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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 might imagine, if you are prepared. Over the years, we have taken many 10+ hour road trips with our son. Part of our success lies in the below items which make our road trips more pleasant for everyone. Here are my 8 essential items for successful road trips with kids. I promise these things will be game changers for your family road trips!
1. A Lap Desk
One of the most important essential items for successful road trips with kids is the lap desk. You can buy a lap desk for your kids, but I prefer a homemade one. A lap desk gives your kids a surface to play on while in the car. It will hold their toys, books, crayons, and tablets. It also gives them a table when it’s time to eat.
Several years ago, I made one for my son. 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.
I like this lap desk better than store bought ones because of the cookie sheet. The small rim prevents crayons and toy cars from rolling off. Because it’s metal, it’s perfect for playing with magnets. And it easily fits in my son’s lap. The lap desk makes everything else he does in the car easier, which in turns makes my life easier.
2. A Portable DVD Player
The portable DVD player may be the greatest invention ever for road trips with kids! It is small, lightweight, and easy for kids to maneuver by themselves. You can find the one that we have at Amazon.com.
I know that these days many people 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. He enjoys them so much, we hardly know he’s in the car with us!
3. A Movie Case
Because many of our road trips are over 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 don’t want to pack a pile of DVD cases each time we travel. 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 decides what DVD’s he wants to take and puts them in the case. He can easily switch out movies as often as he likes while in the car. This movie case has eliminated him constantly saying, “Mama, I need a new movie!”
I love that this movie case doesn’t take up much space and keeps all of the movies in one location so they don’t get lost.
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 in the middle of July! So, headphones are one of the essential items for successful road trips with kids. They allow you to keep your sanity!
We prefer the over-the-ear style headphones because they are more comfortable for my son. You can also buy these at Amazon.
5. A Tablet
Eventually, your kids will grows tired of watching movies and want something else to do. This is when having a tablet in the car comes in handy. Your kids can play games or read an ebook on the tablet. Just make sure to pack a charger because the battery will die at some point during your trip!
The DVD player and the tablet together provide a good 10-15 hours of entertainment for my son! These two things alone can get us through most road trips.
6. A Travel Pillow
Next on our list of essential items for successful road trips with kids is a travel pillow. Hopefully, your kids will sleep for at least a little bit while you are in the car. And if they do, they will want to have a pillow.
Travel pillows are great because they are small and can be easily used in any position. They are also great for providing a little support to your lower back when it gets stiff.
Many times on our road trips, we leave in the wee hours of the morning, so my son will sleep for the first part of the trip. So, a travel pillow is a necessity.
7. A Blanket
Another essential item for successful road trips with kids is a blanket. Blankets have so many uses when in the car. They can keep your child warm, block the glare from the sun, and can be an extra pillow for extra comfort.
We normally use a small throw that won’t take up a ton of space. My son always sleeps better when he has a blanket. 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 our valuables 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. A Food Container
When we are on a road trip, we try to minimize the amount of time that we are stopped. 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.
To solve this problem, I like to use a food container. This is a game changer! I use a plastic desk organizer for my son’s food container. He can hold it in his lap or on his lap desk and it easily 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 contained and 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 your kids while on the road, and pack appropriately. The above essential items for successful road trips with kids are sure to make your next family road trip a great one.
For more road trip tips, see our ultimate guide to family road trips, 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.
And don’t miss our complete guide to happy travel with kids.