I’ve partnered with Diono for this post.
We love to travel and have fun over the summer with our 4 kids, the problem is that flying with all six of us is pretty pricey. That means when we drive to Orlando (12 hours) or Williamsburg (4 hours), or any other place we decide to go, we load up the Honda Odyssey and settle in for a long drive. Over the years I’ve learned what things make for the best road trips with kids. In random order, here you go!
Snacks (And Lots of Them)
There is something about getting into the car that apparently makes my kids super hungry. We pass all those restaurants and all of a sudden they are just starving! To save money (and time) I pack plenty of snacks for the trip. I let each child choose one special snack from the grocery store and then pack a number of other options that I choose myself. You can save money by purchasing a regular or family size package of chips, crackers, cookies, etc. and then bagging them yourself into Ziploc bags. Some good snack ideas are:
- Apple Slices
- Carrots and celery sticks
- Fruit Snacks
- Granola Bars
- Drinks (either in bottles or sippy cups with lids, depending on the age of your child)
Don’t worry about packing too many snacks because you can continue to use them once you get to your destination and for the return trip.
Potty on the Go
If you have a young child (under the age of 5) who has potty trained, I highly recommend keeping a portable potty seat in the car at all times, but especially for road trips. It never fails that we could be on a long stretch of highway without a place to stop when someone has to go to the bathroom. You really don’t want to have to clean that out of a car seat! We keep a small potty in our minivan for those moments when someone HAS to go (ours is the Pourty Potty and I love it because it’s 1 total piece and super easy to empty and clean). Besides having a potty in the car, we also keep a roll of toilet paper, baby wipes, a bottle of water for rinsing, and Diono Bag It Portable Trash Bags for the toilet paper and in case of a bowel movement. I just put the potty seat on the floor of the minivan and then shut the van door to give the child some privacy. (I have a disposable puppy pad I put under it too, just in case of an accident. You could also use a plastic bag.) To be quite honest, sometimes the public restrooms are so dirty (and you know how kids touch everything) so we resort to using the potty in the van in those instances too.
Safe & Comfortable Car Seat
You must must MUST make sure you have a car seat that is:
- installed correctly (many are not – if you are unsure, you can locate a car seat inspection in your area here)
- the proper size for your child
- comfortable for your child
My go-to brand for car seats has become Diono, and I especially love their Radian RXT Convertible + Booster seat. Three out of the four car seats in my minivan are the Diono Radian RXT (the other is a Diono Pacifica). I love the Diono RXT for a few reasons:
- It has a VERY long life and can be used with rear-facing children from 5-45 lbs, forward-facing children from 20 – 80 lbs in a 5-point harness, then converts to a booster for children up to 120 lbs.
- It fits 3 across in most mid-size vehicles (in our minivan we have 2 RXTs and the Pacifica as 3 across), folds flat for travel and is FAA certified
- Full steel frame and aluminum reinforced sides for unmatched safety
My kids love their Diono seats. They’ve never complained about not being comfortable in them. Oh and for the snacks you’re taking along, Diono car seats come with a snack/drink cup attachment! If you want to read my full review of the Diono Radian RXT click here. I also have reviews for the Diono Rainier and Diono Pacifica seats.
Change of Clothes (that are easy to access)
You really never know what might happen while you’re on the road. You child could spill a drink, have a bathroom accident or, even worse, vomit. We keep a small, easily accessible bag which contains a change of clothes for each child, plus extra baby wipes, diapers and sunscreen. This is also the bag you’ll want to keep in the vehicle once you reach your destination so you have it for day trips.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand a cluttered vehicle. When you’re going on a road trip, it seems that the clutter can happen really fast, but it doesn’t have to! My kids are always wanting to bring things along for the road (books, knicknacks, hairpieces that inevitably come off 10 minutes later, etc.) and I knew I had to figure out a system to keep things organized. A few months ago I got on Amazon and ordered 2 of Diono’s Stow “N Go Car Organizers for my older kids. Not only do they let them organize all the junk they want to bring with them, they also double as protection for the back of our leather seats (so they can’t put their feet on them!). It’s a win-win!
I loved the Stow “N Go so much that then I got the Travel Pal Car Storage for additional storage. These are great for between two back seats or (like we’re using it) between the driver’s seat and front passenger’s seat. It provides my husband and I with extra cupholders and also a place to store our sunglasses, phone chargers, wallet, and other necessities.
When I was a child, we would take books, magnetic games, and small toys to entertain us for a long drive. These days, kids have a lot of options. We have a built-in DVD system in our van and it is a lifesaver. Tablets with pre-loaded movies are also a great idea for keeping kids entertained for a long drive. If you don’t have either of those though (or don’t want to let your child have screen time for the entire trip) there are other great options for entertainment:
- Road trip games, like this Ultimate Slug Bug game
- Coloring books and crayons
- Picture books
- Music CDs for a car sing-along. We love the Disney Legacy Collection
- Handheld games
- Paper dolls
- Small action figures
I have a few more tips for you that don’t fall into a certain category but you should know about!
- Take breaks to stretch legs. We try to make our meal breaks count. We stop at fast food restaurants that have a play place or pack a picnic and stop at a park so everyone can move around for a little while. The Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder app is a free virtual guidebook to every U.S. federal and state park as well as more than 50,000 local parks.
- Drive a portion during sleeping hours. We once drove to Florida and pulled an all-nighter. We left at about 7pm and got to our destination at around 1pm the next day…….exhausted. Of course the kids had slept so they were ready to go. It took us days to recover and we’ll never do that again. We will however plan the trip to drive a few hours while they are sleeping. We are “night people” and our kids go to bed around 7pm, so for us that means we’ll plan the trip so we’ll be driving (taking breaks) during 10am-11pm (and either end at our destination or a hotel around that time). If you’re a morning person I’d suggest hitting the road about 3 hours before your kids normally wake up. Just carry them to the car in their pajamas.
- Do NOT drive sleepy. People die every year because of this. It’s just not worth the risk, so don’t do it!
- Invest in a Power Inverter. This little device has come in SO handy on our trips! You just plug it into the car lighter socket and you have electric outlets and USB charging ports for your devices. We love ours SO much. It was well worth $25 we spent on it!
Above all else, remember that getting there can be half the fun! Enjoy yourself — it’s vacation!
To make it easier as you’re packing, I’ve created a free printable checklist for you. Click HERE for the full size printable version.