Family Road Trip Hacks
Updated: Jan 23
I won't say I'm a full blown expert at road trips, but I definitely learned from witnessing experts. My parents had 4 children over the course of 10 years and have been road tripping with us since my two older brothers were babies. It is safe to say they picked up a lot of tried and true hacks. We've been doing the same since Lou was 4 months old and now his little brother, Miles, is along for the ride (spring break 2022 marked his 3rd road trip in his first 8 months). During this time I've definitely picked up a few of my own tricks that would be helpful for anyone trying to road trip as efficiently as possible for long hours on the road (with or without kiddos).
1) If you read only one section from this post definitely make it this first part because the prep work before the trip is the most impactful! In this section I'll share our hacks for prepping the car and planning the drive.
Prep you car: Ok, so my car is honestly always prepped for mom life which makes it easy to pivot a few things to get it ready for our road trips, but it is definitely worth organizing your car strategically for road trips especially with kids in tow.
One item that always remains in my car is back-of-the-seat organizer (we have one for both driver's and passenger's seat). Here is the one we love: back-of-seat organizer*. Day-to-day each boy has a designated organizer filled with must-have items (ex. Miles- diapers, wipes, clean binky, portable sound machine, spf hat, and baby suncreen. Lou- sensitive skin sunscreen, on-the-go flash cards, tablet charger, hand sanitizer, extra snacks, head phones, spf hat and sunglasses-->mittens and knit hat in the winter). For road trips they are ideal because Lou's tablet can be set in the clear pocket for movies. I also use one of the small pockets for trash so his little snack wrappers don't end up tossed all over the car.
Toy baskets for each child. Depending on the floor space available in your car it might be better to use the back-of-seat organizer for some car friendly toys, but my SUV has captain seats which means I have the space to keep a small basket for each boy. I regularly rotate these toys, and before a road trip I make sure the MVP toys are present. These baskets from Target come in a few sizes and variety of colors so you can find the configuration that works best in your car: Target baskets*. In a section below I'll be sharing our favorite road trip toys and tablet games ps I use these baskets to organize all over our house!
If you plan to do at least a couple of road trips per year I highly recommend investing in a roof rack box (Taylor heavily researched our Thule box* and it has been great! Slender so we don't have to remove it for most garages, but fits duffle bags for each of us). We save so much space in the car by packing as much as we can in durable duffle bags in the roof box. This allows me to be intentional with organizing must-have items inside the car; cooler, snack bag, toy bag, emergency kit, and personal items.
Plan your drive: Throughout the last year or so, Taylor and I have created Google Maps for our two main road trip routes, KC->Beaver Creek and KC ->TX. This step is so easy, but make such a difference whether you're traveling with or without kiddos because let's be honest, not all highway exits are create equally! If you've gone on even a couple of road trips then I have no doubt that you've pulled off needing to find gas/restroom/food and found options that range from neglected to downright nightmarish. With Google Maps, or Apple Maps, you can create your own maps populated with saved places. We started our first map with I-70 stops between Kansas City and Colorado by researching the main exits along. This can be done before any trip whether it is a new or frequented route. Thanks to Google you can read reviews and even see photos in order to have a safer bet with your stops. Then as you go on your trip you can add or delete once you see the places in person. This hack has proven especially helpful for looking ahead throughout the drive so we can make sure we hit the ideal stops since there can be long stretches without ideal places on the way to Colorado.
*I'm working on making an I-70 Google map to imbed here since I know a lot of other KC families also love to make the drive out to Colorado so I'll share on my Instagram once it is updated here
2) Ok, you've prepped for your big drive and now its the dreaded time to pack. The more effort you put in on the front end of packing, the easier the entire trip will become. This is the part that makes me the most anxious so these are the tips that help even me keep a handle on the packing process.
Work smarter, not harder: Pre-kids I would start at square one every time I had to pack, but after our first couple of trips with Louis I realized that many items would be needed every single trip. That's when I started making lists in the Notes app to organize all of his pacing needs. As I mentioned above, many of our trips are to Colorado and Fort Worth so I always maintain winter and summer lists for each location. This way I don't have to think about if I'm forgetting any hygiene, diaper bag, sleep, meal time, or car items. I even have the basic clothing needs listed out so then we really only have to think about specific outfits for any given trip. This also helps me avoid overpacking because we are able to really drill down exactly what each boy needs for the trip.
What's the weather: Obviously a big thing that impacts what you pack is the weather. This tip comes straight from my meteorologist little brother, Andrew. Download local news channel apps for the weather instead of national ones like Accuweather. The local meteorologists are able to better convey the actual weather you can likely anticipate. I don't do this for every single trip ever, but if we are road tripping to stay somewhere for roughly a week it is worth it and I just leave the apps downloaded for our frequent locations like Fort Worth and Eagle Vail area.
Micromanage as much packing as possible: If I can categorize items then shove them into a designated Stasher bag (or gallon Ziplock) then I'm doing it! There is nothing more stressful then when you have a child yelling for something while your spouse drives 75mph down the interstate and you CANNOT find that one little thing that would quell the toddler meltdown. For example, I use one big Bogg bag* for all of our snacks and meal time items. I sort specific snacks for each family member in their own Stasher bag and meal time items for each boy in their own Stasher bag as well. Then large items that everyone would share like chips can jsut be set in the Bogg bag. Ps I also love organizing suitcase items in packing cubes or Ziploc Space Bags by categories so when we reach our destination I can easily access pajamas or set outfits that I've planned for myself and the kids.
Pack the car the night before your drive: Unless you plan to head out late morning or later, I highly recommend packing the car as much as possible the night before. It is a big relief to know the morning-of you do not have to worry about an important bag being left behind plus it just cuts down on time. We hit the road as early as possible because I hate road trip driving at night, and it usually means we arrive with time to still enjoy a bit of the day or at least unpack and grab dinner. I just keep one empty bag in our bedroom that is loaded with our toiletries, boys' sleep items (monitor, sound machine, sleep sack, Lou's pillow), and chargers.
3) If y'all follow me on Instagram then you know I am a self-professed "snack mom" and I take full advantage of that energy to make our road trips smoother. I'll share a couple tips, but also my favorite snacks for each family member.
Go into the drive with breakfast and coffee in hand: We used to try to wake up and scramble to get Lou in the car then drive to Mcdonalds to snag breakfast before officially hitting the road, but we always hated having that time eaten up. It really feels great to just walk out the door and know that the countdown to your destination is on. Now I go into the morning-of prepared. I have either breakfast burritos or sandwiches in the freeze (love the brand Red's) so right before we get on our way I can warm up breakfast and pour a couple coffees for Taylor and me. Everyone gets fed as soon as we get in the car and we cut out that extra time (which if you have kids then you know those extra little stops can really build up!). Some drives I've even prepped fresh snacks like washed fruit, cheese cubes, mini naan pieces, and lunch so we do not even have to do separate lunch stops, but Lou has discovered Happy Meals so we do indulge him more often now.
Embrace your inner "snack mom": Honestly y'all like I said, if I have one specific "mom type" it is the snack mom which is extra helpful when preparing for a road trip. I find avoiding hanger for anyone on the car is easiest when you break it out into categories then include a couple options per category. You want your salty, sweet, protein, and if you have cooler access fresh options. I usually pack all snacks in either resuable market bag (large canvas), or large Bogg bag. You can make it extra organized by sorting adult, kid, and baby snacks in their own large reusable bag like Stasher Bags or gallon Ziploc.
Salty- avocado oil kettle chips, Trader Joe's cheese sandwich crackers,
Sweet- Siete cookies, Bobo's stuff'd oat bites, Go Macro bars, Nature's Bakery baked in bars (so delicious plus hidden veggies)
Proteins- trail mix, Chomps meat sticks, protein drink (love Owyn)
Fresh- sliced strawberries, mini naan, hummus, carrot sticks, string cheese,
Snacks for baby: We make a point to stop when Miles needs to be fed since all of his road trips to date have been in an infant car seat so I want his safety to be ensured as best as we can when he's eating, but I do still come prepared with his food since he is also too young to go to town on Mcnuggets. Of course, our go-to Serenity Kids puffs and pouches come along. (Code BREADKALE15 gets you 15% off 1st orders from Serenity Kids- affiliate link). I also pack Happy Baby yogurt melts, Cerebelly bars (I break these into small bites for him) and pouches (we love SK pouches, but want to make sure he has a variety of options), and Happy Baby teething crackers. If your baby is formula fed, or will drink breastmilk from a bottle then I highly recommend the Baby's Brew portable bottle warmer. Charge it the night before then trust that you can warm baby's milk for the next 8-12 hours. It is also convenient during trips so you don't have to lug out a big warmer that needs an outlet.
One last word of wisdom before you embark on that fateful family road trip, just remember that sometimes no matter how well prepared you are, or loaded to the brim with snacks- you're kids can still have absolute meltdowns, or the car battery will give out right before you depart (yup, happened last Christmas) so just take a deep breath and power through! Eventually you will arrive hopefully with some sanity intact....plus isn't a screaming baby better in your own car than a packed airplane :)
Ps one thing I've realized with this blog, especially posts like this, is that I can hit publish, but then come back over and over and over again in order to add more tips and tricks so be sure to follow me on my Instagram at @breadandkaleenthusiast where I'll share about anytime I update posts like this.