Ultimate Prep and Pack Guide for Your Family Road Trip

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Taking a road trip can be stressful, especially with little kids, but there are a few ways to prep and pack that can help make your road trip easy and fun. My mom is the queen of road trip prep and packing and I’m thankful some of that knowledge trickled down to me.  Now as a mother myself who takes road trips pretty often, I feel I’ve nailed down a few things that can help make road trips as smooth and fun as possible.

Ultimate Prep and Pack Guide for Your Family Road TripBelow is the ultimate guide to prepping and packing for your next family road trip!

Clean and prep the car. Take time to clean out glove boxes and pockets and cup holders before packing them with trip needs. If I have time I even take it for a quick wash and vacuum.

Make plans early for pets not traveling with you. Lately, I’ve noticed it’s been more difficult to book boarding reservations last minute for our furry friend. Before or directly after you book your trip make sure that you check with your local boarding facility to book boarding for your pets! If your pet is coming with you be sure to bring enough food, a couple of fun toys, a soft blanket, and bowls for their food and water.

Plan outfits for each day to avoid overpacking. As someone who has a bad habit of overpacking this has helped. If I make outfit plans for each day it is easier to keep it to the minimum. If you plan on doing laundry on your journey you can even plan a couple of double features in your suitcase. I still end up throwing a couple of extra outfits on top because I like to have options, but at least I’m not leaving with my whole closet like I use to do. I plan outfits for the kids as well with a couple extras for some wriggle room.

Pack a separate bathroom bag. Packing bathroom needs in the same suitcase can cause a mess you don’t want to deal with once you get to your destination. Having a bathroom bag also makes it easier to pack your other bags in the car early so when you are done with hygiene needs on departure morning the only big bag left you need to carry to the car is the bathroom bag.

Pack a trash bag or two for dirty clothes. If our destination lacks the ability to do laundry I like to bring a couple of trash bags so I don’t have to stress over dirty clothes collecting in the corners of our hotel room. I really try not to do laundry on vacation unless it’s necessary because it’s just as much my break as the rest of the family.

Pack entertainment for the ride.  I pack canvas-style boxes in the car filled with toys, books, stickers, window clings, and coloring activities for each kid. With smaller children (0-2) sometimes it can be a little stressful, build a playlist with songs that the small children enjoy as well as pack a few rattles and sensory bags. One thing that helps the younger children is going to the dollar store for some toys and activities to pull out and unwrap every hour. The novelty of the new toy or activity will keep them interested at least for a little while. For older kids, have them to pick from audiobooks, play eye spy, or collect a list of license plates from each state. Last but not least don’t forget that trusty tablet for any time you run out of other ideas. I like to load the tablets with their favorite movies.

RoadtripPack healthy snacks for the road. On vacation, I am one to splurge on gas station snacks but I also like to bring some healthier options as well. You can use a bento-type box and pack things like cheese, ham, crackers, fruit, raw veggies, and maybe a dip. My kids love to get their own individual lunch boxes full of yummy snacks when we’re on the road.

Map out your stops. I am all for a good spontaneous road trip where we stop when we want. However, with little kids, it’s good to map out some places on your route where your littles can stretch their legs and maybe take in some interesting sites while you’re stopped.

Charge electronics prior to departure and pack chargers. Tablets, headphones, external batteries, cameras, laptops are some examples. We go to Disney World a lot so we also make sure to charge our portable stroller fans as well.

Make a morning departure day Grab List. The Grab List is one of my favorite tips! Make a list of those last-minute grab items such as phone chargers, sound machines, baby monitors, toothbrushes, glasses, the bathroom bag, cold food items to pack into a cooler. This list sits right next to my coffee maker. You could also stick this list on the car window if that’s easier for you to remember. Being able to check off all the last-minute items saves you from having to turn around for something small but necessary.

Prep and pack water bottles for the whole family. We started this habit because we like to have our own water bottles at the parks in Disney World, but we happen to use them the entire trip and we take them for other road trips as well. Pre-filling them ensures the kids stay hydrated on the road and they always have their own bottle to manage throughout the entire trip.

Prep and bring a small portable potty for small bladders. This is one of my favorite hacks with potty training toddlers. Bring a small plastic portable potty and line the inside with a diaper. I keep it in an easy-to-reach location. This helps us so much when the littles have to use the bathroom but there are no rest stops available. Once the diaper/potty has been used, wrap up the diaper and tie it up in a plastic bag to discard during your next rest stop. I also like to keep wipes within reach so we just have to wipe and go.

Pack a motion sickness/potty accident clean-up kit. My 2 year old recently got car sick for the first time while we were on vacation. Next trip I plan to pack a bag with towels, extra clothes all the way down to the shoes, baby wipes, a sponge, a cleaning toothbrush, and dawn dish soap (Check your car seat manual for guidance on best practices for clean up). If you already know your child is prone to throwing up in the car you can purchase this 15 count of nausea bags from Amazon. Seabands are also helpful for children who get motion sickness. For smaller children who can’t use a bag, you can use a bib or smock to place over the car seat straps so you don’t have to worry about too much clean-up.

RoadtripPack a first aid kit. With any trip, there is always a chance for unexpected bumps, scrapes, fevers, illness, etc. I like to pack a small bag containing some first aid items such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, cough medicine, tums, bandaids, Neosporin, thermometer, as well as everyday maintenance medications.

An extra bag with a clean outfit/swimsuit for each family member.  When we travel we wake up early and try to check in as soon as possible. Sometimes we arrive way before we can check-in so we typically bring some extra clothes and/or bathing suits to change into so we can enjoy the pool/hot tub (depending on our destination) or other extracurricular activities that might be available to us. Packing a separate bag saves you from having to dig through everyone’s suitcase for these items prior to check-in.

Decide on packing and bringing extras (stroller, carrier, bikes, scooters, beach toys). Will you need a stroller or would your kiddos like to bring a scooter or bike for this particular destination? Any other sporting goods or needs can also sit under this category. Other extras depending on the destination may include sunscreen, cooling towels, fishing poles, umbrellas, life jackets/floaties, nets, portable fans, sand toys, etc.

Decide on if you will transport groceries or shop for groceries at your destination. I try to bring a few essentials like toilet paper, paper towels, sugar, coffee, coffee creamer, and my kids’ favorite snacks if we’re going to a destination where we are renting a home. Then we plan a time to grocery shop when we get there. These days there are also options such as Amazon Fresh and other grocery delivery services that can have your needs delivered to you on check-in day. Check out what may be offered in the area of your rental for more information on grocery delivery.

Pack your patience. Road travel with small kids is not for the faint of heart. Split tasks with your partner so you aren’t bearing the brunt of the packing responsibility. Remember to breathe through any fits and try to make light of frustrating situations. Preparation is key to having the smoothest trip possible. Also, remember to take some time to enjoy yourself. Enjoy the smiles on your kids’ faces and watch this journey unfold through their eyes. Happy Traveling!

Looking for more road trip ideas? Be sure to check out these posts at Atlanta Mom.

What are some of your best road or travel tips for traveling with kids?

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Kelly is an aspiring free spirit, a metro-Atlanta native, and stay-at-home-mom to a mischievous 2-year-old and spirited 5-year-old. When she is not chasing her kiddos through Walt Disney World, you can find her running on a trail, scoping out local markets, cheering on the Atlanta Braves and Georgia Tech football, reading, writing, and sipping iced coffee. After a wonderful 4 years exploring St. Louis, MO, she moved back to her home state of Georgia and settled down in a sweet little neighborhood in Smyrna. She lives with her husband of 10 years, her two sweet daughters, and their fur-kids: a dog named Molly and a cat named Caesar.

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