We recently returned from a family vacation in Florida. We drive down every year; our son was eight months old the first time we took him. The drive took about 18 hours this time, which we did in one day. We’ve also driven out to the east coast of Canada, and numerous other, shorter, road trips. In all our years of car-tripping with kids I’ve learned a lot. Today I’d like to share with you the way I pack for a car trip with kids.
First things first: I’ve found that one of the most important tips for successfully packing for a car trip is to be sure that the things you bring:
- are small
- don’t have any little pieces that will get lost (unless you know that it will provide hours of fun, like Lego or crayons)
- will be used more than once
If the things you’re bringing don’t fulfill these criteria, maybe they should be left at home.
These tips will help keep the chaos to a minimum within your vehicle:
- Limit what you hand out. If you give your child a book and they’re asking for something else to play with, be sure to get the first book back and put away before giving them a different one
- Make these toys special. The only time we use these toys is on car trips; they don’t see them at any other time of the year so they’re that much more engaging
- Wrap them up. The new toys that I add to the bin each trip I wrap up with tissue paper. This makes it feel more special, and takes more time
- Dry Erase Books
- Travel Bingo
- Colouring. I give my big two (one in a booster, one just on the seat) trays with several colours in the holes and one book or one picture. The younger one, who is in a car seat, gets a clipboard for her picture and several colours in her cup holder. When they’re done colouring they need to give back the book and the correct number of colours.
- Reusable Sticker Books
- Water Wow! These are so amazing! The kids have liked them from age 2 to age 8 and counting. You fill the little brush with water (it hasn’t ever leaked for us) and then wipe the brush all over the picture to reveal the colours. Then, once you’re done, just leave it to dry. Our kids have one each, and they try out each others as well.
- Busy Books. I made this one for my son before we drove to Florida in 2012. Each of the kids has used it, and wrecked it a bit. But overall it’s standing the test of time. I made little pockets, flaps with zippers, buttons and Velcro- all with foam vehicles sewn behind them. It’s so cute seeing little ones thrilled that they’ve finally managed to undo the button for the first time!
DIY Lift the Flap Book:
I took a book I didn’t really like and cut up pieces of card stock, folded the edge, and glued them over top of portions of the picture. I made a book of no flaps into a book of over 40 flaps. I enhanced this book in 2012 and the kids still love it.
Things to Watch:
We have a DVD system in our van. I always get DVDs out of the library so the kids can watch something new in the car. They fight less about what to watch if they don’t know what to expect. There is one favourite that I always get out of the library when we go on trips, though. It’s called “Timber the Treasure Dog” and the kids go crazy over it.
Adult Tip: I bring our Skullcandy Soundmine mini speaker, attached to my cell phone, so my husband and I can listen to
Harry Potter something adultish while the kids are using the van sound system for their movie.
Things to Listen To:
Audio books make our kids happy for hours and hours on a trip. They can listen while looking out the window, or they can listen while colouring, playing Lego, etc. I’m told that kids who aren’t used to listening to stories may not love them right away. Give your kids a couple of chances to see if they like them. We get our audio books from our public library. The current favourite series (which contains more than 40 stories) is The Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne. We also get book kits from our library. These kits include a children’s book with a CD of it being read. When we listen to these books we let each child listen to the whole story while holding the book. So, because we have three children, we listen to it three times in a row.
By far our favourite audio drama is Adventures in Odyssey. These are award-winning stories made by Focus on the Family. They have characters with different voices, sound effects, all of it. The stories are family-friendly and teach awesome lessons. Our three-year-old loves listening to them, and our eight-year-old adores listening to them. And I love them too. You can buy them from the Focus on the Family website, along with (Adult Tip) Focus on the Family Radio Theatre, which are classic stories like Les Miserables and Ben-Hur, designed for adult audiences. We also enjoy BBC audio dramas, like Lord of the Rings, available from our public library.
Individual Snack Containers:
Honestly, I think I’m a genius for this idea. I pack a different coloured container (with lid attached) for each child. Since they’re different colours, if one is missing, you know which child lost it. Then pack healthy snack foods like Goldfish, apple chips, raisins, dried mango, nuts, etc., and mix them together in the container. It’s important not to give them too much sugary food so they have a fighting chance at staying calm on a long drive. Hand out the snacks and get the containers back right away so they don’t get lost in the Bermuda triangle that the back seat can become.
Bring big bags of snacks. The little bags are so much more expensive, and a big bag will create less garbage in the way of little packages littered all over your vehicle, and the cleaner you can keep your vehicle on a long drive, the better. But when you pack big bags of snacks you need to remember a way to close them. Whenever I pack snacks I always attach a clip on the corner. I find that the sticky thing (pictured above) or built in Ziploc’s aren’t secure enough, don’t close properly, or break. You definitely want to keep your bags of snacks fresh, and keep them from tipping all over the place.
Other Good Car Foods:
We also bring applesauce pouches (very hard to spill compared to the cups), drinking yogurt and juice boxes. Get the real fruit juice juice boxes and it will ensure your kids are getting nutrients throughout the day. The drinking yogurts provide dairy; the drinking yogurts with the spout and attached lid are harder to spill, too. Plan your snacks well, because you don’t want to have to stop for food because, not only does it take time, but also because so many easy places to stop and grab something to eat on the road sell unhealthy things like fast food and donuts. Your children should have food that is good for them and will help them behave well so that everyone can have a nice trip.
We always pack a lunch of sandwiches and chopped raw vegetables, and then get fast food for supper to eat as we drive. Our goal is to only stop for bathrooms, gas, the occasional coffee, and a drive-thru for supper.
With all the food you’re packing you want to be sure that you have somewhere for all the garbage that comes from it. For our garbage bags we use old plastic grocery bags and loop one through each adult door handle. This ensures that they are accessible and won’t tip. This way when we come to gas stations or rest stops we can just rip off the garbage bag, toss the whole thing, and attach another one. Be sure your children know that every piece of garbage they have needs to make it up to Mum or Dad.
Back Garbage Can:
This is another idea that has been a game changer. Our oldest usually sits in the back, and he’s
a filthy little guy not one for remembering to pass up garbage. So he has his own garbage in his bin at the back. (For more on his bin keep reading!). It’s a coffee container lined with a milk bag, with other milk bags underneath it. When it gets full he just passes the full milk bag forward, or throws it out at a gas station (just kidding. He would never think to empty his own garbage can! 😂), and replaces the milk bag.
I’m going through this post for kids, but (Adult Tip) you should also be sure to have medication (Advil, Tylenol, Tums, etc) for yourself. For our kids we bring Children’s Advil, Children’s Tylenol, the measuring cups that go with them, a thermometer and bandages. We don’t have kids who get car sick, but if you know you have a child who gets car sick, or if you’re not a big traveler, or are trying out a car trip for the first time, some Gravol would be a good idea. This should all go into a bag (I use a make-up bag) and be kept somewhere very memorable. I keep mine in my front bin of car toys. It’s a bit of a risk always when you have medicine and kids, so you may want to keep it in a locked glove box to be safe.
We bring a blanket, pillow and stuffie for each child. For my daughter in the car seat we bring a small pillow that allows her to more comfortably lay her head to the side. For the other two we bring their pillows from their beds. They each have smallish blankets (that still cover their whole bodies) to take in the car. They are each allowed to pick one stuffie or doll.
This is my completed bin. This bin goes right behind my seat so I can reach it all. You can see the clipboard, snack containers, books, Water Wow, audio books, the front left gray bag is my kids’ medicine, applesauce pouches, and Yeti. Adult Tip: We left for Florida at 5 a.m. I made tea in my Yeti before we left it and we drank it about 1 p.m. It was still completely steaming hot.
Bin for the Back Seat:
Since we have two little girls they’ll often spend the afternoon napping. This is when my son most uses “His Bin.” It has (not all of this is pictured) his own colouring book, pencil crayons, blank notebook, Lego, action figures, picture books, fidget spinner, Water Wow, Rubik’s Cube and whatever else I think to throw in (or he brings himself). We put on an audio book and he will just sit quietly and play for hours. It also contains his snack container and garbage can.
One More Game:
We play “Slopski,” which I have no idea how to spell. Basically you divide into two teams. We play that everyone sitting behind Daddy is on one team, and everyone behind Mummy is on another team. To play the game you say “Schlopski!” every time you see a horse. Keep track of how many horses you have (unless you have little kids like us who don’t care at all how many horses they have, they just like to be the first to see them). Then, whenever you see a graveyard you shout “Bury them all!” The other team has to start counting horses all over again. An additional rule, if you care, is: You can only say “Bury them all” if you have a horse. This game is hours of fun.
So that’s how we travel. That’s how we drive 18 hours in one day and end the day with happy parents and happy kids. Usually it’s successful, though every trip has it’s bad moments…or hours. I’d love to hear your ideas! Leave me your thoughts and brilliant ideas in the comments below. I’m always looking for great ways to travel with kids! And if you’re planning a road trip right now, I hope you have a great time! Build those family memories, and enjoy your time together. That’s what life is all about.