Riding in Cars with Kids – Keeping Sane

Here’s how it starts — I’m sitting at my computer, or in my car, and I suddenly feel trapped. I need to go somewhere, have an adventure, do something memorable. In college we would drive day and night to get somewhere new just for the sake of saying we went. Canada, New York City, Alabama, the Mississippi River.

For the most part my sights have been set a little lower since the birth of my kids, but sometimes I just need to get out of town. I have taken a three year old to a folk festival in New York. The next year I decided, with six days’ notice, that I wanted to take her again, so we went. I’ve watched her grow up measured against the Welcome to Virginia sign as we cross out of North Carolina.


Over the years I have come up with ways to make car trips run smoothly. My number one goal is to shut the kids up for five blessed minutes.

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For comfort

Noggle – I cannot say enough great things about the Noggle. I attach it to the back seat vents and to the armrest of Rowan’s seat, which gives him some much needed cool air in his rear facing car seat. Lorelei also loves to use it when I have blocked those vents with luggage.

Dramamine – You’ll notice that my list is unfortunately lacking in screens and books, and this is because Lorelei has inherited my penchant for car sickness.

Canvas bin for driver – I keep a bin of necessities within easy reach. Snacks, drinks, a few toys, a pack of baby wipes, a few diapers, and some grocery bags for trash.

For baby

Soft books – The more crinkly the better. We love this Peek-a-Boo Forest book.

Indestructible books – These books are super affordable, and truly indestructible. They may get wrinkled, but they will not tear.

Teething toys

Lightweight blanket – I use these to cover the carseat when we are out of the car so that it doesn’t get too hot.

For bigger kids

Soft art tray – Just remember that crayons will melt in a hot car.

Window markers – These are both dangerous and amazing. My tip is to make sure each one is accounted for at every rest stop, because you don’t really want them sitting on your upholstery for days. But they keep a kid entertained like whoa, and the kids feel like they are doing something a little mischievous.

Canvas bin with toys – I let Lorelei pick a handful of car-safe (read: soft) toys to take with her, and I put them in another canvas bin between the two seats so that she can reach.

MP3 player – Load it full of audio books and kid-friendly podcasts. Sparkle Stories and Brains On! are a good place to start. I recently factory reset an old Android phone and gave it to Lorelei for this purpose.

Bluetooth headphones – I love the flexibility of Bluetooth headphones. I don’t have to worry about them becoming a strangulation hazard with younger kids, but I can always use the cord if the batteries run down, or if there is no Bluetooth available.

Magnet dolls – Magnets are a road trip best friend. I get so tired of hearing screams of “I dropped my XYZ!”

Sticker books – You’ll end up with stickers all over the car and your child, but that’s worth it for the quiet time.

Water wow books – Clean. Moderately interesting. Cheap.

It’s not always blissful memories, sometimes no trick will work, and sometimes things get ugly. I have one memory of being stuck in traffic in Delaware for hours with Lorelei screaming that she wanted to get out of the car, and me finally screaming back that damn it, so did I. Or the super sketch hotel we stayed in once we finally got off the interstate that night. But I wouldn’t trade all the amazing memories we’ve made together for the erasure of those stressful times. Though, if someone wanted to take the stressful times only….

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