Ultimate Family Road Trip: Rules Of The Road

Before we get into this amazing article, I wanted to introduce today’s guest blogger, Sharon Markey. I have to admit that when I was new to the traveling game, I watched this amazing mother carefully, and I copied a lot of things I saw her doing. I’m seriously so thankful, and honored to have her guest blogging on SER today! When she’s not traveling, she spends most of her time cooking and cleaning and caring for three small kids. When the kids are sleeping, she writes encouragement and inspiration for moms at MommyJoys.com. Thanks so much Sharon!!

Rules of the Road

Let’s face it: keeping your kids in order when you’re at home can be difficult enough. The mere thought of trying to do it on a road trip makes many parents cringe. But it doesn’t have to be that way. My husband and I have three little boys, ages 4, 2, and 1, and our lifestyle necessitates regular road trips where we spend ten or more hours in the car in a single day. But we enjoy it! Road trips can be fun for the whole family if you lay the right groundwork, control the environment, and model a positive attitude.

All ready for another road trip 🙂 !!

Lay the Groundwork

The secret to having well-behaved kids in the car is having well-behaved kids at home. If your kids are normally undisciplined, they will be even worse in the car. Kids are uncannily perceptive, and they know when they can get away with more. (I think that’s why they often choose to throw a fit when you’re at the grocery store, in a restaurant, or on the telephone.) If you can’t control your kids at home, you’ll have an awful time in the car, so you must start to lay the groundwork now if you’re planning a long trip by car.

First of all, be consistent. If yelling is something that you don’t want in your family (or in the car), establish a zero tolerance approach when your kids do it, and work hard to keep your own voice at a conversational level at all times. Children like to know what to expect, and they will feel more secure and be better behaved if you set clear boundaries and enforce them consistently.

Secondly, follow through. Do not make empty threats. Your children need to know that you mean what you say, and that bad behavior always has bad consequences. If a child is being disobedient, you need to drop everything and deal with the disobedience immediately. In the car, this means that you need to be prepared to pull over and stop if a child challenges your authority. This takes great commitment and energy, but no one ever said that parenting was easy. (Or if they did, they either never had kids, or they’re certifiably insane!)

Finally, choose your battles carefully. This is especially important in the car, where many forms of discipline are hard to implement. Don’t make an issue out of every little thing your children do. If it’s merely annoying, try to live with it or else distract the child with some other activity. I carry small candies like jelly beans in my purse to use as temporary distractions. While I do not endorse distraction as the mainstay of parenting technique, when in the car, I believe that you need to save your energy for the battles that really matter. (“Tommy, you may not unbuckle your seat belt and hang out the window!”)

Control the Environment

An uncomfortable or bored child is a cranky child. And a cranky child will misbehave. To avoid this, we try to be proactive about keeping our kids comfortable and entertained in the car. We have a variety of strategies for this.

To keep them comfortable, we always dress our kids in layers when we travel. Temperature can change drastically on a road trip (early morning vs. high noon, sea level vs. 10,000 feet), and we want to be able to keep up with climate changes by quickly removing or adding articles of clothing. We also have special shades that attach to the car windows with suction cups to keep the sun out of the kids’ eyes and pillows to help them nap in the car. To keep their little tummies comfortable, I pack an array of appealing yet healthy finger foods. For our kids, this means whole-grain crackers, slices of cheese, hard-boiled eggs, dried fruit, sliced apples, and strips of bell pepper. I avoid junk foods, because I suspect that too many empty calories will make them irritable. Finally, we make sure that we have lots of drinking water, and each child has a no-spill cup that I refill as needed.

Keeping the kids entertained can be lots of fun. Before long trips I always visit the toy store and choose at least one toy for each child. It’s special to see their excitement when I give them their new toys, and I can’t overemphasize the value of new toys in keeping a child entertained. I also pack a little backpack for each child full of car-friendly toys and picture books. (Car-friendly toys are those that do not have a bunch of little parts to fall on the floor and get lost under the seats.)

Can one new toy really make a difference on a road trip? Absolutely, yes!

If the kids get bored with their toys, there are many activities that you can do with them in the car. Try reading a book aloud or listen to an audio book or kids’ radio show together. Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey series is great for slightly older kids. Our kids love to listen to Baby Einstein’s Traveling Melodies. (Over. And over. And over again. So much so, that my husband recommends bringing along a set of earplugs so that the music that helps maintain your kids’ sanity won’t cause you to lose yours!) Car time can become great family time with activities like singing along to a favorite album, playing conversation games like I Spy or Twenty Questions, and reciting Bible memory verses or nursery rhymes together. Finally, if you have a portable DVD player or device like an iPod, iPhone, or iPad, you can let your kids watch movies to pass the time.

Model a Positive Attitude

Our kids love road trips. (They don’t always love every moment spent in the car, but when we announce an upcoming trip, they get super excited.) I’m sure there are several reasons for their positive attitude, but I think the main one is that I love road trips, and they are just copying what they see. I realize that not everyone shares my love for seeing huge sections of countryside through the windows of a car, but if you grumble or have a negative outlook, don’t be surprised if your kids whine and bring along their own nasty attitudes. If you hate road trips, you aren’t doing yourself any favors if you let your kids see it.

The best leaders lead by example, and we parents are certainly no exception. You will set the tone for the trip, so even if you have to fake it, be upbeat and fun. Say only positive, optimistic things. Smile a lot. And who knows? If your acting skills are good enough, you might even convince yourself and end up really enjoying your next road trip with kids!


Thanks so much for this article Sharon, I couldn’t have said it better!! And just in case you are interested here are a few related posts to some of the things Sharon touched on in her article (and don’t forget to check out the rest of the Ultimate Family Road Trip Series here). Happy travels, Kristin

Teeny Tiny Backpack

Technological Travel: iPod Touch, iPhone, or iPad

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