like more of an adventure.  We found a cache one night on vacation while we were waiting for a movie to start at a theatre.

Alphabet Game – We played several variations of this game.  You go through the alphabet naming things that start with the various letters.  Each person takes a turn.  Once we played it where you had to name something you could currently see that started with a particular letter.  Another time we played it where you had to name a person and a place and a thing that started with a particular letter.  Work through the alphabet and repeat.

Word Game – One person says a word and the next person has to say a word that goes with that word in common usage.  So, if Dan said “Bed,” I could say, “Room,” and then the next person could say, “Home,” as in “home room.”  This goes on until someone gets stumped.  It’s more for older kids because Laylee and Magoo’s version of “common usage” is quite hilarious.  Proper nouns and generic adjectives are not allowed.

20 Questions – I hope you know this one already.  I think of something and the rest of the family asks me yes or no questions to try and figure out what it is.  We never count how many questions have been asked and we ask, “Animal, Thing, or Plant,” instead of, “Animal, Mineral, or Vegetable.”

Bingo – Make and laminate bingo cards of things the kids may see along the road.  You can print off a few different types at or make your own.

When you’re road tripping, make sure to relax and enjoy the time together.  How often are you all in a room together for a long period of time?  Be a little crazy.  Let things roll off your back.  Plan some unexpected surprises during the ride and don’t freak out when your kids have little unexpected surprises for you.  We will likely do this trip again soon so please share some of your road trip tricks and tips in the comments section.

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