When Pit Stops are Far and Few Between

Photo taken on the valley floor of Death Valley, CA

When we first planned our recent spring break trip to Death Valley, CA (more on that to come!), I knew pit stops en route would be in short supply. I’d noted the lack of places to stop and play on Google Maps, and I thought I’d planned accordingly. Even so, I was concerned anew once we’d turned onto lonely I-95 shortly after our overnight in Reno, NV. For hundreds of miles, there’s simply…nothing. Nowhere to stop. Next to nowhere to eat.

At least, no place that we could consider…’family friendly’. Traveling down the center of Nevada, the only colorful landmarks we passed were, shall we say, very colorful indeed. (It did prompt one lively conversation that started like this: “Mom, why is that motel called a ‘playmate house’? Who plays there?”)

The boys and my dad standing under I-50\’s \’Shoe Tree\’ during a long car trip.

In a nutshell, not exactly where you want to pull off the road to let the kids run around.

So what do you do when confined largely to your car on long stints, whether due to weather conditions, lack of eminities (or lack of non-‘adult’ fare, as was our case)?

1. Plan ahead when possible. If you know you’ll be driving a particularly desolate stretch of highway, plan accordingly. For this trip, we bought car adaptors for the kids’ beloved Nintendo DS consoles to ensure hours of game play, and I brought along a bag of hands’-on activites, including the kids’ favorite action figures and a My Busy Kit, which was worth its weight in gold. (More on that in an upcoming review!) I helped myself to the hotel ice machine before pulling out in the morning, dumping a copious amount into our cooler filled with drinks and snacks. We also packed a loaf of bread, some cheeses and lunch meats, and a selection of chips, veggies, and hummus (all in the cooler) so we would not be reliant on restaurant fare on the road.

2. Be wary of rest stops in very rural locations. Once, while traveling solo with my three kids, I stopped at a clean (but empty) rest stop. Everything was fine until another person pulled into the complex…and the lone driver sat in the idling car watching us for too long for my comfort. Suddenly, I felt volnerable in the isolated location, and hustled my kids to our vehicle. Since then, I don’t rule out simply pulling over on a safe road-side turn-out. I let the kids take that much needed potty break (shield them with a beach towel if you must) and at least stretch their legs, all while I’m very close to my car.

3. Think outside the box. What may not look like a good pit stop to you might be your kids’ idea of heaven. We’ve stopped at fish hatcheries, dams, off-season state parks, and even a tree filled with shoes (a local landmark) when traditional pit stops have been in short supply.

4. And when all else fails, just focus on getting to your destination. The kids have all gone to the bathroom? Have enough snacks to last the distance? Have their books or games at the ready? Just GO. And don’t look back. We all know the feeling! (Just watch for speed traps!)

About the author

Pit Stops for Kids AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly at a number of travel publications, and contributes to OutdoorsNW magazine as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.




  1. We bring the Potty-on-the-Go whenever we take a car trip. In 30 seconds, we can have it setup and viola, our own portable restroom for the kids.

  2. You know, we’ve never had one of those. With three boys, we tend to just pull over and let them pee! But I’ve heard many families like them! Good tip!

  3. Cristina says:

    Thanks for this write-up on pit stops, it can be truly daunting when traveling by car. In planning for your destination, I found this site that can be helpful, 
Little Nomads. They give tips on travels with children of all ages and has an array of choices of resorts and destinations for family travel

Best Family Resorts

Leave a Comment