Big Road Trip with Little Kids!

Published on 14 April 2021 at 20:05

With summer coming up and lots of road trips to be taking place, I thought I would share my ideas to make your next road trip less stressful and more fun!


Last summer, our family made an 18 hour drive to see my parents in Oklahoma. With stops for gas and to stretch our legs, it ended up being about 22 hours total! Our minivan was full with me, my husband, a two year old, a four year old, and the family dog. This may seem like a crazy undertaking, and it was, but it was also awesome and we have even done it again since then!

When it comes to planning and preparing for trips and outings, I really shine. I love finding and packing snacks, and things for the kids (and us) to do in the car, and figuring out where everything should go so that it is in easy reach. I get so excited as I’m cleaning out and organizing the car, then putting everything in its strategic place. It’s vastly different from my sometimes messy and chaotic life!

During the long, long drive, my daughter sat in the second row, my son and dog were in the third row, and whoever was not driving (which was mostly me) sat in the second row in order to be able to help the kids reach their toys, set up movies, or pass out snacks, etc. The front passenger seat held the food and other things that needed to be in easy reach.


Here is my list of tips, ideas, and things to bring to make your next road trip awesome:


  • Pack an overnight bag. If you are doing an overnight on the way to your destination, I highly recommend packing one separate bag with everything you need for the night and keep it on top of all the other luggage. Pack the diapers, toothbrushes, pajamas, a change of clothes, toiletries, etc for everyone in your group. There’s nothing worse that arriving at the hotel late at night, exhausted, with grouchy kids, and having to dig through your trunk, then haul five suitcases up to your room and back down in the morning. Pack the overnight bag.  You can thank me later!

  • Leave Early. If possible, I recommend leaving really, really early in the morning to get a lot of miles out of the way while the kids (and your spouse) are sleeping. Enjoy the solitude and listen to a good book before you have to start dispensing snacks, toys, and answering if we’re there yet seven thousand times.

  • Car potty and bag liners. This is something that I use not just for road trips, but I keep it in the car whenever we are out and about. With little kids, they sometimes just “gotta go when they’ve gotta go!” I prefer not to take my children into public bathrooms if I can avoid it; they can’t help touching everything and a lot of those bathrooms are downright yucky. I got this potty and these trash bags that I use as liners at Walmart. I put a bag in the potty, tie it closed after they go, and toss it in the garbage. The bags are very inexpensive and I’ve never had one leak yet.

  • Handi wipes, baby wipes, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer. These go without saying; hand sanitizing wipes are super conventient if hands get visibly dirty and hand sanitizer won’t cut it. Baby wipes for cleaning messy hands after eating. Disinfecting wipes for anything that needs... well, disinfecting. We keep the hand sanitizer in the car door to make it convenient to use after pumping gas or running into a convenience store.

  • Car garbage container. I bought this when we first bought our minivan and it has been so handy. I re-use plastic grocery bags as liners for it and keep several extras in the pocket for replacements. It also has a compartment for a box of tissues, which is very convenient for me because I have allergies and a year-round runny nose. This garbage container, however, doesn’t quite cut it for road trips; for these adventures, I also keep kitchen size garbage bags to hang from the back of the passenger seat for all of the food and drink packaging that piles up on long trips.

  • Blankets. I keep a couple of small throws or baby blankets in the car. The kids (or me) often get cold in the air conditioning and they like to have a blanket when they sleep on long drives. Better to have some on hand than have to turn up the temperature and make everyone else too warm.

  • Food and drinks. I tried to pack almost all of our food for the trip to avoid having to stop for drive-thru and takeout as much as possible. Every stop takes more time, which easily adds up to extra hours (and cost) which we wanted to avoid. It also means extra time that the kids are stuck in their car seats. I have a large cooler bag that I bought years ago at Costco and it was perfect for this trip. I bought a 24 pack of water and put half of them in the freezer the night before. Then I put the frozen ones in the cooler bag along with the ice packs to keep everything extra cold.  I put the rest of the water in the cooler bag unfrozen to drink right away, and we took out frozen ones to melt as we needed. Other drinks I brought along in the bag were some iced coffees and a couple of energy drinks.

    For breakfast, I packed some granola bars, for lunch, I packed some lunchables, and for dinner we did drive-thru. I then packed tons of snacks, trying to make them mostly healthy. I put all of the non-refrigerated snacks in a box on the front passenger seat and the cooler bag in the front floor board. Other snacks that we packed included fruit pouches, raisins, dried fruit, turkey jerky, pretzels, crackers, baby yogurt bites, and chips.

  • Dog necessities. In our snack box, I packed our collapsible dog bowl and kept a gallon jug of water accessible to fill it at each stop. Our dog gets very thirsty on car rides and drinks a lot, so it made more sense to pack a larger water container than using up our individual bottles on his bowl. I also packed food for him and kept his leash and poop bags in the door compartment so that I could find them easily when it was time to take him for a potty break. For this trip, I also got him a dog seat belt to use with his harness to keep him safely in his seat, but also to make sure that he didn’t jump out of the car unexpectedly when we opened the door at a gas station or other busy area.

  • Wifi in the car. This one is definitely not a necessity, but it is nice to have sometimes. We have Hum by Verizon that provides wifi in our car to use with our tablet that does not have mobile data.

  • Movies and TV shows. Both our tablet and portable dvd player were packed in the car. We do not allow our children to use the tablet, we only play movies on it for them on occasion when we are going on extra long drives, more than a few hours. Even though we have wifi in the car, there are areas along the drive where the signal is spotty or non-existent. So, we made sure to have plenty of movies or shows downloaded to avoid cries of frustration when their video stops suddenly. I attached whichever device we were using to the back of the driver seat so both kids could see the screen.

  • Headphones, splitter, extenders. To go along with watching movies on the tablet or dvd player, I ordered a splitter for the headphone jack and some headphone extension cables because the headphone cord does not reach all the way to the third row where our son was sitting. I did not use bluetooth headphones because our dvd player does not support that, and I could not pair two headsets to the tablet when they were both watching a movie.

  • Audiobooks and music. My kids do not listen to audiobooks, but my husband and I enjoy them when we drive. I checked out and downloaded a few audiobooks from our local library on Libby. We also listened to Spotify a lot. Early in the morning when I was driving and everyone else was sleeping, I listened to an audiobook. I changed the settings on our car’s audio system so that the sound only came out of the front speakers and did not bother my sleeping family too much.

  • GPS. We did some research on our route in advance and planned where we might stop along the way (a lot of which changed along the way). I recommend downloading the maps for times when mobile data is lacking or to save data.

  • Parks. We tried to stop, stretch our legs, and let the kids play at a park every 3 to 4 hours. It was especially nice when there was also a dog park. Sometimes if we ended up stopping in a rural area, there were no parks to be found, so trying to stop in cities was helpful.

  • Things to do. I packed an “entertainment” box full of things to do. I kept this out of reach of the kids and wrapped most of the items for them to open every few hours. I mostly gave each of the kids the same thing and numbered the packages to make sure that they opened the same present at the same time, therefore no jealousy or complaining to deal with. Bullseye’s Playground at Target has been a great place to find travel activities. I also got lots of very inexpensive items that were very entertaining at Party City.

    Here are some ideas of things I have used.

An alternative to buying new toys, which I did with some things, is to put away some toys or books that they already have to make them interesting again when you pull them out on the trip. Also, check children’s consignment stores like Once Upon a Child. I found a magnetic Frozen paper doll toy there that I bring out just for long drives.

  • Lap desks. For this trip, I made each of the kids a personalized lap desk. They love them and still use them regularly. The desks sit on their laps and were perfect for eating their snacks, coloring, or driving their little vehicles on.


These strategies have really made our last few roadtrips much more enjoyable.  It helps, of course, that our kids are champion road trippers.  They actually get excited for long drives and say that its their favorite part of the trip!


I hope you have a great time on your next adventure and make lots of fun new memories.

Happy Trails!

What tips or ideas do you have for family road trips?

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