We are fresh off of our two-week road trip through parts of Spain and Portugal. Having survived fairly unscathed, we have a list of the 15 items you absolutely must, or at least really, really should, bring along on a road trip with kids.
BabyBjorn Travel Crib.
We love the BabyBjorn Travel Crib! Sleeping in the same bed every night can make transitioning from place to place easier on little ones. Weighing only 11 pounds this particular travel crib is one of the lightest on the market; it’s super easy to assemble; and it packs flat so other bags can easily be placed on top of it. Plus, if you need to corral your little one, it works perfectly as a baby jail, I mean playpen, to keep them out of trouble.
**The latest version, the Babybjorn Travel Crib Light, will be released May 15. In the meantime, the original version, which is the one we have, is still available at various retailers.
We had a couple of one-night stays where we didn’t want to drag everything in from the car. For those quick over-nights, we packed a small(ish) weekend bag with just our toiletries, pajamas, and outfits for the following day. Mind you, we also brought in the stroller, the travel crib, the cooler, and our daughter’s backpack so it still looked like we were moving in. But, the two big bags we had stayed in the trunk, which meant one less trip to and from the car when unpacking and packing back up.
The First Years On-The-Go Booster Seat.
It’s often hit-or-miss as to whether holiday homes, hotels and restaurants have high chairs available. Holding a baby while feeding it, and potentially yourself, can turn any meal into a less than pleasant experience. Best to be prepared and bring along your own feeding seat for little ones. Super light, compact and easy to set up, it doesn’t get much more travel-friendly than The First Years On-the-Go Booster Seat. A side note: there is a self-inflating option on the seat to perch little diners up a bit higher. We found it not to be very functional as it would inevitably sag on one side or the other when our daughter shifted her weight in the seat. With our son, we’ve simply not inflated it and it’s worked perfectly.
In addition to the diaper bag, we also packed a separate bag with items we wanted easy access to but didn’t want to schlep in the diaper bag every time we got out of the car. The “car bag” usually contained extra snacks, diapers, bibs, burp cloths and wipes, as well as an additional outfit for the little guy, a sweater for our daughter, a sippy cup, an Aiden & Anais blanket (see below), and tissues.
Full backpack with age-appropriate activities.
For our 5-year-old, we brought along a small kid-sized backpack that she could port around. Inside we packed a coloring/activity book, a reading book, colored pencils (better than markers, which can dry out, and crayons, which can melt or break) plus a sharpener, a pack of Go-Fish cards, stickers, a little journal for stickering, coloring, doodling, writing, etc., and items for making elastic band bracelets (the latest rage for young girls). We kept the bag at her feet for easy access while in the car and brought it into every restaurant, winery, holiday home and hotel. She always had something to do; not that it kept her from claiming at times that she was bored…
There are some great games that are specifically designed for road trips. One in particular is travel bingo by popular toy brand Melissa & Doug. The Melissa & Doug travel bingo game is played by spotting along the way the items that are listed on the card. Not only does it keep kids occupied but it also gets them looking out the window and taking in the scenery.
By far the most popular kid comment during a road trip is, “When will we get there?” The second most popular comment has to be, “I’m hungry” [cue the whiny tone]. Everyone knows you can’t travel with kids and not be armed with snacks. I’m a little obsessed with getting fruits and vegetables into my kids, which is not always easy when on the road. Thus, one of my favorite kid snacks, which are good for a huge range of ages, are fruit pouches. Ella’s Kitchen Smoothie Fruits is one brand we’ve found in several different countries. Our kids love these 100% fruit (or fruit/vegetable combo) pouches; the pouches don’t need to be refrigerated so they’re easily transportable; and they provide one to two of the five recommended fruit/vegetable servings per day. They’re a win-win.
We visited several different cities and regions during our trip and inevitably we had cheese, a yogurt or two, homemade granola bars, and a handful of other items that needed to stay cool. We put the cooler behind the front passenger seat for easy access when “I’m hungry” was whined from the back.
An inevitable must in today’s technological society, an iPad (or tablet) really can keep you sane on the road — at least by buying you a bit of time when you don’t have to listen to, “When will we get there?” and “I’m hungry.” We kept our daughter’s iPad consumption level regulated by only letting her watch a show or movie during the long car rides (over an hour) and then limiting the amount of time she could watch before she had to take a break and do something non-iPad related.
Kidz Gear Wired Headphones.
Unless you want to listen to Frozen, Cars, Monster High, Diego or Dora over and over, do not leave home without your kids’ headphones! We have been happy with the Kidz Gear Wired Headphones as they are adjustable for different head sizes, have a volume control and completely cover the ears so as to help block out external sound (though they aren’t noise canceling). That said, there’s no guarantee you won’t at some point end up with the lyrics to “Let It Go” playing over and over in your head…
Kelty Junction Kid Carrier.
This 2-in-1 kid carrier and backpack by Kelty Kids is great. It has a section to carry a baby/toddler and a backpack opening for carrying other items like a camera, diaper changer, snacks, etc. When the kid carrier section isn’t needed, there’s an option to cinch it closed so you can just use the backpack portion. Sturdy and durable, we’ve used it for both of our kids all over the world as well as to our neighborhood market!
Dual purpose, these shades are a good idea and typically don’t cost much. They help keep the sun out of little eyes, which means less whining from the back seat. If that isn’t enough to have you running to the store to buy them, they also help keep the sun off of car seats when the car is parked. A shaded car seat means a cooler seat and no risk of burning little arms and legs with metal seat buckles that have been sitting in the sun.
Aiden + Anais cotton muslin swaddle blankets.
These Aiden + Anais blankets are amazing! Thin, light and large they do quintuple (that’s five times and, yes, I had to google it) duty as a blanket, burp rag, towel, window shade (if you forgot to buy yours) and stroller cover.
We keep a package of wipes in our car at all times. With a one-year-old and a five-year-old in tow there is always a spill, a snotty nose, a sticky pair of hands or some unidentifiable spot to be cleaned. We particularly like Boogie Wipes brand of wipes because they are moistened with saline, making them gentler on faces than regular diaper changing wipes.
Let’s be honest. If you road trip with kids, your car is going to be trashed (no pun intended) by the end of the journey. You can at least help minimize the resulting disaster by having a trash receptacle on hand. Whether it’s a plastic bag, bucket, box or one of those fancy car trash pouches you can attach to the seat back, the car will be easier to clean when you arrive back home if you keep the trash contained and toss it in bins along the way.