Say Goodbye to Meltdowns: Top Secrets for Smooth Family Travels

Family road trips are some of my absolute favorite things to do. I love the excitement, the planning, the traditions and adventure that come with taking a trip.

When I was a kid, my sister and I would plan our trips months in advance and every night for weeks leading up to our trip, we’d talk about our packing list while we did the dinner dishes. Now that I’m grown I enjoy listening to our daughters do the same. There’s just something about that anticipation that is contagious and addicting.

But it can often be more exciting than the trip itself if things turn sour during the trip. If you are a parent, you know how quickly things can shift. Kid’s easily get bored, carsick or irritable and that can put everyone off for the duration of the trip.

But it doesn’t have to. You can foresee many of the potential problems and have an arsenal at your disposal that will help the trip not only run smoothly but become as memorable of a time as you originally dreamed it would.

Let’s dive right in to some of my top family travel tips and see if we can’t find something to make your next trip awesome!

Family Travel Tip #1: Prepare Food for Road Trips

The number one complaint I hear on a road trip is “I’m hungry.” And that’s just me whining to my husband. 🙂

We all get “snacky” when we’re bored and I get particularly “snacky” on road trips. It’s probably more of an association thing than actual hunger but whatever it is, I must have a snack bag when I go on trips. But I have found preparing one for each of the kids have cut back on my irritation ten fold.

Because it never fails, with three girls, I hear, “Mom, can I have…” fifty times in an hour and I am spending all my time rifling through the snacks to get my kids what they want. But when I divvy up all the snacks and they get to pack their own in their travel bags, all I have to do is answer “yes” or “no” if they ask to eat one of their snacks.

Sometimes I will tell them ahead of time that they are allowed one snack of their choice between meals unless it’s a healthy option and they can have those anytime. This cuts back on fielding snacks questions and the girls love the freedom of not having to ask. Win/win.

(Snack Ideas)

  • hard-boiled eggs
  • grapes (if children are old enough)
  • cheese cubes
  • baby carrots
  • apples
  • shredded meat
  • pre-made sandwiches (great for when you don’t want to pay for fast food)
  • pretzels
  • nuts
  • trail mix
  • homemade lunchables
  • favorite chips
  • peanut butter crackers
  • beef jerky
  • popcorn

Family Travel Tip #2: Have Fun Activities for Road Trips

When we made the 19-hour drive down to Florida for our Disney Cruise (check out those awesome tips here and here!) we knew we had to get creative when it came to keeping the kids occupied. Because the excitement of going on a Disney cruise fades rather quickly in a van with whiny children.

Who knew?

Even though we stopped often to let the kids run off some pent-up energy and so we could stretch our legs, we couldn’t plan for long stops because we really wanted to make good time.

Thankfully, my mom was traveling with us and my mom took many, many LONG trips with her three girls to visit family and this was before DVD players and other fun electronics. Basically, mom is a family travel pro. Plus, she’s a grandma which ups the cool factor.

So by the time our trip rolled around she had made each of our girls their own travel binders with color sheets, word search puzzles, picture finds, you name it, it was there. And each binder also came with a pencil pouch that kept crayons and pencils safely stored.

Every hour, mom would have the girls compete against each other in the puzzles for spending money which was a huge hit and insanely creative, in my opinion. It gave our girls something to look forward to each hour which helped the time pass.

two packages of figurines of Disney characters
Some themed toys we bought for the Disney road trip.

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Family Travel Tip #3: Account for Comfort on Your Road Trips

I don’t know about you, but if I’m not comfortable while traveling, it’s going to be a long ride. More so when the kids aren’t comfortable.

(Tips for traveling comfortably)

  • Wear loose-fitting clothes.

I always try to look presentable while traveling but I never wear something that constricts or at least doesn’t stretch some. And I always dress cool, because I can always add layers but it’s a bit harder to take layers off.

  • Wear slip-on shoes.

I hate wearing shoes on trips but what I hate even more is waiting for everyone to get their tennis shoes on and tied every time we stop at a rest area. Slip-ons are now mandatory in our family. Because we want mom to stay happy. 🙂

  • If traveling at night, wear your pajamas.

This has been so nice for when we travel through the night because when we get to our destination the kids are already ready for bed. Plus they sleep better in the car while wearing PJs.

  • Travel with a pillow and blanket, the smaller the better.

So, there are these really cool Seatbelt Pillows that I bought for our girls and have really saved on space and kinked necks. And they go on and off so easily you can remove them if you aren’t sleeping and feel they’re in the way. We always leave them, you hardly notice they’re there.

  • If a child has a favorite stuffed animal, bring it.

Unless it’s the size of the kid’s bed, but that should go without saying. I only mention this because I have a daughter with a life-sized llama that she thinks is totally fine to tote wherever.

  • Keep their sitting area cramped-free.

This is key to a pleasant trip. I cannot stand cramped areas and neither can my kids. They have their own travel bags that they keep in the front seat with them but they’re only allowed to play with one toy/game at a time. Otherwise, someone is always complaining that someone else’s things are in their space.

  • Provide mini fans in case they get extra hot.

I don’t know why, but my kids are little furnaces on road trips. It probably has to do with the extra bodies in close proximity to each other. But I almost always have to have the heat on in the front and the air in the back.

I bought some personal fans for the girls this last road trip and I’m telling you, they were gold. Especially for my one daughter who gets car sick if she gets too hot. Speaking of…

Family Travel Tip #4: Plan for carsickness

We have had some issues with this over the years, so I pretty much feel like an expert in this area. There are countless things on the market that offer relief and I can tell you, I’ve pretty much tried them all. I have accumulated quite a bit of hard-earned wisdom here, believe me.

There are some methods I prefer over others but I will start with some easy tips and end with my favorite:

  • Roll down the window.

I know this tip is simple, but it’s free and surprisingly effective, especially if the weather is cooler.

  • Eat a mint or chew mint gum.

This tip right here is my go-to since I’m addicted to Wintergreen, but it really helps, too.

You can apply it to your wrist (follow correct guidelines for application) or you can just smell it. Aromatherapy works amazingly. In fact, this Car Diffuser allows everyone to enjoy the benefits of peppermint oil at the same time. It will also help eliminate smells that have taken over, which could be causing nausea.

Zen drops have been a Godsend to our youngest who has issues with anxiety. Although she loves road trips, she gets overwhelmed easily, so having these drops with us is a must! (Use code KimberlyM10 for 10% off your order!)

Yes, these really work. I used them on our cruise and the only one who got really sick was my husband who wasn’t wearing one. The key, however, is to wear it an hour or two before your trip and keep it on until after the travel part is over. It’s hard to correct nausea with the wristband once it’s started.

So if you forgot to put it on, you could still try it and see if it helps or you could try my favorite:

I know, I know. These are the goofiest looking things you’ve ever seen and you will feel utterly ridiculous wearing them, but once you see for yourself how effective these babies are, you won’t care how ridiculous they look, you won’t leave home without them ever again. Not even kidding.

I was on a trip not that long ago with my sisters and rode in the back seat while a particularly wonderful sister (who I won’t name to protect the innocent) drove. Not even ten minutes into the trip I was car sick. My sister handed me back these glasses and after laughing for a few minutes I gave them a try and was blown away. She bought them for my nephew who gets very carsick (I can’t imagine why?) and was so impressed, she bought extra.

(The only drawback is these don’t work at night, since you need to be able to see the blue liquid in the glasses in order for them to work.)

woman wearing anti-motion sickness glasses
Me sporting the wonderful new glasses.

Family Travel Tip #5: Bring Entertainment for Road Trips

I know this can be a hot topic among parents as far as whether a child should watch movies/use video games during a trip or strictly enjoy the scenery. Personally, I prefer the scenery. However, when you are on a long road trip, there’s only so much scenery a younger child can handle.

We usually break it up. We allow one movie than an hour or two of other activities. Once the sun sets, we usually put in a movie before turning everything off, and it’s time to sleep.

As tempting as it is to keep the kids occupied with movies the entire trip, you definitely want them to enjoy what’s outside their window, too. They may never pass that way again and won’t realize what they’re missing.

There are fun games you can play with your kids where they have to find things outside their window, which not only keeps them entertained, it also helps them engage with their surroundings.

Travel Game Ideas

  • Alphabet Game

This is played two ways in our family: with billboards or license plates. If playing using billboards or signs, you start with the letter “A” and look for a word that begins with the letter. Once someone finds it, you move on to the next letter until you reach “Z”. If you are playing with license plates then you look for ones with a state beginning with “A” and so on. Of course, some letters in the alphabet do not have corresponding states.

This was a fun game that kept my sisters and me busy for hours growing up. So much so, that I bought a set for our girls when they were old enough to play it. It’s a lot of fun and everyone can participate in finding objects, even if they do not have a board, like the driver.

  • Points Game

This is a game where someone chooses a subject, (Ex. Cows) sets a timer and everyone tries to find as many of those subjects as they can. The person with the most points when the timer goes off wins that round.

Family Travel Tip #6: Stay Organized on Your Road Trip

We already talked about how cranky we get when we feel the clutter taking over. So I thought it beneficial to list a few things that have helped to curb this problem when we travel.


  • I mentioned “carry-ons” earlier. Those are just small duffel bags the girls get to fill with what they want on the trip, whether they’re books, travel games, or toys. It helps keep their items in one place, as long as they know they should only get out one or two items at a time.
  • Have a container of essentials handy. This can include wipes for sticky hands, hand sanitizer, napkins, medicine, and things like that. 
  • Have a trash can or bag for collecting trash between stops. Empty it at each stop to keep it from overflowing. 
  • Sometimes you might have to “reset” every hour where everyone cleans up around them.
  • Offering prizes to the child who keeps the cleanest seat works great. (Bribery works great in almost every situation!) 🙂
three girls pretending to drive three large steering wheels in front of a console
Here are the girls with their duffel bags.

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