Prepping for a road trip with kids

road trip

I don’t want to sound like I wish life away, but I look forward to summer vacation all year round. And guess what? We hit the road on Saturday! This year, we’re heading to Hilton Head, SC and have a 10+ hour road trip ahead of us. With 2 kids under 4, I’m prepping more for the car ride than for the beach!

My Ride

road trip my ride

If you know me at all, you know that I am a proud minivan owner. You just can’t beat cup holders galore, stow-and-go seating and built-in DVD players. I’ll be honest, though. I wasn’t gung-ho about the DVD player. I thought it would be another thing to fight over and another thing that could break. Boy, was I wrong. We have very strict ground rules that we only watch movies on long drives and. luckily, it’s never been an issue. I guess it could still break but it has made our weekend road trips to visit family (usually 2-3 hour drives) so much easier that the risk is worth it.

⇒ Do your kids need motivation to get in the car? “As soon as you get your shoes on and get in the car, we can watch a movie!”

⇒ Got a kid who refuses to pee before you hit the road? “We can’t start the movie unless you go potty!”

⇒ Kids acting up in the backseat? You don’t need to threaten to turn the car around! Just hit the pause button!

But even the magic DVD player cannot be relied on for a 10-12 hour road trip. My screen-time rules are much more lax when we’re in the car but that’s a loooong time for Buddy (3.5) to be staring at a screen. That’s an even longer time for Turtle (1.5) to be staring at the back of her seat. She stays pretty entertained with h er mirror but I can’t expect that to last. I need a plan.

My Plan

road trip pack list


You may think I’m being overdramatic, here, but let me tell you why I take this so seriously. We will have a total of 6 days at the beach. That’s a nice stretch. But those 6 days are capped on both ends by this drive. I don’t want to get to the beach so tired, stressed and annoyed with my family that I can’t enjoy the first day. And leaving the beach behind is sad enough. I don’t want the trip to end in complete misery. I just want this drive to be tolerable. I’m not expecting fun, or exciting or anything unrealistic. “Good enough” is my motto for parenting and road trips.

It’s worth noting that I’m a minimalist when it comes to packing. I get irrationally frustrated when I come home from a trip and have items in my suitcase I didn’t touch. That’s precious luggage square footage I won’t ever get back! When I travel for work, I pick out one pair of shoes and plan all work outfits around them. I want extra space in my carry-on the same way I like extra space in my closets. I never intend to fill it. It just makes me happy to know that there is extra space if needed. This is all to say, I’m not throwing things in my van willy-nilly. I’ve thought these things through.

My plan is to do some sort of activity in between movies. Obviously, we’ll be taking advantage of all those Discovery Toys and Usborne Books I’ve been collecting.

Snacks and meals will also be provided (duh). But that’s dependent on the food left in the pantry after dinner on Friday!

Buddy’s Road Trip Essentials

  • Cars: Buddy’s favorite toys are his cars. He will get to pick 4 cars to bring with him on this trip, which he can have in his seat.
  • Chalkboard Clipboard: A chalkboard clipboard is super easy to make. You can find a cheap clipboard at the Dollar Store or steal one from a family member (thanks, Mom!) and paint a mini chalkboard in the middle. I used Rust-Oleum Chalkboard paint from Home Depot (affiliate link). It went on super easy and was less than $10. Since I need this for our trip on Saturday, I painted the chalkboard on Monday. You need to wait 3 days before drawing on the chalkboard! We’ll pack the clipboard, chalk, some paper and a 4-pack of crayons so Buddy can get artsy in the car.

road trip clipboardroad trip clipboard

  • Toys/Games: Buddy is old enough now to be able to play simple games in the car. We still have to think about number of pieces and risk of dropping but it’s less of an issue. We’re not going crazy with this because, remember, he’s still going to have the movies. But I’m hoping these toys will give him a chance to focus on something else.
    • Kidnoculars: We basically keep these in the car. My husband has a weird fascination with large birds, which he’s passed on to our first born. Buddy looks like a legit birdwatcher when he’s got these things around his neck!
    • It’s A Match!: When I need to keep Buddy occupied, I pack It’s A Match! In a nutshell, he has 2 rows of pictures and uses the 6 colored frames to match the pictures that go together. It’s a good thinking game that keeps him quiet and engaged. I’ve used it during church services, weddings, days when daycare is closed but I still have to work, etc. The only downsides are tracking the pieces (there’s only 6, plus the board) and the cards. He’s about 90% able to switch his cards out but I usually need to pay at least a little attention while he has this game out in case he needs help.
    • Family Talk: Buddy likes to talk and ask questions. If we can focus the questions, they might be easier to handle for 10 hours.

road trip - Owen toys

Turtle’s Road Trip Essentials

Turtle is only 1.5 years old and still rear-facing. There aren’t a lot of toys that will keep her occupied in the car that won’t hit the ground every 3 minutes. Her main source of entertainment will be music and sleep (hopefully) but I’m packing a few things for her, just in case. (Note: Softer toys are better for rear-facing babies. Hard toys can become dangerous in an accident.)

  • Purse (affiliate link): I scoured Amazon for a purse for Turtle when she started begging to carry mine. Most of the purses her size cost more than I wanted to spend. The few in my price range had some annoying accessory that required batteries. This purse was the only one I found that had keys, phone and wallet that didn’t make any noise. It travels everywhere with us.
  • Soft Blocks: I plan to take 3 of the 6 Squeeze-A-Lot soft blocks in the car. Chances are, they won’t last long. But it’s something soft that is safe for her to handle.
  • Giraffey: Her lovable little giraffe will travel under her arm for most of the trip.

road trip toys - ada

Books & CDs

Both kids will get to choose a handful of books to read before bed each night but I’m going to pack my choice for small books in the car.  Here’s what we’re going with:

Of course, we’ll also have music for them to enjoy!

  • Sounds Like Learning!: This one is most likely to get a nap out of both of them. It’s my favorite.
  • Kindermusik CDs: We recently discovered Kindermusik with Julie and absolutely adore everything about these classes. Both kids took a summer class and got a CD and book that matched their curriculum. Adventures Zoo Train was a big win for Turtle and Buddy can’t get enough of Shoofly Pie. We’ll have these CDs at the ready for our road trip. If you have Kindermusik in your area, I highly recommend you check it out.
  • Vacation Bible School CD: Buddy attended VBS for the first time this year. He loved the music so much, my mom bought him the CD. It has some pretty lively tunes so I don’t expect any naps while it’s playing but it makes for a fun dance party!

road trip - books and cds

Phew! Now that I’ve got the car ride figured out, I should probably start my packing list for the actual vacation portion of the trip. Happy traveling!


So what do you think? Did I miss anything?

If you know someone going on a long trip sometime soon, share this post to help them get their packing list ready!