How to Survive a 37 Hour Road Trip with a Teen

We love to travel. After a year of being homebound because of the pandemic, we decided to take a road from Tucson, AZ to the Black Hills of South Dakota trip. It was our first family road trip in 6 years and our longest family road trip yet. When all was said and done, we survived a 37 hour road trip with a teen!

After being confined in a car with a teenager for hours and hours on end, I am sharing with you my Top 10 Tips for surviving a road trip with teen. Buddy is also sharing his Top 3 tips for surviving a road trip with parents as well.

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Mom’s Tips for a Road Trip with a Teen

1. Have your teen help with trip planning

It can be challenging to get teens excited and motivated to do anything. That includes travel and exploring new places. Involving teens in trip planning means that they are more likely to be interested and engaged when exploring new places.

What does this look like?

Yvonne and Buddy in their packed car surviving a 37 hour road trip with a teen. Buddy is the teen!
On our road trip!

Sometimes Buddy helps us choose a destination. If the family is voting on a place to visit or where to stay and what to do, we ask him for his input and take his preferences into consideration. I also show him YouTube videos of destinations before we travel to get him interested and engaged.

Other times, this means we give him a paper map and ask him to navigate and give us directions. Yes, we did get lost, but only once. And it was nothing that we couldn’t easily undo. We have only done this domestically.

For international travel, when he was younger, I bought these travel guides. One for London and one for Paris. Buddy read these leading up to and on a family trip to Europe.

2. Pack lots of easy to access snacks

Pack lots of snacks and keep them in a place that is easy for teens to access in the car.

In addition to a well-stocked cooler, we traveled with a small storage container with a lid packed with non-perishable healthy snacks (granola bars, apples and oranges, jerky, trail mix). I prefer a clear container so that Buddy can see what was in the box and reach for it rather than rummage through the box and create a mess!

3. Share the radio

Let’s face it, not everyone in the family is going to want to listen to the same music for the entirety of a road trip. So how do you overcome the battle for the radio?

I am happy to share what worked for us. Radio take overs!

During the road trip to South Dakota, each passenger would take over the radio for 1 hour at a time. When that person’s hour was up, we move on to the next. This was a way to ensure that everyone had a chance to listen to something pleasing to them. We downloaded music and podcasts from Spotify and shared the radio, rotating every hour. It was a great way for us to experience and learn about each other’s music. I had a great time introducing Buddy to some oldies.

However, 37 hours is a long time, and after a few hours of dubstep, I needed the next recommendation.

4. Pack headphones

If you can only take a few hours of your teen’s music of choice. Or if you just want to sleep when it isn’t your turn to drive, headphones are a must!

Buddy and Yvonne on a road trip. Comfort is key on a road trip with a teen.
Buddy on the road with his pillow.

I took two sets of headphones on the road trip, the XM4s, which were great for falling asleep on the road, and my earbuds, which I used to do yoga at the campgrounds. Either type works for a quiet moment!

5. Keep them comfortable

Having comfortable, yet durable, pillows and blankets are very important if you want your teen to sleep on the road. The more time the spend sleeping, the less time they are asking those dreaded four words, Are we there yet?

6. Pack books

Although traveling with books can be cumbersome, especially on flights as hard copies of books can take up precious space on a carry on. However, it is nice to have something to read in case of travel delays. And the best thing about books is, you don’t have to charge them!

That said, we always travel with books. Given that this was a road trip, and we were not limited by the amount of books that we could bring in the car, Buddy packed four books to read on the trip. All of which he finished. Some of these books he packed were on his school’s recommended summer reading list and they were:

When Buddy was younger, he always traveled with a copy of one of his Diary of a Wimpy Kid Books.

Reading at our campsite at Badlands NP. A green book with yellow and red in the foreground. In the background the landscape of Badlands National Park.
Reading at our campsite at Badlands NP

I also traveled with the book Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, which I read during the brief moments of relaxation at the campsite. Unlike Buddy, I cannot read in the car.

7. Yes, take the teen’s phone

As much as I would have loved for this to have been a phone free road trip, it was very important to Buddy that he stayed connected with friends back home. That meant posting photos of his trips to social media. Buddy was allowed to carry his phone to take photos and one hour of screens per day on the trip. Although he snuck a few hours in here and there! Check out our Vlog for candid moments of Buddy’s screen sneaking!

At the time of the trip, Buddy’s phone did not have a SIM card and only works with WIFI, which helped limit the screen time to WIFI areas only.

8. Give them chores & responsibilities

Oh geez! Every teen is gonna love to hear this!

I know, I know bear with me.

When you arrive at your destination for the evening, your teen may have pent up energy from sitting in a car all day. We channeled this energy by putting Buddy to work!

A tent and cabin camping road trip is not a vacation at the beach! It involves a lot of packing and unpacking of tents and preparing and cooking meals. Buddy was responsible for helping to unload and pack up the car, setting up the tent, helping with meal prep, washing dishes, and throwing the trash each day.

Buddy wears a read shirt and holds a red plate as he washes dishes at a campsite in Badlands National Park. The
Buddy washing dishes our campsite at Badlands National Park, SD

Buddy also had to complete one page of activities from the Summer Bridge Activities Workbook each weekday when we were on vacation. He has been completing these workbooks each summer since 1st grade. He must complete the work even when we travel.

As much as he dislikes this activity, which was recommended to us by an aunt who is a teacher, every fall he comes home saying he is glad he did the workbook. This is because he understands what is happening in school.

9. Start them young, if you can

If at all possible, start them young. The earlier that kiddos begin traveling, either by car or by plane, the easier it will be for them to travel as teens.

Teens who traveled as kids are accustomed to sitting for hours on end, carrying their own suitcase and backpack, packing and living out of a suitcase. This will make it easier for parents on longer trips.

10. Have fun and enjoy these moments!

You are building memories to last a lifetime. Enjoy every moment you can, no matter how crazy making they check out our Movement Postcards to see how silly 37 hours on the road together made us!

Soon your teen will be all grown up and these road trips will be cherished memories.


Buddy sleeping in the car on a road trip.  Encourage sleep when on a long road trip with a teen.

Buddy’s Tips

1. Bring Headphones

You will want headphones because you will get annoyed with your parents real quick.

2. Sleep

Sleep in the car because you will get tired from going everywhere and seeing new places.

3. Phone

Use your phone so you can talk to friends and do things when you are bored.


Are you planning a road trip with your teen? Where are you headed? Let us know in the comments below.

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