Learn how to organize your car for road trips with kids so you can find everything you need easily on the go. These organization tips help your family stay more comfortable on the drive, too.
When I told friends that I was planning on traveling alone with my kids for 2 weeks as part of an epic road trip one summer, I was really surprised that the first response was always:
"ALONE?! You are so brave, I couldn't do that."
After hearing that comment more than a few times, nervousness and fear started to creep in.
Was I crazy to consider traveling across 6 states alone with the kids? What exactly was everyone afraid of?
The first thing that came to mind was our safety. But right up close to that was keeping organized and dealing with all our gear by myself.
On that crazy road trip I learned all the best tricks for keeping my car organized. It was the only way to make the trip with the kids doable.
Even if you're traveling with your entire family, these packing tips for your car will help save so much stress!
Why Keeping Your Car Organized Matters
Usually my husband and I travel together with the kids but he usually serves as our bag hauler when we reach the hotel.
The girls and I always help, but he'll carry the brunt of the heavy items or make extra trips down to the car from our hotel room if we forgot something.
Knowing I didn't have an extra pair of adult hands to help carry or to fetch things while I sat with sleeping kids in a hotel beds, I wanted to be sure that we could easily organize, tote, and haul everything we needed in just one trip from the car to the hotel room.
Keeping the car organized was so important because:
- Safety: I needed to be able to reach what I needed by myself from the driver's seat without fumbling around. Distracted driving isn't safe for anyone in the car.
- Convenience: Without having to pull over to get something out of reach or stop more often to get food and drinks, I was able to drive farther in less time because we were organized with all the road trip essentials in place.
- Less Stress: Road trips with kids are stressful enough, not being able to find what we needed only compounds pressure on your nerves. A neat and tidy car made the trip just that much more enjoyable.
So while I was packing, I made sure that EVERYTHING had a specific place.
The 5 Must-Have Bags for Your Car
When traveling with my kids for such a long drive, we stopped at several different hotels and family homes along the way.
These 5 bags were absolutely essential to making the road trip a success:
1. Carseat Companion Bag
This bag held everything in it that I needed within arm's reach during our drive.
I could keep my eyes on the road and easily grab anything I needed knowing exactly where it was.
I kept all the small cluttery items that usually rattle around my car neatly organized in a utility tote bag outfitted with a stand tall insert with mesh pockets along the sides.
Inside the car seat bag I stored:
- My Wallet
- My Keys
- Sunglasses for all 3 of us: When the kids were done, they would hand them back to me so they didn't get lost in the car
- Hand Wipes
- Water Bottles
- Packets of Snacks for everyone
- A pile of roadtrip audiobooks from the library
- Gum for the kids: I kept this near me or they'd eat it all at once!
- A Gadget Zipper Bag (See below)
- Notebook & Pens Bag (See below)
Gadget Zipper Bag:
I have several of useful zipper pouches but this particular one was invaluable on the trip.
We traveled with charging cords and devices for multiple tablets, three cameras, an iPhone, and a laptop.
I would have gone insane trying to find just the right charger at the right moment without the giant baggie of gizmos always tucked in the same spot in my bag!
When packing up to move on to the next city, all the chargers got rounded up from the outlets and put right back here.
We never had to hunt for a charger because they were always together in one spot.
Notebook & Pens:
I know most people use digital organization tools these days, but I never leave home without my planner and pens.
I was surprised just how often they came in handy during our drive!
When you're traveling for 3 weeks, there is a lot to keep track of -- reservation numbers, museum info, checklists, etc.
I keep a pack of gel pens handy and organized in a mini sized pouch that was just the right size. At home, I keep this in my purse on the go, too.
2. A Multi-Purpose Tote Bag
I filled a large tote bag with lots of pockets with everything we needed to keep entertained on our road trip.
It was not something I needed to have within arm's reach of the driver seat, so this bag stayed in the back seat by the kids or in the trunk out of the way.
I kept essential entertainment things we needed at our hotel stops in here:
- Books to Read for Everyone
- Portable Travel Games to play with the kids
- My Laptop
- Coloring Supplies & Activity Books for the Kids
- Our Travel Guide Books
I knew there would be a ton of downtime in our evenings and I didn't want the kids just getting sucked into watching the hotel tv every night.
I chose an awesome tote bag like this one for our "fun bag" and it served to carry all of those things into the hotel rooms at check in.
Then it got emptied out to serve as my day bag on the go with the kids. It worked as a pool bag, a day tote, and a shopping bag all in one.
I found a bag with space for water bottles to fit into the 2 exterior pockets and the inside of the bag has tons of open pockets for sunglasses, sunblock, etc. and a zipper pocket to hide things for more security.
I was able to bring the kids sweatshirts for when museums got chilly and always had a spot to store anything we picked up from stores.
Then when we left the hotel, all the entertainment items went back into it for the car.
3. Individual Hanging Traveler Cases
The kids were responsible for carrying and organizing their own smaller personal items for the car.
We hung the pocketed traveler case from the seat head rests in front of them so they had quick access to books, small toys, headphones, and their tablets loaded with audiobooks.
The cases folded up quickly and zipped closed. I was able to just slip them quickly into the bigger Entertainment Tote Bag for storage as needed.
4. Food & Beverage Cooler
While I had shelf stable snacks in my carseat bag, I was sure to pack plenty of fresh fruit and yogurt pouches for the kids, and "mommy essentials" for evenings cooped up in the hotel alone after a long drive for me.
This bag saved us so much money and kept me sane!
At the end of the long day of driving it never failed to make me happy to pull out a little pre-chilled white wine or a cold Diet Coke and secret mommy-only chocolate for after the kids were sleeping from my picnic thermal cooler.
I put the bottle of wine next to the bag so you could see the size, but for traveling, you'll want to pack individual servings sized bottles to save room. (And be sure to keep the tote in the trunk if you're driving with liquor at all.)
We also saved money (and ate healthier!) breakfasts on the go because I brought along lots of fresh fruit and yogurt for the girls in the cooler as well. These grab and go breakfasts for the car would have worked great, too.
Since the bag is taller than it is wide, it was easy to find a spot for it in the car. You can find a similar one here.
5. A Grab Bag for the Hotel
Finally, I made sure that we had an evening grab bag for our overnight at the hotel midway on the trip.
Rather than needing to unpack the entire trunk to get at our suitcases, I packed everything we needed for the single night hotel stay in one suitcase.
This helped minimize what I needed to drag from the car into the hotel while also wrangling the small children.
You can see what I put in our grab bag for the kids here.
More Road Trip Tips
If you're heading out on a family road trip this summer, be sure to read these helpful tips first:
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