5 Things You REALLY Need for a Road Trip with Young Kids (+ 4 Things You Don’t)

The Scene

Spring break; a six-year-old, three-year-old, and two parents; and a 19-hour car ride (as projected by Google Maps, without stops).


The Task

Come up with things to keep both kids happy and quiet in a small space for a long time.

Of course, I did what all good moms do and headed straight to Pinterest to search for things like “road trip with kids,” “family road trip,” “road trip hacks,” and “easy and mess-free road trip ideas that will actually work.” Okay, that last one wasn’t really something I searched for, but ultimately that’s what I wanted. But you get the idea.

If you’re like me and you’ve been in this position and were desperate to find ways to keep your kids entertained for a long period of time in a vehicle, then you probably found all the same ideas I did. I mean, there’s lots of them out there–from little metal lunch boxes filled with LEGOS to DIY head straps to keep your kid’s chin from hitting his chest when he sleeps.

But, if you’re also like me, you looked at most of those ideas, rolled your eyes, and thought there was NO WAY you were going to spend that much time, effort, and money on something, when deep down you know your kids just want candy.

If you have a road trip coming in the near future (hello…SUMMER!) then hopefully my thoughts and experiences will help you find just the right things to keep your kids happy in the car (and help you keep your sanity).

5 Things You REALLY Need for a Road Trip with Young Kids (+ 4 Things You Don't)

4 Things You Don’t Need

First, why I chose not to do some of the more “popular” ideas that kept popping up in my searches:

LEGO box.

Ummm…am I the only mom that doesn’t want to go on a scavenger hunt in my van looking for all the tiny little LEGOS every time my son drops them? Because, if we’re being honest, those LEGOS are NOT staying in that little box, no matter how cute it is.

Suction cup shower caddies on the windows.

Sometimes when I saw this one pop up, it showed the caddie filled with glass/window markers. No. Nope. No way. I was not willing to deal with MARKERS in my van. Markers that would undoubtedly be used on everything BUT the windows. Not to mention the number of times the caps would fall or get misplaced, then there’s just a cap-less marker rolling around on the floor for three days. And those suction cup shower caddies? I saw the potential, but I couldn’t quite understand how we were supposed to open the sliding van doors without smashing them up or knocking them off. Plus, my three-year-old wouldn’t even be able to reach anything suctioned to his window.

Tackle box snack pack.

The idea is that you fill each little compartment with a snack or treat and hand it over to your kids to enjoy whenever they need a snack. I fully understand the power of snacks on road trips, but I wasn’t about to give my kids free access to ALL their snacks anytime they wanted. Mostly because the chances were good the entire tackle box would end up turned upside down with the lid open.

“Simple” bucket and pulley system running between the front seat and back seat.

Okay, first, there was NOTHING simple about this, at least not for one who isn’t crafty or good at creating things. Second, I couldn’t quite see exactly how that was easier than just reaching behind me to hand them things.

5 Things You Do Need

There were SO. MANY. MORE ideas to sift through and I did find some inspiration for a few things that did work really well for us. Here are my top 5 things that got us through five days of driving:

5 Things You REALLY Need for a Road Trip with Young Kids (+ 4 Things You Don't)

Lap trays.

My six-year-old made good use of her lap tray and it gave her a good surface to color on, but mostly she used it when she ate. It ended up being too wide for my three-year-old’s car seat, so we had to turn it which made it more difficult to use. He was better off without it. Definitely a must for a little bit older kid that is more self-sufficient.

5 Things You REALLY Need for a Road Trip with Young Kids (+ 4 Things You Don't)

Stainless steel water bottles.

Find a kind that will actually keep ice water cold all day and has a straw for the kids to help avoid leaks and spills. One fill-up in the morning lasted all day!

5 Things You REALLY Need for a Road Trip with Young Kids (+ 4 Things You Don't)

Meal prep containers and a cooler.

We wanted to make good time and avoid lengthy stops, so we packed several meals to eat while driving. I bought cheap, plastic, three-compartment containers from Walmart and my husband at one point declared these the best part of the trip! They were great for packing our own meals, but they also came in super handy when we stopped for a hot meal. (Okay, it was McDonald’s. We stopped at McDonald’s a few times.) We went inside to use the restroom and got our order to go. Back at the van we unwrapped all the burgers, dumped out the nuggets and fries, and emptied the ketchup packets into the tray and got rid of all the smelly garbage before driving away!

Those things helped make the long drive manageable for us parents, but what did the kids really like?


Santa brought both kids a tablet for Christmas, so we downloaded movies that would work without WiFi. My daughter also had one of my really old iPhones that she plays games on. And we had a dual screen DVD player. Don’t forget a pair of headphones for each kid!

5 Things You REALLY Need for a Road Trip with Young Kids (+ 4 Things You Don't)


Who am I kidding? That was my favorite part, too! Ring Pops seemed to be a favorite and lasted a long time. I had one bag filled with snacks and one bag filled with candy. Pro Tip: open all bags and transfer contents to zip lock baggies before packing. That way you don’t end up with open bags and don’t have to fumble with chip clips or twist ties.

If you’ve been on a long road trip with kids, what worked for you and what didn’t?


Becky is a Minnesota Native and Wisconsin Badger fan living in the heart of Hawkeye Country. Since graduating from high school, she has lived in Duluth, MN; Birmingham, UK; Minneapolis, MN; Louisville, KY; and Madison, WI, but is now happy to call Iowa City home. She and her husband have been married for ten years and have a spirited four-year-old daughter and a mischievous baby boy. Becky juggles working from home and keeping two kids happy each and every day. In her free time, she enjoys working her side business, spending time with friends, relaxing with a good book, and eating snacks.


  1. We usually pack several snacks that are nutritions and filling but not salty or sweet. Why? Salty and sweet both lead to thirsty which leads to drinking a lot and hence needing to go to the toilet often, which is not very convenient. Also, backpacks with their entertainment: a small toy (like a baby, stuffed animal or car), mess free painting, small lacing game, educational cards, small activity books and their ipad with volume limiting headphones for emergencies. Now, that is mainly for air travel, for land we pack pretty much the same but they mostly sleep, enjoy the chosen music, sing or request songs for us to sing, and look through the window And comment, of course, so much to see and talk about!


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