Road Trip Essentials (when you’ve got the kids in tow)

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For our family, summers mean some serious time on the road. Whether it’s 2-3 hour trips to visit family and friends or a 10+ hour road trip to get the beach, our minivan racks up the miles in June through August. And I’ll be honest, our van’s DVD player gets a workout on these trips. Especially for the shorter drives. But watching movie after movie makes us all go a little crazy. Buddy gets glassy eyed, Turtle gets antsy (and when she’s antsy she TALKS) and I get annoyed because I’m the kid-wrangler while Micah drives. So I’ve got my own set of road trip essentials that make our car rides as pleasant as possible.

First, snacking in the car

No matter how long we’ll be in the car, my husband likes to pack enough food to survive a week in the wild. For whatever reason, as soon as the keys are in the ignition, him and the kids turn into eating machines. While I’m not one to judge another person’s manic intake of food, when it comes to being in the car I’m a bit of a micro-manager. Because, well, input leads to output and I like to keep bathroom stops to a minimum. Here’s what and how we pack.

The food

  • Peanut butter sandwiches
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Clementines
  • Homemade chicken or beef jerky
  • Ham (for longer rides)
  • Gallon of milk (for longer rides)
  • Cheez-Its or Goldfish

The packing

  • Itzy Ritzy Snack Bags: We try to use reusable bags as much as possible. We’ve tried a couple different kinds but Itzy Ritzy is by far our favorites. They have tons of prints and are super easy to clean. We prefer their 7×7 bag because it fits everything we need.

  • CamelBak eddy Kids: Turtle and Buddy both adore their CamelBaks. Again, they’re super easy to clean and, like all CamelBaks, can take a beating. Buddy’s had his for almost 3 years and we’ve only had to replace the bite valve once (he kept sticking his finger in it when we first got it and it tore). They do sweat (like all un-insulated water bottles) but they’re still the best bottles we’ve come across for the kids.

  • YETI 20oz Rambler: This one’s for the adults. The 20oz is the perfect size for a cup holder. It keeps cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot. We use our YETIs almost every day.

Second, the constants

I have a weird thing about packing lightly and get unreasonably upset if I pack something that goes unused. I approach packing as if I have a finite amount of cubic footage that I can use over my lifetime. And I don’t want to waste it on a pair of shoes that I might not wear. But there are some things that live in our van, no matter what.

  • Travel Potty: This is by far and away the best purchase I’ve made as a parent. It’s a potty that folds up and fits under our driver seat that uses gallon-size plastic bags as the “catcher”. I know I said I like to use reusable bags but when you have to stop on a side road for a potty emergency, it’s nice to be able to zip it up and toss it.

  • Back-up Bag: This bag contains an extra set of anything you would find in a typical diaper bag, plus other stuff we might need for the car. Diapers, wipes, an extra set of clothes for each kid, sunscreen, bug spray, a towel and my baby carrier. This guy lives in the car and has saved us when our diaper bag gets depleted or we forget to pack something for our trip.

  • Activity Bag: A traveling craft bag for the car. It’s filled with coloring books, crayons, washable markers and kids’ meal-type toys. It obviously comes in handy for long road trips but has proven itself worthy for a regular spot in the van when we’re stuck waiting unexpectedly (restaurant, doctor’s office, traffic, etc.).

  • Cookie Sheet: While it might seem like a strange must-have in the car, our cookie sheets are used more often than you might think. Each child has their own and they use it as a desk and a plate. Need to eat on the road but don’t want crumbs all over the place? Cookie sheet catches most of it. Kids want to color but you don’t want marker all over the car seats? Cookie sheet can take the marker heat. Find the cheapest one you can and you won’t regret it.

Third, the books and games

If there is ever a time for screen time, I think road trips are it. While I try to make sure my kids have plenty of unplugged fun in their lives, I also think we should take advantage of the technology we have available. And there’s no better time when you’re trapped in a metal box together. So DVDs are a must for us. And if we didn’t have a DVD player in the van, we would get a travel one. But I don’t like to let the kids watch movie after movie because they just get weird. And they don’t sleep (most important). So we try to break up our movie-watching with fun things to do in between.

Prepping for the drive requires some thought and it’s always helpful to have a fun road trip activity in your arsenal. As the kids get older, they get better and better at entertaining themselves in the car. But I still pack “special” things for every long trip. As an educational consultant for both Discovery Toys and Usborne Books & More, I’m lucky to have a big selection of things to choose from.

Books are the easiest to pack and are already designed for sitting. But while I can usually read in the car without motion sickness issues, it’s difficult to read to little people who like to see and touch every page. But I wouldn’t be a good book lady if I didn’t have a small library of books my kids can enjoy on their own!

Books I showed you and when I showed them:

Discovery Toys also has some great travel games that are good in the car and great for your final destination.

  • Kidnoculars (3+): There’s so much to see on the road! Let your kids go exploring from their car seat with the only binoculars specifically designed for kids!

  • Family Talk (3+); Simply pick a card, ask the question and get a surprising and often hilarious glimpse into the hearts and minds of your family members.

  • Are We There Yet? (6+): This simple and fun travel game can best be described as Eye Spy on the road. Comes with 108 double-sided small travel cards.

  • Tricky Fingers (7+): Race to match a pattern on the puzzle box! The perfect 1-2 player game for the car.

  • Solitaire Chess (8+): This game combines the rules of traditional chess and peg solitaire. With 80 spiral bound challenges, your kids will get hooked on this fun logic game!

  • Tut’s Tablet (8+): A brain-teaser puzzle treasure hung that is more addictive than I would like to admit.

  • Farkel (8+): While this one may be tough to play in the car, it’s portability makes it a great hotel game! This family dice game is quick to learn, fast-paced and high scoring.

  • Travel Blurt (10+): This travel version of the rapid word recall game comes in a nifty tin box.

If you’d like to find out more about the Discovery Toys or Usborne Books & More products mentioned here, feel free to contact me! I would love to help you select the perfect books and games for your family’s next road trip!


Tell me in the comments, what are your road trip essentials?