Five tips for family road trip fun

family road trip

Written and photographed by Josh and Jenny Solars of The Happy Family Movement.

It’s unfortunate that the family road trip has gone the way of cassette tapes. Sure, there are still families out there that love to go on road trips, but we seem to be in the minority.

And hey, I understand… it’s not easy traveling in a car for hours on end with little people. But, I’m here to tell you, not only can you make it easier and tolerable, BUT you can make it FUN and ENJOYABLE! It’s totally possible… our family is living proof!

We took off on our first family road trip in the summer of 2009 with our three little kids— Max was 4 1/2, Ava was 2 1/2, and Lia was almost 1. We drove from Kansas City, Missouri to Durango, Colorado. Since then, we’ve road tripped to New Orleans, driven the ENTIRE length of Route 66, road tripped through the Great Smoky Mountains, driven from Kansas City to Washington D.C., and road tripped around Oregon.

Once we took that first trip, we were hooked. And over the years and throughout our many family trips, we’ve discovered some great ways to bring your own fun. Some of these were random moments of brilliance and others we simply stumbled across.

family road trip

family road trip

Five Tips for Family Road Trip Fun

1. Make a road trip playlist. If you have an iPod, just create the playlist in iTunes and then put it on your iPod. You can also burn a few CD’s. We recommend upbeat, fun, happy music to get everyone in a good mood. Songs that everyone can sing along to are a great choice too! Either way, don’t leave your road trippin’ tunes up to whatever radio station you can tune into at the moment… come prepared!

2. Get the Fun Finder. Anytime you need to get some fresh air, pull off at a roadside park or rest area and use the Fun Finder to help you decide on a fun family activity. And don’t be afraid to join in with the kids. Family road trips are all about memorable FAMILY experiences and that means YOU need to be involved!

family road trip

3. Stock up on goodies. Before you leave, head to the Dollar Store or hit up the dollar section at Target. Load up on goodies like sidewalk chalk, bubbles, glow bracelets, plastic dinosaurs, and anything else that catches your eye. Stick all of your goodies in a box or a bag and take it with you on your road trip. Anytime you need some fun, pull over and pull something out of the bag. We’ve been known to bring out our goodies IN the car at times that we couldn’t stop.

family road trip

4. Actively seek out cheesy gift shops and random quarter machines. You never know what amazingness you’ll find. When we were in the Southwest, we picked up a giant sombrero and used it as a photo prop. When we were in Colorado, we bought stick-on mustaches from a quarter machine. Look for adventure and fun, and you’re sure to find it!

family road trip

5. Get The Happy Family Movement’s Adventure in a Box: Road Trippin’ kit. The kit comes complete with a manual that walks you through our planning process from beginning to end.  That includes choosing where to go, what to pack (and what to leave behind), how to make the most of each day, and what to do when everything goes south all at once. (Hint: it involves our very best pulled-over-by-the-side-of-the-road-game.) The Road Trippin’ kit also includes activities with detailed instructions. Lots of ‘em. All wrapped up and assigned for specific times of day during a seven-day road trip. The activities build fun right into your family outing.


Josh and Jenny Solar are parents to three kids, Max, Ava, and Lia (and a basset hound named Banana). In addition to being full time photographers, they created The Happy Family Movement in the spring of 2011 to encourage and inspire family togetherness through memorable family experiences and simple ideas for happy family living. The overarching goal of The Happy Family Movement is to rewrite the way our generation views raising kids… to seek out a happy family and find the JOY in parenting all over again.

Join the Discussion

Doesn’t the Solar family make road trips look super doable and so much fun? Share your road trip experience with your little ones in the comments below. Any tips you could share? And don’t forget to check out our Top 12 Things to Bring on a Road Trip and read about this cross country road trip here. Happy road tripping!

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4 Responses to Five tips for family road trip fun

  1. Ryan Hansard April 6, 2012 at 5:29 am #

    Great article! Planning things is not my specialty but I can really see how being prepared can make a road trip with the kidos fun. I love the random stuff you see when you go on a
    road trip, like facial hair from a vending machine.

  2. Jadah Sellner April 6, 2012 at 7:05 am #

    Side walk chalk on a road trip is brilliant! And I love the mustaches. We took a road trip from California to Oregon last summer, and we had an amazing time. Our 4 year old daughter did not watch any movies or play on an iphone or ipad– I was kind of shocked that we didn’t have to resort to that. I agree on making an awesome playlist. We started out our road trip with Party Rockers and got all excited as we drove. We gave our daughter notepads, pens and colored pencils, little figurines, lots of healthy snacks, water and a blanket. That’s all she needed. She also enjoyed singing. I love family road trips!

  3. Kathleen February 25, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    We take our grandchildren road tripping every year for a week. We never leave home without a first aid kit which does get used. Other helps are hand held water fans when it’s hot, a small cooler filled with snacks in easy reach, flashlights for games in the room at night, paper towels & spray bottle or wet wipes for car, hand sanitizer, We’ve taken 4 boys but this year we have a granddaughter ready to go so we’ll have to take two road trips. One for 3 boys to Tucson and Grand Canyon and one for the other brother and sister to So Dakota. We took our own kids camping all over the country for years but now we stay in motels of which swimming is the highlight of the day. They swim before breakfast and before bed. So Dakota has been a favorite of the children. They range in age from 3 to 10. Each child has a zippered padded lunch box. In it they bring a favorite toy of theirs or pencils etc. and the “travel fairy” adds surprises twice a day. In the morning they are motivated to get ready to see what the travel fairy brings. The 10 yo figured out last summer who the travel fairy is! He loves books with trivia questions, journals to write down the state bird, flags, and other travel trivia of his own. The 8 yo twins enjoy magnetic games such as hang man. They love any toy that is small and they can tinker with such as balls that become robots. Gel stickers for their windows keep them busy. Finger puppets, joke books, I could go on and on. Before leaving on the trip we hand them a list of 10 expectations and read them together so we are clear before we leave what is expected. When they were little it always worked to pull off the road and stay silent until they became quiet or did what we asked. It worked every time and we stayed calm. Protein and water are critical for long hikes, especially if they don’t eat much for breakfast. What they eat (good nutrition) and getting enough rest and water are critical as well as many diversions, stopping to explore, having them help with map reading, and remembering it’s their trip too. We focus on their needs, likes, and what interests them such as visiting an old military fort vs a museum of western art. Go with the flow and lower your expectations, plan, plan and plan some more. Kids love the simplest things and that is what they’ll remember when they come home from college and tell old stories around the dinner table.

    • Family Sponge February 27, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

      You sound like an amazing grandmother! I love how you are willing (and excited) to take your grandkids on these road trip adventures– what a great way to build memories, see the world and bond as a family. I just love this! And I couldn’t agree more about nutrition and rest— it can make or break a day.

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