Taking a road trip? Before you pack up the car and the kids, read (and watch!) our top tips for traveling long distances by car. These are our awesome road trip car hacks!
We have been traveling full-time for the past year, plus our family has taken several cross-country trips, and I think we’ve perfected our car packing abilities!
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If you’re going to be spending hours upon hours in the car together as a family, you’ll want to be as comfortable as possible and have everything in the right place! I’m going to share everything we’ve learned in the past year of traveling full-time by car.
Family Road Trip Travel Hacks
I want to start by saying that there is no right or wrong. In fact, as we’ve traveled over the past year we’ve changed things up several times. I’ll share all of our various solutions, and hopefully you’ll find something that works great for your family!
I’m going to break this down into sections to make your planning a little easier. First we’ll talk about prepping your car, then we’ll talk about packing, and then we’ll share some fun car hacks!
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Prep your car for a road trip
1. Get your car detailed
It’s worth it. Unless you already keep it really clean (and if you have kids, you probably don’t), pay the money to get it detailed. It will feel so nice to start the trip off in a clean car, even if it doesn’t stay that way for long!
2. Assess your space
First, assign seats. When it’s time, each family member can customize their own allotted space to find room for their things and themselves.
Then, look for both obvious and creative storage spaces. You probably have room in the trunk for a lot of things, but what can you store in-between seats, under feet, overhead, and in compartments? Every car is different, but if you take some time to look around you might see some space you hadn’t considered.
3. Get comfortable
Hours spent in the car can make anyone cranky! If everyone has a way to stretch their feet and lay their head, that will go a long way in mood management! Pillows and blankets take up precious room, but they are essential!
Packing for your road trip
4. Decide what you need to bring
Emphasis on “need!” When we packed our car to leave on our year-long journey, it was literally “packed!” We’ve purged and reevaluated our needs all along the way, and now our car has a fraction of the things we first packed in it.
So what do you really need? For us, the three obvious things are clothes, toiletries, and screens (phones, tablets, and/or laptops- we work on the road). There’s more beyond that, but those are our top needs.
Will you be able to do laundry while you are away? If so, you can pack much less clothing!
Consider what you will need at your destination and what you’ll need on the road. That brings us to the next tip:
5. Pack things according to when and where you’ll need them
In our van, the car seats in the middle and back of the car can be folded completely into the floor. That means, when the seats are up, we have storage underfoot and in the bottom of the trunk! We make sure to fill up the bottom of the trunk with things we won’t need until we arrive at our destination, and then we put everything else on top.
Things you’ll want easy access to:
- Books, toys, games
- Car emergency kit / First aid kit
- Some clothes, if you will be stopping overnight on the way
Things that can be stored away:
- Most clothes and toiletries
- Laptops if you won’t use them in the car
- Supplies for your destination such as beach toys or towels
Also read: Road Trip Survival Kit
The backpack or one bag method
This is our latest packing technique- everybody gets a backpack. We found ours at Amazon! In the backpack is all of your clothes, screens, and toiletries. We also use packing cubes to organize clothes within the bags. We started packing this way in preparation to travel overseas, where we’ll have even less stuff with us!
The benefits to using backpacks is that everyone can keep track of their own things, and when it’s time to go somewhere, you just grab your “one bag” and you’re ready to go!
The bin method
At the beginning of our trip, we utilized plastic bins or tubs to organize our things. We actually still use a few- one for kids’ school supplies, one with a printer and other office supplies, and one with extra clothing. This is all stuff that is useful to have with us for now, while traveling by car, but it’s all stuff we would not take with us on an overseas trip.
The drawers method
This one is best explained by watching the video at the end of this post, but this is how we traveled cross-country a few years ago. We bought two of those plastic 3-drawer units which fit perfectly into the back of our car, and we used those drawers to pack clothes and toiletries for the family rather than using luggage.
Play around with some different options and you’re sure to find the perfect packing method for your family!
Road Trip Car Hacks
6. Sneaky storage
Sometimes you can find storage in unlikely places! Don’t forget to utilize underneath seats, the backs of seats (we hung a shoe organizer for snacks!), and unused foot space (babies don’t need it!).
We even used a remote control holder (which usually goes over the arm of a couch) to put under a baby carseat, so we could put some baby toys on the side!
Check out the video at the bottom of this post to see our sneaky car storage places.
7. Entertainment hacks
Decide whether you want to pack toys and activities in one container, or give each child their own bin. We’ve done a little of both, and both ways work! The most important thing is that they are accessible to them and, ideally, easy to put away.
Consider rigging up a tablet or DVD player if your car doesn’t already have one, so everyone in the back can enjoy a movie. This is a great way to pass an hour or two! Get a long aux cord so you can run sound through the car speakers.
8. Car food hacks
Choose snacks that can be parceled out, like fruit snacks packets and small bags of chips. Juice boxes or small water bottles are great. Reusable water bottles that can be filled up at every stop are even better!
Get some small plastic baskets that kids can use for their snacks and meals. It’ll keep things less messy!
And remember the shoe organizer I mentioned before? That’s a great way to store easily-accessible snacks!
9. Car trash hack
A plastic cereal container lined with a plastic grocery bag becomes a spill-proof trash container when the airtight lid is placed on top. You can see ours in the background in the second picture above, and in the video at the end of the post!
Road Trip Car Hacks Video
I hope you found our road trip packing tips useful! The most important thing is to have a fun time. When you’re prepared and packed efficiently, you can let go and enjoy the ride!
This video was taken right before we left on one of our cross-country trips, from Arizona to Maine, in 2017. This was a special trip for me because it was the first time our entire family got to travel to my home state. It was a highly-anticipated trip and did not disappoint!
Check it out:
Got questions? I’ve got answers! Leave a comment if you have any questions or more tips to share! Happy travels!