If you don't drive a vehicle that's tricked out with an entertainment system, you need to invest in a portable DVD player. I know you think your kids will be delighted by the sight of cows and license plates, but the truth is the novelty will wear off after about 22 minutes. After that you need good, old-fashioned screen time. Throw in a few $5 DVDs and you've got hours of on-the-road entertainment. (Target, $120)
Listen I know you think you're above super dorky car organizers, but when you're going 70 mph on the highway and your kids are asking for snacks and they lost their markers and they have trash for you to take and you just need a sip of your kombucha, you'll be glad you ponied up for the ugly organizer. I bought this and packed it full of cheese sticks and carrots and those lunch box ice packs and lots of granola bars. The little pockets came in super handy for all the little fiddly things like chargers and hand sanitizer. (Amazon, $30)
The key to not losing your mind on a long road trip with small children is being able to play your own music for therapeutic amounts of time. Since you can't wear headphones safely while driving, you have to stick the headphones on your kids. I didn't tune my kids out for the entire 24 hours we were in the car, but I definitely had them use the headphones during annoying movies and while they were playing video games. (Amazon, $20)
No matter how careful you are, someone is going to spill something in the car. That, or you'll be out all day and your kids will get filthy and you won't be anywhere near bathrooms when you need them. That's where wet wipes and paper towels and one spare gym towel come in handy. I stuck a bunch of grocery bags in an old coffee container and put the wet wipes in my car organizer. And yeah, I needed them eventually. Just make a habit of throwing out your trash bags and starting fresh every time you get gas. (Amazon, $2)
In my experience, coloring doesn't work out so well in the car. Kids drop things and scream about marker lids and crayons become projectiles and it's a bad scene. Stickers, on the other hand, aren't quite as disastrous. My kids love those Ultimate Sticker Collection books like this Star Wars minifigure sticker book. It takes ages to move all the stickers — resulting in plenty of quiet car time. (Amazon, $11)
Don't waste a zillion juice boxes on your trip. Buy one big bottle of water and refill your kids' bottles when you stop for gas and bathroom breaks. I like bottles that won't spill. The SIGG kids' travel series include bottles that are nice and narrow, making them perfect for car seat cup holders. They're not inexpensive, so make sure they don't go rolling out of the car when you stop for a break. (Sigg, $30)
I know, more screen time. But honestly, most of your actual vacation will be spent out of the car doing fun things as a family. While you're getting there, it's OK to let kids game their little hearts out. Whether you go with a tablet or a handheld system like the Nintendo 2DS, your kids will have plenty to do. (I'm not saying to buy a handful of these, but if you don't already own them like we did, consider borrowing from friends.) And don't forget to have the kids use those headphones. I regulated game time by insisting that the kids hand me their systems whenever we were actually driving by something more interesting than cows. (Target, $200)
I think it's really important to involve kids in the road trip process. Even though you'll spend a lot of time creatively getting them to shut up, that doesn't mean you're disengaging entirely. Talk about milestones and landmarks. Use a child-friendly map or atlas for kids to show your kids where you're heading. Ask for help navigating. And don't forget to pick up plenty of free brochures at rest areas and welcome centers. Kids love the pictures and love it when you ask them to "teach" you about where you're headed. (Amazon, $6)
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