Disclosure :: we included affiliate links below, but trust us – you will want to get these items for your kiddos before your next road trip!
It’s that time of year again, road trips, vacations, family trips. I mean, honestly, is it ever NOT that time of year? Not for us! We’re road trip-aholics. Currently, I have a 9yo, 5yo, and a 3yo, but we’ve been road tripping since my eldest was four weeks (when we drove to Houston). We’ve trekked all over: Atlanta, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Houston, Nashville, Natchitoches, just to name a few.
Here’s a little bit about us, we don’t do devices. This isn’t a judgment if you do, I promise! We just don’t, and I only tell you that because this post will be full of activities but not apps or programs. We do, now, have a TV in our car–although I try to reserve that to avoid danger naps, or for the drive home (because everyone is more exhausted going home from a good trip).
We typically have a snack bucket in the front seat. I’ve seen the adorable snackle boxes, but they just don’t work for us. Instead, I have a box of snacks I keep upfront that I can pass out at my discretion: Goldfish, Gogo SqueeZ, Teddy Grahams, Smashmallow, Chomps, etc. I have enough of each to distribute evenly.
Even when we had only one kid, we learned quickly their need to entertain themselves.
We bought a cubby organizer box and buckled it in beside her car seat (now it rides between the two big kids). In the cubby we rotated books, dolls, dinosaurs, cars, wipe clean (or dry erase) books, and lacing toys. This cubby is often filled with finds from the Dollar Spot as well. Things that are new and fun, but I can also throw away with zero guilt.
Road Trip Specialties:
I have a running Amazon list of things I’ll purchase specifically for road trips. These will vary by age but it’s a great list of mostly mess-free entertainment. Once we’re home they go in a bin until our next long road trip, by doing this they stay “new” and retain their awe factor (not all of these are put away, some are always in our car):
My Travel Tray – Seriously. These fit into the existing cup holder of their car seat or your car, but add a little tray for all the stuff! Each of my kids has at least one, and I have my own up front too! They’re great for holding sauces, nuggets, collected treasures, small pieces, chapstick–you name it
Reading Phones – these are great for a myriad of reasons: speech, reading aloud, pretend phone, self-entertainment
Water WOW – water. That’s it. And you’ll have hours of entertainment. The biggest “mess” may be if they color themselves (with water) or drink from the brush. It happens. But it’s just water! These can often be found on sale & I’ll stock up for road trips or birthday gifts
Melissa & Doug Reusable Sticker Pad – These were a fast favorite. No mess, and reusable. We keep all the pieces of retired pages in a box & use them for window decals until we buy the next batch of Reusable Sticker Pads
Colored Pencils & Notebook – I know you’re scared, but hear me out. Colored Pencils don’t melt like crayons, they don’t cover as much surface area as markers. My kids have done fairly well with pencils & paper. We just dump all our colored pencils in a metal lunch box and it goes with us everywhere. Dinner out? Built-in entertainment: tic tac toe, dots, drawing, hangman, possibilities are endless.
Color Wonder Stow & Go – markers that ONLY write on special paper? Yes, please! By investing in the Stow & Go you get a storage container and a hard surface for their creativity
Popsicle Sticks – Kind of weird, right? My little people will build and draw on popsicle sticks for hours. Whole cities and neighborhoods of people! Animals, astronauts, cell phones–you name it, they’ve created it
People Popsicle Sticks & Ooly Markers – I discovered these on accident actually. But since my kiddos were already in love with popsicle sticks, these were a bonus! We’ve created aliens, our family, astronauts, even double-sided people for multiple emotions.
Usborne Wipe-Clean Books & Dry Erase Markers – we have quite the collection of Wipe Clean books, this is great entertainment but also educational! Practicing pen control, letters, numbers, all sorts of things! If you get from Usborne the books come with a wipe-clean pen. But as a friendly mom hack, buy some spares. Toss them into an old peanut butter jar and you’re ready for any emergency.
Mini figures / Figurines / Army men – these are often found from the Dollar Spot: Mermaids, Jumbo Army men, wrestlers, dinosaurs, fairies. Then we pop them into a plastic carrying case and it’s contained entertainment.
Lap Travel Organizer – we only have one of these, but I always swear I’m going to buy more. Today is that purchase date! It gives your kids a waterproof surface area for their entertainment. These buckle around them to prevent dropping/spilling
AquaDoodle & refill Pens – one more water-only writing/coloring fun. We’ve had ours for years and they continue to offer lots of entertainment. Now we have definitely bought many, many replacement pens but they’re cheap so I don’t really mind.
MagnaDoodle – who doesn’t love a magna doodle?! Mess-free, these will entertain and are easily dropped into the bin between uses
LCD Writing Tablet – we use these tablets for school, but the kids love drawing on them. The “pens” can be easily lost, however, fingers draw just as easily!
Medicine Syringe – bare with me! This is for you, not the kids! But if you have a Water WOW or Aquadoodle you will eventually be asked for a refill. I dare you to try and gently pour from your water bottle into that tiny hole … add to that the whole moving vehicle thing & you end up with a lap full of water. Ask me how I know. But pack a syringe or two next to your dedicated refill bottle and BAM! You’re a miracle worker & the playing continues. You’re welcome.
Water Color Brush Pen Set – these are great because the water is IN the brush!
Travel Water Color Palette – used with the brush pens, this is a minimal mess but amped creativity toss in some napkins or paper towel for insurance and you’re good to go
Travel Water Color Journal – minimal space and drying, these are some of my favorite watercolor journals
Invisible Ink Pens – my kids LOVE writing/drawing secret messages. These pens allow them to feel like spies and pass notes to each other
LCD Writing Tablet – writing, drawing mess-free! Like a new age Magna doodle
Ooly Markers – we LOVE Ooly in our house, quality art supplies, minimal price
Journal/Drawing Notebook – my kids love a notebook! drawing, writing, diary–at their disposal anytime the urge hits
This is the ultimate hack. Inevitably your kid needs to potty in the middle of nowhere. OR kid 3 is asleep and kid 2 needs to pee, what are you gonna do?? Plus we all know loading and unloading kids is an Olympic sport and just adds time to your trip.
Get yourself a training toilet, a cheap one, with a removable pot. Now, put it in your car. In the trunk, in the back, our minivan has a seat that folds into the floor, so ours resides there. Now, grab some grocery bags, toilet paper, and maybe some wipes. If it’s urine, super simple swirl, and dump in the bushes or grass, then wipe clean. Now when a kid needs to poop, that’s where the bags come in. Line the pot with a grocery bag, lay some TP or paper towel in the bottom, and let the kid do their thing. When they’re done, tie it up and drop it in a dumpster.
We listen to a lot of music and books in the car. Before a long trip I will create a playlist for me and a few for the kids. We use Amazon Music, but the library has apps like Hoopla, Libby, & Overdrive for free music, podcasts, and read aloud resources. Often I will add in educational music, Months of the Year, Days of the Week, States & Capitals, Continents to their playlists. Just sprinkle them in amongst Baby Shark, Pancake Robot, You’re Welcome, & The Hairbrush Song. They’ll become fast favorites and you’ll be surprised how quickly they retain that information. As far as books go, we’ve listened to The Boxcar Children, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe among many others.
Here’s a couple of our playlists via Amazon Music:
So I road trip a lot solo. As in I drove to Missouri with three kids, a polar vortex, and no other adult. It’s not a big deal to me, because I do it often. However, I’m also a shorty and drive a minivan. Needless to say the passing of snacks, refills, napkins, you name it gets … difficult. So I installed a zip line pulley system in our van. Yes, an in-car Zip Line System. Using command hooks, pulley’s from Lowe’s, some paracord, & a lightweight carabiner I now have a delivery system that goes from the driver’s seat to the back seat! We get comments on it everywhere we go and have even had strangers leave notes on our window. All in all, it was probably around $15 total and has saved me SO much trouble. I’ve even sent Chick-fil-A back on it!