Family Road Trip Survival Tips: New York Trip Part 1

On Friday morning, we tossed some bags into the car and headed out on a family road trip for the long Labor Day Weekend! Our destination? New York, to hit up the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester and then Niagara Falls in Buffalo. To no one’s surprise, I took an insane amount of photos (just a tad over 250 snaps) and while I clearly won’t be sharing them all here, I’m still going to share the trip over few posts to save everyone from too much scrolling. The first post: all about surviving a long road trip with a kiddo on board! The drive to New York was about 7 hours for us (8 after stops), and that meant 8 hours on the road with a five year old. Here are my top road trip survival  tips.

road trip plan for stops

#1. Plan for stops. As I mentioned above, the drive is only 7 hours. But we planned on 8 hours knowing that we’d have to stop for bathroom breaks, snack breaks, and time to run around. Planning those stops ahead of time is crucial to keeping on schedule, and to keeping everyone’s sanity. My little loved getting to run around outside at the rest stops and letting off some steam.

#2. Potentially skip the screens. I feel like the first thing that comes to mind when trying to distract a kid from boredom on a road trip is some form of screen whether it’s a phone, tablet, or laptop with a movie. However, I would suggest skipping that. And the reason why is carsickness. Often with little kids, you may not yet know if they get carsick. That’s how it is in our case – we’re not entirely sure if the little miss gets carsick from screens, but we did NOT want to test it out on an 8 hour trip.

road trip scavenger hunt A  road trip scavenger hunt B

#3. Provide alternative activities! Knowing that we didn’t want her to play on her tablet in case of barfing, we had a few things planned to keep her occupied, and involved as a family on our road trip. The first was a scavenger hunt – we printed this list of things to find while driving (see it above, along with a second one that had pictures that was just for the kiddo to do on her own.) While my daughter enjoyed looking for things, she actually enjoyed her dad and myself finding them even more! Every time we spotted something, we’d shriek about it and she found the whole thing hilarious. The second activity was Would You Rather? questions (kid-friendly, duh.) We printed off this list of random questions that ranged from silly to thought provoking. We all answered each question, and had some great discussions about our answers. It’s a great way to pass time, and also to engage with your kiddo along the way! Other ideas – coloring, special new toys that are ONLY for the road trip, playing I Spy.

#4. Break things up with music! I have a special playlist on my iPod in the car that is all music from My Little Pony. We don’t play it all the time, so when we do listen to the whole playlist, it’s something special for my daughter. My kiddo was thrilled to hear all of it, with everyone singing along (since like most parents, we know all the words too at this point.) If your kid has a show they love that has music as a part of it, it can be really great to give them a special playlist as a surprise. And if not from a show, you can still put together a list of just their favorite songs!

surviving a road trip with a kid

#5. Designate quiet time. About halfway through each drive, we had a specific bit of ‘quiet time’ where we turned off the music, took a break from games, and just chilled. Basically, the hope is to induce naptime by lack of stimulation (parenting goals!) On the drive there, our little didn’t nap, but also didn’t protest the quiet time at all. She relaxed, and chatted quietly with her stuffed animal she brought along. On the trip home, she crashed out like a log, and slept for over an hour of the drive.

road trip tips

We went into this road trip expecting the drive to be the worst part, and in reality it ended up being just as enjoyable as the rest of the weekend! Our kiddo did excellent both on the way there and on the way home, and I couldn’t have been happier about it! Tune in next Monday for Part 2 of our New York vacation – we spent the day at The Strong Museum of Play and I’m sharing all about the experience!

What was the longest road trip you’ve ever been on? Any tips to add to surviving a long road trip with a kid?

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  • Desiree

    Great tips! Traveling with the wee ones can sometimes add stress to a trip, but you guys had it all under control.

    • Kay

      Thanks! It went so much better than we expected haha.

  • Loving these photos and I can’t wait for the rest! Awesome tips too…I look back on all the long road trips my family took when I was young and I have no idea how my parents stayed sane, haha! The quiet time thing is genius<3

    • Kay

      Thanks! Quiet time is one of those things we use at home too. Being a SAHM, it was amazing to have 45 minutes to an hour of quiet time each day, and it was a great way to keep her on a nap schedule. 😀

  • Danielle Knapp

    Fantastic tips – we’ve been thinking of taking a road trip with our almost 5 year old and I was worried about too much screen time for sure.

    • Kay

      Thanks! Have a blast! Do you guys have a destination yet?

  • This is funny because I actually grew up outside of Buffalo and there was a stretch for several years where our summer road trip was up to your neck of the woods! My Dad worked with a guy who lived in NH so we would stop and visit him, and then head up to Maine for a couple days. I miss this road trip terribly!! Maine is one of my absolute favorite places to visit. But we definitely did so many of the same things you guys did. My Mom would make up a little bag of road trip treats for me and she would take me shopping to pick up a special toy or book for the trip. My Dad always had one of those 5 CD changers and we would all get to pick a CD (my brother, my parents and I) and we’d put it on shuffle and see what came up. I went through an Animaniacs phase so that was constantly on rotation, but everyone loved that show so no one minded. Sounds like you guys had a very successful trip! I’m excited to hear about it and see your pictures!! 🙂

    • Kay

      AHH ANIMANIACS!!! I so loved that show! Too funny that we had opposite road trips! We definitely want to go back to Buffalo again when the kiddo is a bit older, and spend more time in the falls area doing the adventure stuff they have!

  • Great planning! And carsickness is the worst so it’s smart you tried to avoid it hahah. I am guilty of using my tablet or DS in the car, but as long as we’re not on a windy road I’m usually ok (like when you’re on the freeway going straight FOREVER, perfect time for some Pokemon lol).

    • Kay

      So true! I’m fine to ride in the car forever, but I don’t do well with reading in the car. After a half an hour or so I just feel nauseous and awful. D: So I usually avoid it. We did let her color for a lot of the trip home (like an hour straight) and she did fine with that which is the sorta the same kind of focus so maybe she’ll do fine!

  • We went on a road trip to Las Vegas with our 14 month old at the time. It was supposed to only take 8 hours and that got stretched into 11 hours. We had to stop along the way because we were still nursing and it was horrible to keep a little one strapped into a car like that. The flight from here to GA was not too bad. The air hostess let my little one run around in the back to stretch out his legs. And the most recent trip was a two hour drive but seriously you can’t go any further than 4 hours in hawaii without hitting the ocean. 😛 I’m glad you managed to keep the screen away! We found my son is more apt to fall asleep without the screen like he did on the way to the volcano or he is interested in everything outside of the car. It was so great!

    • Kay

      Sounds like you definitely have traveling with a kiddo down! I had never thought about how in Hawaii you can’t really have super long road trips haha!

      • Hahah nope only on the Big Island and you really aren’t going super far either.