Alright, we’ve done our far share of road trips this last year (with babies in tow of course), anywhere from 3hrs to 24 hrs! So we’re here to let you know packing for a road trip with kids is definitely something you DON’T want to mess up. Don’t worry though, we’ve handled all the #parentingfails for you and experienced first hand what to pack and not pack – check out below our road trip essentials for kids that will make those hours in the car…dare we say FUN!
A go-with-the flow, PATIENT attitude
Alright I know, cheesy to start with this right? But this is hands down the number one thing that stands between you and having a really fun, memorable time on your next family road trip.
You must expect disasters.
Things will NOT go as planned.
There without a doubt will be whining.
Expectation is everything. That way when chaos and meltdowns do happen (because they 100% will, and most likely at the worst possible time…as we all know painfully well when it comes to parenting)- you can just say “Oh yes, ok I knew there was going to be a disaster or two…here it is happening now!” A road trip with kids can be challenging at moments, but it’s going to be one of those distinct memories your kid brings up when they’re 20 I’m sure… have fun!!
This portable potty (the less gas station bathrooms the better, amirite?)
Alright this is definitely at the top of the list for a reason. Please PLEASE don’t waste a minute with those portable potties where you have to clean basin…just gross.
This is the best portable potty for kids hands down. No mess, no germs, easy set up and disposal. (This is actually our go-to not just on road trips but ALL the time)
One more gas station bathroom I can avoid in my lifetime is a WIN 🙂 Just don’t forget the extra bags! If there’s one thing those earth-destroying plastic grocery bags are good for…we start stashing bags for a few months before a trip and you’ll be set for your time on the road (and free! absolutely no need to buy the overpriced bags made for potty IMO)
We’ve gone the cheap route on these (see below) and these really are the way to go. They fold up, which is key, and provide a surface for your little ones to actually do all the activities and games they want while in their car seat.
i.e. read– your kids staying occupied longer 🙂
I’ve also been eyeing this car seat organizer for our road trip with the kids to Idaho this summer…seems like it could make this organizing-loving mama’s heart VERY happy.
Podcasts and Audio Books to the rescue!
This is the number one thing that keep our kids occupied and happy on those long stints on the road. Here’s a few of our favorites that seem to hold the kids’ attention the best!
The Libby App (we use this to download full audiobooks through our local library before traveling – free!)
Mess-free activities to keep little hands and minds busy
Road trip essentials for kids 101- easy and mess-free activities is the name of the game. We learned the hard way on our 24hr trek to Italy with the kids (read all about traveling internationally with kids here!)…the less pieces and small parts the better.
My criteria for thinking through packing for a road trip with kids is – How many pieces are there? Will it be frustrating if it spills all over the car floor? Can we lose a bunch of parts?
Keep reading below for the one activity that just does not live up to the hype and we never bring anymore on the road.
The ultimate kid-friendly road trip playlist
Is it a road trip without a dance party?!
Put together a Spotify list of your favorite road trip songs that won’t require ear muffs if you know what I mean. It will be a highlight of the trip for sure…and break up all those hours of activities and movies.
Are we there yet???
Here is my answer to that inevitable and incessant question. We use this on road trips (and at home) for a tangible visual for kids to see how much time they have left to the next stop or maybe their next surprise…more on that below! This timer brings us more sanity than we realize I am sure of it 🙂
Roadtrip games (that require minimal effort on your part Mom)
In between the dance party and the movies and the hours of (hopefully) calm activities, you may want to have some intentional time as a family to connect…because hey you are stuck in a small, enclosed space together for hours on end!
Our two favorite road trip games are Would You Rather and any sort of 20 Questions style game. If you need a little bit of Would You Rather inspiration there’s a few apps for that and for 20 Questions, this handheld game with question cards is seriously so fun with the little ones.
Slip-on shoes for the babes
Such a simple thing that makes a big difference.
The kids will 100% want to take their shoes off on the road. Which is GREAT. But when you stop 50 times (which you inevitably will) your life is going to be soooo much easier when your little one can just slip those shoes on themselves before hopping out of the car. An underrated road trip essential for kids for sure.
Nothing beats Natives– indestructible and even the littlest ones can slip them on themselves!
Blanket & Jammies
Comfortable kiddos means happier kiddos…and that’s really what we’re going for here with all this right?!
If we are on the road at night, we make sure to change into their jammies before “bedtime” and do the whole shebang routine just like we would at home….brush teeth, change into jammies, get back on the road, read a book, “lights out” and time for bed.
A cozy blanket is a must for them feeling comfortable (because really, who likes falling asleep sitting up?). Our very favorite blankets are these Saranoni ones, a splurge but truly worth EVERY penny. Trust us, you’ll agree once you feel them 🙂
A single accessible bag with a change of clothes
You’re going to be kicking yourself you didn’t pack this when you have to get out your whole dang suitcase from the very back of the trunk when the littlest babe has an epic spill.
Packing for a road trip with kids means being prepared for the worst.
I like having one small bag, super accessible, with a change of clothes for each kid. That way when disaster strikes, you don’t even bat an eye!
Movie Entertainment (a given)
Alright this one is clearly an obvious in roadtrip essentials for kids 101, BUT a few things to note:
- Make sure you have some really good quality headphones. We went with the Target dollar spot ones on last summer’s road trip and it led to more meltdowns than one (and not just the kids). These are our favorite here that don’t break the bank and if you can spring for wireless ones these are awesome.
- If you only have one device like us, a splitter is a MUST. This way both kids are able to watch the same movie! When all the kids have headphones on, it’s almost like a little mini-date in the car…I’ll take it.
- Do not make the same mistake we did (BIG #parentingfail) and make sure your movies/shows are ALREADY downloaded on your device prior to hitting the road!
Allllll the snacks
If I am REALLY killing it in the supermom, on-top-of-things department…I like packing a small cooler with nourishing, real-food snacks already cut up for the road. But if not (let’s be honest, usually the later), low-mess snacks are the way to go.
I think I am still cleaning up tiny crumbs from last summer’s gold-fish explosion on our National Parks road trip.
These snack cups and snack spinner have proved VERY helpful.
What NOT to pack on your next family road trip
And as far as #parentingfails go, here’s a few things we recommend avoiding at all costs if you can. They seem like a great idea in theory, but these turned out to be road trip NON-essentials with kids in the end.
- Window clings – They always seem like such a cute idea for a road trip, right?! But just NO. They never fully stick, they end up all over the floor, and the little ones can’t even reach the window most of the time!
- These trays – We originally went the cheap route on trays for our road trips and it was a fail. They are just so big, take up the entire back seat, and had a hard time fitting on top of the car seat with a good push.
- Too many toys for the kids – When road tripping with kids, and traveling with kids in general really, less is SO MUCH MORE. We bring one container of toys for our destination and that’s it. They always, always find ways to entertain themselves and it forces them to actually get more creative and imaginative (a win, win in my book)
- Snacks of the drive you insane variety- As you’re packing snacks for the road, here’s your criteria for if the snack makes the road trip success cut…can it easily spill? If a kid dropped it, would it be all over the car? Does it require all the wipes?
We so hope this round up of road trip essentials for kids is useful to you and serves you well on your next family road trip! We’re fully convinced traveling with kids is never easy but always 100% worth it! Where are you going next?!