How to Survive a Road Trip with Kids: Organization

How to Survive a Road Trip with Kids: Organization

Part 3: Family Road Trip Organization 

This article is Part 3 in a three-part series on surviving road trips with kids.  As you may recall, in Part 1 I shared our three keys to a successful road trip with young children: keep them busy, keep them eating, and stay organized.

Part 1 covered road trip activities.  From toys to activity books to car games, it detailed everything you need to keep young children busy on a road trip.

Part 2 dealt with snacks.  A crucial part of any road trip (with or without kids!), this post shared our favourite road trip snacks, and our tips for minimizing the mess.

Today we’re talking about how to stay organized on a family road trip – our top 10 “family road trip hacks”.  Through trial and error, we’ve figured out what works best for our family – hopefully it will help you too!

This isn’t a packing checklist.  If you’re looking for a packing list, you can find our printable list here.  Instead, this article looks at how we stay organized on a road trip – from the pre-trip planning to how we organize the car.

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1. Schedule Your Trip Carefully

This is easy for me to say, and much more difficult to put into practice.

Some people swear by driving at night, putting their kids “to bed” in the car.  We tried it once, and it was such an absolute disaster that we vowed never again.

Others have the most success leaving early in the morning.  They transfer their children right from their beds to the car in hopes that they’ll go back to sleep.  Again, we’ve tried this, but our kids weren’t having any of it.  They are too excited to be going on a road trip, and once they’re up, they’re up for good.

We’ve had the most success planning our travel around nap time.  Our kids who need a nap usually fall asleep, and even the older ones who don’t nap at home often succumb to the soothing motion of the car.

A couple of words of warning:

  • First, be aware of elevation changes.  We’re always driving through the mountains and have had many a nap spoiled by popping ears that wake a child up.
  • Second, if your little one wears a pull-up for sleeping, put it on him or her in advance.  We’ve had to scramble to find a place to pull over when my newly potty trained son was threatening to fall asleep.

2. Pre-Plan Your Stops – But Stay Flexible

Before you leave, plan some potential stops along the route.  I like to look for parks with fun playgrounds, and restaurants with play areas, to give the kids a chance to stretch their legs and burn off some energy.  Make sure your little ones aren’t just confined to a stroller or high chair – they need to move their little bodies too!

That said, all plans go out the window if you have a sleeping child you don’t want to wake, or an inconsolable little one that demands a stop NOW.  Give yourself a few options, but sometimes pulling over at a random exit is the best you can do.

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3. Give Yourself More Time Than You Think You Need

If you have a hard deadline at a certain point in your trip, leave yourself way more time than you think you need.

Many of our trips involve a ferry, with a set reservation time.  We always build way more time into our schedule than the trip “should” take, to allow for unplanned stops.  I’d much rather arrive early and give the kids extra playtime at the ferry terminal than miss our reservation altogether.

4. Napkins, Paper Towels, and/or Wet Wipes Are Your Friend

Although we do what we can to minimize the mess, with travel-friendly snacks, spill-proof water bottles (baby, big kid), and snack traps, spills and sticky fingers still happen.  Keep a stash of napkins, paper towels and/or wipes in the front seat to deal with the inevitable spills and messes.

5. A Garbage Bag is a Must-Have

My kids are always passing me garbage – which I suppose is preferable to throwing it on the floor!  A garbage bag (or use a cereal container if you’re feeling fancy) is an absolute must to keep the garbage under control.

6. Pre-Portion the Snacks

I mentioned in Part 2 that I pre-portion the snacks for my older two.  Handing them each a ziploc bag filled with all of their snacks for the trip has drastically cut down on disputes and limits the passing things back that I need to do.

Not only do I portion out the snacks for the trip there, but I do it for the ride home at the same time.  This avoids any scrambling on the day we’re heading home to come up with snacks for the trip.

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7. Corral the Toys

Make things as easy as possible for everyone to find.  My boys each have a Ikea GLIS box filled with their chosen toys for the trip.  I corral the baby’s toys in a large ziploc, and everything gets placed in one storage bin that’s tucked in the backseat under the baby’s car seat.

8. Limit What Rides Up Front

There’s something about road trips that turns the backseat of the car into a disaster very quickly.  To avoid this, I limit what we store up front to only the necessities.

All of the snacks and entertainment items are packed in their respective boxes or ziploc bags, and placed in a storage bin (this is our favourite – it fits perfectly under the baby’s car seat).  In it you’ll find road trip activity binders, any other books the boys have chosen, the boys’ toy boxes, any other toys I’ve chosen to surprise them with, a ziploc bag filled with the baby’s entertainment items, snacks (portioned in individual ziploc bags), headphones, iPads, and water bottles.

The bin is large enough to hold everything without being crammed (especially once we distribute the water bottles and snacks), but not so big that it becomes a catch-all for other items.

View out the front windshield from the backseat

9. Have an Accessible Bag for Pit Stops

In addition to the snack and entertainment items that we store up front, I like to pack another accessible bag with any items that we may want on a pit stop.  This includes hats, hoodies, sunscreen, our picnic blanket, and any winter gear that we may need.  This goes in a bag that is easily accessible through the trunk.

10. Sleep Necessities Should Be Easy to Find

Finally, when I’m packing my children’s suitcases, I give some thought to what our schedule looks like.  If we’re going to be arriving right before bedtime, I’ll pack their sleep necessities (playpen, sheets, PJs, diapers/pull ups, loveys, monitors, etc.) in one easy-to-find bag, so I’m not having to dig through every bag before I can put them to sleep.

As you likely gathered from this Surviving Road Trips with Kids series, the carefree road trips from years past are a distant memory.  However, with some planning and organization it is possible to make road trips with children tolerable, and sometimes even enjoyable!  Good luck and safe travels!

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