8 Tips to Surviving a Road Trip with Teens

This mom of three can help ensure your next road trip with teens is smooth ... or at least smoother

By Kelly Bevan McIlquham August 11, 2020

Road trips with kids can be difficult. Road trips with teenagers? Well I wish I could say it gets better, but — SPOILER ALERT —they're still kids in a car, in close proximity to each other and you, for a number of hours. 

But don't fret. As a mom of three, I've got some tips that will ensure that your next road trip with this age group is smooth ... or at least smoother. 

And for those of you parents who aren't traveling with teenagers yet? Put this in your parenting arsenal of tips and tricks for future reference. I promise you, it will come in handy one day.

NOTE: These tips should be foolproof as most are approved by my resident teen himself. 🙌🏼

1. Shorter is better

Teenagers still get bored on road trips even with all the tech gadgets available today, their ability to sleep for hours on end, and the freedom to snack to their heart's content. If you want to ensure survival, keep your road trip to three hours or less.

2. Leave early in the morning

They will grumble when you wake them up at the crack of dawn to get on the road. BUT they're tired ... AND they like to sleep. They'll fall back to sleep quickly once you're on the road, and sleeping teens means quiet road trips. Leave early!

3. Space teens out in the car

Remember those threats from your childhood of "Don't make me pull this car over?" Well, I've said it ... TO MY TEENAGERS. I'm not sure what exactly I would have done had we actually pulled over, but it seemed to work. As much as I had hoped my children would outgrow the "he's touching me" phase, at some point in the trip, someone is touching another, and that never ends well. So if you are lucky enough to have a larger car, spread them out. If not? Get creative with divider walls made of pillows. 

4. Pack plenty of food and drink

I don't know about your children, but mine can consume the equivalent of a very large horse on a two-hour road trip, so stock up. Keep their favorite beverages cold in a cooler. Pack a sandwich or two so they won't be hounding you to pull over every time they see a McDonald's sign. Bribe them with their favorite snacks — Swedish fish, chocolate, goldfish crackers, chips, licorice. Believe me, full teens are tired teens, and I've already told you tired teens are a parent's dream on road trips. 

5. Bring ALL the technology

Gone are the days of relying on "I Spy" and 30 minutes of time spent vying to be the first to find "something that begins with X." Technology rules this age group, and technology is your friend on road trips. So make sure they make a list, check it twice, and pack EVERYTHING they need — don't forget extra game controllers, cell phone chargers, portable battery chargers, and headphones. I know we're teaching them to be responsible for themselves, but I advise in this case doublechecking their list. Because if they forget their chargers or headphones? You'll be without yours, or they'll be asking you what percentage of charge you're at every five minutes so they can take it away from you as soon as you get to 40 percent. 

6. Create a road trip playlist everyone will groove to

Most teenagers love their music. Most teenagers would like to crank up the volume, especially the bass, on your car radio to play a song you likely can't stand. So create a road trip playlist before you leave. Make it songs you all can get behind (no matter what they tell you they do know, and like, many of your '80s and '90s favorites). Singalongs will create some lasting memories. I still remember a road trip to Maine when I was younger, stuck in traffic for an hour, windows open, rocking out with my friend and our moms to Meatloaf's "Paradise by the Dashboard Light."

7. Make sure they're comfy

Comfy teens are happy teens ... and sleepy teens. I know. I know. I'm getting kind of repetitive here, but load up on sleep supplies. You know — pajama pants, sweatpants and sweatshirts, fuzzy blankets, and big fluffy pillows. And if they still sleep with a stuffed animal, but won't admit it, throw that in, too. If they're not comfortable, you'll hear about it. Yes folks, teenagers still whine!

8. Be prepared for that last 30 minutes

No matter what you do — your teenagers are well-fed, well-rested, and they've got a game room-sized supply of tech gadgets — they will still be antsy. Since my kids were little, those 30 minutes before we arrive anywhere becomes the bewitching half-hour. No matter if it was a one hour trip or a six hour trip, my kids —  like clockwork — become, well, for lack of a better word, obnoxious — 30 minutes before we arrive at our destination. They poke. They giggle. They joke. They're loud. They kick seats. They throw things. They seem to develop an eerie screeching cackle that reaches decibels you thought were impossible. So just be prepared. It this does happen, it's annoying, but I can guarantee you'll never forget those moments — for better or for worse.

Are we there yet?