Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and planning for it can be tough enough without worrying about how to survive the drive there … especially if you have kids. As any parent knows, sometimes just a trip around the block can be a challenge, so if you have to go farther than that, here are 6 tips to help you and your family get to your destination safely (and sanely).

1. Plan trip around nap/sleep time

If one or more of your munchkins still takes a nap, consider timing your departure around your little one’s naptime. Depending on the length of your drive, this could mean leaving first thing in the morning and hoping a nap comes after the first leg, or right at naptime so Junior passes out as soon as the motion of the car lulls him to sleep, arriving fresh and cheerful to Grandma’s house. It could also mean leaving at bedtime. Make it part of the adventure (road-tripping in pajamas!) and then transfer sleeping children to their beds once you reach your destination.

2. Pack an activity bag

For kids who don’t sleep in the car, pack a special tote bag to keep their attention on activities (and not on yelling for you in the front seat).

A few staples include:

  • Crayons
  • Coloring books
  • Plain paper on clipboards
  • Stickers
  • Books (include interactive ones with flaps or different textures to maximize interest)
  • Small toys / stuffed animals / their blankie. Kids love snuggling up to something in the car, so have them choose one before heading out the door. And then bring a couple backups just in case Mrs. Bear falls out of reach (or favor) partway through the drive.

3. Snacks, snacks, and more snacks

The holy grail of road trips with kids is food. Stuff one lunchbox with ice packs for perishables and another lunchbox with foods that can be left room temperature. Then pack them with with easy-to-open containers or bags and place it within their reach. Kids will love the ability to choose what they want to eat and you’ll love not having to carefully/awkwardly hand something back every time someone gets a hunger pang. Of course, always consider what could be a choking hazard and avoid super messy or difficult-to-eat foods.

A few ideas for refrigerated snacks:

  • string or cubed cheese
  • cut up or rolled up lunch meat like turkey or ham
  • baked tofu
  • beans (garbanzo / kidney / pinto / black)
  • sliced veggies like cucumbers and red pepper
  • frozen peas — plus the bonus of keeping other foods cool while they thaw
  • fruit such as blueberries, mandarin oranges, sliced apples, grapes, and strawberries are not overly messy and easy for little hands to grab
  • tortellini
  • leftover pizza cut in kid-size pieces
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And for non-perishable snacks:

  • any type of easy-to-munch cereal
  • crackers
  • raisins
  • fruit / veggie / grain pouches with twist-off caps
  • the classic: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

Most important is to know what your children like, include options, give them the control, and don’t forget to hold back a few special treats (granola bars, chocolate, yogurt-covered pretzels) in the front seat for when you need a secret weapon.

4. Audio distraction

A great way to pass the time on a long road trip and keep your kids occupied is to turn up the radio with specific programming just for them. Before you leave, load up your car with a variety of kids’ music CDs, make a lullaby playlist on your phone, and/or hit up your local public library for some downloadable audiobooks.

5. Technology

Kids are notorious for their short attention spans. So when the activity bag has been used up, the snacks have been eaten, you can’t play another game of “I Spy,” and calls of, “I’m bored!,” “Get me out of here!” or “How much longer?” are drowning out the lullabies, it might be time to offer a tablet. Whether it’s an educational one or a portable DVD player, sometimes nothing can calm the savage beast of children too excited to start their vacation quite like a bit of screen time. Grab a few new apps before the trip, add a couple favorite shows, and enjoy the few minutes of quiet they bring.

6. Find your Zen

It’s easier said than done on a road trip with children, especially during what can be some of the most stressful times of the year for many people. But when traveling by car with kids, most of all, do what helps you relax — if that means skipping the coloring and audiobooks and going directly to the tablet, so be it. Give yourself a break. The most important thing is you all reach your destination safe and sound (though it might take longer than expected — things always do with kids!).

Travel hacks | Getting there

about Hannah

Hannah Fairbanks is a freelance writer living in San Francisco with her husband and 2 daughters. When she’s not writing, you might find her reading, packing bento box lunches for her kids, and making sure she gets in at least 10,000 Fitbit steps a day.