Road Tripping with the Kids: How to Stay Organized, Entertained, and Safe on a Budget

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Ah, summer is finally here. The sun is shining, the weather is nice, the kids are out of school, (and you’re probably trying not to go insane with all the “I’m bored’s,” that your kiddos are constantly throwing your way.)

What better way to kill some time this summer than to go on a road trip? Be it a long three-week cross-country vacation or a six-hour car ride to grandma’s house so you can have a kid-free weekend, most people lined up going on at least one road trip every summer.

road trip

The biggest problem with that is keeping your kids entertained as you drive past hundreds upon hundreds of trees that all look the same. So, if you’re taking the kiddos on a road trip this summer, you should definitely read this article first.

Staying organized on your road trip

This is vital to keeping everything running smoothly while in your car. Here are a few pointers that will help you to do just that.

Make a list and check it twice.

I would say one of the most important aspects that will lead to a successful road trip is staying organized. I recommend writing out a list of absolutely everything you’re going to need, from activities to snacks to drinks to clothing, and having two places for checkmarks. The first being, for once you packed it, the second after you put it in the car. This will help to make sure you don’t forget anything behind because, Heaven forbid, you get four hours into the road trip only to discover you’ve left little Susie’s teddy bear that she can’t sleep without at home.

Plan how you are going to pack your car.

Make sure, if there’s something you know you’re going to need on the road, it’s easily accessible. This means things like putting the cooler in the back seat where you can reach it, making sure snacks are easily accessible, blankets and toys are in an easy-to-read spot for your kids, tablets (if your kids have them) are right by their seats, and you have at least one of every charger somewhere easy to reach.

Have just about anything your kids might need in easy reach.

We all know that children don’t always have the best attention span. Having everything from activities and toys to snacks and drinks easily accessible is key to making your road trip a success.

Bring all the bags.

Do you know that grocery bag full of other grocery bags that sits under your kitchen sink? You know what I’m talking about, the one with the endless supply of plastic bags? Well, now is the perfect time to put them to use. You’d be surprised how handy plastic bags are on a road trip.

Heck, I always have a bag full of them in my trunk. The are great to keep on hand if you have to do an emergency change of clothes (a.k.a. your little one had an accident), to collect garbage and dump effortlessly every time you fill up on gas, if you wind up bringing home more than you left with, (or, if you’re like me, and can’t get everything back in your suitcase after you’ve unpacked it). I’m sure there are many other uses but definitely bring a big handful.

Cleaning supplies are a necessity.

You definitely want to make sure you’re prepared for a mess. The unfortunate truth is that when kids are around, they’re bound to be a few spills and sticky messes to clean up. Make sure you pack lots of paper towels. I like to bring a thing of baby wipes (they’re great for cleaning hands and faces after a snack.) and Lysol or Clorox wipes.

PRO TIP: Add shower suction cups to the windows. You know what I’m talking about, right? Those little shelves you can buy at the dollar store that just suction cup to your shower walls? Well, you can get ones in all shapes and sizes, and they stick perfectly to a car window. Try sticking a few to the inside of your kids’ windows with various things inside. Have one for snacks, one for coloring or stickers, and one for small toys. Honestly, these can make a world of difference and make your kids a little bit more self-sufficient. A.k.a., they will be asking for something new every three minutes.

PRO TIP: get a small back of the door shoe organizer to put behind the front seats. They come with comes of pockets, which can have cellist about anything your kids might need or want, and most of them also have pockets that are big enough to hold a water bottle or juice box.

Get some entertaining activities.

The dollar store is absolutely fabulous for this. You can get a variety of small toys, games, and activities in small quantities for a great price. Here are some of my go-to’s:

  • Activity books. Everything from mazes, to sticker books, crosswords, to suduko puzzles, the dollar store is filled with dirt-cheap activity books. You can even get some great many coloring ones for kids that come with stickers and crayons.
  • Notebooks and something to write with. Something that I was encouraged to do on road trips as a kid was to journal and write about the things I saw. It was a great way to get in a little practice writing, and if your kids are too young to write, they can always draw or color what they saw! It makes for a great keepsake to look back on after the trip is done and does wonders for the imagination.
  • Car bingo. Many dollar stores carry some version of car bingo or other, but if they don’t, you can easily get construction paper and make your own. Just search group trip or car bingo, and you’ll see loads of options and ideas.
  • Audiobooks. Now chances are, you can get some pretty good audiobooks for a decent price or even free from your public library (insert link to the library: a frugalites best friend on TF). Or, for a wider variety, check out the Audible app, where it connects to your Amazon account, and if you’re a new user, you get your first book for free. (Both just get downloaded on your smart device!)
  • Band-Aids. Okay, okay, hear me out. Trust me, I know this is a really weird one, but it works. By a pack of the cheapest colorful Band-Aids you can, and when all else fails, give the box of them to your kiddos. I don’t know what it is, but they are more entertaining than stickers, plus they’re not too difficult to pull off. This is the trick to keep in your back pocket when all else has failed.

Road trip safety

This, in my opinion, is one of the most important things that often gets overlooked when you’re tripping it with your kids. It’s important to take all the necessary precautions because as good as some people are, and as positive as I like to be, sometimes there are accidents, or your children get lost, or someone gets hurt. It’s an unfortunate truth, but the best way to prepare is to get one step ahead.

road trip

  1. First-aid kit. It’s important to make sure you have a good first-aid kit with just about anything you may need. (Insert link to first aid kit article on OP)
  2. Phone number bracelets. Now this one may sound a little odd, but trust me – it’s a good one. I actually discovered these while doing research for this article. So, you know those little beads you can get with numbers or letters? Well, you can easily go to the dollar store, grab some, and make a bracelet with your phone number. That way, if your kiddos get lost, whoever finds them will also have a way to get in touch with you.
  3. Extra water and snacks. Unfortunately, you never know when you’ll get stuck. (Anyone remember that big long traffic jam at the beginning of 2022? My sister got caught in that one, and it was a nightmare.) Having extra drinks, and nonperishable food in your car can make a world of difference.
  4. Ways to stay cool or warm. Everything from extra layers to battery-operated fans for instant ice packs. It’s important to prepare for any type of weather scenario.

So, how are you preparing for your road trip?

Is there anything I missed on my list that you always bring? What are your kiddos’ favorite ways to stay entertained? Share in the comments below!

About Chloe Morgan

Chloe Morgan grew up living with a tight budget. In her late teens and early 20’s all the lessons she’d learned started to slip, like it does for many college age students on their own for the first time, and with their first credit card. As she’s gotten older, she’s started to deal with the repercussions and has taken on a frugal way of living, keeping her costs low, as she pays off debt and saves for her future. Chloe lives in Northern Ontario, Canada, with her cute dog, Rhea.

Road Tripping with the Kids: How to Stay Organized, Entertained, and Safe on a Budget
Chloe Morgan

Chloe Morgan

Chloe Morgan grew up living with a tight budget. In her late teens and early 20’s all the lessons she’d learned started to slip, like it does for many college age students on their own for the first time, and with their first credit card. As she’s gotten older, she’s started to deal with the repercussions and has taken on a frugal way of living, keeping her costs low, as she pays off debt and saves for her future. Chloe lives in Northern Ontario, Canada, with her cute dog, Rhea.

4 thoughts on “Road Tripping with the Kids: How to Stay Organized, Entertained, and Safe on a Budget”

  1. Having printed maps is important. They’re available for free at local AAA (CAA) offices. You can also print out a Trip Tick from their website, but it’s best to have a road map with back roads shown in case you have to take a detour. Also consider investing in an atlas for your state, and the state you travel to (we have one by Delorme). I keep ours in our car. Yes there’s apps like Google Maps and Waze, but what if you’re in an area with no cell service? That happened to us last year in rural Vermont, we took a wrong turn and ended up near Canada. Our car had a free trial of OnStar, and that sent us directions but it was voice directed turn by turn directions – and no map display on the screen.
    Bottom line: get real maps. 🙂

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with inexpensive (read: no DVD player in my vehicle) entertainment, my rule was to *not* hand it out when the trip started. If a trip you take on a regular (every summer) and the kids are old enough, you don’t dole out any of the stash until you hit a certain landmark/time traveled. Same goes with food providing the kids got a regular meal/heavy snack before you loaded up.
    Poker chips are another frugal item that can be reused – either another car trip or rainy day. If one has been raising their kids to not *have to be* entertained every minute, travel is much easier.
    Don’t forget the Dramamine (or equivalent) if any riders are prone to car sickness.
    Hopefully the kids have weathered some car trips of more than a few minutes/an hour prior to the “big” trip.

  3. Wonderful article! We also keep a potty in the car. It has been awesome for my preschooler and I use it all the time, too! It is much easier and cleaner than public bathrooms especially since covid. We have plenty of garbage bags, toilet paper and Chlorox wipes. I grew up riding and showing horses, and my friend always kept a commode in the dressing room of her immaculately clean horse trailer. I also agree with books, activity books, and low-tech fun. Thank you!

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