Road-tripping across the country sounds like a bit of free-spirited fun, right? It could be, or it could be a seemingly endless journey of ‘are we there yet’s’ and ‘I have to potty’s’. Taking the whole family on a road trip certainly changes the dynamic, but it doesn’t have to suck the fun out of it.
Whatever your reason is for driving, be it to save money or have more control over your transportation, save your sanity by getting organized before you hit the road. Traveling with little kids you can expect that they will get hungry in between meals and that they will need to potty in between stops. They will get hopelessly bored spending that much time confined to a car seat. And they will fuss, cry, scream, shout, and fight with each other all while you are stuck in the car with them for countless hours.
Keep Essentials Handy in the Car
A good road trip experience with kids in tow is really dependent on keeping everyone happy. One fussy baby or tempered toddler can add stress to everyone and really drain everyone’s mood. When those moments pop-up, be prepared by having all of your essentials organized and accessible in the car.
Use Zippered Pouches to Corral Bit and Pieces
Instead of keeping a big bag and digging through it every time that you need to find something, buy a few clear pencil pouches and labels. Sort small essentials into kits that can easily be retrieved and passed around the car as needed. From first-aid items like band-aids and antiseptic wipes to laundry stain wipes, these pouches can help you organize the tiny bits and pieces.
Create a Car Sick Bag
Trust me, you do not want to be ten miles across the Tennessee state line when you discover that your two year old gets car sick. In case you find yourself in this situation, a car sick bag can be a big help. Motion sickness medications or bands, ginger water, granola bars, disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitizer are all good choices to ease nausea caused by motion sickness.
Change of Kids Clothes in a Ziploc Bag
Kids can make a mess out of seemingly nothing. It might not occur to you to pack extra kids' clothes because your suitcase probably has several outfits in it already. But luggage is pretty inaccessible while driving unless you want to unpack the whole car on the side of the road. Stash a change of clothes under their seats in Ziploc bags.
Use an Envelope Size Expanding File in the Glove Box
Keep your insurance cards, vehicle registration, warranty information, and roadside assistance contacts organized with an expanding folder that fits right in the glovebox. Breaking down on the road, or worse being stopped for a traffic violation can both put a damper on your family road trip. You might not be able to control when or if that happens, but you can ease some of the stress by having everything you need to be organized and at the ready.
Organize Road Trip Entertainment
Keeping boredom at bay is half the battle on a long road trip. Toys and activities can quickly clutter up the inside of a car. Keeping activities organized will make the trip more enjoyable and help make sure that nothing is accidentally damaged or lost.
A great solution for the little ones is to allow them to have their own organizer in the car. The Travel Tray Organizer from BE Family Travel Products comes in multiple colors and is a great solution to keep children occupied on long journeys.
Suction Cup Bathroom Organizers
A great way to keep small toys, colored pencils, and snacks off the floor and within the reach of little hands is to use suction cup organizers and stick them to the passenger windows.
Organize Chargers, Batteries and Tech Toys
With all of the downtime in the car, tablet and phone batteries are going to take heavy use. Pack extra batteries, charging banks, and USB cords for all devices so that they are handy in the car when needed. Try picking up a few glasses cases from the dollar store to keep extra cords and earbuds in.
Storage for Comfort Items
Find some extra room to store small throw blankets and pillows by suspending a mesh canopy a few inches from the roof. Or, use an over-the-door pocket organizer for shoes on the backside of captains chairs to provide extra, out-of-the-way storage.
Road Trip Activity Books
Also sometimes referred to as quiet-time books, it is basically a binder filled with kid-friendly activities that don’t require batteries, a lot of storage space, and can be used while confined to a car seat. Make a set of paper dolls with printables and self-laminating sheets or add some dry erase markers and print some DIY comic book pages to include in your book.
Organize Snacks and Food on the Road
From munchies to meals, bringing food along for the ride can keep tummies full and help with mood swings and temper tantrums. Packing your own food is also a more budget-friendly option than constantly hitting up drive-thrus and gas station convenience stores.
Freeze Drinks to Keep Cooler Cold
There is usually not a lot of room for full-size coolers so compact options are a necessity. Along with the space-saving benefits of a smaller cooler comes a hard limit on available space for food. Freeze bottles of water and Gatorade to use instead of ice in your cooler. You can drink them as they thaw and they are a lot less messy than actual ice that melts.
Keep the cooler accessible so that you do not have to pull over every time someone wants a snack or bottle of water. Putting the cooler in the cargo area is tempting, but more difficult to keep it available during the drive.
Use a Hard-Sided Plastic Tote for Snacks
Not all snacks need or should be stored in the cooler. Use a hard-sided plastic tote to store other snacks in the car to protect them from being smushed. Nut mixes, dried fruit, and granola bars are some of the best options keeping hunger at bay while in the car.
Organizing Luggage on a Family Road Trip
Once you get done filling the car with all of the essentials, entertainment, snacks, and drinks it might feel like you are running out of the room. Depending on your vehicle and the size of your family, it can be a real challenge to travel with all of those people and all of their suitcases.
Try Totes Instead of Suitcases
Larger than average families share their hacks for traveling by car and one method that seems to work well is to pack everyone's clothing and accessories into plastic totes instead of traditional luggage. By using uniform, perfectly square (or rectangular) boxes you can fit more in the available cargo area. Traditional luggage usually comes in three to five different sizes and ends up being mismatched in sizes. While you can Tetris them in there pretty good, it is not as space-efficient as packing the cargo area with completely uniform boxes.
Hitch-mounted Luggage Racks
If you are absolutely packed to the brim and still need to find room for more stuff, then it is time to consider exterior storage. If your vehicle has a hitch, the best option is to purchase a hitch-mounted luggage rack that provides an additional space directly behind your vehicle. This is the least expensive option, assuming that you have a hitch. And, because it is adding a couple of feet directly behind the vehicle, there is virtually no impact on fuel economy. But, it can interfere with certain features on your vehicle like rear lift-gates and back up cameras.
Roof-top Cargo Carriers
If a hitch-mount is not feasible for your vehicle, there are a couple of roof-top options available for all types of cars. This is an easier option if your vehicle already has a roof rack, but not impossible if it does not. The good news is that roof-top carriers generally provide more cargo space than a hitch-mount. And, they generally protect your belongings from weather conditions and theft. The bad news is that they can be cumbersome to install and load. And, roof-top cargo carriers do change the aerodynamics of your vehicle which causes more noise when driving at higher speeds and lower fuel economy.
Use a Small Utility Trailer
Another option, if your vehicle already has a hitch, is to use a small utility trailer to pull behind for extra cargo room. A utility trailer is a pretty versatile piece of equipment. It might cost the most out of all options, but it will also likely get more use outside of just road trips. It is more aerodynamic than a roof-top cargo box and is virtually quiet to pull. Utility trailers also offer the most cargo area, hands down, and are great for very large or odd-shaped items. On the downside, a trailer will require additional registration and maintenance to keep it in good shape and storage might be a problem.
Traveling with kids makes everything a little more difficult. Family road trips are no exception, but they can be manageable with a little bit of effort to get organized before the trip. You can bring as much or as little as you want, as long as it is organized in a way that works for your family.