This summer we're taking a few long weekend road trips to camp, visit friends, and explore our new home state. As romantic as that sounds, let me remind you that there will be two young kids strapped in their carseats in the back of our family car. No free-wheeling convertible driving into the sunsets for us!
Luckily, I like traveling by car with kids — we can pull over as needed and we don't have to worry about a certain 3-year-old kicking the back of someone else's seat on an airplane. I am packing a sort of "road trip with kids survival kit" filled with things to make our journey a breeze. Here are the things I think every parent should have when they hit the road.
1. Easy-to-Pack Snacks
Obviously, the most important part of any road trip is your snack supply. While I personally love to indulge in a giant bag Sour Patch Kids when I'm traveling alone in the car, for road tripping with my kids I'm looking for easy-to-pack snacks that aren't too sweet. Here are a few car snacks our family is loving right now.
No-Mess Snacks for the Car
- Kind Kids Bars: Think of these as a low-key candy bar. My kids love them, and the sugar is under 8 grams — with plenty of fiber to boot!
- Brandless Snack Bundle: We got this snack bundle before our last road trip and only had to supplement it with some string cheeses.
- A few homemade ideas: 10 Homemade Snacks for Traveling with Kids
Unless you want to spend three hours listening to the Moana soundtrack, you should download some family-friendly podcasts and music before you hit the road. We love the Story Pirates, Wow in the World, and Brains On for podcast that are interesting for grown-ups and kids alike.
3. Headphones for Everyone
Plan for the hours when everyone is going to get annoyed with everyone else and pack some kid-sized headphones to plug into music, tablets, or phones when you need some peace and quiet. My kiddos each have a pair of these Kidz Gear headphones. My oldest has used hers regularly for the past five years — and we love the price, their colorful hue (makes them easy to find in backpacks), and the external volume control that mom or dad can easily adjust.
Buy it: Kidz Gear Wired Headphones, $16
4. A Cooler
Cargo space is a commodity, but packing even a small lunch-sized cooler means that you can stop at cute roadside stands for local fruit. It's also great for stashing snacks you've frozen and want to eat later along the route.
Snacks for the Cooler
- Baby carrots and individual hummus packs
- Babybel cheeses or string cheeses
- Applesauce pouches
- Yogurt Tubes
- Apple slices
Buy it: Coleman cooler, $69
5. A Very Good Blanket
A picnic blanket or a throw blanket is a good idea for everyone in the car, but this is also a reminder not to forget lovies, blankies, or Teddy for the long haul too. One of our favorite travel blankets comes from Target — it rolls up and can easily be stuffed under a car seat until we need it.
Buy it: Watercolor Floral Picnic Blanket, $20 from Target
6. Extra Water
Because every person in the car gets a water bottle to keep at the seat, it's helpful to have a few backup bottles of water for refilling or for washing little hands after an ice cream stop (or any other sticky, stinky mess that happens in the car). Two-gallon jugs are just about perfect for most trips, but if you want to avoid plastic waste, refillable water jugs are an excellent alternative.
7. Wet Wipes
Neither of my kids wear diapers anymore, but road trips always require a pack of wet wipes. They're a lifesaver for in-car messes, but they are also great for the occasional rest-stop bathroom that's ill-equipped too. If you've got the space, a couple of beach towels can do double duty as cleanup help (thinkL mega spills and accidents) and as pillows or blankets in a pinch.
8. Window Stickers
My kids will have their tablets to play and watch movies on, which will keep them entertained for most of the trip, but I'll still pack some ColorWonder or Water Coloring books and window stickers for when real (and emotional) batteries run low. All of these take up little space in the car but are fun for kids of all ages.
9. A Do-It-All Bag
Are you wondering yet how all this stuff stays organized? One big bag holds snacks, water bottles, wipes, games, headphones, and lovies. I prefer an open structured bag (I bought a couple of these pool totes at Target years ago) that can sit on the floor of the back seat, making it easy for me to access from the front seat or for the kids to grab a snack when we get back into the car after a stop.
Buy it: Multipurpose Tote, $10 from Target
10. Portable WiFi (for Really Long Hauls)
Last summer we spent a whole week moving our family from Georgia to Idaho, and a portable hotspot was the best thing we brought for the trip. It kept us connected on the road but also at small hotels where the WiFi was questionable. Not into buying a hotspot? Some libraries loan them out, but get on the waitlist now!
What goes in your road trip toolkit when traveling with kids?