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A Hot Mess Mom's Guide to Keeping Your Sanity on Road Trips with Little Kids

Updated on July 18, 2016

Long Car Rides Suck

It sucks even more when you have children in tow. Especially those young kids that refuse to sleep in the car. You know who you are! The difficult kids in the back kicking the back of your seat and asking "Are we there yet" from the backseat can put a damper on the fun adventures you are trying to give your child. Let's all take a deep breath and prepare ourselves for those long drawn out car rides, with some non screen time options for keeping your kiddo busy in the backseat and keep your sanity in tact.

Stock up on Boredom Busters

There are a ton of ideas on Pinterest of how to stave off the boredom of long car rides for kids. Here are a few of my favorite tricks you can try to appease that inner demon you call your precious cargo in the backseat.

  • Games are always a good treat for older kids. You can do all sorts of games and if you can think of a game, there's likely a printable out there on the internet for you to print at home for free. Try out this all ages friendly road trip scavenger hunt by Kristen Duke Photography with items that are described with icons and pictures to make it easy for any of your little travelers. Suburban Mom has a super cute license plate printable game for older kiddos.
  • Kids that can't read may make travel more difficult, because it's harder to keep them busy in an independant fashion for any extended period of time. You can keep your toddler or preschooler with a "Busy Wallet". Just fill an old wallet, or if you are one of those ambitious moms - you can sew one with this tutorial - fill the wallet with colorful scraps of paper and crayons to color. They can stick in their own play money you can also print. My favorite was found at Kids Activities! Add some photos of the family or pets to keep your child entertained. If you wanna give them more stuff to play with, add in a few of your old credit cards or membership cards and they will feel like the most important person in the car.
  • After Dark travel can be hard when you have kids who don't want to sleep. Keep the cranky at bay with some night time activities. There isn't much you can do to entertain the little ones without electronic devices or music, but you can stick some glow in the dark stars to the ceiling of the car for a magical ride. Non light activities could be a magnet play tray. While He Was Napping has given some great ideas for using a small cookie sheet to contain the magnets on their lap and let them play quietly with their letters or animals or numbers. Really, whatever you have on hand.
  • Artists can be entertained with washable, non-toxic Window markers from by Crayola. You can add some window clings and they can create their own little world on their windows for several minutes of amusement. You can even use the Crayola Window Cling maker ahead of time with your kids so they are excited to use their very own clings!

Grumbly Tummies Make Grumpy Kids

So you have the activities ready and you are all packed up to go. Don't forget the snacks for the ride. You can pack your car with pre-made snacks and use a lot of really good ideas to make sure that your kid isn't grumpy from hunger. It's a cheaper and more healthy option to stopping at rest stop vending machine or a fast food joint along the highway. No unnecessary stops, because you will be the master of travel with your snacks all ready prepared to be handed out.

  • Bite Size Snacks are great for little fingers and can be less of a choking hazard for you worrying moms about kids eating in the backseat while you can't stop the car at a moment's notice. Blessings Multiplied has some great tips and snack ideas for a snack bin made of a multi-slotted snap and go tackle box. You can purchase one for each kid and fill it with whatever small snacks you want, healthy or sugary, whatever your preference! These bins give kids variety and with multiple kids you can let your kiddos decorate them with their names and stickers you can find in the scrapbook aisle of any craft store.
  • Simple and easy to contain is the name of the game when it comes to snacks. If you are worried your little one will just dump their own snack box on the floor, you can always go for a more enclosed option. You can turn a Mason Jar into a handy snack container in just a few steps using Babble's tutorial. You can fill the jars with trail mix, candies, and other goodies that they can just pour into their hands or into a tray on their lap for easiest access.

  • Drive Thru is always a fast and easy crowd pleaser for parents who don't mind their kiddos eating fast food. I use this trick myself. You can purchase a small bath caddy at the dollar store in whatever color your child chooses and then sit it next to them. You can store all your treats - up to and including your happy meal fries and drink. They're sturdy, don't fall over and can be moved to the floor fairly easily without things spilling out. Your kids can also decorate their own car tote for food, because we all know how excited they are to use things they actually create themselves!
  • Messy or Spoonable snacks are not impossible and can be a lot of fun. If you don't want to get candy or bites of nuts or berries, you can try using a straw for your kid's yogurts or applesauce containers. Just poke the straw through the foil of the top and the kid can happily slurp away their delicious healthy snack on the road. It's Always Autumn also gives the fantastic tip of cutting the straws in half and taping them to the side or top of the containers ahead of time, for easy management once inside the car.
  • Keep the kids Hydrated with a DIY travel cup for kids. All you need is a small cup and some press and seal plastic wrap. You don't need to do this, if you have sippy cups or already have bottles on hand to use for drinking. If you use this option, it's spill proof and sealable, just put some Press 'N Seal over the top of your child's cup and poke a straw through it.

Keeping the Mess and Clutter To A Minimum

Long car rides will equal lots of trash and debris that will litter your car if you aren't prepared for it. You can find all sorts of fun ways to contain the clutter online, here are a few of my favorites.

  • Cupholders are a breeding ground for the crumbs and bits of food that fall from little fingers. Kids will stash everything they can there. Even if you aren't using the cup holder as a snack holder, you are probably going to use it for drinks that can sweat when hot, or leak sticky juice from accidental spills. Contain these messes with a stress free option. Just stick a cupcake liner in the cup holder and it will catch all the mess that comes with cup holders without the extra cleaning hassle. If you want to go for a more eco-friendly option you can spring the extra couple bucks for silicone liners. They are washable and reusable, so you would save money in the long run!
  • Stash all your activities in a handy "behind the seat" caddy that is in arm's reach of your little one at all times. You know that you can't reach behind you to grab the next toy or activity for your child while driving, but most little kids don't understand that. They think you should be able to just hand them everything on a whim. Give your kid independence and you peace of mind, by setting up this shoe bag organizer by Martha Stewart.
  • Trash can accumulate in a car quickly. Even on a normal run of the mill day of errands, you can end up with all sorts of left over foods, diapers, used wipes and any other assortment of items in the floor of your car. With the extra miles and time in the car, you are bound to gather a lot of snack wrappers, discarded straws and other things with kids who would rather throw them on the floor or out the window than take care of them properly. You can dispose of the waste in your car with a large plastic cereal container. Make sure it comes with a lid that snaps shut. You can line it with a small trash bag, put it in the floorboard of the car, or where ever you want to designate the trash to go and you can snap the mess and smell of any trash in the car up in the container until the next gas station or rest stop!

Pack a First Aid and Essentials Kit

Over at Sarah with an H I found this really genius idea for a portable first aid kit. You can see the list of items she recommends to be in the kit. She uses a cheap tackle box or "Caboodle" if you want to get fancy. You can pack your bathroom essentials in the bottom as well as stashing your toothbrushes. You can use the slots in the tackle box for medicine, bandages, thermometers, and more. Her version is a bit larger, and for the purpose of keeping at home - but you can easily adapt it to fit the needs of a large family on a road trip for both car and hotel needs when you are in a place with limited shopping opportunities or places.

If you prefer a smaller more compact option, you can use a pencil pouch or an empty wipes container like this tutorial at My Frugal Adventures uses for her car First Aid Kit. This Mom's Ouch Kit is stashed with the essentials and the basics for the car while you are on the go. Bandages, triple antibiotic, small gadgets like thermometer or ice packs, and of course, your small supply of pain reliever.


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