10 Things to Pack for a Road Trip With Kids, According to a Traveling Dad
The spring and summer are perfect times to relive that tried-and-true American tradition of the road trip. From torturing kids with forced visits to historical heritage sites, to them returning the torture by making you listen to them sing the songs from "Moana" for the ninth time, it's the perfect modern family adventure.
Especially in the world we now live in, the safety and comfort of your own car is a really easy and attractive way to travel — and maybe you're entering your last chance to take the kids on the road while you're all learning and working remotely. So for you parents getting into this for the first time, here are 10 things I find to be essential when taking long-haul drives with my kids.
Honestly, it doesn’t get any better than the classic iPad. From setting deep parental controls, to general compatibility with every app, streaming service, and accessory, the iPad reigns supreme. Whether you’re wiping and updating an old one in your drawer or getting the new 8th generation line, you can’t go wrong. Two tips: get more memory than you think you need so you can download/save as many movies and episodes offline as possible, and be sure to check in on the state of previously downloaded content weekly so you don’t get a surprise “expired” 15 minutes into the ride.
To buy: Apple iPad 8th Generation, amazon.com, $400 (originally $430)
With two or three kids in the same row of the backseat, I like to have them watch the same device. There are hundreds of versions of these on Amazon, but I like this one from Macally that is sturdy enough to hold a 10-inch tablet in place for the whole ride, and has the tilting needed for when mom or dad has to reach back and restart "Moana" for the 10th time. If you’re letting each kid watch solo, also look to prop the tablet up. But ditch the holder and instead get a case with a lanyard or even just a piece of twine to hook around the case handles and hang them off the back of your front car seat headrest.
To buy: Macally Car Headrest Mount Holder for Tablets, amazon.com, $27
I’m a gadget nerd, but I just can’t deal with bluetooth headphones for kids; I’m already stressed out enough by the need to charge every device. That's why I needed good kid-friendly wired headphones. Enter the JLab JBuddies Studio wired folding headphones. Comfy for long-haul trips, foldable for backpack storage, volume-limited, and colorful, they just rule. If you have two kids, grab yourself a splitter to let both kids watch the same movie and extend the length of the cords.
To buy: JLab JBuddies Studio Bluetooth Headphones, amazon.com, $30
Bento Lunch Box
For the parent who's trying to avoid another mess, and the kid who's glued to their 11th rewatch of "Moana" during the ride, a bento box for meals and snacks is the essential lap-friendly way to eat. We swear by the Yumbox Panino, which is leakproof, sturdy, and easy to clean.
To buy: Yumbox Panino Bento Box, amazon.com, $30
You can search far and wide for your Goldilocks water bottle for kids. For me, the one that takes a beating, leaks rarely, fits in every cup holder, is fully dishwasher safe, and has cheap and easy replacement parts is the Thermos Funtainer. They come in every color imaginable and have even more with character-inspired designs, so everyone knows which is theirs.
To buy: Thermos Funtainer, amazon.com, $17
For when their eyes finally tear up and minds break from too much screen time, or the queasies start to hit, make them look at the world whizzing by them with the help of some good old road trip Bingo. We love the flash-card gameplay of the Briarpatch Travel Scavenger Hunt. It says for ages 7 and up, but our 3-year-old loved to play too, and it even gets the parents involved when your podcast feed is somehow empty.
To buy: Briarpatch Travel Scavenger Hunt Card Game, amazon.com, $6 (originally $10)
Napkins & Baby Wipes
Bounty Napkins are the unsung hero of car trips because they are just paper towels in a perfect size. Hand them to the kids as they eat in the backseat, use one to mop up the inevitable spill, clean your sunglasses with one. Fill the glovebox or center console with a stack.
Keeping a stash of baby wipes in your door is the key to cleaning up. Out of the diaper stage? Don’t let that stop you, go grab a three-pack and stash them. From a messy face, to a minor spill, to cleaning bugs off the windshield, wipes can do it all. I’ve even used them to detail back seats encrusted with Goldfish dust and dried yogurt. The combo of these and the Bounty napkins keep your car clean for the long haul.
Kids make more trash than adults, it’s just science. The same meal in their hands has four more wrappers per item than the identical one you have. That trash, on a long car ride in the middle of tablet zombie binge, will inevitably go on the floor. Get yourself a car bin for these moments, so even if they think to hand you the trash, it goes somewhere. This one fits a standard shopping bag or small trash bag, and best of all folds up for when you’re back in the daily routine.
To buy: KMMOTORS Foldable Car Garbage Can, amazon.com, $10
Car Seats: know that there are so many factors as to which car seat to get. Look for all the necessary safety documentation before you make your choice. For us, we have tall kids, so the Britax Boulevard is perfect for our toddler. It's as solid and comfortable as you get. Yes, it's hard to fully clean, but it is a champ of being disassembled, wiped down, sterilized, and reassembled on the side of the road (which I know unfortunately too well). Our older kid just graduated to the Chicco Kidfit Booster Car Seat that is adjustable and sturdy while growing with them from full seat to just booster. And as a backup in case of an Uber or a grandparent's car for a short ride, we always keep a BubbleBum Inflatable Booster Car Seat packed, which has saved us stress and duplicative rides.
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