The Family Road Trip: Organizing Your Car For Success

Image via iStock

Spring is in the air, which means that, if you’re like me, road trip season is upon us. When traveling with young children, there’s one simple truth: It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling for one day or two weeks – the car is always jam-packed!

Deciding your essentials to pack is crucial, but that’s only the first step. Want to make sure you have access to what you need? Here’s your car-packing strategy to ensure that getting there really is half the fun.

Image via Tracy Jensen It Builds Character

Up front with you
The front seat is for all critical gear that the kids shouldn’t have full access to:

  • Music: I suggest that you program several playlists into your iPod. I like to keep their favorite music on hand for when they get antsy, but also a set of my own music that the kids enjoy so my ears don’t start bleeding an hour into the trip.
  • Snacks: Keep these within reach! Use containers that are easy to open but not easy to spill. For that reason, I skip baggies for things like Cheerios and Goldfish and go for the Snack Traps instead. Bring a small cooler for items like string cheese, grapes, and sliced apples.
  • Wet wipes: Leave napkins at home – wet wipes are better on the go with sticky foods. Stash a package in the glove compartment.
  • Garbage bags: Within the first ten minutes of the drive, your car will already begin to look like you’ve lived in there for months. Bring a couple of plastic grocery bags for wrappers and junk.
  • Car sickness supplies: Kids prone to motion sickness sickness? I keep a kitchen garbage bag as a liner inside a bucket for these situations. You don't always have the opportunity to stop, so better to be prepared. I have also tried putting Sea Bands on at the beginning of the trip with pretty good success.
  • Portable DVD player: Don’t have a DVD player installed in your car? I don't either. I save my DVD player for emergency car chaos. You can get one like this for around $70.  While it’s not fancy, it plugs into the car outlet and the kids consider it to be a huge treat. Make sure you consider your viewing choices carefully. My son, for example, has very little attention span for movies, so I know that I need to pack DVDs with his favorite shows instead.
  • Tools to recreate the sleep environment: Driving during nap time? I bring my kids’ sound machine and crank up the ocean sounds to encourage a doze.

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Image via Tracy Jensen It Builds Character

By the kids
Everything by the kids should be things they can utilize on their own so you can keep focused on the road.

  • Your child’s “special item.” Nothing can ruin the mood on a trip (or destroy your kids’ ability to sleep) faster than leaving their loveys behind. Put these in the car seat as soon as you start packing up. Trust me on this one.
  • Water bottles: Bring just enough water to hydrate, but not enough to double your bathroom stops. For newly potty trained kids, you may want to keep these up front with you.
  • Car organizer with toys: There are a plenty of versions of car organizers. Some people like the ones that hang on the back of the front car seat, but I don’t for two reasons: (1) It’s difficult for younger kids to reach their toys; and (2) These easily get dirty on wet days from kicking feet. I prefer the organizers that can go in between seats. Load this up with all of your key activities and toys. Magnetic games are a great option to keep pieces from falling out of reach. If your child’s car seat has a cup holder, bring a cup to easily stash crayons and markers. I let my kids pick out a new coloring book or notebook before the trip so they’re excited to break those out. Stickers are great as well.

    Books are a great bet for most kids, but for those prone to motion sickness, keep the books out of the back. Reading is a fast trip to the side of the road. 

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Image via Flickr/ State Farm

Leave it in the back
If you don’t need direct access, get it out of the way by keeping it in the trunk. However, there are still a few things to make sure you can access easily during a stop.

  • Potty supplies: There is nothing worse than being 20 miles from a rest stop when your four-year-old needs to use the bathroom. Our plastic potty goes with us everywhere. In a pinch, pull the basin out of the middle for a side of the road pit stop. This also works great when you go camping to avoid middle of the night trips in the dark. Bring toilet paper, an extra garbage bag, paper towels, and cleaning supplies.
  • Extra set of clothes: If your child gets sick or spills, you’ll need extra clothes without digging through the suitcase. I keep a set in my car at all times on the edge of the trunk. For car sick kids, add in a toothbrush and toothpaste, paper towels, a garbage bag, and a cleaning product that helps eliminate odors. I find Nature’s Miracle to be great in these circumstances, and it doesn't leave a strong chemical smell in the car.

My last packing tip: Only bring half the toys and games you think you’ll need for the trip. Once you arrive at your destination, the kids generally need a lot less than you think. 

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What are your secrets to making road trips go smoothly?

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The Family Road Trip: Organizing Your Car For Success

Tracy Jensen is a writer, marketer, mother, fundraiser, marathoner, and music lover. A working, single mom of two kids ages six and five, she is notorious for doing things the hard way. In addition to writing for EverydayFamily, she survives suburban exile by blogging about life’s foibles at It Builds Character. She can be found at night ignoring the dishes and playing on Twitter. ... More

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