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How To Take a Road Trip With Your Kid

Road trips always create lasting memories, follow these steps to improve your chances of making good memories when you bring your children with you

By: Kevin Abernethy + Save to a List

The open road, a great playlist, the wind blowing your worries away, these are just a couple of things that make road trips so great. There is something calming and almost healing about hitting the road and setting out to end up somewhere far far away from the norm. I recently brought my 3 year old with me on a 9 hour road trip to Colorado and I am amazed at how well it went. Children are unique and I brag now, but the next trip we take might be a disaster. Nothing is certain, especially when it comes to kids, but follow these tips to improve your chances of having a successful road trip with your child. 

1. Build the Excitement

My daughter loves surprises and it's almost unfair how she will cooperate when she knows there is a surprise waiting for her. I talked about our "big adventure" for about 2-3 weeks before we actually went. I would tell her how excited I was and give her ideas on what we were going to do. Obviously I emphasized the things I knew she would enjoy; seeing big balloons at the hot air balloon festival, maybe seeing some deer on our hikes, and playing and climbing on rocks. After a week or so she started asking when we were going. Letting her know we were doing something outside of the norm seemed to help prepare her more than just making it something completely unexpected.

2. Show Them Pictures

I am no expert on raising children, but my daughter seems to be very visual. She loves looking at pictures, she likes to draw, and she always notices things I would easily overlook. Because of this I would show her pictures of the things we were going to see. She has never seen mountains in person so I would show her pictures of some of my adventures and emphasize how cool the mountains are. We would read books and I would always point out the animals and tell her we might see some animals on our big adventure. I also showed her pictures of hot air balloons and would tell her they were HUGE! Showing her the pictures also helped me build the excitement; she was getting excited because she could tell I was excited and because she had something specific to look forward to. 

3. Relate It To What They Like

Again, this goes back to each individual child, but I know what my daughter likes and I tied as much of that in to our adventure as I could. She is 3 so she is obviously obsessed with the movie "Frozen." Because of this, I would tell her we might see snow and we could build a snowman just like Anna and Elsa. Because of this we reached the summit of Pike's Peak and she immediately said "dad, I want to build a snowman like Anna and Elsa" so we sat down and built a freaking snowman. When I go hiking, camping, or backpacking I always tell her I am going on an adventure, so she relates the word adventure to something exciting. So I made EVERYTHING an adventure; we had our adventure car, we were staying at our adventure house, we packed our adventure snacks, we had our adventure bags. This created more excitement for things she would normally care less about.

4. Be Flexible

I knew the trip would have ups and downs, I also expected my daughter to be flexible so I reminded myself that I needed to be flexible for her too. My first plan was to do some hiking around the North Cheyenne Canon Park, well after about 30-45 minutes my daughter was done. She didn't want to continue on the hike and I asked her what she wanted to do, well in normal 3 year old fashion she wanted to go to a playground. So I googled the closest playground and we finished our evening there. My first thought was "great, we drove all the way out here to play at a playground" but my daughter was having a blast and in the end that is all that matters to me. On the other hand, I didn't think she would get too excited about Garden of the God's, but she didn't want to leave. I scratched our plans just so we could stay there longer because she was enjoying it so much. She was cooperative on most of the trip, but when she wasn't I reminded myself it wasn't about what I had planned, but that we were both having fun. 

5. Expect the Meltdown

They are just kid's and it's bound to happen. Luckily we only had 2 legitimate meltdowns on our trip. My relationship with my daughter is all about give and take, from both of us. During these meltdowns I stayed calm and catered to her to remind her we were out there to have fun. Both meltdowns were temporary and she quickly cheered up when I reminded her we still needed more adventure candy or how cool the hot air balloons were going to be. 

6. Bribery is OK

I'm not a big fan of this on a day to day basis, but on a 9 hour road trip I think it's almost necessary. I loathe letting my daughter watch kid video's on YouTube, but I would make it a bonus for her when she was listening and being positive. She knew she could watch video's for 10-15 minutes in the car if she was behaving. We also made frequent pit stops for juice and candy because she was being such a great adventure partner. I try not to reinforce good behavior through bribery, but I had to remind myself, again, to be flexible. 

I can't believe my daughter is already three and this trip will be something I remember for the rest of my life. The trip had it's ups and downs but in hindsight I only think about the good moments. We didn't do everything I had planned, but that is OK. Seeing her adventurous spirit in full affect and witnessing her experiencing new things is something I will cherish forever. Lastly, being a parent is awesome and we all have different parenting methods, but I encourage everyone to include your children in the things you love, they will love it just as much because they see your excitement and because they are getting to spend time with you.


We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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