8 Smart Road Trip Hacks for Parents

By Emily Kay

If I were a betting woman, I’d place money on the fact that whoever said, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” hadn’t yet road tripped with kids. If they had, I’m almost certain that famous quote would have some asterisks involved. Perhaps an asterisk that hinted at the need for preparation, or a fair warning, even. There would certainly be a nod to the notion that if a person is to embark on such an endeavor, they must expect one thing and one thing only—the unexpected.

As a travel-loving mother of three children whose ages span from six to one, our family has quite a few road trips under our belt. My husband and I agreed, before we had kids, that starting a family wouldn’t stop us from experiencing new places—our solution has always been to simply take our kids with us! From multiple-hour trips across the state to 24-hour trips to Florida, our answer to visiting a new destination is typically, “Let’s go!”

Two girls with suitcase getting in a mini van for a road trip.

This has led to some of the best memories of our lives, but I can certainly attest that traveling with young kids is an adventure within itself. Forget the destination; sometimes, it’s all you can do to make it past the next mile marker.

But, fear not, parents. There is hope! We’ve learned some great hacks along the way that help make the journey with young kids more manageable. Dare I say...enjoyable? Here are some of our top go-to road trip hacks—try them out and be the judge.

1.   Toddler Portable Potty

Our toddler portable potty is, by far, one of my favorite purchases of the past few years. Laugh if you must, but it’s true!

One of the constant phrases we hear while on a road trip is, “I have to go potty!” I swear, our children’s bladders shrink in size simply due to boredom. Our toddler portable potty is so nice because we can simply pull the car over, bring out the potty, and have them go in the comfort of the car. It saves on time, and it’s also more sanitary than public restrooms, especially during the era of COVID!

What do we do with the aftermath, you ask? We have a ton of disposable potty liners that go in the potty, and we simply tie them up and put them in a garbage bag after they’re used. (Also a great hack for traveling: Always have a garbage bag on hand.)

2.   Plethora of Wipes

Yup. That’s it. Wipes are the hack.

Before you scratch your head, let me explain. As a parent, wipes are one of the best tools in my arsenal, no matter the situation. Sticky hands? Wipes. Messy food around the mouth? Wipes. Diaper change? Wipes. Not sure? Wipes. I’ve even used them to clean up spills of my own when my children aren’t around. They’re easy to throw into a bag or console, they’re portable, and come in handy more times than I ever thought possible.

Wet wipes for long road trips

If you’re on a road trip without a plethora of wipes, you’re doing it wrong. Trust me on this one.

3.   Travel Tray

A travel tray makes any sort of lap activity significantly easier and more enjoyable for the kids. Our six- and four-year-olds have one, and during trips, it helps to pass the time simply by making it easier for them to do different things.

It serves as a surface for coloring, of course, but it also can hold a ton of kid’s gear, including markers, snacks, and toys. As a double bonus, their travel trays have a dry erase top that they love to draw on. When they’re done using them, we fold it up and place it between their seat and the side of the car, so it’s out of sight, out of mind, and out of the way!

4.   Backseat Car Organizer

A hanging car organizer is such a great tool for road trips because it acts as the “junk drawer” of the car. It’s that catch-all where you put things that don’t always have a designated spot.

We store all our must-haves in our organizer, such as extra face masks, hand sanitizer, hand wipes, surface disinfectant wipes in the case of spills or clean-ups, extra garbage bags, potty liners, and more. I can’t tell you how many times it’s come in handy!

Back seat car organizer for kids

5.   Car Activity Bin

Grab a bin, load it up with various activities, and let the good times roll.

We have ours packed with lots of books and coloring books, but we also have little “extras” that we bring out as fun value-adds for long road trips. Our kids love opening little surprises along the way, and it gives them something new to do to pass the time.

6.   Parent Sitting in the Back

We’ve done the pass-back-the-Happy-Meal approach many times. 100% of the time, it resulted in a disgusting mess.

The solution is to have a parent sit in the back with the kids, particularly if you have a van. (This is a great tip in general, but especially when food is involved!) Not only can the parent delegate the food while eating, but they can collect garbage, ensure spills are cleaned, and wipe up any mess that will inevitably happen. 

Kids in back seat with activities for long road trip

7.   iPad and Speakers

This is perhaps one of the most expected of the parent travel hacks. Honestly, our iPad has saved us on road trips and is quite possibly the primary reason we’ve maintained our sanity after 20+ hour adventures on the road with three children.

Our strategy is simple: We download a bunch of movies onto our iPad prior to leaving on the trip. For every hour that the kids have coloring, reading books, or playing, they get to watch a movie. (We only have one iPad, so we mount it, and they all watch the same movie while the audio is playing through a Bluetooth speaker.) We’ve found that this divides the trip up nicely and provides a bit of structure surrounding the day. Even though this means they have way more screen time than usual, we don’t fret about it too much; road trips can be hard for everyone, especially the kids. Why not tap into a tool that makes it more enjoyable?

8.   Snack Bin

Hangry is definitely a thing with children. Did they just eat an hour ago? Yes. Do they swear they will die of starvation if they don’t consume food immediately? Yes. Do you want to hear whining for the next fifty miles? No. Insert the snack bin.

We fill ours with healthy snacks and things we don’t mind the kids grabbing over and over, such as bananas, clean-ingredient snack bars, and apple sauce packets. Okay, fine—there are some treats in there like Gushers and candy, too. Honestly, I think I eat more of it than my kids do.

Of course, we try to limit how much they have access to the bin so they actually eat their meals and don’t fill up on snacks all day. But, like our TV rule, sometimes you just have to roll with it.

Alright, parents, are you ready to plan your next trip? Understandably, taking a road trip with young kids can be daunting and a bit overwhelming. However, I hope with these tips you feel prepared to load up the car and go! After all, the journey and the destination are what life’s all about.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author of this article and may not reflect the view of AAA—The Auto Club Group. For more information about insurance with AAA, please visit AAA.com/AutoInsurance. 


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