tips for family road trips

Family road trips can be a challenge for restless kids - not to mention road-weary adults.

These tips for family road trips are designed to keep little ones happily occupied (and not killing each other) on short errands and long drives and to make sure you're prepared for the slight curves life throws you and the troops on the road.

I've divided the stuff into categories. Just consider each category a survival kit, and package that stuff together in zip-close plastic bags or clear plastic bins.

Make room in your vehicle for these survival kits: bad-hair day survival kit, boredom survival kit, injury survival kit, and a mess survival kit.

Boredom Survival Kits for Kids on Family Road Trips

I get so cranky with parents who do not bring toys or games to amuse their small children in restaurants and other public places.

If you must bring toddlers to a nice restaurant or doctor's office, at least keep them amused and quiet.

I pack activity kits for each kid. The kids can take the activity kits into restaurants, meetings, or even boring visits with Mom's friends and stay occupied. That way, I can enjoy myself, too.

The kits also keep kids happy on both short errands and long drives. Good kid kits for little kids include:

  • Aluminum foil. Do you know how much art kids can make from this stuff? Think rings, crowns, and necklaces.
  • Action figures, small dolls, or plastic animals. Bonus buy: A lot of them come in little kits designed to be portable. Choose these whenever possible. I picked up a clear vinyl-like backpack filled with toy soldiers for my 5-year-old recently. He takes them just about everywhere, including the grocery store.
  • Coloring books. And crayons or markers, of course.
  • Magnetic board games and wipe-clean games. These are really great choices because pieces can't get lost or bumped into oblivion.

Good kits for big kids include:

  • Books. For the child who loves Harry Potter or any other book series, he or she will be happily occupied when you bring along her favorite reads.
  • Deck of cards. So many options, so much time!
  • A portable music player and headphones

It's also a good idea to bring a pillow for each kid to encourage naps. And pack water bottles and healthy snacks that are minimal mess-makers, such as frozen grapes, cereal o's, fruit roll-ups, and juice boxes. 

Bad-Hair Day Survival Kit

Not really just for bad-hair days, this survival kit is there for those days your makeup needs a touchup, or your hair needs help. Stash these items in a small bin in your car:

  • Brush
  • Contact lens solution and case
  • Hair ties
  • Lint brush
  • Makeup kit

Along the same lines, keep a change of clothes for you and each of your kids at the ready in the car, too.

My friend Kimberli's daughter wears a uniform to school. And at least once a month, she will get ink, milk, or some other goodie on her uniform between home and the bus stop. No kidding! My friend packs an extra uniform just for that reason.

Don't forget the just-in-case clothes and accessories: umbrellas, rain ponchos, gloves and mufflers in the winter, walking shoes, sun hats and visors, and sunglasses in the summer.

Pack an Injury Survival Kit on Family Road Trips

Car safety essentials including a first aid kit and reflective triangle.

We all know we need a first-aid kit at home when we have kids. But do you carry one in the car?

Since we spend so much time on the road with rambunctious kids, being prepared for minor overzealousness and medical mishaps is essential. (Not to mention the need for aspirin to treat the occasional headache caused by a long road trip with loud, active kids.)

Use whatever you have handy, such as an art supply box or a tackle box, to stash and store:

  • Adhesive tape
  • Antiseptic wipes or ointment, burn ointment, and hydrocortisone cream
  • Bug spray
  • First aid manual with CPR instructions
  • Instant cold packs
  • Over the counter medications such as kids' Tylenol or Motrin and aspirin (not for anyone under 12, however)
  • Sterile gauze
  • Stretch bandages
  • Sunscreen
  • Tweezers for bee stings or splinters

Mess Survival Kit

Here's what you need to keep the car, and the little passengers inside, moderately clean. Store these items in a small clear bin in the back of your car, but make sure it's easily accessible:

  • Bottled water (You can drink it or you can use it to clean up spills.)
  • Napkins (Leftover fast-food napkins are perfect.)
  • Plastic bags for wet clothing or other items
  • Roll of paper towels
  • Tissues
  • Trash receptacle or bag
  • Wet wipes or a tub of baby wipes

Happy travels!

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