Road-trip essentials for painless family travel

There is nothing like an epic family road trip to bring everyone together. Spending hours, or even days, together in a vehicle may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but in our family, it is one of our favourite ways to travel. My husband and I have road-tripped together as long as we’ve been married, and my family did when I was growing up. I guess you could say it’s in my blood. Years and years of travelling by car has helped me prepare for travelling as a parent, and over the years, I’ve figured out some family road-trip essentials for helping making travel as stress free as possible.

We have been roadtripping as a family with Q since he was an infant. In fact, his very first trip was a 3 hr drive to a nearby ski resort when was about 4 months old. A few months later, we took a flight halfway across the country and drove for 2 days to see family at the far opposite end of the province. Let me tell you, two 8 hour days in a car with a 9 month old baby is no cakewalk. I barely had a smartphone at that time, and didn’t know about Netflix, so we didn’t do any kind of tech in the car. Not that I would have plugged my not quite 1 year old in front of the TV or anything then, of course.

Our next big trip was a road trip to California just before Q turned 3. That time he was a busy preschooler, and was obsessed with dinosaurs and The Wiggles. That trip took 3 days each way, and we relied a lot on car games, books, music and his Leapfrog tablet. Being able to download Netflix shows onto your iPad or tablet was not a thing back then, but parents now are so much luckier when it comes to that sort of thing.

Our most recent road-trip as a family was a few years ago, just before Q turned 6. By that time he was starting to get into tablets and Netflix and all things electronic, but the beautiful scenery of the Oregon and California Coasts and a few good books were (almost) enough to keep him occupied.

I have come up with a road-trip essentials kit of sorts over the years, something to (hopefully) keep everyone happy during long hours on the road. I’ve adjusted it over the years as Q has grown, and anticipate that I’ll continue to tweak it as he enters his pre-teen and teenage years. Honestly, I make up a bag for myself too, since my husband prefers to do most of the driving. I’ll be sharing the kinds of things I put in our current road-trip kit, and also how I modified it when he was younger.

Road Trip Essentials Kit for big kids

  • Books
  • colouring books, crayons, plain paper
  • small figurines & playmat
  • book of travel games – license plate bingo, punchbuggy, I spy, hangman, squares, etc
  • kid-friendly playlist of music
  • headphones and music player – Perfect for those times when kid-friendly songs become annoying to parents – see: Pokemon music
  • tablet or iPad – This should be preloaded with games that don’t require data and downloaded Netflix shows & movies
  • snacks – Goldfish crackers, fruit (as long as you are not crossing any borders), pepperoni, cheese cubes, granola bars, anything small and portable works best
  • fidget spinner or fidget cube, Tangle, or anything else to keep hands occupied
  • a few new books or small toys that were purchased especially for the trip. I find that the excitement of getting a little gift part way through the day helps everyone get through those long hours. I’ve gotten mini colouring sets, a few books in a new series, craft kits, a new Leapfrog game, even mini Lego sets. Little things that can be picked up at the dollar store are great too, like sticker books, travel games, and little Hotwheels type cars. 

I pack everything into a little bag that I keep within arms reach, thus allowing me to be able to reach in and dole out something new when it’s needed.

For toddlers, I did more or less the same sort of bag with a few substitutions.

Road Trip Essentials Kit for toddlers

  • Books – board books work great, but we also liked to include interactive books too, like touch & feel, lift the flap & pop-up books
  • Stuffies
  • Removable stickers and sticker books
  • Car-friendly markers and special paper
  • Leapfrog or other kid-friendly tablet

We listen to a lot of music in the car, all kinds, and that has given Q an awesome appreciation and love for many different artists and genres, and not just kids songs. We also talk a lot about things we see, and different facts and interesting tidbits along tgecway. One thing we’ve always loved are the National Geographic Kids books – they have ones on animals, insects, dinosaurs and geography, just to name a few. Q especially loves the Weird but True fact books and the Just Joking joke books on car trips.

I find that kids (and all of us, really) are so plugged into the internet and their games and social media now that a bit of a forced unplugging while on a road trip is not a bad thing at all. It’s okay to be a bit bored, or to have to use your imagination or get lost in your thoughts, something I feel we don’t let our kids do enough of.

We’ve actually always tried our hardest to keep too much tech out of our car rides, but I cannot tell you the number of times over the years that we’ve stopped somewhere to stay for the night, especially when travelling in the US, and Q has wanted nothing more than to chill out and watch his beloved Netflix shows, only for us to discover that a) we have no internet and b) we have NO NETFLIX!!! I may be able to recall a time (or seven) when disappointment and/or tears ensued after this discovery.

Now, though, you can actually download a lot of your Netflix favourites so that you can watch them when you are offline, It’s a lot easier to prevent those travel-related disappointed tears when you have episodes of Storybots or Fuller House already loaded up and ready to go. I’m cheap when it comes to using data when I’m in the US, so this feature really rocks, in my opinion.

Family travel can be really stressful, and hopefully this little list will be helpful in making it a bit less so, especially during the busy holiday season.

Do you have favourite things to take on roadtrips?

We are part of the Netflix Streamteam, and get to share our favourite shows, suggestions and ideas with you each month. All opinions are mine, though, and you know that I will only share stuff that I truly believe will be of interest to you. 

I love comments! Care to share your thoughts?