Every summer we take a few road trips—Lower Michigan to visit my hometown and extended family, western Wisconsin to visit my husband’s family and attend the annual Buffalo County Fair and Richmond, Kentucky to visit my parents. The last one is a doozy. It’s typically a 12-hour car ride (10 hours with no stops…but that rarely happens) and we stay for 3 weeks. We have been doing this trip every summer since I started staying home with the kids and I look forward to it each year. But I never look forward to the packing or the drive! I must admit the drive is getting easier as the kids are getting older, but it can still be a challenge. And until recently, when we bought a newer, used minivan, we didn’t have a DVD player, either!
So if you have little ones and are going on any road trips this summer, here are a few tips to consider as you prepare:
Did I mention that I despise packing? But I love lists. And I can’t pack for a trip without one. So if you are a frequent traveler, type up a standard list of all the things you need for trips and save it on your computer. Then simply print the list anytime you take a trip and cross things off as you pack. This saves you the time and step of writing a new packing list for every trip and ensures you don’t forget anything. You may need to modify the list slightly for some trips depending on the time of year, where you are going, how long you are staying and ages of the kids, but that is quick and easy to do. You can save multiple versions or just keep editing the same list on your computer. I created my list in excel and have several versions. Here is an example of my standard packing list—this is the one I used for our Kentucky trip this year. I leave blanks to fill in the days for our trip since that always changes. I also look up the forecast for where we are going and note that as well. I usually don’t write in the clothes I’m packing—I just reference the list as I’m packing them. (You’ll notice I don’t have my husband on the packing list…luckily he takes care of his own stuff and I don’t have to worry about that.)
2.) Plastic Bins
A few years ago we switched from suitcases to plastic bins for road trips. We can fit 3 bins side-by-side perfectly in the trunk of our van. Because they are clear we can see what is in them, making things easier to find. (Another bonus to plastic bins is that bed bugs don’t like plastic, so if you are traveling in and out of hotels, you don’t have to worry so much that you may be taking some unwanted guests along with you when you leave.)
3.) Bag O’ Shoes
Shoes are always so difficult to pack and between the girls and me it seems like we need so many pairs! I finally found a solution that works great for us. I fill one or two large reusable cloth bags with all of our shoes and call it a day. As an added bonus, it’s always easy to find space for the bags in the van.
4.) Activity Bucket/Bin
Our two older girls sit in the backseat—one on each side—and the youngest sits in her car seat in the middle row. I usually sit in the seat beside her so I can more easily hand things to everyone, read them books, do flashcards and etc. Depending on the size of your family and the vehicle you drive you may have to do things a little differently, but this is how we do it for our family of five. For the trip itself I have a small plastic bin that I put in the backseat between the two girls. (I actually leave the bin in the car year-round, but it is especially useful on long road trips). It provides a nice separation between the girls so there is no fear of them “touching” each other and it is a spot to fill with things to keep them busy.
5.) Food & Snacks
We typically pack a cooler of sandwiches, string cheese, gogurt, grapes, apple slices and etc. for at least one meal so we don’t have to stop and eat more than once at the most. Sometimes I pack their food in brown lunch bags so they each have their own and a place to put their garbage when they are done eating. They seem to think this is fun for some reason. It’s the little things, right?
Everyone has their own water bottle and we bring along a few extra water bottles for refills as needed, but we try to limit how much they drink to avoid too many pit stops.
We also pack a bag full of snack-size baggies filled with things like cheerios, goldfish, peanuts, kix, animal crackers, raisins and the like. Of course there are always 3 of everything!
6.) Keeping it Clean
Some essentials for making sure your vehicle doesn’t look like a disaster area when you arrive at your destination are:
- Plastic grocery bag for trash
- Damp washcloth to wipe sticky fingers and faces
- Box of tissues for runny noses and etc.
- Roll of paper towels for wiping up bigger messes and spills
- Wipes always come in handy
7.) Keeping them Occupied
This is probably the most important thing for road trips for everyone’s sanity! Some great items to have in the car for long trips (especially when you don’t have a DVD player) are:
- Pencil box filled with markers, crayons and pencils. This is one of the items that goes in the activity bin between the girls so it is easy to access and share.
- Clipboards. This gives them a hard surface to write on when needed and we stock them with plenty of blank paper.
- Clip-on book lights. These are great for reading, drawing or coloring at night so they don’t have to turn on the car lights which can make it difficult to see when driving.
- Any electronic device like iPads, iPods, tablets, kindles or Leap Pads for playing games and watching videos. A few years ago all of our girls got Leapfrog Leap Pads and these seem to help fill the void of a DVD player. Before trips I try to download some new (cheap) games or movies from Leapfrog to have on their Leap Pads so there is something new and different to enjoy.
- Activity Bags. I take a separate bag for each child with a workbook, stickers, notebook and activity/coloring books suited to their age and interests.
- Color wonder markers & coloring books. These are nice to have in the car because they aren’t messy and they are something fun and different.
- Books. If your kids love to read or be “read-to” you are very lucky and this is a great way to fill the time! I pack a separate bag filled with books to share.
- Flashcards. Road trips are a great time to practice shapes, colors, letters, numbers, sight words, addition, subtraction, telling time, states and more! Siblings can even take turns doing flashcards with each other.
- Lacing cards. These are especially great for younger kids and are a nice change of pace from the typical car activities.
8.) The kitchen sink.
Ok, not really. It may seem like a lot of stuff to take on a trip, but I think it’s worth it if it means one less “are we there yet?”… Serenity now… serenity now!