A 24-Hour Family Road Trip Playlist

The eclectic, joyful, and altogether weird score for family life on the road.

by Lauren Steele
Originally Published: 
Jennifer Van Meter for Fatherly

Music selection for long car trips used to be straightforward. Turn on the local classic rock (aka “dad rock“) station, skip stations during commercials, fight over all that dial-turning, and then take in 30 minutes of silence while the dust settles.

Now, you have a smartphone, meaning you can listen to anything your heart desires on demand. But instead of taking on the role of driver-DJ (not safe!), we suggest you prepare a family playlist — like the one we’ve created below.

This 24-hour playlist is broken out by seven key categories — mom and dad rock, kid tunes, “classic” rock, sing-alongs, pop music, and, of course, podcasts — with each category weighted for playing time. Feel free to run with our picks or make one more attuned to your family tastes. With all playlists, there’s one rule: Hit play and hands-off. No on-the-fly requests, no fighting over whose song is next, no skipping tracks beloved by the minority. Think of this as the eclectic, joyful, and altogether weird score for family life on the road.

Dad Rock (2 hours; 8%)

Ah, dad rock. From The Decemberists to The Smiths, Wilco to the Kinks, this is the kind of music that a teenager wouldn’t be caught dead listening to, but dads are convinced they still secretly like.

Mom Rock (2 hours; 8%)

This is basically another two hours of “dad” rock, but chosen by mom. It’s probably a little bit more current — but not really any cooler to the kids.

Kid Tunes (2 hours; 8%)

Sorry parents, you have to give in to some of this. To stay sane, listen to movie soundtracks — they were, after all, made at least in part for adults.

Classic Rock (4 hours; 12.5%)

This is a term that is weighted by the hegemony of corporate artists. For this list’s sake, let’s define it as good music that has stood up to the test of time — that your kids, you, and the grandparents could all understand. That’s why there is a glorious three hours of it on this list.

Sing Along (2 hours; 8%)

Some music is meant to listen to. Some, you should sing along to.

Pop Music (3 hours; 16%)

From Katy Perry to the Hansons, most pop music is (mostly) palatable for adults and beloved by kids.

Podcasts (6 hours; 25%)

We’re in the golden age of podcasting. Let your kids in on the storytelling, journalism, and fun shows that you listen to on your commute. No, you don’t have to get them to get through This American Life (okay, maybe one episode). Instead, meet them halfway with great kid-friendly podcasts like Wow in the World.

This American Life

  • First Day (They will love the squirrel cop, we promise.)

Wow in the World

(15-30 minutes per episode)

What If World

(15-20 minutes per episode)

  • What If World– What If There Was No Moon?
  • What If World– What If Leaves Called Big Armies to Fight Dragons and the Zombie Apocalypse Happened?
  • What If World– What If Baby Sisters Were Greek Gods and Phoenixes Turned into Tacos Instead of Ashes?
  • What If World– What If Ants Could Dance and People Could Turn Into Giants?
  • What If World– What If Puppies Had Laser Eyes and Could Fly?
  • What If World– What I f I were Raised By Dragons?

But Why?

(15-30 minutes per episode)

The Past & The Curious

(20-30 minutes per episode)

Dream Big Podcast

(30-40 minutes per episode)

Story Pirates

(30 minutes per episode)

Saturday Morning Theatre

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Want more music or something different? Check out our collection of Fatherly Spotify Family Albums — playlists curated by everyone from Ziggy Marley to Superbowl champion Steve Weatherford.

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