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Fodor’s Ultimate Gear List: Road Trips With Kids

PHOTO: Shutterstock

If you’ve got the open road ahead of you, we’ve got what you need for the little ones in the backseat.

The wind in your hair, tunes blasting on the radio, nothing but the road in front of you. Well, that’s what it was like before you had kids at least. Now road trips may involve Disney tunes on repeat and a series of never-ending requests. And the whining. Oh, the epic whining. We’ve compiled a list of travel gear that will make your road trip a little less stressful and keep your kids entertained, fed, and happy while you’re logging the miles.

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PHOTO: INSUN
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Backseat Organizer

The backseat organizer is the solution to keeping your kids’ road trip essentials at hand so you don’t pull a muscle trying to pass them their toy or water bottle every five minutes. There are a lot of functional, but, let’s just say it, ugly ones out there. The super-cute design of the INSUN Backseat Organizer stands out from the pack.

Why we love it: Handy hooks allow you to attach a trash bag to the organizer and it folds up when not in use.

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PHOTO: Fjallraven
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Backpack

Your kids probably already have their own backpacks, but if you’re looking to upgrade their style and hipster cred, check out Fjallraven’s Kanken kids’ packs. Made of the same durable light canvas material as the adult version, it also has a removable pad to sit on for those rest stop picnics.

INSIDER TIPLimit the toys and stuffed animals your kids can bring in the car to what fits in the backpack. This is also a good place for non-perishable road snacks.

Why we love it: These look adorable in miniature and come in all the colors of the rainbow.

headrest
PHOTO: Cardiff Products
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Car Nap Aid

Car trips usually result in car naps for kids, which is a big YAY! for parents. But if they’re big enough for a booster seat (federal regulations say  4 to 8 years of age or between 40 to 80 lbs), napping can mean bobbing heads and achy necks. Enter the Cardiff Booster Seat Headrest which easily attaches to the backseat headrest. An added bonus is that the “pillow” pieces can be positioned up and out of the way when not in use.

Why we love it: We…um, adults…have been known to use them for a nap or two, too. Plus, the “pillow” covers can be removed for washing.

podcast
PHOTO: Kids Listen
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Podcast App

If you were an avid listener of Serial but are looking for a podcast that your kids can get in on, or if you’ve never listened to a podcast and don’t know where to start, check out Kids Listen. The people behind this web app (IOS app coming soon) listen to the podcasts, curate them, and organize them by age and topic, so finding appropriate podcasts is easy. Have we mentioned that listening to stories is awesome for listening comprehension and growing your child’s imagination?

Why we love it: For kids who get carsick and can’t watch movies, podcast stories are our go-to to keep them engaged.

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PHOTO: Lucas Barbieri
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Headphones

With apps and iPads comes the need for headphones. LilGadgets Untangled Pro Headphones come in six colors and fit comfortably on your little’s head and won’t slip off. A separate cord is provided to plug into the device if wireless isn’t available or the headset loses its charge, and there’s a SharePort cord that connects two headsets so kids can listen at the same time.

JLab Jbuddies folding headphones are another favorite that’s perfect for the 2+ crowd. They stay on little heads, are soft on ears, have volume limits to prevent hearing loss, and have outside volume control for easy parental control. They come with stickers to customize the headphones—a big hit with our kids.

Why we love them: Sometimes you just need to not listen to Disney’s Greatest Hits–silence is golden.

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PHOTO: Melissa & Doug
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Reveal Hidden Scenes With Water

Melissa & Doug’s Water Wow is a packable portable activity for toddlers. Fill the pen with water and let the kiddos paint four boards revealing hidden scenes. These are available in various themes like vehicles, fairy tales, and safari animals and are a handy, inexpensive travel-ready diversion.

Why we love it: Fewer parts to roll onto the car floor.

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PHOTO: Agnese Sanvito/Laurence King
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Car-Trip Games

Road Trips are synonymous with road trip games, especially when you have to entertain kids of all ages. One of our favorites is the 14 ½ x 10 inch wooden U.S.A License Plate Game from Melissa & Doug. When you see a state plate, just flip the mini wooden license plates (images look like each state’s actual license plate).

Another great game for the car is Dazzleship Battleship (pictured), which takes the classic game of Battleship and puts it to paper. Still a two player game, each person gets a 7 x 10 book with 64-page map-and-grid pages for playing. Instead of pieces, you plot your boat’s positions with a pencil (don’t forget to pack that). And what trip would be complete without another classic: Mad Libs on the Road. It’s sure to get everyone in your car involved and giggling.

Why we love them: Compact and fun is the name of the game. Added bonus: no pieces to lose.

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PHOTO: Agnese Sanvito/Laurence King
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Rest-Stop Games

Cars aren’t the only place you’ll need to entertain kids when you’re on a road trip. Mealtime also needs entertainment. Pirate Adventure Dice are a great way to inspire kids to use their imagination, plus the box is small enough to fit in your hand. Each pack has 9 dice, and each die has six images on it. Roll the dice to see what images pop up and let your imagination do the rest. There are also sets with a Ghost, Space, and Magic & Fairytale theme.

Another pint-sized game that’s perfect for restaurant tables is Spot It! The game comes in various themes, but the ‘On the Road’ version is great because the items on the cards are all things you’ll see along your travels.

Why we love them: Rather than having your kids whine while you wait for your meals, create stories together.

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Road Trip Reads

If you’ve got readers who are lucky enough not to be afflicted by car sickness, Candlewick Press has a series of 4×5 hard cover books called Panorama Pops that bring road trip destinations to life–U.S. destinations include Boston, San Francisco, New York, and Washington D.C. Each book opens to reveal an accordion-like illustrated map that highlights the city’s landmarks–kids get a kick out of seeing them in real life.

Another great option for trip inspiration The 50 States: Explore the U.S.A. with 50 fact-filled maps! It’s a bit cumbersome to look at in a car, but each state spread is filled with illustrations and fun facts that will get you excited before your trip. Plus there’s a companion book, The 50 States: Activity Book, which you can pack. It includes state trivia, picture scrambles, stickers, and a fold-out map.

To keep boredom at bay in the car, hotel, or restaurant, the 192-page Great Big Search and Find Activity Book literally has more than 500 things to find and color.

Why we love them: Books that entertain and educate (while road tripping) and inspire a love of travel are never a bad thing.

Book a Hotel

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PHOTO: Kleynimals
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Kleynimals

Let the littlest travelers get in on the driving fun with Kleynimals. These stainless steel animals sound and feel like keys, but without the lead, grease, and other gross stuff usually on a set of car keys. There are two versions, one with a smaller loop and a rattle with a large key ring.

Why we love it: Great for the baby who fusses until you give in and give them your keys and then promptly loses them.

pails
PHOTO: Aqua Vault
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Beach-Ready Pail

Rather than trying to pack a standard sand pail or buying one at your beach destination, we suggest getting the Packable Pail collapsible buckets. Made of heavy-duty food-grade silicone, these are BPA- and PVC-free. This pail holds 5 liters and collapses down to 2 inches wide and 10 inches across.

Why we love it: Takes up little to no space but is sturdy enough for a spur of the moment beach trip.

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PHOTO: Bumkins
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Reusable Snack Bags

Save the planet, or at least offset your carbon emissions, by bringing reusable snack bags. Rather than letting your kids go to town on a huge bag of Veggie Straws, spoiling their meal or fighting over the bag, pre-pack snacks into these Bumkins Snack Bags.

Why we love it: Easy enough to hand wash in a hotel sink and cute enough to pack in adult lunch boxes too.

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PHOTO: Booginhead
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Sippy Cup Leash

After “are we there yet?” the last thing we want to hear is “I dropped my sippy cup.” Enter the Booginhead Sippi Grip, a simple leash with a smart design–a leather-like grip attaches to the sippy cup and Velcro makes sure it’s tight. The other end attaches to a car seat strap, stroller, high chair, basically anywhere you can put a loop.

Why we love it: Not just for sippy cups, this also keeps lovies from falling out of strollers.

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Snacks, Snacks, and More Snacks

Every road trip with kids needs a cooler for everything from drinks and sandwiches to endless snacks. Soft-sided is the best, as it’s easy to squeeze and squish into all sorts of places. It also needs to be portable so that it can be hauled to a picnic table, amusement park, beach, (you get the idea), and it must be able to hold one drink per family member, plus snacks and sandwiches. The Stiff One from Scout checks all these boxes.

INSIDER TIPInstead of putting ice packs or bags of ice in your cooler, freeze bottled water. It keeps the melting water contained and provides cool refreshing water to drink.

Why we love it: It has two outside pockets, fits an entire 24 pack with ice (if you so choose), and it zips.

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PHOTO: Prestige Brands Holdings, Inc.
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Car Sickness Medicine

Once my daughter could talk, we realized why she had always hated being in the car: she gets carsick. Kids’ Dramamine, given 30 minutes before heading out, and often as a half dose (but check with your pediatrician) so she wouldn’t be loopy by the time we got where we were going has been a game changer.

For kids prone to car sickness, consider lining their car seat with a towel or blanket, and putting an art smock over them to make cleanup easier. Also put them in the middle seat, have them look out the front windshield rather than the back windows, and play games like “I Spy” rather than watching a screen. Keep the car cool and have them layer with a blanket; open windows for fresh air. Motion sickness wristbands, eating a little bland food (like crackers or popcorn) at a time, and driving at night can also help. When all else fails, keep trash bags, baby wipes, and paper towels handy.

Why we love it: There’s nothing worse than hearing “my tummy hurts” 10 minutes into a long car ride.

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PHOTO: Bumkins
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Wet/Dry Bag

Road trips equal impromptu visits to water parks, fountains, puddles, swimming holes, and some less fun messes (toilet training, car sickness). Go prepared with Bumpkins Wet/Dry Bags that are great for transporting wet (and dry in a separate compartment) clothes anytime, anywhere, but especially helpful on the road.

Why we love it: Cute designs that will last for years.

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PHOTO: Matador Up
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Quick-Dry Towel

Because kids bring the unexpected, we like the Nanodry Shower Towel that is about as big as a toddler’s hand when in the durable silicone case but can cover an entire little body (in the large size). It even has a carabiner to attach it to the outside of a backpack.

Why we love it: Perfect for drying off after impromptu runs through playground sprinklers and portable enough to carry all the time.

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PHOTO: DockATot
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Baby-Approved Bed

Traveling with little ones is stressful enough without having to figure out where baby is going to sleep or rest. Enter the DockATot Deluxe, a secure, portable spot to rest your little one on a hotel bed, picnic blanket, or even on your lap. The cover is washable and the raised border prevents little ones from rolling out; there’s even a super handy travel bag for it.

Why we love it: It’s super lightweight making it easy to pack it up and toss in the car, plus it fits comfortably between two adults making co-sleeping on-the-go a breeze.

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PHOTO: Shrunks
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Travel Toddler Beds

The Shrunks inflatable toddler beds are our go-to kids’ travel mattresses. With inflatable side rails to keep toddlers and preschoolers from falling out, there are two great options: one has an electric pump for indoor use; another is smaller, has a foot pump and a sleeping bag included for camping out. They are Phthalates- and BPA-safe and standard crib sheets fit the mattress. They also have inflatable bed rails to convert any bed into a toddler bed.

Why we love it: Easy to set up, durable, and comfy enough for a two-week vacation.