For families with young children, taking a road trip is often preferable to flying for many reasons. You can bring as much baby gear as you need to feel comfortable, you can stop whenever you need a break, and if your child is crying or misbehaving, there are no fellow passengers to worry about.
If you feel nervous about driving long distances with babies and toddlers, that’s totally normal! However, road trips don’t have to be scary! Our family has been taking dozens of road trips each year with 4 young children in tow, and I’ve noticed that the more often we drive long distances, the better the kids get at entertaining themselves in the car!
I’ve also figured out how to harness the chaos that comes with all that fun and entertainment to keep the car organized on our road trips.
Organizing the Car for a Road Trip with Kids
4 Organizing Principles I follow to Make the Most of our Space
With 4 kids in car seats, there is not a lot of open space to put things, especially when I need to climb in back during stops to help with buckles or hand out food.
I make use of vertical space. Seat back organizers and car hooks that connect to headrests are a game changer! I like to keep as much floor space open as I can.
I keep similar items corralled in plastic containers with lids so they can stack up nicely and I can see what’s in each bin. You might use storage containers for shoes, blankets, neck pillows, toys, snacks, or electronics.
Always have a receptacle for trash. It can just be a plastic bag, a cereal container with a plastic bag lining it, or one of those fancy car trash cans you order online. At every stop, make sure you collect the trash, so you stay on top of it!
Get kids involved in organizing if you can! The more they feel in control of their space, the more they will take responsibility for their things and keep their seat area tidy.
Ok, let’s talk about specific organization techniques for organizing a car for a long road trip with kids!
Pack a large cooler and a small cooler.
The large cooler will go in the trunk and carry the things you’ll need when you arrive at your destination. Milk, coffee creamer, any meals you’re packing for the trip, yogurt, butter, and jelly.
Before the trip, freeze water bottles that are ¾ full of water, and use those as your ice packs. Blocks of ice stay frozen longer than individual ice cubes, and then you’ll have extra drinking water as it melts.
The smaller cooler is the one you’ll keep in the cab of the car. This will hold your lunch and perishable snacks. I like to pack each person’s food in a flat divided container, so they all stack nicely, and I don’t have to worry about dividing up food during the drive.
Perishable lunches and snacks include sandwiches, fruit, veggies, string cheese, yogurt tubes, and apple sauce pouches.
Pack individual snack bags.
Each kid will get non-perishable snacks in a gallon-size bag or a reusable silicone bag. Explain to them at the beginning of the drive that those snacks are all they get, so they might want to ration them accordingly. For toddlers, I keep the bag and dole out the snacks at the intervals I feel most comfortable with.
These bags will contain crackers, veggie straws, granola bars, pretzels, dried fruit, and maybe even their favorite candy or treat.
I keep their snack bags stored in seat-back organizers or compartments next to the kids’ seats.
Organize toys and entertainment in easy-to-reach spots.
Older kids each get to pack one backpack or drawstring bag with toys, audiobooks, small stuffed animals, crayons, or whatever else they decide to bring to entertain themselves.
I let them set up their items in a seat-back organizer so they can find what they need without making a mess. Their bags get hung on hooks connected to the headrests, so they don’t take up valuable floor space.
For babies and toddlers, keep their toys in a clear bin with a lid so it stacks easily with other items in the cab of the car. Since they don’t use their foot space, you can keep their toy bin and diaper caddy on the floor below their car seat.
Entertaining Kids on a Long Road Trip
In general, I find that the older my kids get, the less I need to worry about toys and the more I need to focus on activities like coloring pages, word searches, scavenger hunts, and audiobooks.
For toddlers and older babies though, having a variety of toys that stimulate their imagination and keep them occupied independently is key.
Use educational and engaging toys.
Our family has been using VTech® toys for years to occupy babies and toddlers on long road trips! VTech® toys are both educational and incredibly engaging for young children who normally struggle to entertain themselves on road trips.
As a mom of 4 young kids, I can’t always sit next to my baby or toddler making sure they’re entertained, so it helps to have some favorite toys to fall back on during the drive.
The VTech® Turn & Learn Driver™ was an absolute favorite for my younger kids. This pretend steering wheel allowed them to imagine they were driving just like Mom and Dad! The 5 buttons on top introduced them to different types of vehicles, which they were thrilled to point out on the road.
They also learned about traffic lights and animals with fun sounds, and an interactive lever and gear shifter.
This toy was a natural fit for a road trip with young kids because they can so easily make connections to the real world, which is the best way to learn!
● VTech® Click & Count Remote™
What toddler doesn’t love stealing the remote? Luckily with the Click & Count Remote™ they can have their own!
I love that this remote teaches kids their numbers while they pretend to change channels just like their family members. I’ll admit, the songs are pretty catchy, and I find myself singing them while going about my day!
Using the arrow buttons allows the kids to hear what is on each channel just like in real life! One channel is news (“Breaking news…”), another is weather (“Today is going to be sunny!”), and another is sports (“The game is on!”).
The VTech® Click & Count Remote™ is great for road trips due to its small size. It’s easy to pack and young kids can hold it on their own. You can also adjust the volume if others are trying to read or rest.
● VTech® Brilliant Baby Laptop™
I’ll admit that as a blogger and freelancer I often find myself taking out my laptop to sneak in some work on a road trip.
Now with the Brilliant Baby Laptop™, my youngest can get her “work” done right along with me!
Our 1-year-old loves walking around the house carrying her laptop by the handle, so it’s super easy for her to take on-the-go.
She can choose to learn about animals or shapes, or just listen to music. The familiar icons like mail, music, and a clock make little ones feel like they’re using a real computer. There’s even a movable mouse, which is perfect since our toddler loves stealing the wireless mouse from her dad’s computer.
● VTech® Touch & Chat Light-Up Phone™
Parents, let’s be honest with ourselves. It’s easy to get caught up in some extra social media scrolling on a road trip.
My toddler is currently in a monkey-see, monkey-do phase, which means I’m so thankful I can hand her the VTech®Touch & Chat Light-Up Phone™. The light up touch screen has 12 apps to choose from. Little ones can hear text messages, follow the map, play music, find out the weather, or hear their ABCs.
They can also slide the slider at the bottom of the phone to video call with their animal friends in Video Call mode. My kids are so used to video chatting with their grandparents, so it feels so natural to use this mode and make pretend video calls!
● VTech® Spin & Learn Color Flashlight®
If you’re driving when it’s dark out, the Spin & Learn Flashlight® is the perfect toy for a toddler. By pressing the turtle button on the handle, kids can use it like a real flashlight, or they can put the toy in play mode and turn the light different colors.
Kids can also learn about animals and colors by spinning the top of the flashlight. There are so many fun and educational activities in this tiny toy, and little ones will love seeing it light up the dark.
● VTech® Touch & Teach Sea Turtle™
Though the recommended ages for this toy are 12-36 months, our 4-year-old has claimed the Touch & Teach Sea Turtle™ for himself! This interactive storybook teaches early reading by helping kids identify their letters.
By changing the different play modes, kids can also focus on numbers and sea animals in addition to the letters. Keep your little one challenged with quiz questions and fun facts!
I love that my 1-year-old loves pressing the buttons and hearing the music, while my 4-year-old answers the questions and actually follows along with the prompts.
We can put the volume on low and let the little ones play with their sea turtle storybook while the older kids are reading or listening to their audiobooks!
● VTech® Busy Learners Activity Cube™
The Busy Learners Activity Cube has been a long-time favorite of the babies in our family - it’s been passed down for the last 2 kids, but the older kids always seem to get distracted by it when they’re playing with the baby, too!
The Cube has 5 sides with different purposes. One side has shapes and animals, and the songs are really quite catchy. Another side has instruments, and little ones can learn the names and sounds the instruments make. Other sides have sliding, spinning blocks to promote fine motor development.
While it’s a little bulky to play with in the car, we love bringing the Cube as a toy to play with at our final destination or at rest stops, since it keeps our toddler’s attention so well!
Find Age-Appropriate Entertainment for Older Kids
I love that VTech® doesn’t just cater to babies and toddlers. Our 8-year-old and 5-year-old love to play with the KidiZoom® Smartwatch DX2. These gadgets are perfect for the car because they can take pictures on their watches, record their voices, or play games.
We are not a video game family, so it’s nice to let the kids play games on their watches when they need a break from each other, but we’re stuck in the car for another few hours.
And when we stop at parks to take breaks from driving, they love challenging each other to see who can get more steps in. I don’t even have to force them to get some exercise!
Give Kids “New” Toys on the Trip
I don’t necessarily think you need to buy new toys before a road trip, but if you already have some tried-and-true favorites, put them in a bucket and store them somewhere kids can’t see them a week or so before your road trip.
When you bring them out to play with on the road one at a time, kids will feel like they’re getting brand new toys!
Have a Schedule in the Car
It might sound silly to do, but kids thrive on structure and schedules. Have a set amount of time for play, reading/quiet time, screen time, and playing a fun road trip playlist. Put an older toddler or big kid in charge of the timer, so they’ll be excited about switching from one item on the schedule to the next.
Family road trips are more popular than ever these days, and they can be such a fun way to bring your family closer together. There are always some challenges with babies and toddlers on a road trip, but if you come prepared with the right toys, the right snacks, and the right attitude, you and your family can accomplish anything!
I hope these tips help you enjoy your time together in the car with the kids. Now it’s time to go enjoy that vacation!
Emily Krause is a mom of 4, an avid traveler, and the creator of the family travel blog A Mom Explores. As a former high school Spanish teacher, she loves to incorporate educational activities and learning experiences into family trips. She currently resides in Wisconsin with her husband and 4 little ones, and has made it her mission to explore the Midwest one road trip at a time.