How to Spontaneously Drive Across the Country…With 3 Kids

“Do you want to drive to Tennessee tomorrow morning and stay for a week?” my husband asked while I was sitting in the lobby, mid-oil change.

“Umm, maybe?” I hesitantly responded.

We aren’t new to this sixteen-hour car trip from Nebraska to Tennessee to visit my parents. I had done it many times in college and we’ve done it as a family many times since. Doing it spontaneously for a week, though? That was a first.

After a few trips where you come home feeling you need to go on vacation, I’ve learned as a parent of three you’ve got to weigh the trip pros with the parenting cons – packing/unpacking/repacking for littles, absolute mayhem being wreaked on our car, and losing my sanity if I hear, “Are we there yet?” one. more. time.


I left my RSVP decision in the fate of finding a good VRBO down there…in three days…on the week before July 4th. To our great surprise we found one and, after four months of quarantining, decided a change of scenery would do us all some good. We booked on Friday night, left early on Saturday morning, and the spontaneity of, “We’re going to see Mia and Opa RIGHT NOW!!” did us all good.

If the idea of spontaneous road trip with the fam sounds appealing, but waaay too stressful to even consider, take heart. I’ve been there when we had newborn babies or 2 and 3-year-old backseat drivers.

But if you’re half considering joining the, “let’s up and go” game because you’ve been trapped at home for the past 4 months :/, here’s a few things that helped minimize the crazy on our spontaneous road trip with kids:

How To Pack for a Spontaneous Road Trip With Kids


How to spontaneously drive across the country with 3 kids via Ashley Stevens at Mountains Unmoved
Clothing and Overnight Bags
  1. Kid’s Job
    • Entertainment Bags – I have each kid fill their school backpack with their car entertainment bag – coloring books, crayons, books, toys, snacks, etc.
  2. My Jobs
    • Trip Clothing Bag – I fill our oversized luggage bag > with half of the trip’s clothing (mid-laundry for the win!) for myself and my girls. While recognizing this may prove infeasible when they (and their clothing) get bigger, right now I make rows for each of us.
    • Overnight Bag – I use a small duffel bag for what we’ll need for our first night only – PJs, new outfits for the next day, toiletries, phone charger, etc. – to make the hotel stay easier if we have to pull that card.
    • Electronics Bag – My kids became well acquainted with their iPads during spring’s school-from-home saga, so I made sure to charge them and download non-Internet friendly apps the night before.
    • Snack Box – If you’re going spontaneously, just find a box of snacks (we used our fruit snack box) and throw in all the other snacks you have in your pantry.
  3. Husband’s Jobs
    • Everything Else – His clothes, bikes, inflatable pool, fitting it all in the car Tetris style
Different trip, same concept

How To Drive With Sanity On a Spontaneous Road Trip With Kids

  1. Delay the electronic usage – To conserve battery power, because kids need to learn to read/listen to music/draw like the rest of the world did pre-smart phone era, and to MAKE SURE they are good enough to earn them for the first leg.
  2. Offer incentive to be good – Break the trip down in legs and say, if they’re good in each leg, they’ll get $1 they can choose to save or use at gas station stops
  3. If you stop, do EVERYTHING – When we get off, we get gas, eat, and use the bathroom. If you get off separately for each of these activities with kids, your trip will be 100 hours longer, trust me.

How To Stay At a Spontaneous Road Trip Destination With Kids

  1. Stick as close as you can to a normal schedule – If you normally do a quiet time after lunch, try to do the same wherever you’re staying. Normalcy is a life saver when you’re away from home.
  2. Let them be spoiled – If their grandparents want to take them out for ice cream twice a day or let them watch way too much TV, let them. It is, after all, vacation.
  3. Do laundry at the halfway point – If it’s an option, do laundry in the middle of the trip to 1) minimize what you have to pack and 2)make you come back with less dirty laundry to wash.
  4. Rinse/repeat the overnight bag on the way – We ended up driving 16 hours straight because my husband’s a boss, but pack it again just in case a hotel stay is need.

We were blessed to spend a full eight days down in Tennessee and, for me, it was worth every second of the spontaneous 32-hour round trip drive.

If everything in you doesn’t think you were made to handle a spontaneous road trip with the kiddos, give it a try. I bet they (and you) can handle more than you think.

Praying you all are having good, relaxing summers. What other tips have helped on your road trips with kids?