Between visiting out of state family and friends and our annual vacation we take between 3-5 long road trips each year. The length of the trips range from 8-12 hours and with each experience we've learned a few more tips for traveling as a family. Below are our recommendations for what to pack for long car rides when traveling with young children.
Traveling with Kids – What to Pack for Long Car Rides
Planning for long car rides is especially important. After all, if your family is going to be in the confines of a car for hours upon hours, preparation can be a lifesaver and reduce the amount of times you hear the phrase “Are we there yet?”
Must Have Item #1 – Individual Travel Bags
Allow each of your children to pack a bag of there own. This gives them the opportunity to select their favorite toys and personal items. We have a small plastic shoebox container that the kids can fill with whatever they want. The only rule is that the lid has to close. We call it their toy box.
The container is then stored instead a reusable bag along with a blanket, small pillow and “drawing tray” (more about that in the Coloring Supplies section).
Each child is responsible for their own bag and the toys they select to bring are often the items that keep them entertained the longest during the trip.
Must Have Item #2 – Books
Reading books is a great way to pass the time during long road trips. Grab some of your favorites from home, and head to your local library to pick up some new books. Take a few minutes to choose books that relate to your child's favorite topics. Here are a few of the types of books we brought along this year:
Discovery Kids: 1,000 Facts You Just Won't Believe – This book was a travel gift from grandma and it was a HUGE hit. Packed with facts on topics ranging from the human body, animals, history, gadgets and much more. We all enjoyed learning fun new things as we read the book out load during our drive.
- I Spy Treasure Hunt: A Book of Picture Riddles
- I Spy Extreme Challenger: A Book of Picture Riddles
- I Spy Mystery: A Book of Picture Riddles
Look-Alikes – Similar to the I Spy books, but with a unique twist. Each picture is composed of 100s of different everyday objects. For example, the image of a train is made up of a flashlight, zippers, a compass, acorns, teabags and many more objects. Each time you browse the pages you are sure to find something new. Here are some of our favorites:
- Look-Alikes: The More You Look, the More You See!
- Look-Alikes Jr.: The More You Look, the More You see!
- Look-Alikes Around the World
Must Have Item #3 – Coloring Supplies
If your kids enjoy drawing packing various coloring books and worksheets is another great way to pass the time during a long car ride. In addition to the books, you'll need to consider what your children will use to color with and on.
Color-by-Number Books – Color by Number books hold the attention of my kids for longer than regular coloring books. Because of this, I make sure to include a couple for long car rides.
Activity Sheets – There are many online resources that offer FREE activity worksheets. You can find worksheets with holiday themes, on any and every sport, cartoons and much more. You can then print as many sheets as needed. Helpful Tip: Be sure to print enough for the car ride home too!
Crayola Twistables – These are the perfect crayon to use in the car. No need to sharpen, they won't melt in the heat leaving multicolored stains on the carpet and they are easy enough for little hands to twist as needed. I highly suggest picking up a pack or two for your next road trip.
- Crayola 24ct Mini Twistables Crayons
- Crayola 24ct Mini Twistable Special Effects Crayons
- Crayola 30 Count Twistable Colored Pencils
Drawing Tray – If your child is going to draw in the car, they will need a hard surface to do so. This doesn't need to be anything fancy, in fact for years we have just used the tops off our small Rubbermaid containers. Maybe one day we will spring for one of the portable travel trays, but for now the container lids work just fine.
Must Have Item #4 – Homemade Mixed Music CDs
Edited: Since we now have smart phones we put all our vacation songs on the phone and play them through there.
For each road trip, we make our own travel CDs. Throughout the year when we hear a new song that we like, we add it to our “vacation list.” Then about a week before our trip, I begin to download the songs. Once I have all the songs downloaded I burn them using the random setting to a CD(s).
This year we had a total of 5 CDs with songs ranging from 80s hits, current Pop songs, Cartoon Theme Songs, One Hit Wonders, and our favorite Christian songs. The eclectic mix keeps everyone entertained and dancing to the music as we drive.
Must Have Item #5 – Food, Drinks and Snacks
Lastly, but arguably the most important thing to pack for a road trip is food, drinks and snack items. After all, it's not uncommon to hear “I'm hungry” within the first 5 minutes of the drive.
Food Storage Containers – I have an individual container with a lid for each child that I refill as needed. The container serves multiple purposes. First, it reduces the amount of spills, crumbs and clean-up needed. Secondly, the lid allows us to save partially eaten sandwiches or snack items for later in the trip.
Soft Sided Cooler – A cooler with a handful of ice packs will help you keep food and drinks cold throughout your trip. We prefer the soft sided design so it can be folded for easier storage when not in use.
Plastic Grocery Bags – Bring along a handful of Plastic Grocery Bags to hold the miscellaneous pieces of trash you will accumulate on your trip (i.e. Banana Peels, Chip Bags, Paper, etc).
Go-to Food & Drinks – While each families tastes and preferences will vary, these are a few of our favorite items to bring along to eat in the car.
Fruit (Bananas, Apples, Oranges, Grapes)
- Homemade No-Bake Energy Bites (Nut Free Version)
- Cut up pieces of Cheese
- Pepperoni Slices
- Granola Bars / Fruit Bars
- Gummy Bears
Those are our must have items for long family car trips. As long as we have them packed in the car we are good to go and the trip is much more relaxing for everyone.
What about you? I'm sure there are things you would add to the list. What are your must have items for traveling with kids?
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