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For a long time, the vast majority of the travel my family did was by plane. But we have been doing more and more road trips now that we have two little traveling companions. I must admit that in spite of my fears, the experience has been a gamble that has paid off.
I’ve learned a lot in my thousands of miles on the road with kids and have picked up quite a few tricks along the way. Before summer is officially over, I wanted to share these tips with you as we embark on our family’s final summer road trip adventure.
One of the biggest road trip challenges when you have young kids is keeping the car from looking like a tornado hit it. Kids mean: SO. MUCH. GEAR. Little ones also seem to be mess-generating machines. Snacking on the road can especially take its toll. After taking our first big road trip with two kids for the first time (from San Francisco to Disneyland last year), we knew we had to implement better systems and fast.
Here are my best tips for a less-mess road trip. (Note that I did not say “mess-free.” I’m not a miracle worker!)
1. Start with a system.
If you start with an organized car, your chances of staying organized throughout your road trip increases exponentially. Use car organizers in the backseat (a shoe rack hanging over the back of the front seat works wonders) to contain kid gear and snacks. Put most-used items within your kid’s reach so they can help themselves to items they need without you having to turn around every few minutes. Of course, if you have a toddler like I do, you may want to do the opposite and put problem items OUT of toddler reach!
2. A traveling trash can is a necessity.
Kids find a way to generate trash constantly, particularly if eating meals or snacks on the road. Have a small bucket or just a simple grocery store plastic bag in the back and make them use it. At every rest stop, empty the bag or throw it away and start fresh so the junk doesn’t pile up.
3. Don’t walk away from a messy car.
It is so tempting at the end of a long day’s drive to walk away from your car and leave the mess as-is. You’re tired. The kids are cranky. We understand.
But if you take those two minutes to clean out the junk as you are unpacking your car, you’ll be so much happier overall. A little extra work in the evening means starting the morning on a new travel day with less mess!
4. Don’t unpack the whole car for just a one night stay.
This is one of my favorite hacks if you are taking a multi-stop road trip and staying only one night in a hotel. Why unpack luggage with clothes for a week or more when you are only staying one night? Pack an overnight bag or two with important toiletries and one change of clothes for everyone and leave the rest in the car (in a secure place, of course). I’d never recommend leaving luggage in sight or electronics in the car, so make sure valuables come into the hotel with you and that your other things are securely out of sight!
5. Keep things cool.
Since my family’s end of summer road trip is through Tennessee and Alabama during the month of August, it is going to be HOT! One sure-fire way to have a messy car is by leaving snacks that melt or get sticky (like chocolate or chewy candy) in the car for even a few minutes while you stop to see a roadside attraction. Traveling with a cooler (collapsible soft-sided if you’re tight on space) is always a good idea for these items. It also works great for your beverages. Who doesn’t like having cold drinks along?
To get ready for our current road trip, we recently stocked up on road trip snacks at our local Safeway. Having a variety of snacks is so important to successful travel with kids.
When it comes to travel with kids, I’m all about balance. So we balanced a few healthier options like Wheat Thins and Quaker Rice Cakes with a few much-needed treats like Life Savers Gummies to keep the kids (and admittedly, their parents) quiet during cranky moments. And now that we have a road trip system for containing all the mess that my kids make, I’m happy to let them have a few snacks on the road.
Want to take a road trip with your kids to end your summer or for your first fall break? Safeway and its affiliated stores are currently running an amazing Best Road Trip Ever sweepstakes sure to appeal to all family travelers trying to preserve those last few minutes of summer. Enter for a chance to win a new car and other awesome prizes.