The Perfect Family Road Trip Playlist

Summer is here! And if you’re like my family, that means – ROAD TRIPS! I grew up with family road trips and have a lot of fun memories of lying in the back of the car singing along to pop songs, and then falling asleep to my parents music and the rhythm of the road. And I love that my family gets to make our own memories on the road. Sitting in a car with a your kids doesn’t need to mean endless moaning. Plan it right and your kids may actually look forward to it, eventually.

Fill their bellies

Okay, this has nothing to do with music, but it’s important. Before you start on music, make sure you know what healthy, yummy snacks you’ll have on hand for everyone in the car. No amount of good music will tame the hungry savage beast. Have them fill up on healthy stuff from home, then when you stop at the gas station convenience store, it’ll be easier to say no to most of the junk food. And with happy full bellies they will all then be more agreeable to listening to someone else’s choice in music. Well, that’s the hope at least.

Let everyone pick songs for the road trip

So let’s get to the music. My main advice is to get everyone involved in planning the playlist. When I was young, we relied on mixtapes and the giant binder of CDs. Whoever made the mixtape or held the binder got to pick the music. Tell kids that today, and they may not understand what you’re talking about. But they will understand if you say you need to create a playlist. We’re lucky to now have streaming services where nearly every song ever written is at your fingertips. And since everyone in the car has chosen some of the music, at some point during the trip they will hear their music.

Build your playlists thoughtfully

What’s super easy with streaming sites, like Spotify, is that you can create several playlists for genres of music you want to choose. And genre here could just mean a particular mood, tempo, who picked the songs, or by theme of where you’re going. I have a playlist that’s for driving down the Pacific Coast Highway from San Jose to LA, and songs about particular points along the way will play pretty much when we go through the town the song is about. (I don’t recommend this for every trip, as it can be super time consuming to figure out, and I did that before children.) I love to mix up everyone’s choices and introduce my kids to songs from my childhood and teens. But you might want to put upbeat songs on one road trip playlist, sing-alongs on another, and quiet naptime songs on another. It’s up to you how to mix them up. If you fancy yourself a bit of a DJ, you can mix them up by how well they go together, you can just order them from A-Z, or sort them by artist.

Make the lists all ages friendly

Balancing the choices of everyone in the car can be challenging, especially if you have a very wide age range of kids in the car. Here you might want to have some firm rules on content depending on the age ranges, depending how you feel about the music choices. I know that what a 17 year old can listen to is vastly different than what a 5 year old can. It’s hard to resist the urge to let the older ones just listen to songs on their phone, but listening to songs together can be a fun bonding experience. Especially, if you talk about the songs from your childhood that you chose and what you were doing during that time in your life.

Have fun!

That’s your main goal – have fun! It doesn’t need to be a party the whole time, but you should have fun choosing the songs for your road trip.


Written by Amelia Vitarelli, owner and educator of My Little Conservatory in San Jose, CA. Amelia has be enriching the lives of children in Silicon Valley for over 20 years.