After nearly four months of corona craziness and with the start of school about a month away, lots of families feel the need to escape! And most people are choosing to make a road trip. Vacations (especially road trips) require their own levels of organization to be successful, especially for families with children. Let’s break it down:

What are your goals for the trip?

Determining how organized you need to be depends on what you are hoping to get out of the road trip. Are you going to stop often on the trip or would you rather stop as least often as possible? Is it every man for himself regarding snacks and entertainment, or will these be more of a family affair? Let the answers to these questions guide your next steps.

Meals & Snacks

What do snacks and mealtime look like on this trip:

  • Will you stop for meals or snacks along the way or only stop for fuel and restrooms?
  • Do you want to pack healthy snacks or candy? Both?
  • Should one person manage the food or will the kids manage their own food in the car?

Every family is different, which is why there are so many ways this could go. If your kids can manage their own food, perhaps each child gets a food sack that has snacks for the entire ride. This can be a good thing to help kids learn to spread out the food to last the whole car ride. It could also be a disaster if your child eats all the snacks for the entire ride before you get on the interstate.

If you want to manage the snacks for everyone, use Ziplock bags to pack snacks and keep them organized. Some ways to organize them are by person, healthy vs. not-so-healthy, or even by the time you want them to be eaten. An example of a way to organize snacks would be to alternate healthy and not-so-healthy snacks. Have a gallon Ziplock labeled “Snack #1” with snack-sized Ziplock bags inside labeled with each person’s name holding fruit. Then have a gallon ziplock labeled “Snack #2” with snack-sized Ziplock bags inside labeled with each person’s name holding candy or chips. This can be especially easy if the person distributing the snacks is also the one driving.

Consider meals, too. Should you pack sandwiches or will you stop at a restaurant?

If you’re packing food for the ride to the destination, consider packing it for the trip home as well. Depending on how long the vacation is, you may not be able to pack fresh fruits and veggies for the ride home, but you could plan for cheese sticks, pretzels, tubes of yogurt, and the like on the ride home.

While some of this may seem to be a micromanaged approach, you also avoid arguments in the car about who gets what and minimizes the decisions to be made. Of course, all of this takes time and planning. Prep the food and snacks ahead of time so you’re not rushing to hit the road while filling the ice chest.

Electronic Entertainment

What does electronic entertainment look like on this road trip:

  • Will the kids be entertained with a tablet for the ride or are you looking for family bonding?
  • Will everyone play games in the car together or will you leave the kids up to their own ideas?
  • Will everyone listen to music on their devices or will you all listen to the same songs on the radio?

If your family is into music, you might consider making a playlist specifically for the road trip. Maybe you’ll even dig up some favorite CDs. If music needs to be downloaded onto a device instead of streamed, make sure you do that ahead of time.

Most kids can entertain themselves with a tablet. If you only want them on the tablet for a certain time, set a limit and then charge the device when it’s time do to something else.

Back in the day when we went on road trip, travel editions of board games were a great way to pass the time. Though this can still be a great non-electronic option, many of these games — such as chess, checkers and even the Game of Life — now have an app. The benefit is that there are less pieces to keep track of and less to pack in the car. The downside is that kids will be looking at a screen again.  However, in my opinion, there is a difference in having children interact with each other on a game app as opposed to staring at their devices alone.

You could also consider listening audiobooks as a family. Audiobooks can be listened to from a device, checked out from the library or even downloaded from the library’s Libby app.

Don’t forget to pack all of the chargers and charging cables to keep everything running. This could be part of the kids’ responsibility, too.

Games & Activities

If you’re looking for family bonding, what sorts of things do you want to do? You could play trivia, board games, Mad Libs, etc. If you have all of these already, gather them while packing or make plans to get them before the trip.

If you go the traditional (non-electronic) route, consider just packing a notebook for tic-tac-toe and hangman. Instead of buying an activity book with pre-made games, pull out the extra scrap paper and markers. And you know all of those activity books, color-by-number, and origami guides you’ve been holding onto to work on with your children? Now is the time to challenge yourself to use all of the stuff you’ve been saving for a rainy day. Being trapped in the car together is the prefect time to work on these things. If you don’t think it will get used, get rid of it. Let this be a bonus of packing – you’ve edited some of the items in your home.

Managing Space in the Vehicle

Now that you’ve got a pile of things by the door… the space inside the vehicle will have to be managed. The trick is that you still need to be able to ride in the car safely with a seatbelt and your feet on the floor. Don’t bring anything extra, considering the length of the drive and the vacation. Keep things that you won’t need during the trip in the trunk and the things you need to access during the trip at arms length.

It might work best if each child has a setup with water, a blanket and a pillow, and any of the entertainment they’re allowed to bring. Snacks are up to you.

As for organizing the electronic entertainment in the car, consider giving each person a backpack, tote bag, or even a Rubbermaid storage bin to keep all their items together. Use breaks in the trips (like stopping for meals or the bathroom) to have family members to put the items back into their bags to help prevent things from spreading throughout the car and getting lost.

And a trash can or bag is a must! Have the family put their trash into the bag and empty it at each stop.

Things to Keep in Mind

Organizing will make your trip run smoothly and can even save you money by planning ahead. However, organizing takes time!  Prepping for meals and entertainment takes time, especially when you must pack clothes and toiletries, too. If you wait try to wait and do all these things a day or two before you leave, your efforts to organize will be very stressful. There are things you can start doing weeks in advance, including downloading music and movies on devices, packing travel games and activities, and even packing shelf-stable food like chips, crackers, and candy.

After the trip is over, make a note of what worked and what did not. What didn’t get played with or what didn’t get eaten? This will help you plan better for the next trip.

And while all of this sounds great in a blog post, we are living in a different world right now. Give yourself grace. If vacation means handing over the tablets to the kids and hitting the road, then that’s what you should do.

If you have specific questions about this, I’d love to address them. Please leave a comment or send me an email at: