21 genius car hacks for travelling with children

A family loading items and passengers into a car

by Stephanie Anthony |

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Let’s face it, going anywhere in the car with small children isn’t as simple as getting from A to B.

From mastering the Tetris juggle of fitting everything in the boot to the inevitable “are we nearly there yet?” any tricks that can help you get to the end of your journey without a meltdown by either you or the kids are a must!

Particularly on long road trips there are bound to be occasions when it all goes wrong – be it overtiredness, boredom, hunger, projectile vomiting or some completely unfathomable reason.

So, here are some brilliant parenting hacks we've learned along the way to help your road trip with a toddler go smoothly…

  • Before you set off, get organised – give your car a good clear out from the last outing, remove all the discarded toys and broken crayons, and make sure your car is in tip top condition – tyre pressures all correct, oil and water filled up and that you’ve checked things like tyre tread. Here’s also a cool app you can use. Or watch this video to check your tyre tread with a 20p piece! Yep, that's right, it's as easy as that.

  • Know exactly where all of your road trip essentials are. You can buy car seat organisers which hang from the back of the front seats and have a place for everything your tot needs, from drinks holders to tablet stands (plus it will make the Mrs Hinch in you oh so happy!). You could also use a shoe rack – look for a clear one so that your child can see exactly what is in each pocket and won’t be asking you where something is every two seconds. A shower caddy you can stick on the car window is also a genius storage option.

  • Make the most of your boot space. Children come with a lot of stuff, be it wellies and coats, prams and travel cots, or just squeezing in that extra favourite teddy. The solution? A boot organiser – use one that hooks on the back seats and lifts off the boot floor to free up space below for sliding in your buggy.

Related: The best baby car sunshades

  • With road trip snacks, the trick is to avoid mess as much as possible (which we know isn’t easy with toddlers). So, leave the banana at home before it ends up mushed into your back seat, and instead opt for dry snacks such as crackers or bickiepegs – perfect for teething tots.

  • Become a snack ninja and keep a supply of snacks beside you on the front seat, in preparation for tantrums, so you can pull over, grab a snack and pass it back to your hangry passenger. @Whatmummymakes's recipes are great for the whole family to snack on. We love her cheesy broccoli bites or tuna and sweetcorn traybake fritters – they’re healthy, tasty, and easy for little hands to hold.

Related: 11 tips for keeping kids entertained on public transport

  • As well as something to nibble on, your child needs a drink they can easily grab when they get thirsty. Keep one no spill water cup in the back with them, and one beside you in your emergency grab stash, just incase it accidently ends up on the floor.

  • If you’re travelling on a hot day, freeze your drinks – they’ll keep snacks and sandwiches cool, before becoming a refreshing treat.

  • Frosty start? Use hand sanitizer instead of de-icer: This works like magic and is a multi-tasking tool all parents need. Check out the Motors.co.uk tip here:

  • A plastic cereal box makes a brilliant car bin, as recommended by mummy vlogger Emily Norris, “These containers are great because they have a lid, so if it was to slide around while you’re on the road it won’t go everywhere.”

  • Another bin hack is to keep a roll of doggy bags handy – you can use them for rubbish and they also double up as an emergency sick bag if your tot gets travel sick. Or there are affordable car bins you can buy which come in a range of fun designs.

  • If you’d rather avoid the inevitable crumb infestation of your back seats, a car seat cover is an essential purchase to protect your upholstery. You can get them for single seats, or even to cover the entire back seat, with gaps for the belts to fit through.

  • Little tots means little bladders – so check out your route before you leave to make sure you know where there are services or laybys where you can stop for toilet breaks. Having a travel potty or carry potty to hand will also prevent any toilet dramas.

  • In an absolute emergency large Ziploc bags can hold soiled clothing or serve as a toilet for a small child. If you're not keen, see point 12 and grab a travel potty.

  • When on longer journeys taking into consideration how much fuel you’ll need is another good way to ensure you’re covered from all angles (plus a petrol stop can also be a handy toilet break or a pause for a snack). Try Motors.co.uk fuel calculator to tally up fuel costs.

  • It can feel like you become your child’s personal entertainer in the car (as well as driver, chef and PA) so keeping a few tricks up your sleeve such as car activity toys to help them entertain themselves is essential. Play tray tables can provide an array of activities to keep little ones occupied, and give you a few moments peace.

  • Create a list of car games you can play together and let your toddler choose what they’d like to play, be it ‘I-spy’, ‘I went to the shop and bought…’ or 'travel bingo'. You can print off sheets with pictures of animals or vehicles they’ll likely see on route – pop it in a Ziploc bag and they can use a whiteboard marker to check them off. Genius.

  • A mirror will help you keep an eye on your very important passenger. You can get ones that attach to your rear-view mirror, or those that hook onto the back seat depending whether you're little one is in a forward or rearward facing car seat. Mirrors also make them feel more involved.

  • Ready-made playlists with their favourite songs can work to distract them – create at least one for sing-alongs and one with calming quiet-time tunes for when they’re looking ready for a nap.

  • Download some of their favourite TV series or films onto a tablet, just in case you lose connection. If you don’t have a car organiser with a tablet holder, a great hack is to loop a belt around the front seat headrest, and hook the tablet’s case over it (however this does only work if you have a wallet-style case).

  • Make your own first aid kit with a clear, zip bag and pack it will all the things you know YOUR family will need. Having it in a clear container also saves the rummaging for a Peppa Pig plaster.

  • There’s a lot to remember when you’re driving with kids – so you’re forgiven for forgetting things, like where you parked the car. Avoid the stress by using an app to remind you where you’ve parked.

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