Tips for road trips with kids
We took the kids on a road trip last summer, hitting Mount Rushmore, Rocky Mountain National Park and Colorado Springs. We didn’t know if they’d enjoy spending days in the car, but we all had a great time and they keep asking if we can do a long road trip again.
This summer we are headed to Wisconsin Dells, which is a much shorter drive and one we have done before. I’ve definitely learned some things when traveling with kids, and packing for trips – whether in a car or plane – have some similarities. Once you’re at your destination, the packing needs are pretty similar. When you are facing a three hour plan ride versus a 20 hour road trip for a week or more, the packing for the travel part of the trip changes. Obviously, the ages of your kids factor into what or how you pack, as babies and toddlers needed more tricks to keep them entertained and teenagers can probably figure this out on their ow. Our kids are nine and thirteen so I still have a hand in what I need to pack.
Here are some packing tips for a road trip with kids, whether it’s four hours or twenty:
Eating in the Car
- Bring a small cooler you can keep handy in the back passenger row of the car. Have some bottles of water, soda, juice or Gatorade handy. You can refill with ice whenever you stop at a gas station or in the morning at the hotel.
- Bring some easy to eat snacks like goldfish, pretzels, fruit snacks or club cracker sandwiches. Also pack some disposable cups to pour the snacks into as I find those pouches tear and spill.
- Let them go into the gas station/convenience store to pick a special treat for in the car.
- If there is eating in the car, we like to use the craft caddies that you can buy at Target or Michaels. The handled, multi-section plastic tray/caddy work great to organize food and then acts as a tray the kids (and you) can put on laps. The drinks can even fit in one section. When they are done, just stack them together.
- Bring games the family can play together in the car. There are many card games on Amazon or at Target and our kids have fun playing these no matter how old they are. You learn a lot about your kids, and they learn about you, when you’re playing “What If?” or “What would you do?” games. Kids are creative, sometimes they even can make up their own games. My kids also like to tell jokes.
- If your kids have electronic devices, keep car chargers handy because batteries run out fast. Make sure they get charged every night before a car ride.for you to play.
- Create a playlist that includes everyone’s music so you can enjoy your music and let others have their songs too. Plus, songs trigger memories so maybe there’s some new songs you can add and then, whenever you hear the song, it will remind you of this road trip.
- Let each child bring a small bag or backpack where they can stash their stuff and have easy access to it. Fill it with books, magazines, games, a pad of paper and colored pencils (crayons will melt in a hot car when parked), or electronics. Also have them pack a hat, sunglasses, an extra shirt and shorts in the bag so it’s easy to get to if or when you need it.
- Make the return trip memorable. Plan something to see on the way back.
- Use packing cubes to organize your packing within each suitcase. These can be found on Amazon and you can get different colors or sizes.
- If your road trip has multiple legs, I recommend each leg of the trip gets packed in one suitcase for all family members. Put each family member's belongings in their own packing cube (maybe have a different color for each so you can tell them apart) and then toiletries in a separate cube. In the morning, any dirty laundry gets packed into the cubes and back in that suitcase while the toiletries bag gets transferred to the next carry-on bag for the next night (or next leg). If you pack this way, you don’t have to bring in every suitcase from your car.
- If you’re staying multiple nights for one leg of the trip, make that the largest bag with multiple days worth of clothes. The bags with the laundry stay in the car.
- Pack an emergency sick kit. Pack a roll of paper towel, wet wipes, small plastic bags and large garbage bags. A old beach towel is helpful too. Put everything in a bag and keep it accessible. We’ve dealt with upset stomachs from altitude sickness or car sickness and having these supplies helped save our car and our kids from getting covered, if you know what I mean.
- Let your kids bring their own pillow and small throw for the car. Put two pillowcases on the pillow, taking off the top one when you need a fresh cover. The throw helps when some want the A/C on and others are cold.
- Bring a few umbrellas, because you will probably hit rain at some point on a vacation
- Have bandages and first aid supplies (even Tums and Tylenol) handy in the car in case you need them, then you don’t have to dig through the suitcases in the back if you need it.
Enjoy the time spent with your kids. I remember going on family road trips - the memories, fun times, and certain moments in the car with my parents and siblings still bring on fits of giggles when we remember.
Have a great week! And if you’re going away, happy and safe travels.