Next week we are driving to Italy – I’m pretty excited to say the least. As an Aussie, this idea of DRIVING to another country still seems incredibly cool. It will be me, my directionally challenged husband, a one year old who enjoys shouting and a three year old who only answers to Superman. People raise their eyebrows when I tell them we plan to do it in three days, but there are a two perfectly rational reasons for it:
  1. It’s cheaper than flying there, then hiring a car for two weeks.
  2. I figured out that the castle from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is somewhere between here and Italy and I kind of need to see it.
So, I have enlisted the help of some seasoned parental roadtrippers who have given me their best tips for travelling long distance and I’ve complied the definitive list of what to pack when you’re road tripping with toddlers. Not just your regular luggage, but the other stuff: the things that mean by the eighth hour in the car, you’re not all starving, delirious and covered in excrement.

But first, a few notes on planning….

Meandering through the countryside isn’t what it used to be in our pre-parental lives. There will be fewer opportunities for spontaneous vineyard stops and more need for off-leash delirium breaks and a chance to shovel some of the garbage into a skip. Make sure you know where you’re going and where your next stop will be and make sure you know the emergency phone numbers in each country.

“Take a good GPS that can find ATMs, fuel, and supermarkets. Fill it with bookmarks of all the places you want to go before you leave for the day.” Phil

“Find out if any children have shouty rage when strapped in a car seat before you leave.” Alex

“Plan your trip to stop every two to three hours at parks for a run around. Remember, your car will look like rubbish tip when you arrive.” Emily B

So what to pack? Aside from all your general stuff. Clothes, toiletries, chargers, etc. There’s the car stuff, child seats, sat nav, jump leads etc. If you’re driving a British car in Europe you also need various other bits to be roadworthy and avoid on-the-spot fines. See the details here on the AA website.

So once you’ve got all that you’re ready for your holiday, You just need to pack all of this…
  • Nappies: more than you think you’ll need.
  • Wipes: more than you think you’ll ever need. Have a packet inside each door and the glove box.
  • Disposable change mats. These are good for changing babies in weird places, lining hotel beds in case of accidents and lining car seats if someone has a spew so they don’t have to sit back down on a wet car seat.

“Waterproof seat liners for both car seats just in case someone tells you from back seat that they are actually doing a wee instead of prior.” Celia

  • A small collapsable buggy
  • A potty – it’s a given that someone will scream “I need a POO!” just as you’ve turned onto the freeway, and it’s quite difficult to poo with lorries speeding past at 80mph. A potty might make it slightly easier for everyone, even toilet-trained kids.
  • Antibacterial wipes. Once the potty has been used, you’ll want to clean it. Or if someone spews on you, you’ll need some of these. Also good for encounters with dodgy highchair trays at service stations.
  • First aid kit with all the usual stuff.
  • Thermometer and Calpol sachets in case a fever flares up.
  • Any other medicine the kids might need, like inhalers.
  • Travel wash – although you’ll have plenty of clothes with you, things may need a quick rinse and car seats may need to be cleaned.

“A sharp kitchen knife. You always need to slice and wipe something, even if it’s just a Big Mac.” Phil

  • A sharp knife, a chopping board and a tea towel so you can make the most of roadside fruit stands and weird new salamis.
  • Plastic bags: more than you think you’ll need.
  • A bib/smock or two for littler travellers – just dress them in it from the beginning to avoid hassle.
  • A picnic blanket that can double as a playmat for tummy time.
  • Plastic zip lock bags – for storing food or wet clothes that need rinsing, and smelly things.

“My plan was packing food that can knock out a chunk of potential whinging time purely by its composition, e.g. popcorn.” Emily L

  • Pack food that takes a while to eat and won’t make too much mess. Take small containers that can be re-used to take food that isn’t finished in restaraunts and can be eaten later. These cups are great – the kids can get in, but the stuff can’t fall out. Genius!

“Snacks they can help themselves to like rice cakes and carrot sticks are way better than biscuits or chocolate. Cartons with straws can make a toddler sticky in seconds. Take drink bottles that they can open themselves and that only dribble out slowly then they drop them.” Jules

  • A cereal container with a plastic shopping bag inside it for a bin. Put this in the footwell of the front passenger seat; your car will smell much nicer by the last day.
  • A large bottle of water to refill kids’ drink bottles and to wash hands and cups etc. Refill at every opportunity.
  • Pouches of food for babies – it says on the packet that the contents shouldn’t be eaten directly from the pouch, but surely that’s why they were designed like this way? Right?!
  • Portions of milk formula in cartons.
  • Cups that fit into the car’s cup holders. There is nothing more frustrating than a cup that is slightly too big for the cup holder. (Okay, maybe there are a few things more annoying – famine, genocide etc. but it’s up there – First World problems!)
  • Ikea clips to keep packets closed and fresh. These are the best!
  • Raisins. Lots of raisins. It takes them bloody ages to open the box and get them out. That’s 15 minutes done.

“Sultanas take ages to eat are very quiet and not sticky – my fave car food (even if half end up in the car seats!)” Sarah

  • For older children, pack them a lunch box each morning with all their snacks for the day. This will hugely cut out the whinge factor and if they eat it all at once, they’ll quickly learn a lesson in self control.

“Any kind of tablet full of games, films and Peppa Pig!” Martyn

  • iPad. You might also need one of these iPad holders that go on the back of the seat so they can watch a film without touching the screen.

“I hold off on electronics for as long as possible. I find they cause more trouble as four year olds still need some help navigating games etc.” Emily B

  • LeapFrog LeapReaders are perfect for kids over three. The pen reads the story to them as they move it over the words and you can connect it to headphones so you don’t need to hear it. By the time you get to your destination, they’ll totally be able to read. Result!

Definitely wait until problems arise before giving anything – first bit they are excited and it’s not too boring yet. Put a nappy box between the seats filled with board books (no ripped pages) and favourite soft toys/puppets all within reach.” Sarah

  • Books! Board books for little ones, sticker books for bigger ones and audio books that everyone can listen to.
  • A kitchen apron – not for wearing, but for creating a catchment net for toys that get dropped. Tie the neck straps around the neck of the front seat as if the seat is wearing it backwards, then scoop up the skirt part and tuck it under the child seat so it creates a sort of sling to catch toys that would otherwise end up on the floor.
  • A big map of where you’re going. I’m assuming you’ll be using a sat nav (because it’s not the olden days) but a paper map is a great way for kids to figure out where you’re going. You could add stickers to the map and write notes about what happened in each place “Reims, found some nice salami” “Stuttgart, left Frida in the toilets, Mummy and Daddy had a row” “Genoa, Mummy bought lots of wine”. That sort of thing.
  • Music! Remember to have ‘up and awake’ music and ‘sleepy time’ music. And make sure it won’t make you want to self harm. (cough * 1Direction * cough)

“Start your trip at night when they sleep.” Emiliano

  • Have pyjamas, toothbrushes, snuggly toys and milk bottles handy so you can do as much of the usual bedtime routine as you can. Kids can get a bit discombobulated sitting in a car all day, especially when you can’t close the curtains and block out the light. Stop in the late afternoon for a run around, then head off after dinner, wearing pyjamas to make them feel cosy.
  • Special teddies and blankies. Write your email address and mobile number (+ country code) on the tag, so they might come back to you if the ultimate disaster happens and they get left behind.
  • DO NOT mention the word ‘sleep’. They will do everything in their power to stay awake if you do. They KNOW.
  • Sun shades for the windows. It’s a really bad look to carry around a sunburnt baby. Even in Europe.
  • A windscreen reflector to avoid cooking the contents of your vehicle while perusing a quaint Tuscan market.
  • A travel cot – good for hotel stops.
  • An umbrella – just in case
  • A towel – in case the umberella wasn’t enough
  • And finally – secret grown-up snacks. Keep them well hidden!

Wish me luck!

What are your best roadtripppin’ tips?

Photography: Emma Scott-Child