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Road trips, especially long ones, tend to strike fear in the hearts of most parents. But, they are really not as bad as you imagine, if you are prepared. Our family loves road trips. Over the years, we have taken many 10+ hour road trips with our son. He has no problem being in the car for so long. Part of our success lies in these items which make our road trips more pleasant for everyone. Here are my 8 essential items for a successful road trip with kids. I promise these things will be a game changer for your family when it comes to road trips!
1. The Lapdesk
Several years ago, I made my son a lapdesk to use in the car. It is basically a small cookie sheet with a simple pillow roughly the same size as the cookie sheet attached to the back with velcro. This lapdesk is one of the essential items for a successful road trip with kids because it gives a surface to play on while in the car.
I like this lapdesk better than ones in the stores because of the cookie sheet. The small rim on it prevents crayons and toys from rolling off. Because it’s metal, it’s perfect for playing with magnets. It easily fits in his lap which gives him plenty of room to hold his DVD player, snacks, and anything else he has. This simple item makes everything else he does in the car easier, which in turns makes my life easier.
2. The Portable DVD Player
The portable DVD player may be the greatest invention ever for road trips with kids! My mom bought it for my son several years ago and we love it! It is small, lightweight, and easy for my son to maneuver by himself. It has a swivel screen, so he can fold the screen down and the whole machine will lay flat in his lap. You can find the one that we have at Amazon.com.
I know that some people these days have DVD players built into their cars. We intentionally do not have a built-in system. I want my son to be able to sit in the backseat for short periods of time without a screen in front of his face. So, I prefer the portable version because it allows me to control when it is available and when it’s not. We only take it when we will be in the car for more than 2 hours. My son spends the vast majority of long road trips watching movies.
3. The Movie Case
Because many of our road trips are 10+ hours long, it is important to have a variety of movies in the car for my son to watch while on the road. But, I didn’t want to have to pack a pile of DVD cases each time we traveled. The solution I found is a cheap zippered CD case that will hold 20 or so DVD’s. I found the one we use at a local dollar store. Before each trip, my son goes decides what DVD’s he wants to take and puts them in the case. I love that it doesn’t take up much space and keeps all of the movies in one location so none get lost. With it, he can easily switch out movies as often as he likes. This simple case has eliminated me repeatedly hearing, “Mama, I need a new movie!”
4. The Headphones
Any parent who has gone through the toddler stage will tell you that small children LOVE watching the same thing over and over and over again! While I love my son, I don’t want to hear Frosty the Snowman 15 times in a row, especially when in the middle of July! So, headphones are one of the essential items for a successful road trip with kids because they allow you to keep your sanity! We prefer the over-the-ear style of headphones because they are more comfortable for my son. You can also buy these at Amazon.com.
5. The Tablet
Eventually, my son grows tired of watching movies and want something else to do. This is when having his tablet in the car comes in handy. It allows him to play games or read a book. The DVD player and the tablet together provide a good 10-15 hours of entertainment for him! Just make sure to pack a charger because the battery will die at some point during your trip!
6. A Travel Pillow
Usually, my son will asleep for at least a little while in the car. Many times, we leave in the wee hours of the morning, so he will sleep for the first part of the trip. So, having a travel pillow in the car for him is a necessity. We use them in the car and on airplanes.
7. A Blanket
Lastly, another essential item for a successful road trip with kids is a blanket. We normally use a small throw that won’t take up a ton of space. My son sleeps better when he has a blanket to cover up with. Sometimes, even when he is awake, he will want a blanket because he gets cold. Another plus of having the blanket in the car is that whenever we stop, I can use it to cover all of the valuables in the car so they are out of sight while left unattended in the car. This makes it less likely that our car will get broken into.
8. The Food Container
When we are on a road trip, we try to minimize the amount of time that we are stopped. Whenever we stop, we all go to the bathroom, we fill up the car, and we get food. For meals, we prefer to do fast food in the car to save time. But, it is difficult for younger children to balance all of their food while in their car seats, even if they are eating chicken nuggets. The food container is the solution I came up with to solve this common problem. It was a game changer for us! I use a plastic desk organizer from the Container Store as my son’s food container. He can hold it in his lap or on his lapdesk and it contains his food while he is eating in the car. It’s perfect because each compartment can hold a different food item. And because it is plastic, spills are easy to clean. My husband has even been known to use it in the car!
Road trips with kids, even long ones, can be fun experiences! You just need to plan ahead, think about the needs and wants of you and your child while on the road, and pack appropriately. The above essential items to a successful road trip with kids are sure to make your next family road trip a great one. For more road trip tips, see our tips for road trips with kids, how to handle kids and car sickness, tips for road trips with babies and toddlers, the best snacks for road trips, and screen free activities for road trips. For road trip safety, see our safety tips for road trips and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website. Happy travels!