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I live in Los Angeles where a quick drive to Ikea can turn into an hour-long road trip if I don't time the traffic right. Long stretches in the car, whether in freeway gridlock or on vacation, can test the patience of the calmest adults. It gets even trickier with kids in tow. Thermal Bento Box
As the parent of two boys, I've tried many tactics to make driving with my kids easier. We've explored the world of audiobooks and podcasts. I blast their favorite songs and encourage sing-alongs. While all these things help, certain little luxuries guarantee smooth sailing. Below are my favorite car essentials for kids that will transform any back seat into a place kids will want to be.
Few things are as rough on a road trip as motion sickness. Both of my boys tend to get headaches or feel nauseous on long drives, especially on mountain vacations that require navigating up and down winding roads. I've tried everything from Dramamine to magnetic wristbands, but these little herbal patches do the trick and do not cause drowsiness.
My boys have fallen asleep in the car countless times, whether trekking up the coast or coming home after a long day at Disneyland. This soft fleece neck pillow keeps necks stable and requires no fastening so it's easy to remove.
Cute Kawaii Japanese Anime Air Freshener
There are times when my boys take their shoes off, and it's evident to everyone in the car. To freshen up the situation, I opt for cute, scented clip-ons that attach to the car's air vents. These cheerful air fresheners have just enough lavender or lemon scent to neutralize the air.
High Road Tissue Pockets Car Organizer
I particularly like this organizer from High Road because it's slim and doesn't interfere with legroom. My kids are huge readers, and this can easily accommodate two to three books, a water bottle, and handheld devices. I put hand sanitizer and earbuds in the see-through mesh pockets, so we don't have to go digging, and having tissues at the ready is always helpful.
Yumbox Panino Leakproof Bento Lunch Box
I've packed hundreds of school lunches and have an embarrassingly large collection of bento boxes. I've had this Yumbox for five years, and it's my favorite to take on road trips for two reasons: It is genuinely leakproof, meaning the food in one compartment will not spill over into another. Second, it's super durable. It's been tossed around in the car and shoved under a seat and barely has a scratch.
Igloo Packable Puffer 10-Can Cooler Bag
My boys love sparkling water, and having a few cans on hand is a refreshing break from plain old water. This tote is small enough not to take up much space in the back seat but is surprisingly roomy, fitting a portable lunchbox, beverages, and snacks like string cheese. The bag folds into a tidy pouch when they're done with everything.
Bath & Body Works PocketBac Hand Sanitizers 5-Packs
Whenever we stop for lunch or bathroom breaks, I urge my boys to apply hand sanitizer before and after. But if the sanitizer looks or smells like candy, I don't even need to ask. These colorful scented pocket sanitizers come in festive fragrances, often themed for holidays. Gingerbread Bakery and Winter Candy Apple are two of our favorites. I scatter them throughout the car, so they're always within reach.
Suds2Go Portable Stainless Steel Water Bottle and Hand Wash System
Sometimes hand sanitizer isn't enough to feel truly clean. We've often stopped for a bathroom break at a convenience store and found the sink isn't working or the soap is entirely out. That's where Suds2Go comes in. This clever water bottle comes with a refillable lid for foaming soap. Pump and then rinse.
This collapsible bucket is game-changing. I've used it as a sand bucket at the beach and clipped it to my backpack on hikes. But my favorite use is to line it with a bag and turn it into the car's trash can. If there's a designated spot for garbage, chances are I won't find empty chip bags secretly stuffed under the seat months later. The bucket folds down with a little push, thanks to the accordion folds.
As a kid, I took a road trip from California to Nebraska with five people packed into a sedan. We had no devices or distractions other than the license plate game, and we survived. Story Cubes contains nine dice with a picture on each side that acts as a story prompt. My boys roll the dice and create a story linking all nine images that come up.
There are so few games for kids to play by themselves. Solitaire is a classic, but cards are unwieldy in a car. Quadrillion is designed for solo players and boasts a magnetic grid so the shapes stay in place on bumpy or twisty roads. The objective is to place all the pieces on the puzzle board while avoiding specific dots, which is easier said than done.
I anticipate needs before they happen, navigate freeways, fend off requests for Flamin' Hot Cheetos, and above all else, keep everyone safe. Family road trips are always about the destination and not the time crammed into the backseat. But good gear can make the difference between a fun time and National Lampoon's Vacation.
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