Holiday road trip activities + tips

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Taylor Covington

Content Researcher

As aqualitative researcher for The Zebra, Taylor collected, organized, and analyzed data to shine a light on trends in the insurance industry and bey…

happy holidays from The Zebra


Santa's coming to town — and so are you and all the kiddos! While the road trip to Grandma's might start out full of festive cheer, the excitement from traveling and seeing family can wear off pretty quick in a cramped car, flipping through the radio stations, and eating Doritos. When traveling with children, those minutes seem to drag on and the miles feel endless — unless you've got a little Christmas magic to brighten the day!

In this guide, you'll find ways to:

  • Keep the kids entertained (electronics free),
  • Delicious snacks to keep the holiday spirit going,
  • How to prep yourself and your car for the cold weather
  • How to stay comfortable - even after hour five of driving!

There are also some suggestions for some holiday podcasts, tunes, and books, (both in physical copy and audio format) so that you and your spouse can keep on trekking even after the kids have fallen asleep.

No matter where you're going this holiday season, stay warm, awake, and excited because this season really is the most wonderful time of the year.


How to prep for a holiday road trip

Long before you load up the car with luggage, toys, and treats, there are several steps you can take to make sure this road trip will go as smoothly as possible. While you can't prevent every speed bump or dirty diaper, there are a couple of things you can take care of ahead of time.

Check out this list of games and activities to keep the family busy for hours!

  1. Memory Game– Let your kids look at the pictures for two minutes, then have them draw as many as they can from memory!
  2. Maze Coloring Page– Watch out for the road signs and try to get home!
  3. Airplane Coloring Sheet– For aspiring pilots, this coloring sheet will keep younger children busy scribbling!
  4. Restaurant I Spy– Feeling hungry? This game is a great way to pick out a lunch spot!
  5. Crayola Coloring Sheets– With so many to choose from, your child will never get tired of coloring these scenes!
holiday road trip snacks


Best holiday travel snacks

Sure, the easiest answer to a vehicle full of hunger moans is to stop and grab junk food at the next gas station. But soon will come the sugar high (from rowdy to raceous) then the sugar crash (from gleeful to grouchy). However, with some simple food prep, you can make a variety of healthy snacks for your kids and prevent that strenuous sugar crash.

Here are some easy recipes you can make ahead of time.

  1. Holiday Trail Mix:

    This recipe calls for a lot of sweet treats. If you'd like, replace the white chocolate chips with yoghurt-covered pretzels for something a little healthier. Just stick to the holiday color code and you'll be fine!

  2. Pumpkin Muffins:

    Nothing says "holiday fun" like the smell of warm pumpkin bread. These ones are naturally gluten-free, sweetened with maple syrup, quick and easy to make, and perfectly pumpkin-y.

  3. Rosemary-Parmesan Popcorn:

    Reminiscent of decorating the tree with popcorn, this easy snack is sure to become a family favorite.

  4. A Fun Twist to an Old Classic:

    This one will take a little more time to prepare, but it'll definitely be worth it. Make the classic favorite, a PB and J sandwich, then use some holiday cookie cutters to turn these snacks into magical memories. We suggest using the star, snowman, christmas tree, and reindeer cookie cutter.


Make the best of road trip weather

If you and the family are headed into colder weather, then packing for a road trip will look a little different. In addition to all the scarves Grandma ever knitted you, there are couple of items that will make the trip easier and enjoyable. With some extra care, you can outsmart that unpredictable road trip weather!

In addition to any required medication (like an inhaler or aspirin), you might want to run by your local apothecary or pharmacy and pick up a few additional vitamins to keep you healthy and awake on your drive into the snow:

  1. Vitamin D helps with counteracting Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, that affects people often in deep winter with a lack of sunlight.
  2. Vitamin C boosts your immune system while traveling for long periods of time. Be sure to bring some extra oranges, grapefruit, and strawberries to keep your immune levels strong.
  3. Vitamin E helps your body fight off infection naturally. Foods with vitamin E include nuts, seeds, and spinach.

Outside of food and extra vitamins, keep car temperature at about 60-70 degrees to help with your brain's serotonin production and sleep-wake cycles. Plus, you might want to buy an extra portable or in-car charger for your phone. While we mostly use our phones to fight off angry birds, if you're caught in a snow drift, you'll desperately need a working phone to call for help. You can also use your phone and some of these fancy weather predicting apps to keep yourself out of those snow drifts in the first place. But if worse comes to worse, be sure to have an extra hand-held radio, some road flares, and an emergency kit in the trunk — just in case.


Treat yo' self on a family road trip

Once the kids are fed, entertained, and quiet, remember to do some self-care for you and your driver. Driving can be extremely stressful — traffic, bad weather, cramped positions — without the nagging anticipation of getting to your destination. So, we've whipped up some quick solutions to fight off that day-trip drive ickiness.


Comfort where you can get it

When you're stuck in a car for five or more hours, there's really no such thing as frumpy. Wear what makes you happy and more importantly, comfortable!

  1. If you ever needed an excuse to wear yoga pants all day, here is your excuse! Wearing loose, non-form-fitting clothes can actually help with digestion and blood flow.
  2. Pack some compression socks. Turns out, compression socks aren't just for the elderly. In fact, they promote blood flow to and from your feet and keep your muscles from getting sore after hours of inactivity.
  3. Bring along a cooling eye mask. The car is a difficult place to get quality shut-eye. If you crave darkness while you sleep, consider a soft, thick eye mask, which will block out light and help you get the rest you need. The cooling part reduces puffy eyes and is more relaxing.
  4. Until that lucky lottery ticket, chances are you won't have someone massaging your feet on the long trip to Grandma's. But you can get the next best thing: arch supportive shoes. An arch-specific shoe insert improves your body's alignment which will help reduce strain and muscle soreness in your feet.  


How to stay comfortable and relieve soreness during a road trip

  1. Stretch when and where you can. Twist your back gently. Flex your toes to the front of the car. Push your heels down and stretch your calves.
  2. Tennis balls also work in the seat of a car. On a driving break, find a hard surface level with your back (or use your car seat while on the go), place a tennis ball between it and your back, then gently roll your back over the tennis ball.
  3. Truck drivers use lumbar pillows and so should you. It's a good idea to use a pillow behind the small of your back, as it provides lumbar support and prevents back pain, so you'll feel more comfortable sitting in a car seat for longer periods of time.


Stay awake with healthy decisions

  1. Drink lot of water! Remember to bring bottled water for everyone in the car and be sure to refill them at rest stops.
  2. According to the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, the body's cortisol production peaks between 8 AM and 9 PM, making 9:30 AM the best time to down a cup of coffee. Cortisol is the body stress hormone and coffee helps activate the natural response.
  3. Avoid snacks with over 10 grams of sugar. Keep your sweet tooth at bay if you need to stay alert. A candy bar or soda will give you a quick burst of energy, but you'll find yourself crashing soon after. Instead, choose foods low on the glycemic index like nuts, dried fruits, or healthy sandwiches to keep yourself full, but not so full that you find yourself in a food coma.
  4. Eat foods high in protein like hard-boiled eggs, almonds or breakfast bars. Though your first instinct may be to down an energy drink or coffee when you're feeling groggy, healthier alternatives will provide more sustained energy. If you need a pick-me-up, try protein-enriched foods like hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, oranges, nuts, or even dark chocolate!


Perfect podcasts for your holiday road trip

All of these are kid-friendly and parent-approved. From some hilarious department store stories, to more in-depth personal interest episodes, these podcasts are sure to keep everyone entertained. And hey, you may even learn something!


5 holiday podcasts for road trip

Magical radio stations and playlists for Christmas cheer

“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loudly for all to hear!” If a guy who grew up in the North Pole said it, then it must be true. Snuggle (and buckle) up with this list of your favorite holiday tunes!

  1. Mix 93.1 in Virginia has officially started playing 24/7 Christmas music! And anyone who says it's too early for Christmas music is just an old Scrooge! Crank that radio and listen to your favorite holiday music as long as you can take it.
  2. Pandora has joined in on the holiday fun and provided a list of all of their Christmas channels. With options like jazz, country, and rockin' holiday channels, there's something for everybody.
  3. If you have kids, you've probably heard of Zendaya. She and a bunch of other Disney stars got together and made some cheery holiday tracks. You can find that playlist here on Apple music.
  4. Spotify has got you covered with their Holiday Magic playlist. Fa-la-la-la-all in love all over again with classics like Frosty the Snowman, Christmas Don't Be Late, and Santa Claus is coming to Town.

Best Christmas audiobooks for the long road trip to Grandma's

What's Christmas without a good book? No Christmas I want to be a part of, that's for sure! So here are some amazing audiobooks — from classics to new favorites — to enjoy on the long wintery roads. 


7 best christmas audiobooks