Kids in car

8 tips for surviving long car trips with kids

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The perfect summer day might sound something like this: a hike through a forest trail in the morning followed by a lazy afternoon by the lake, capped off with dinner over an open fire. The problem is you’ll likely have to spend at least a few hours behind the wheel to get there. And if you have young children shoved in the backseat alongside all of your summer supplies, the last thing you want to hear repeated at nauseam is, “Are we there yet?”

But with a little planning and creativity, your family road trip can be as much a part of the adventure as the destination.

Play a new game

Deer-crossing signs, roadwork, barns, and bridges are all things you’ll probably see on a road trip across Canada, so why not make a game out of it? has free, printable Car Bingo cards available to help create family fun out of familiar sights. Use a pencil or pennies to mark your card so that you can reuse them on the next trip. You can also make passing cars into a game by creating phrases out of the letters on licence plates. It’s a creative way to build vocabulary. BHOR can become Big Horses On Ranch or Bring Hamburgers Or Relish. Add another layer to the game by voting on the best phrase. Every car you see can be part of the fun—unlike the more painful punch buggy game.

Use paper maps

We’ve come to rely on GPS to get us from point A to point B—following the glowing dot in real time to see our progression. But a good old-fashioned paper map can keep the adventure interesting, too—especially when your Wi-Fi cuts out in the boonies. Kids can keep their eyes on the road to search for visual cues of where you are on the map, whether it’s a nearby river or town.

Sing together

Get warmed up for campfire sing-alongs during your road trip to the great outdoors. Take turns selecting songs on your MP3 player or sing A cappella. This activity is probably best to do as you’re approaching your destination—otherwise you may find the energy in the car will make the little ones restless as the trip wears on. 

Pack healthy snacks

It’s tempting to stop for fast food on the road but greasy snacks might smell up the car and lead to belly aches (and more complaining). Instead, bring granola bars, sliced apples, and trail mix to snack on during the ride. Giving the kids water instead of pop will also prevent sugar highs—but you have to have a little fun sometimes, right?

Stock the car with reading material

Encourage some quiet time with a curated selection of books—picture books, colouring books, activity books, and longer reading for the older ones. Consider bringing along some fresh material, or loading up the iPad, to ensure the kids are engaged.

Plan ahead

Organization is key to a smooth ride. Consider hanging a back seat organizer with a selection of books, toys, electronics, and snacks so they’re within arm’s reach. This will prevent frequent stops to rifle through the trunk for new things to do or eat.

Stay organized

There are some supplies that don’t need to be inside the car but you might need them for pit stops so make sure to keep them packed neatly at the edge of your trunk. A first aid kit, extra clothes, and a diaper bag and stroller if you have little ones, should be easy to access to prevent a digging expedition on the side of the road.

Build in stops

It’s unrealistic to plan your road trip without considering any stops along the way—the kids need to burn off some energy, you need to stretch your legs, and everyone will need a bathroom break eventually. Plus, there’s likely a fun pit stop on the way to your final destination. Plan to stop for a short hike to a waterfall, a snack at a roadside truck, or to stock up on fresh fruit or baked goods that you can enjoy on your vacation.