Once upon a time, taking a road trip meant packing a few day's worth of clothes for yourself and hopping in the car. A kid or two or three later, vacations require a whole lot more thought and planning, but that doesn't mean it can't be done. Here's what you need to pack for a family-friendly road trip that won't leave you wishing you'd never left home.
Things to Do
Kids love presents, so ahead of time, collect small trinkets that can entertain on the go. Wrap them up to distribute during your drive. When restlessness becomes too much to bear, pull out a new gift. Stickers, coloring books, friendship bracelet supplies and dry-erase boards are good options.
Purchase a membership to a local children's museum that has reciprocal agreements with other centers. Take along your pass, so you can make free stops at children's museums along your drive. An hour or two of hands-on play will allow kids to exercise their legs before another another stretch of the trip.
You might not want a steady stream of DVDs playing during your entire trip, but you don't have to shun technology entirely. Audiobooks can entertain your whole family for hours. And you may find that a movie or a tablet game every once in a while can make the drive a little more pleasant for all of you.
Food to Go
Balance the typical junk food snacks with some healthy choices, like squeeze pouches of applesauce, homemade trail mix and freeze dried produce. Bring a small cooler for string cheese, yogurt tubes and pre-cut vegetables. Not only will your kids eat more healthy this way, but you'll also save money by not picking up a bag of chips at every gas station stop.
As with snacks, think cheap and healthy for drinks. Pack reusable water bottles that can be refilled from drinking fountains at every stop. Sport-top and straw cups work well and are unlikely to spill in the backseat. The bottles can also be refilled from a gallon jug of water that you keep in the trunk.
Packing a lunch is another way to eat well for less on the road. Instead of stopping at a restaurant, find a picnic spot with a table and a playground. Use a cooler for perishable foods, or pack peanut butter sandwiches and whole fruits. After eating, kids can burn off energy on the play equipment before piling back in the car.
Traveling with a recently potty trained kiddo adds an extra level of complication to your drive. Take your stress level down a notch by bringing along your own portable potty with disposable liners. Also, toss a stack of self-stick notes in your bag. Place a sticky note over the sensor of automatic toilets, so a premature flush doesn't scare your child.
Spills and accidents happen. In an emergency, unpacking the entire trunk to get into your suitcase can be a pain. Instead, keep one extra set of clothes for each member of your family in an easy-to-access spot.
What can't you do with baby wipes? Even you don't have a little one in diapers anymore, pack a pack of wipes for cleaning hands, wiping faces and dealing with spills.
Number one rule for children on the road: use the right seat for every child, every time. Does your little one belong in a rear-facing car seat, a forward-facing car seat or a booster? Kids need a booster until at least age eight and a height of 4'9”. For more information on which restraint is right for your child, check out the chart and information at SaferCar.gov.
Road trips are where family memories are made. This packing checklist will help ensure that the memories you make are the scrapbook-worthy kind, not the vacation nightmare kind that you'd rather forget.
Meghan Ross is a freelance writer covering all things home and living. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.
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