Frugal Road Trip with Kids – What To Bring

Frugal Road Trip with Kids – What to Bring from The More With Less Mom

Frugal Road Trip with Kids Series: Frugal Road Trip with KidsBe PositivePlan Your RouteSafety First – What to Bring – Food and SnacksFun StuffFun in the DarkFun in the HeatClassic Games

In this article: Stuff to BringPotty MattersFun BagMorning BagCrate for LittlesBinder of Doom

Stuff To Bring

Wipes. Wipes everywhere. All the wipes.

If you are a neat freak you can get a broom and dustpan from the dollar store to sweep up the car when you toss the trash at the rest stop.

Pack for cold weather as well as hot. If you are visiting the desert it gets cold at night, as do many other places. If there is a rest area swarming with fireflies your kids will want to get out, but they won’t want to get all chilly doing it. Also if you tour some caverns it gets chilly down there and you will need a sweater.

For little ones that get strapped in keep a blankie handy rather than putting them in their seat with a sweater, jacket, or other extra layer. Sweaters you pack should have a zipper or buttons in the middle so you might have a prayer of getting it off without waking the child of doom.

We put folded blankets tucked in on each seat. This protects the seats from accidents, and we always have a blanket if someone gets cold or we want to go on a picnic. I also put a folded towel on the seat of the car seats in case of diaper blow out or accident. Sometimes with straps this is tricky, I use a towel that’s ready for the rag bag and cut slits for the straps.

If you are going on a long trip or are short on room you may want to get a cargo pod for your car roof. You do not have to have a roof rack, but that does make things easier. We kept the least accessed items in there, like extra clothes, the tent, sleeping bags, camp stove. They say they are waterproof but they may not be. Always check this when you stop and make sure that sucker is secure.

Kids with tent

Plastic bags:

Lots of them. Fold them flat and stick them in a zip bag. (Or fold them like this but I’m too lazy, maybe a good project for older children who were naughty) These are good for organizing as well as using as trash bags. Each row of seats should have a designated trash bag that gets put in the same place all the time, preferably where everyone can reach it by themselves, and gets emptied every time you stop. If it gets sticky just toss the whole thing and use a new one.


Make sure you pack appropriate footwear. Flip flops are fine in the car, you don’t want anybody getting sweaty feet, but when hiking sneakers (and socks) are best. Water shoes are great for splash pads, and campground showers. If you start looking early you might be able to get them at thrift stores or yard sales, or even eBay.

Potty time

Potty Matters

If you have a preschooler bring a potty. Even if they are potty trained and you are confident, a road trip can test even the most steadfast little bladder. When you get trapped in stop-and-go traffic because of an accident, and are on a bridge with no bushes in sight, the potty is a lifesaver. In emergency anybody can pee in a diaper, it’s what they’re for.

The first stall in a public restroom is the cleanest, since most people head to the later stalls for more privacy. Always check for toilet paper before committing. I keep a tiny travel roll of toilet paper in my purse. Then flush with your foot. Then wash your hands with soap. Then open the door with your elbow.

I have never bought one of the Folding Travel Potty Seats, but they only cost around $10 at WalMart so they may be well worth it.

Keep in mind automatic flushing toilets are often very loud and will scare little ones, so block the little sensor thingie on the toilet with a piece of toilet paper, a band aid, a postit, even your hands, until the little one can exit the stall. If you are proactive about this it will make rest area potty stops much easier, once it scares the kid you will have to coax them to go again.

Fun Bag

Each kid gets to pick a backpack to pack with whatever they want to take as their Fun Bag. They like to feel responsibility for their things and take ownership of packing the bag. And any choices you can offer a young child will help them have an easier time.

Pay attention to the noise levels and lights of the things you pack. You know the toys that are just too loud. Also you don’t want to distract the driver with zany flashing lights.

Check the batteries of electronic items and replace or recharge them.

The big kids pack books, handheld game systems, chargers for those systems, games for those systems, MP3 players, earbuds, a deck of cards, notebook and pens for writing, sketchbook and pencils for drawing, Sudoku books (dollar store), etc. If your kid just wants to pack the Gameboy assume they will play until it runs out of charge and you will need the power outlet that isn’t on the fritz for the GPS. Teach your kids to be prepared. For winter drives especially we try to limit the daytime electronics, after dark the littles will watch a movie while the bigger ones play their handheld games, then the littles hopefully sleep while the older ones get to pick a movie.

The three year old has several electronic toys that have multiple modes and are vaguely educational, and not too loud. We got these electronic toys at yard sales and thrift stores. She has an Original LeapPad (an older one) that will keep her entertained for hours. We will bring the LeapFrog Scribble and Write. A LeapFrog Tag Reading System would be another great one. We will pack a small MagnaDoodle (from the dollar store), an Etch A Sketch would work too. We will pack her favorites, including cars, dolls and ponies. I will pack a couple of her favorite board books, many of which she can almost read to herself. We bring crayons in a travel soap box. Pipe cleaners go in a pencil pouch from the dollar store. Headphones you can get from the dollar store.

The one year old is pretty easy, she is a mellow baby. I will pack some rattle-type toys, some loveys, and some musical light-up friends like the Fisher Price Ocean Wonders Soothe and Glow Seahorse. She has a couple educational/musical toys that will be good for keeping herself entertained, like our LeapFrog Baby Counting Pal, it is a soft caterpillar with a couple of different modes that will play music or name numbers, etc. Also the Neurosmith Sunshine Symphony

Bring an older digital camera for the little ones to use to take pictures. When you get home you can help them make a scrapbook with their very own photos. I had an old phone that I could just connect to the computer to transfer my photos. When it stopped functioning as a phone I let my kids use it as a camera. Or you can buy disposable cameras. Also don’t forget your camera should have a self-timer feature, so you can get photos of everyone together.

Morning Bag (with toiletries bag)

This is a smaller bag that can fit a change of clothes and the toiletries bag. You carry this with you into the rest stop bathrooms in the morning if you sleep in the car. For our long trip we used an 8 person tent and air mattresses and stayed at KOA or Good Sam campgrounds. But many times since then we have slept in the car. Hotels are very expensive, especially for a family of six.

The dollar store has toothbrushes that include covers and travel size toothpaste.

Travel tray

Crate for Littles

I have a crate or tub in between the little ones. This has a snack, their water bottle or cup if they don’t have a cup holder, and any activities or toys they want to have in reach. I tuck the Binder of Fun behind the crate, as well as the lap desk when it is not in use. The lap desk can be a cookie sheet from the dollar store, or fancy moms can make one. Folded blankets go between the crate and the car seat so we can reach them from the front. Usually small pillows are put in a plastic bag under the feet of the shortest person (so they don’t get dirty if they get dropped out of the car when we stop). Pillows can also double as barriers for siblings who won’t stop touching each other.

Binder of Doom

“Of doom” is a running gag in my house. I’m not sure how it started. Cat of doom. Binky of doom. Get your butt out here and eat your dinner – of doom. Anyways, my binder of doom is a 3-ring binder full of important papers for the trip. For the really long trip I used a file box and made a separate folder for each state/region. As we progressed I’d switch out my local folder. Each folder had maps and attractions for that area. I got state guides from the tourism bureaus. We grabbed brochures from kiosks in touristy places. For this trip I am using two expanding file folders, one for each car. I might have to upgrade those to 3-ring binders as I add more stuff before we leave.

My Binder of Doom contains:

A print-out of our moving truck reservation and a coupon (could be your rental car or camper reservation).

A print-out of the directions for both highway and scenic byway, as detailed under Route.

A print-out of my Trip Map with WalMarts, fun stuff, and other stops

A copy of our auto insurance cards

A folder of brochures and other info for stops

A copy of the housesitting instructions

A copy of our Child ID sheets

What is your most important road trip essential?

More With Less Mom

We hope you enjoyed our Frugal Road Trip with Kids from a Mama Pro

Photo credits:
Kids with tent photo by The More With Less Mom

Porcelain potty photo by EraPhernalia Vintage on Flikr
Magnetic Travel Tray photo by Craft Interrupted

Frugal Road Trip with Kids Series: Frugal Road Trip with KidsBe PositivePlan Your RouteSafety First – What to Bring – Food and SnacksFun StuffFun in the DarkFun in the HeatClassic Games

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