How to Take a Road Trip with ONE Parent {and not lose your mind!}

How to Take a Road Trip with ONE Parent {and not lose your mind!}

Recently I embarked upon an 11-hour drive with my four children and no husband to help. Besides one epic bout of carsickness, it all went pretty smoothly — thanks to some prepwork and organization on my part.

Here’s how I did it!

Plan 1 movie and 1 activity for every 2 hours of driving.

If you can keep them in a constant state of entertained, then they won’t start squabbling. Now, I’ll be the first to say that you shouldn’t endeavor to entertain your kids every hour of the day. They need free, unstructured time to explore and be bored and be creative. Those things don’t apply on a road trip. Entertain them.

For activities, some of my favorites include travel BINGO, creating sculptures with aluminum foil (buy the box of pre-cut sheets from the dollar store), creating sculptures with pipe cleaners (also from the dollar store), drawing with chalk on black construction paper, or playing with magnets on a cookie sheet.

How to Take a Road Trip with ONE Parent {and not lose your mind!}
Finn’s foil mask!

{Click this post for more road trip activity ideas!} 

Movies are an excellent way to pass a long amount of time quickly. The trick here is to get movies that none of the kids have seen before.  Even my 10-year-old will sit through a “baby” movie if it’s new to him (though I do try to balance the movie selection among the ages of my children). Investing in a ceiling-mount DVD player for our van was one of the best purchases we could have made. Road trips are about 1000% easier now.

Now I’m NOT saying that you need to go out and spend $200 on movies for your trip. There are tons of free/cheap ways to get new movies to watch:

  • borrow from the library, getting on the wait/hold list if necessary
  • borrow from friends. Ask a good friend to raid their collection for new flicks.
  • buy from yard sales. I got 5 or 6 new movies for this trip from a yard sale where they were $1 each!
  • look for the multi-film packs in the Walmart $5 bin or on Amazon here. If you find the ones that have 3 or more movies, then that’s a really low price per movie!
  • rent from Redbox. This is my least favorite option, because A) it costs $1.60. and B) you have to remember to return it. And going out of my way to return a DVD is not something I want to do when I’ve been driving all day. But we did do this on our last day when we had run out of movies, and it was an okay solution.
Map out a fun stop for every 3-4 hours of driving.

You can stop more often if you need to for quick restroom stops, but I think that kids need to run and play at least every 3 or 4 hours.

Here’s how I tackled this:

  1. Map your route.
  2. Zoom in on the area near your ideal stopping point and take note of the city.
  3. Google “things to do kids city, state” for that location. {also check out Groupons for that area!}

By doing this I found some really cool spots to stop!

How to Take a Road Trip with ONE Parent {and not lose your mind!}
Slate Run Living History Farm: a farm being run like it was 100 years ago, with costumed farmers, and we could see the animals, play games from days of old, swing on the tire swing, and explore the farm house. And it was FREE!
How to Take a Road Trip with ONE Parent {and not lose your mind!}
We played a round of mini golf AND we got to go through this amazing laser maze (like a spy, where you weave over and under the lasers without tripping any of them)!


Let them eat cake snacks.

Here is how I prepped snacks for the trip. We had 4 days of driving (2 there and 2 back), so I got 4 Walmart bags and put them on the counter. Then I put 16 snacks into each bag, 4 each of 4 different kinds. Many of these snacks were things given to us over the past year that I deemed to be “treat-like” and didn’t dole out to my kids at the time. Like when grandpa brings over a box of fruit snacks, or the kids get teddy grahams in a treat bag from a party, etc. I throw those sort of things in a box in my pantry and use them for instances when we travel like this.

Each of my kids also got a free pencil box recently during a recent back-to-school festival, so I wrote their name on their boxes. Each day when we started the trip, I’d open the 4 boxes, put their 4 snacks into them, and place the boxes next to their carseats. Then every 2 hours during the trip, they were allowed to eat 1 snack of their choice from the box. They loved having the freedom to choose their own snacks, or trade with their siblings if everyone was agreeable.

Rotate seats.

Sometimes, getting a new seat can really make the trip fresh, especially if you’re traveling for multiple days. I have a minivan and 4 kids. We traveled for 4 (driving) days on this trip. So each driving day I just moved everyone clockwise one seat.

Bring something for YOU to do.

I knew that I would get bored out of my mind while the kids were watching movies, so I downloaded an audiobook from my free trial. I was able to listen to that in the front seat while the kids watched their movies.

Our DVD player plays through the van’s speakers, but it wasn’t difficult to move that audio to the rear speakers only and then listen to my audiobook quietly through the speakers on my phone. I placed it near my ear to hear efficiently, and it didn’t affect my ability to hear the kids if they needed me or any pertinent road noise.

Give yourself grace.

Traveling alone with kids isn’t easy. Allow yourself the license to spend extra money on snacks if you need to, or eat unhealthy fast food for multiple meals in a row, or let the kids watch non-educational movies for hours on end. It’s a road trip, and it’s a special circumstance, and kids understand that’s not everyday life or everyday allowances. And it’s vacation — it should be at least a little bit fun!


If YOU have any tips on making a road trip easier for a parent on their own, comment below! I’d love to hear all about it!

How to Take a Road Trip with ONE Parent {and not lose your mind!}
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