We are so grateful that they invited us to go with them (thanks, Mom and Dad!), but I won't lie... traveling with the grandparents made me a little nervous. My dad doesn't love traveling and he keeps his cars clean and tidy, so the thought of my kids trashing his car and screaming during the 12-hour drive had me worried.
Historically, my kids have been really good travelers, but we don't travel a ton and we have never made a trip longer than 4-5 hours with my daughter, plus she is at that age and of the temperament where if she decides she is not happy, there is very little that can be done to make her happy. And being restrained for the better part of two days is not really on her happy list.
So, I racked my brain and scoured Pinterest for some ideas to help make traveling easier on my two young children (and, uh, easier on me, too). Hopefully my experiences and tips here can help someone, because tear-free traveling is a goal we can all live with, right? :)
(head over to this post to see what I did for in-car entertainment, including a free toddler travel game printable pack!)
Clothes and toiletries
Since we were traveling with my parents and staying with my sister, I didn't want to over-pack and I knew that it would be really easy to do laundry in the middle of our stay. So, I only packed clothes for about half as many days as we would be traveling, with 1-2 extra changes of clothes just in case.
Tip 1: Daily clothes/accessories bags
I used this tip from All Things Simple and packed each day's clothes in a zipper bag, and it was seriously a lifesaver! It kept me from over-packing (I always pack way more shirts than we need and never enough underwear, anyone else?) and it made it so easy for someone else to be able to help get my kids dressed. And when I did laundry, I folded the clothes into outfits and put them, along with socks and underwear, right back in the bags.
Tip 2: Corraling laundry
I packed a basic mesh laundry bag to put all of our dirty clothes in each night, so it was easy to do laundry. If you aren't doing laundry, stuff the dirty clothes back in the zippered bag they came out of! Next time, I will pack a mesh lingerie bag for the socks -- I use them at home to keep track of the tiny (or not so tiny) socks -- just zip it and toss it right in the wash! -- and we lost a couple in my sister's washer.
Tip 3: Pack for your itinerary
I packed two bags: a smaller wheeled luggage case with our clothes, and then a backpack with all the other stuff -- toiletry/bathroom bags, extra diapers/wipes, medicine (just in case!), etc. Since I knew we were going to be staying at a hotel one night on the way there and then on the way back, I also put one pair of pajamas and one zippered bag of clothes for each child in the backpack, plus pajamas and next-day clothes for myself. This made it so much easier at the hotel, to only have to open one bag to get our stuff. Less stuff strewn around the hotel and potentially forgotten (and, if you have a vehicle that allows it to stay safely out of sight, one more thing you can leave in the car instead of hauling into the hotel room!).
I will be the first one to admit that I waaaay over-packed on snacks. But traveling with young kids, you never know when they are going to be super snacky or not, so I erred on the side of caution.
Tip 4: Individual packages
Everything I packed I either bought individually packaged or I portioned out into snack bags myself. This meant no fighting over a larger bag/package and easy dishing out of snacks in the car. I packed...
- trail mix
- Goldfish crackers
- graham crackers
- fruit snacks
- string cheese
- apple slices
- granola bars
I soaked the apples in diluted lemon juice as suggested by The Yummy Life to keep them from browning, and it worked great. They were still looking fresh even on the second day of our trip.
Tip 5: Pack something special
Most of these snacks are normal food at our house, but snacks that my kids always love. Fruit snacks, however, are a rarity, and are ONLY for road trips, so they were my big magic trick to keep kids happy when they were ready to be done driving! I even let them each choose their own character fruit snacks to increase the "special" element.
One thing I should have packed? More treats. I was so focused on NOT packing my kids full of sugar (or melting chocolate all over the car interior) that I completely neglected the major truth that my kids will do just about anything (including sit quietly in the car) for a treat. Thankfully my dad had M&Ms that got us through a few rough patches :)
Tip 6: Space-friendly and accessible snack and drink containers
I wanted the snacks very easily accessible, since I was sitting in the smallish backseat with my kids and there wouldn't be a ton of extra room to pack things or to move around to rummage through a bag. So I removed the store-bought snacks from their boxes and tossed all the individual servings of snacks into these awesome (recycled!) containers to keep them together and unsquished.
The oatmeal canister was the perfect height for tucking in my snack bag so that I could easily grab the snack that was on top. The Laffy Taffy container actually held more than the oatmeal canister, but it was harder to reach since it was shorter and had a lid on it.
Theoretically, one container was snacks for the trip there and the other for the trip back (because I'm over-prepared like that), but we only went through about half of the snacks, except for the "special" fruit snacks.
I tucked a couple water bottles, plus some snacks for me (Corn Nuts and whole apples) into the larger catch-all snack bag with the containers. I used these take n' toss cups with straws for my kids, so I could refill them from the water bottles as we drove or from wherever were stopped.
Tip 7: Keep it cold!
There are always a few things you want to keep chilled, but even a small cooler takes up a lot of space. I put the string cheese and apple slices in one of those collapsible silver keep-cold bags (like this), with a couple frozen/cold water bottles. The bag keeps things nice and cool, plus it can expand to hold as much or as little as you have and it folds neatly and compactly when not in use.
Do you have any great tips for road-tripping with young kids? Stay tuned later this week for my in-car entertainment recommendations (including a set of free printables!) Update: head here to read my recommendations and get the free printable pack!