Fan Favorites: 43 Tried & True Travel Hacks

Games, snacks, and other sanity savers

By Kristin Fouts June 16, 2021

Hitting the road alone takes a decent amount of preparation, so planning a family roadtrip requires (and deserves) focus and planning. Travel with children can and should be seen as a value-teaching experience: help them learn about where you're going (and what areas you're passing through), what the road signs mean and why we abide by them, and how we can improve the world around us by not littering and picking up when we leave. 

We all know how hectic it can be to make sure the right clothes, toys, books, games, medicine, and gear gets packed, but what about snacks, technology, and and and...? I asked local moms for their best and favorite travel hacks, and here's what they shared:


  • Plan out each leg of the trip using an app like Roadtrippers. It shows you hotels, restaurants and local attractions. It also connects with Waze so you can have turn-by-turn directions!
  • Save money on overnight drives by camping or even staying in hostels (international trips).
  • Make stops as short as possible. "The faster you get from A to B, the better!"
  • Use plastic tray tables with pockets/side storage to make a surface for snacks, crafts, reading, etc. (see picture at right).
  • Pack clear plastic bins (with lids) with arts and crafts supplies, small toys, etc. so everything is visible but organized.
  • Use neck pillows for naptime instead of bulky bed pillows.
  • Bring a portable WiFi hotspot (or use your phone, if enabled).
  • Baby wipes can be magical cleaners for many kinds of messes!
  • Purchase seat organizers that hang over the back of front-row seats to hold water bottles, tablets, snacks, etc. 
  • Put a small trash can or plastic bag between seats in second and third rows for trash.
  • Take a vinyl cling sticker and move it left to right across the top of the front windshield as a reference point to "how much farther" you have until the destination. Great visual concept for little ones!
  • Set aside a budget for purchasing mementos.

Photo by Jessica Eck. Used with permission.


  • Use packing cubes or even plastic zipper bags to organize outfits, socks, swimwear, etc.
    • Similar: Roll outfits together to save space and insure all pieces are included. See picture at right and learn more about this genius trick
  • Pack a portable potty for little ones who are potty training. Plastic zipper bags can be used to contain the smell of dirty diapers if a trash can isn't convenient.
  • Don't forget extra batteries, charging cables, a first-aid kit, travel sickness medication (even if no one has shown signs previously), sanitizer, etc.
  • Buy a cargo box or bag for the top of your car to give yourself more room inside. 
  • Especially for international trips, consider if there are cultural norms you should adhere to (i.e. no tank tops, head coverings required, no skirts, etc.)
  • Bring plastic zipper bags for dirty, sandy, and/or wet clothes.
  • Bring a small plastic zipper bag filled with powder laundry detergent and a few dryer sheets. You never know when you might need to do laundry at a local laundromat.


  • Snacks, snacks and more snacks! [Recommended by almost everyone.] See pic at right for a great storage solution!
  • Get a list of your kids' food and drink "demands" in advance and have them on hand. Long trips aren't worth the stress of not having what makes them happiest!
    • Snacks don't have to just be pre-packaged crackers, fruit gummies, nuts, etc. Pack an insulated lunch bag with string cheese, yogurt tubes, drink pouches, fruits and veggies with dips, etc. 
  • Even if you don't pack foods that need cut or peeled, it can be helpful to pack plastic knives or travel cutlery just in case you grab an apple or orange at a convenience store.
  • Try to eat at a local restaurant (not a chain/franchise) at least once a day. Support small businesses everywhere!

Photo by Kayla Blackburn. Used with permission.


  • Buy each kid a few new travel-friendly toys and surprise them once you're on the road.
    • Similar: Give each kid a travel bag with snacks, games, etc. Pack small wrapped gifts for kids to open at stops if they are well behaved (i.e. a Hot Wheels car, new movie, stickers, etc.)
    • Similar: Give each traveler (all ages) a travel bucket/bin that includes snacks, gum, water, dollar store toys/games, books, crosswords, etc. 
    • Give each child a roll of quarters. Every time they misbehave, they turn in one quarter. Whatever is left can be spent on a souvenir or snack!
  • Give yourself (and your kids) some grace. Travel takes a lot out of everyone. All of you will lose patience at some point. That said, create some ground rules (maybe even print them) for the trip. One mom friend pulls over when the kids start bickering and won't move until they are completely quiet. While this extends the trip some, it's a very tangible consequence when behavior falls apart.

Keeping Busy

  • Print off a map of your route, the states you're traveling through (see picture at right from a local mom), and some facts about each one. Use AAA's Triptiks to identify cool facts and waypoints your family will enjoy.
  • Make sure tablets and headphones are fully charged. Download movies to them in advance, and make sure there's plenty of offline content available.
  • Download audiobooks for kids and adults. Kid-friendly podcasts can be fun to stream for all to hear for short lengths of time.
  • Bring a small whiteboard and markers. These can be used for a variety of games (and quiet communication!)
  • Play license plate bingo
    • Other game ideas: Scavenger hunts (we LOVED this one two years ago), twenty questions, connect the dots, or give each kid a color and have them count how many cars of that color they see along the way!
  • Find a few playgrounds along your route to let the kids run off some energy. [This mom recommended McDonald's PlayLands, but I think they're still closed.]
  • Pack a frisbee or ball for rest stops.
  • Try to structure screen time even while on the road. For every hour they use their tablet (or watch a movie), they need to do an hour with something else. 
  • Give each traveler their own hour to pick what's listened to!
  • AVOID: Crayons (they melt, use colored pencils instead), PlayDoh and slime (not carpet friendly), anything with glitter (does it need explaining?)
  • Use a 3-ring binder with a pencil pouch and load up each one with blank paper, coloring pages and other printed activity sheets appropriate for each child's age. Let kids decorate/personalize a cover page for the front of their binder.
  • Print out pictures of any family members or friends you're going to visit and put them in a cheap photo album. On the way, kids can look at the pictures and ask questions about the people in them, learning more about who they're meeting. It can be fun for you to share memories with them, too!
  • Get vinyl cling stickers and let kids play with them on their windows. 

Photo by Liza Taylor. Used with permission.