How to Prepare for a Long Car Ride with 3 Kids?

Updated on March 09, 2013
M.J. asks from Huntley, IL
14 answers

We are driving from IL to FL for spring break. We have an 8,6 and almost 3 yr old. The older 2 travel pretty well but we have never gone this far. Any tips for traveling? What to pack,what was the best time of day/night to leave, etc? Did you drive straight thru or stop overnight somewhere?

Any tips that worked well is much appreciated to help us survive this long trip!

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answers from Grand Forks on

Portable dvd player, ds, ipod, books and snacks. Stop for lots of breaks for the kids to get out and play.

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answers from Minneapolis on

Leave early in the morning - like by 4:00 am. Have kids sleep in comfy clothes and just slip them in the car and take off.

My kids were 8 and 10 when we did a 36 hour car trip and drove straight through the night. We did stop for a couple hours at a rest area, but that was it.
Take portable DVD player with new movies, DS, coloring/activity book, get a book with car games (like license plate, mad libs, etc.).

Stock up on snacks for yourselves - sunflower seeds, liccorice. Things that are easy to eat and ONLY stop when you need to for the kids. If you're drinking too much coffee, you'll need to stop and then the kids will wake up lol. Keep everyone in comfy clothes and have their pillows and blankets.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

If you will be sharing the driving leave at night, switch off every couple of hours. Your children can go to sleep around their usual times. Plan a special breakfast stop (research your route and find a place you've never been) and tell them you have a surprise for them when they get up in the morning.

Take lots of bottled water and healthy snacks so you're not filling up on overpriced junk along the way. Is your 3 year old potty trained? If so take a travel potty along, 3 year olds can't hold it as well as 8 and 6 year olds and you can pull over for the younger one to go. Take lots of coloring books and crayons, books and comic books to read, a favorite lovey or blanket for each. I saw lap trays with side holders at Michael's, (craft store) something like that would give them each their own area to color, read or play with small toys, and store them when not in use. Get CD's of kid's music to play, and quiet ones for helping them relax, some new movies if you have a DVD player in the car.

When you map out your route find interesting places to see and plan your travel around them, so it isn't just all sitting and driving. Make sure you have plenty of stops for you and the kids to stretch your legs, eat and drink something and use a bathroom. Take lots of pictures, and pick up postcards along the way so you can make a vacation scrapbook when you get home. Talk about the things you plan to do when you arrive in FL, on the way home about the things you did.

Pack comfy clothing that can be layered and removed as needed, meds you normally use and something for fever, pain and upset stomachs for you and the never know. Wipes and hand sanitizer for messes in the car between stops. And a backpack for each child to store their stuff.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Another vote for a portable DVD player. I always go to the library to get movies or tv shows that we don't already have so that they'll be more engaged in them.

You might want to bring a potty chair for your youngest, if he/she is potty trained, as you never know how long it can be between bathrooms.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

How long is the car ride? In my opinion I would plan for a stop every 1-2 hours for 15-30 minutes for bathroom breaks and snacks. I would probably stay overnight somewhere if the trip is going to be over 12 hours long. Plenty of car activities. Get a lap table and bring crayons and books along for the ride. See if you can plan some interesting stops along the way - incorporate them into the travel time. If you can travel more by night so they kids can sleep in the car. When you stop rotate the car seats so they are sitting in different places the whole trip. Have a stash of small new toys or objects that you can bring out along the way - keeps things fresh on long car rides. Talk to your pediatrician about motion sickness pills. I've known more instances of car sickness on long trips in the small children than I realized. Might not need it but nice to have on hand. And good luck.!!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbia on

Leave at bedtime (the kids') and drive through the night. Switch off driving with your spouse. Be sure to have a thermos of strong tea or coffee. If you do stop, only stop at rest-stops.

When you do arrive, resist the urge to go sleep all day. Take a two hour nap, and then stay up until your normal bedtime. It will be tough, but you won't mess up your sleep cycle completely that way. Bring a couple of melatonin to take that night to get you back on schedule.

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answers from Austin on

We used to plan stops in parks for the kids to run around, swing, etc. while we, the parents, ate. The kids ate ahead of time while we were driving. (We always packed breakfast and lunch.) For dinner, we would stop at a McDonald's playland. We used to use the AAA maps and the green parks were easily spotted. I suppose you can go on the Internet now.

We used to make up stories, going around the car, with one person adding one sentence at a time. "Once upon a time, there was a family of zebras...." This is probably too late, but we also put away some of their favorite quiet toys for weeks beforehand. Then they were "new" when the trip came around. Drawing was a popular past-time. We also played car bingo. I made grids ahead of time and they each had a clipboard. They would fill in the boxes with things they thought they would see: telephone pole, white car, cow, etc. Then they would mark off their bingo sheets as the driver would call out things he saw. It passes time as they have to figure out things they were going to see. You can help the 3-year-old by asking what things he plans to see and help write in the squares.

Have fun!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

You need to stop every 2-3 hours to let the kids run amok. They don't feel pain like we do, instead of feeling sore on the hiney they act out and get super cranky. They'll start fighting and won't be able to sleep at night.

I would say that you could in the evening and drive to either Louisville or all the way to Nashville TN. Then spend the night in a hotel. The kids will be much better behaved if they get to get out of the car and lay on a bed for the night.

Then when you guys get up the next morning everyone can have a good breakfast and get back on the road.

It's a long day ahead though. If you are going to the Miami area it's still a long day ahead.

From your area to Nashville it's a about 7.5 hours. I would do this leg of the trip after a good dinner. Then put everyone in the car and leave. They'll be excited and buzzing around like crazy but it will wane as the evening goes on. I would stop for the evening snack and getting on PJ's and bedtime stuff around Louisville KT. That way they'd likely start getting tired and might even be asleep where you could drive further than Nashville.

IF, IF, IF, If hubby worked that day I would never expect them to drive past 10 or 11 that night. They'll be tired and their reaction time will be less even if they feel Okay. Everyone needs to lay down and sleep. You'll all just feel better the next day.

Nashville is only about 12 hours from Miami, if you're going somewhere closer that time will be less of course. BUT still plan on stopping for mid morning snacks at a place where there is a playground. The kids needs to run around and play. If you don't want to do McDonald's then pick a park, school ground, etc...but you need to make sure they have that good snack. Then stop for lunch by 12:30 or 1pm at the latest. They might fall asleep for a few minutes this afternoon.

Then stop for an afternoon snack. Again, play time is crucial. Each stop should be planned with food and running around in mind. Eating then going to a school ground is okay or a park but the kids need to have some movement time. Then eat dinner someplace in Florida or very close to Florida. That way you can tell how many hours you have left to drive and can plan on how you want the rest of the trip to go. Stopping for a bedtime snack without changing into PJ's is okay if you are pretty close to your destination.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Not a fan of driving at night. Never works out quite like you thought plus
it's more dangerous.

Lots of semi-quick potty breaks. Stretch legs etc.

Stop every 2-3 hours. You can probably stop every 3 hrs since you have
2 older ones & youngest is 3.

Bring 2-3 DVD players & lots of movies.

Bring travel games.

Lots of snacks.

Stop for lunch for an hour. Great if it's a McDonald's playground.

Break up the trip for an overnight stay if it's longer than an 8 hr drive.

Stop for dinner at a restaurant. Walk around the restaurant parking lot
if it's not dark and not scary. Otherwise, take your time, go to the
bathroom, look at the gift shop if they have one.

The key is to get there w/minimal pain & suffering (ha ha) & to enjoy
your trip when you get there with all of it's freedoms.

Safe travels!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

We drove from Illinois to Florida a lot with our kids when they were younger. At that time a portable DVD player was not even an option lol.

What we did was go to the library and ask for a "vacation travel pack" that may be called something different at your local library. but they asked each kid what they were interested in and then put together a backpack type thing which had books, coloring pages, card games and info about where we would be traveling to / from etc in it" we had to bring back the books and cards but the rest of it was ours to keep. when we got home we would divvie it up into each kids own travel bag so they each had there own stuff. we packed markers and colored pencils, coloring books, puzzle books, story books. little toys (my boys loved fisher price little people) legos etc.

triple A makes a thing called a trip-tic. it is a map thing that flips so you can follow the route. sort of like an old fashioned gps lol only paper and not electronic.

as they got older they had gameboys etc. and on our last trip when they were all together we did actually have a portable dvd player which they watched movies on but that trip they were 10, 16 and 17 so not a lot of fighting going on and the girls flew in from other states to meet us.

We gave each kid a water bottle and a snack pack. we did not pack unlimited snacks as they needed to eat "real" meals when we stopped. Plan to stop about every 2 to 3 hours to go to the bathroom and let them run around. stop at rest stops and not at mcdonalds for the running around.

pack a couple outfits for everyone just in a duffle bag for unexpected accidents clothing wise and or incase you spend the night somewhere so you don't have to dig through all the suitcases. Accidents don't just happen toilet training. They happen when ice cream sundaes top over, when dad sits on someone's misplaced chocolate bar M. drops her iced tea lol. So everyone needs emergency clothes. also don't fall into the everyone needs his/her own suitcase thing. pack one big one for the kids and one for you and hubby. Let them have back packs with things to do. We did not do the drive thru the night thing. We stayed overnight in GA. Drive through Atlanta and spend the night in Marietta on one side and jasper on the other.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

A portable DVD player and a few movies they enjoy will keep them amused for quite awhile.



answers from Chicago on

We just drove from Chicago to Florida this summer with my 4 and 6 year old and the trip went great. We left in the morning and didn't do any night driving. We have taken a few long road trips and initially our plan was to stop every few hours, but we soon realized it worked better to drive while everyone was content and stop only when necessary. That being said, we did have several planned stops along the way and a few impromptu ones because we believe the trip is not only the end destination, but also the journey.

We alternated between active stops and eating stops. We stopped in Indianapolis at the Children's Museum. We then had lunch already packed and ate that on the ride to Mammoth Caves in Kentucky. We spent the night there, swam at the hotel, and then explored the caves in the morning. We then drove to Nashville for lunch and then drove straight to Florida with an impromptu stop to see an Apollo Space shuttle at a rest stop.

On the return, we went out of our way a bit, but went to Atlanta and saw Martin Luther Kings house and museum and a few other sites. We then drove to Nashville. We saw a show in the evening and then explored a bit in the morning before we headed back to Chicago.

I brought different packs (dinosaurs, space, music, farm, Disney princesses etc) that tied in with the area we were in. They contained books, figures, flashcards, games, etc about the topics. We also brought quite a few books becaus the girls love to read. We also brought magnetic boards and different shape magnets so they could make designs and letter and number ones to spell or do math. Also brought Magnetic dress up dolls, lacing cards, flannel boards for story telling, charades cards, geo boards, highlights magazine and hidden pictures, some little pony and Polly pocket. We also told stories and listened to stories on cd. They each had their own blanket and favorite cuddle toy. We did have iPads and DVDs, but used them as a last resort. We also brought cards about each of the states we were driving through to learn about the states and made a big deal when we crossed state lines. The girls loved tracking our progress on a map. We had a frisbee, jumprope, ball, and bubbles for stops. The girls also each had their own camera and their own journals to document the trip.

We packed a lot of healthy snacks and a few special treats. Also if you plan on stopping overnight on the way pack a small bag with everyone's items so you don't have to bring in all of your luggage.

Have fun!



answers from Chicago on

We had one adult go to bed after a very hard work out and ealry rise day the day before. That person slept from about 6pm to 1am. The othwr dis the loading of the car with the kids that evening, with lots of activity, active kids fresh air fall asleep harder. We also would rent redboxes x 5 plus have a prize bag of trinkets, wrapped. All in the car at 1am. The adult who slept drives for 6hours while the other sleeps and the kids finish their night. Then after that trade offs and potty breaks and return and rerent from redboxes occured every 3 hours. We played prize winning games every 2 hours. We all swam when we got to our destination and took a 2 hout nap and got going for our adventure.



answers from Chicago on

We drove to New Jersey two summers ago. My kids were only 2 and 4. We left in the late afternoon, and drove through the night. The kids slept. It was silent in the car. I would do it this way again.

Hubby took truck drivers cold medicine to make sure he was really alert.

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