Road Tripping With Children 101: How to Keep Your Sanity

Well hello, it’s been a while!  Since my last post, we finished up our first homeschool year. Academically, the year was great!  Chloe was able to explore her interests and learn about new things through many hands on experiences she would not of accomplished in a brick and mortar school. Personally, I learned lots about myself and how to take care of myself during my many crazy and chaotic kid-filled days.  I can’t wait to start in the fall with new techniques and strategies (more to come on that later).

Field trip to the Chin Yin Buddhist Temple
A beautiful evening for a bike ride.


The summer has been a busy but exciting one! In Alberta, and many parts of Canada, summer is short and the weather is unpredictable, so you really have to make the most of it.  I had lofty goals for this summer, and I started planning back in the dark, subzero days of  winter.  My youngest had never visited my mom or my home province of Nova Scotia and it had been six long years since I had been home, so when we received an invitation for close friend’s wedding, I knew it was the perfect time to make the trek across country with the family.

Kai and myself on the ferry from Nova Scotia to PEI

To go from Alberta to Nova Scotia, you’re either spending a lot of time in a car or a long time on an airplane.  We figured that since we might not be back that way for some time (so many other places to explore!), and the children are at a fun age for travelling, we would be adventurous and fly to Toronto and then drive to Halifax (3.5 hr flight, then almost 1800km one way).  When we told friends and family of our travels, we sometimes got, “oh, you’re not flying all the way?”, while looking at my overly energetic girls and picturing them strapped into car seats for days at a time.   I knew the trip overall would be exciting but I was unsure of how the car ride would go.  Driving around the city, there’s usually a lot of arguing and screaming and complaints of “I dropped ___”. I have to say, after two weeks in the car, I was pleasantly surprised at how adapting they really were. Sure there were a few squabbles here and there and quite a few potty stops, but I give the road trip part of our journey and A-.

Point Pleasant Park
Taking a walk in Point Pleasant Park, Halifax

Heading out on the road this summer or even some beautiful season changing travelling in the fall, and have little ones you’re bringing along?  Here are 10 tips for a successful road trip.

  1. Snacks – I can’t emphasize this enough! It does not matter if everyone had three full plates at the hotel buffet breakfast, 20 minutes down the road someone will be asking for snacks.  Granola bars, cheese sticks, raisins / nuts / seeds,  and fruit or raw veggies make for quick and easy snacks while travelling.  Fill up water bottles before you’re out on the road too (maybe a few extra if you have them, with lots of ice to save from buying overpriced roadside bottled water).  Add snacks to any of the other ideas on the list for guaranteed easy driving.
  2. Coloring books / crayons / workbooks / puzzle books – whatever you child is into these days that will keep them entertained from 20 minutes to an hour.  I had a backpack for each child in front of them so they could get out what they needed, and they kept the pencil case between them so they could share.

    in car
    Toys and coloring books within reach
  3. Kid friendly music – We hit up the library before we left and borrowed a handful of CDs including some children pop mixes, classic children’s songs and lullaby cd’s for nap time travelling.  If you have them on your phone or tablet, that will also work great.
  4. Ipads / tablets / portable dvd players / other media – We made a deal the day of leaving to leave the tablets at home and bring portable dvd players for the car and hotel.  We brought a few favorites and a few new ones they never knew about and it would guarantee an hour of good behavior.  We had kid safe earphones so they could watch their own movie choice, or turn it down low and sit it between them if they wanted to watch the same one.

    Not worried about screen time withall the outside fun and adventures like the Aquarium du Québec
    Not worried about screen time with all the outside fun and adventures like the Aquarium du Québec
  5. Car Games – the only ones our kids know so far are I Spy and the Silent Game (ok, that one was more for mommy and daddy’s benefit) but it kept them entertained for periods of time.  If your kids are a little older, Animal, Vegetable or Mineral (20 questions), License Plate Game or Telling a Story, Word by Word are great for keeping them occupied.
  6. Favorite small toys from home – My girls are big into Polly Pocket dolls, so I filled up a resealable freezer bag with dolls and accessories.  It would work with small cars, action figures, small puzzles or games.
  7. New small toys / items – When you have left the last rest stop before your final destination of the day, and the kids and begging for supper (even though they have been eating every 30 minutes), now is the time to pull out something new.  I packed a couple new coloring books, board books, dvds, and a few new small sensory stimulating toys.  You don’t need to spend much, but a small initial investment can make for some calm road tripping.

    All focus is on her new bubble toy
    All focus is on her new bubble toy
  8. Plan your day on the road – sometime you just want to get in the car and see how far you get, but a bit more planning needs to be done with little ones.  Make sure everyone has a good breakfast, it will help get the day started right.  You’ll need to plan for lots of bathroom breaks and feeding stops if you have little ones or you breastfeed.  Also figure out when the best time would be for a run around activity.  Sometimes right after breakfast is the best time to go to an attraction before leaving town, able to get in early before the crowds, get out before lunch time, and if all goes right, kiddos will be ready for a nap after a snack.  Or head out on the road right after breakfast and use your lunchtime stop as your additional activity for the day.  Find a cool playground, go for a short hike, or check out a quaint little town to get the kids out of the car and moving for a bit.   
    Kai with bird
    A walk in Confederation Park as we stop for lunch in Gananoque, Ontario

    Some playground time at Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick
  9. Roadside rest stops –  Most roadside stops are commercial gas stations and restaurants, but if you don’t need to fill up be on the look out for a rest stop with a green space.  We found lots of nice ones in Quebec, with green space to run around and play tag, tables to have a quick picnic, and some have small playground areas.  Let the kids run around and shake their sillies out after their “I need to pee!” demands are met

    View of the Confederation Bridge from the lookoff at Cape Jourimain Nature Centre, New Brunswick
  10. Relax and take a deep breath – yes, there will be some arguments, you might take a few wrong turns, you might of booked a hotel for the wrong weekend (yes I did that) but in the long run you will see and experience lots of cool stuff and a lot of beautiful scenery. So take it all in and watch your children’s wide eyes and excited expressions when you go over a large bridge or down into a scenic valley.  They love all the little things along the way like horses in a field or a large roadside attraction.
family pic
Family photo in front of the Ship Hector in Pictou, Nova Scotia

Happy travels!

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