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Holiday Travel with Young Kids

Travel Hints Continued…

  • Plan to take longer getting there. You need to stop every two to three hours, depending on your kids’ temperaments. Plan on at least 20 minutes per stop. If you plan it, you won’t resent it. It simply takes time for kids to run off some of that pent-up energy and reorganize for the next lap.
  • Plan stops that will break up the trip. If the trip will take 8 or more hours (and you’re not able or willing to consider night travel), identify some interesting sight to see at the halfway mark. Stopping for an hour to check out a roadside attraction, explore a beach or hiking trail, or play at a playground will do wonders. Two four- or five-hour trips are easier to manage than one that is eight to 10 hours long.
  • Engage with the kids. Forget about having adult conversation along the way or playing your own music on the radio unless the kids are asleep. Kids travel best when adults are involved with them. Play age-appropriate games. (Count all the red cars, for little ones. Find license plates for all the states for older ones.) Sing together. Do you have a limited repertoire? Put on a sing-along CD and join in. Sing loud. Sing soft. Sing in funny voices. Playing with kids makes the miles go fast for everyone.
  • Bring food and drinks. Accept it. Children need to eat more frequently than adults. You don’t want to stop every time someone is thirsty. You don’t want to spend the inflated prices at roadside stops. Bring along a supply of juice boxes, granola bars, and dried and fresh fruit. You’ll save both time and money, and the kids won’t load up on sugar and fast food.
  • Bring some activities to keep boredom at bay. Pack a bag with books, crayons and coloring books, a few toys, and a few things that are reserved for car trips. An inexpensive pair of binoculars or a telescope, a kaleidoscope, or a magnifying glass can hold kids’ interest for quite awhile, especially if they have never seen them before. Dole these items out one at a time when the kids are getting restive.

    Books on tape, as long as they appeal to all the young people in the car, also can be helpful, especially if parents show interest.

    If you have a car with a built-in DVD player, or if you have a portable player, bring a batch of DVDs. The secret is to use them judiciously. Save them for when you’ve run through your other options or make a rule of a half-hour tape every couple of hours so that watching a movie is something special. If movies are on constantly, the kids start to regard them as background noise rather than as something that engages their interest. More important, if movies are on constantly, you’ll miss out on all the other fun.

Travel Time Can Be Family Time

Traveling in the kid zone means embracing the life stage you are in. It may not seem like it, but this sweet time of childhood goes by very, very fast. For a few short years, parenting well means accommodating children’s needs and making family memories. When parents see car time as an opportunity to share excitement about traveling and visiting, to model how to entertain yourself, and to play along the way, car time can be important family time. This helps lay down a foundation of love and togetherness that will see you through the teen years — when the kids will spend car trips either plugged into their MP3 players or asleep and won’t be the least bit interested in talking to you.

Holiday Travel with Young Kids

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2018). Holiday Travel with Young Kids. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 6, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.