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15 Tips for Surviving a Road Trip with Teens

Road trip: a long-distance journey traveled by automobile. Is this really the definition of a road trip? I think the preverbal road trip has turned into much more than just driving to your destination. Yes, when I was a kid my family would pack up our station wagon (when I was real little) or converted van when I was older and we would drive. It was family time as well as the ability to see the country.

My family enjoys a good road trip every few months. We’ve traveled all over New England and have camped during these trips as well as staying in hotels. This summer we are planning a 3-week road trip south to explore some new areas.

Here are some tips I’ve picked up during our numerous road trips. I hope they help you with any of your future road trips.

Table of Contents

Essentials for a Smooth Road Trip

There are basic essentials you should make sure to have when planning a road trip. These items are typically in our car but we go through the car to make sure we have enough for our trip. There’s nothing worse than started off your trip with only 2 tissues left in your box. I also make sure to clean my car before we head out. We vacuum, wipe down all surfaces, and clean all the windows. If we are going on a winter road trip we might even get the car washed just to see how dirty it is afterward. Sort of a badge of honor for our adventure.

  • Tissues
  • Wet Wipes
  • Small trash bag
  • Car emergency kit
  • First aid kit
  • Reusable bags
  • Ziplock bags
  • A printed copy of your itinerary. This should include hotels, campgrounds, and any places we are exploring.

We print out our itinerary and address along with directions depending on where we are going. You never know when you will lose internet service and not be able to get directions even with a hot spot.

Include Your Tweens or Teens in the Planning Phase

I have found that if I ask “where do you want to go?” The kids are much more into the adventure than when I plan the whole trip. Let’s face it, kids are computer savvy these days so ask them to find places to stop along the way or at your destination. You will have a more enjoyable time if they are also invested in the trip.

map to plan a road trip
Where are you going?

If your teen doesn’t know where to start, try Only In Your State for some interesting places to explore, eat and stay. You can also encourage some exploring of our National Parks in any state you are driving through. Alltrails will help you plan hiking adventures and geocaching is a fun way to add some fun scavenger hunting to the mix.

If you are new to geocaching here are the basics of geocaching and if you would like to take the fun to the next level add a trackable to your family geocaching account.

Before You Go on Your Road Trip

One of the things my family has struggled with is overpacking, especially when we camp. It is after all a road trip and you can bring… well, everything AND the kitchen sink. We’ve packed our car so tight that our kids have no leg room, literally. One kid has had a propane tank at their feet and the other has had a cooler at their feet.

We’ve learned we all need more space and the longer the trip the more room we all want. So, this is when you take a good look at the length of your trip and how many people will be in your car. The more room each tween/teen has the happier they will be. Seriously consider renting a larger car if you will be packed in. You will be happier in the long run.

Also make sure to get a good night sleep before you go. You can avoid crabby tweens/teens by being well rested.

Pack Snacks & Water

Snacks are a personal preference but I’ve learned to opt for more healthy snacks over just candy. We do pack fruit but I limit that to apples, grapes, blueberries, and cherries. Apple cores can be thrown out the window because they decompose. It’s not considered littering. For the cherries, I pack a small container with a top to put the pits in. We also include popcorn, pretzels, and dried fruits and nuts.

We also pack gum. It helps our older daughter to stay calm and helps with fidgeting.

eating on a road trip
Road Trips also means eating the local favorite flavors.

We pack a water bottle for everyone plus I add a few extra bottles of water just in case. If we want coffee we generally stop along the route. You can always sign up for FETCH rewards and get free gift cards just for uploading any receipt from any store. If you use this code 5R4NA you will automatically receive 2,000 points just for signing up. It’s amazing how fast you can get gift cards. I generally opt for Starbucks gift cards. It’s a special treat especially when we are on a road trip.

When stopping at convenience stores, I don’t automatically buy snacks for everyone. We go by everyone’s behavior. If they have been helpful, pleasant, and not fighting they are welcome to get something. However, if not, they really haven’t made the drive easier so my wallet stays closed.

Comfy Items Needed

I remember taking a road trip with my 3 cousins and for part of the trip, my younger cousin and I switched cars. Until then I never slept on a road trip but it was all my cousins wanted to do. Nowadays I have my kids bring a small pillow and a sweatshirt so they can get comfy, especially if we will be driving into the night. It’s no fun to be tired and not be able to catch some zzzs.

Slip-On Shoes

This is huge. My kids kick off their shoes immediately upon getting in the car. To make gas station stops quicker, make sure everyone has a pair of slip-on shoes. These can be anything from flip-flops to rain boats, honestly, anything without laces will work.

Everyone Must Go

This refers to the “I don’t have to go” for the bathroom break only for the same kid to say, 3 miles down the road, “Oh, I really need to go now”. To avoid this make sure even when they say they don’t need to go that they try. My younger one goes all day without using the toilet but when I make her try she can always go. It just avoids you needing to stop again so soon.

Road Trip Car Games

My mom always called our road trips family time and that means games. Because of this, my family plays car games. Everything from looking for state license plates to the alphabet game. Here is a great list of different car games you can play.

  • I Spy
  • 20 questions
  • Would you rather
  • Scavenger hunt
  • come up with a story
  • Scategories
  • 3 truths and a lie

For the scavenger hunt, I make up lists before our trip to use. You can find Scategories lists from the internet. The game “come up with a story” is something my kids came up with. One person starts off with an opening sentence, ie. “Down by the river, a deer was drinking water” or another opening line. You take turns to add to the story, one sentence at a time.

The license plate game is just looking for all the states. We kept a list to see if we were still missing by the end of the trip. It was always thrilling when we found Alaska and Hawaii. It’s super fun to walk around campgrounds looking for different states and Disney is the best.

The alphabet game is about finding each letter of the alphabet in turn. We’ve always struggled with Q and Z but you do find them with cars like the Audi Q series and if you can find a Mazda you have the Z or a pizza parlor.

A few more fun car games are the rubric’s cube. My family was in a children’s museum in Vermont and they had a few cubes out to play with. And they also had the instructions to complete the cube. I sat there to work on it. I am still amazed that it can be done. Another fun car game is Mad Libs.


This is definitely a family preference but we don’t allow the girls to play games on their phones/iPad while driving. If it’s a really long drive we do download movies ahead of time that can be watched. I’d prefer for the car time to be family time but when the drive is long sometimes it’s nice to have a break. The girls both have headphones that can be used so we can listen to something else.

We try and switch off what everyone would like to listen to. We love stories on Audible or download from your local library for free. Don’t forget to check out podcasts as well. You can have fun with things like crazy things in history on this date or fun stories. We also listen to music. It’s fun to learn the words to teenager songs and have a sign-along. Of course, I like it when they will learn the words to some of my songs too.

Cameras Just for Fun

This can be a polaroid camera for a point-and-shoot version. Heck, you can even get the disposable ones. The camera is available to everyone and you can take a picture at any time. We’ve captured some really fun candid shots by leaving the camera out in the car. It’s funny seeing what is on the memory card after the trip.

Bring Stamps

Also, bring the addresses of all your teens friends. Yes, it’s old fashion but my kid’s friends have always said “thanks for the postcard” when we return from our trip. It’s also a great way for you to sneak in a postcard to the grandparents as well.

Coloring Book and Canyons

Not the little kids kind. The new ‘adult type’ of coloring books and colored pencils. This is a very relaxing activity and can be done while listening to music, a story on Audible, or a podcast. We either put our pencils in a zip lock bag between the kids to share or in their original box. We also bring a clipboard for the kids to lean on so the book is flat. All easily stored in teens backpack. And don’t forget a pencil sharpener.

Take Breaks

Now this seems obvious to some and annoying to others. However, I think it’s healthier to get a 30 mins break in, stretch your legs and walk around than get cranky because you are still in the car. Bring a frisbee or soccer ball or even a jump rope and get in a bit of exercise.

play frisbee

This really helps to break up the monotony of the drive. You can also make this your meal break too. If you make it more of a picnic type stop you can play frisbee at the same time. This really kills two birds with one stone.

Prepare for Motion Sickness While on Your Road Trip

This one isn’t fun to deal with at all but it’s best to be prepared ahead of time. I keep zip lock bags in my car at all times. You just never know when someone isn’t going to feel well. Plus it’s the easiest way to get rid of it rather than having to clean up the car which never seems to get rid of the smell.

Things that have worked for us to ward off motion sickness are:

  • Always face the direction you are going
  • Keep your eyes looking forward at the horizon
  • Change seats in the car, sometimes it’s better if you sit in the front seat
  • Open the windows to get free air
  • Snack on crackers, pretzels, or chips
  • Suck on a lollipop
  • Drinking water or a soda
  • Distraction with music or a conversation
  • If your teen has their license allow them to drive for a bit
  • Motion sickness pills, but these must be taken ahead of time

Hotel with a Pool – A Must on a Road Trip

Or a campground with a pool. Honestly, either way works but having a pool at the end of your drive gives you something to look forward to. It also allows you to relax and have some fun. It releases lots of tension and makes the drive worth all the work. Don’t underestimate the power of the pool.

Hotel pool on a road trip
Don’t you want to take a dip?

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Final Thoughts on Your Road Trip with Teens

I’ve hope these ideas will help you in planning your road trip with your tweens & teens. And remember everyone should enjoy the trip so even if they want to go see the Bad Art Museum in Massachusetts or International Banana Museum in California, the trip is about all of you being together and having fun. Sometimes it’s just best to go with the flow.

What is your best tip for a good road trip with tweens and teens?

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Marianne

    I can definitely agree to needing hotels with pools during any roadtrip! We have stayed at a few places without, and nothing gets the kids grumpier, than knowing they are stuck in the hotel room! LOL. Will look into a couple of the games, as we will be hitting the road next month!

    1. Leeanne

      I totally agree with grumpy kids when they don’t have a pool. I hope you like the games.

  2. Kristen

    These are great ideas for traveling with teens! I did that last year and I love the ideas you have here like having them help plan the trip and finding hotels with pools.

    1. Leeanne

      I’ve learned my lesson by not having a hotel pool. Now I make sure there is one.

  3. kmf

    These are such great tips on how to survive a road trip with teens. Also great ideas for adults.

    1. Leeanne

      lol, sometimes it’s good to remember we need to add everyone into the planning stage as well as get them a pool.

  4. Jennifer

    Some good tips for a road trip with teens. I find that I need to look at the horizon so that I don’t get motion sick. And, driving is better than being a passenger. I didn’t realize taking snacks is a way to help prevention.

    1. Leeanne

      Yes, even when on a boat you can nibble on crackers to help ward off motion sickness.

  5. This brought me back to when I did a road trip with my teens, about 15 years ago. The girls were 15 and 13, and we were gone, car camping, for 8 weeks – their entire summer vacation. People thought I was nuts, but the 3 of us had the best time!
    When we stopped, they set up camp while I prepared supper. The strategy in the car was, we listened to books on tape borrowed from Cracker Barrel (just paid once, and kept swapping them out). Plus, they navigated using maps, and my eldest daughter did all her practice driving. We went from New Mexico, to Philly, to upstate New York, to the Jersey Shore, DC, and meandered back to NM. Great times.

    1. Leeanne

      Wow, that sounds like an epic road trip. We used to do a lot of road trips when I was a kid and we had the same routine at the campground. Only it was my brothers and me setting up camp, my dad cooked and my mom put her feet up. The theory was that mom did everything when we were home so she got a break on vacation.

  6. Lisa Manderino

    Including them in the planning process is huge! Makes such a difference!

    1. Leeanne

      I totally agree. I love it when my teens are investing in the trip.

  7. Julie Gazdecki

    Great tips for surviving the road trip with teens. We’ve done plenty!

    1. Leeanne

      Thanks, Julie. I know you and your family road a lot just like us.

  8. Kendra

    These are great tips for surviving a road trip with teens. I’ve got one teen left, and sadly he’s not able to join us on our road trip this summer, but I love these ideas!

    1. Leeanne

      Thanks, I hope he gets to go with you next summer.

  9. Deepa Kartha

    Great ideas for road trip with teens! I personally feel stuffing lots of snacks and water bottles is a good thing since children get hungry anytime and anywhere. And drinking plenty of water is also good to keep them hydrated.

  10. Pranitaa

    Going on a road trip with a family is always pleasure. But sometimes the experience may get bitter if luck isn’t in a friendly mood. By following your tips, we can make the road trip safe to some extent.

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