We travel to Vermont from Pittsburgh and that is probably our longest trip. Right now, we are getting ready to vacation in Maine. That will be a thirteen hour car trip. It's not so bad going, coming home is always the most difficult since we have already spent hours in the car getting there.
First step: Clean you car out three to four days before you leave. I like to start with a fresh clean car. That is just how I am. Vacuum, wipe everything down with a clorox wipe, spray the inside windows with windex, and get rid of junk.
I pack the inside the car the night before we leave. My number one rule is to be ready to go
when the kids get up. Funny story about our last trip. I always lay the kids clothes out the night before. This way I can dress my daughter and my son can dress himself when he wakes up. For this particular trip we would be stopping to visit friends we had not seen in a few years. I had laid out nice outfits the night before. So it is the AM of the trip, I wake up my son and tell him to get dressed, go potty, brush his teeth, and get in the car. While he is doing this I get my daughter dressed and put her in the car. We are all in the car. We stop about five hours down the road to visit friends. My son steps out of the car and is still in stained PJ's, no socks... but he has his tennis shoes on and he tells me, I did brush my teeth. Ummm. he brushed his teeth and went potty, but he forgot to get dressed and I never looked in the way back to seat to see if he was actually dressed. Moral of the story... don't assume anything with a six year old boy. Our friends probably weren't impressed with our dolled up daughter and neglected son... but hey, no one is perfect! It's hard waking up at 4:30 to be out the door at 5:00 AM....
One great packing tip: Pack things like towels, linens, beach towels in the BIG ZIP LOC baggies. You see mine here. One bag fits about six towels. It was great for keeping things organized and easy to get into the car. Plus they come with a large handle and are easy to carry. They are somewhat pricey. Still if you buy a box of six, you can resuse them trip after trip.
Another Packing Trip: I use one suitcase for my daughter and son. I group things in freezer size ziplocs... It makes it easy to find. Things like: Underware, hairbows, socks...
Beach Toy Packing Tip: They have these baskets at the dollar store. I think they are great for putting beach toys in. Sand comes out of them easily and you aren't bringing too much sand home from the beach with you.
Everything is packed in the car the night before...
In our cooler: fresh fruit in ziploc snack bags (grapes & blueberries), cheese sticks, juice boxes, milk, yogurt, and soda. All yummy things and healthy treats I don't mind my kids snacking on even if it is boredom snacking.
In our front seat basket; cooler, Clorox wipes (I bring these into rest areas to wipe the table we sit at), wipes (you will use these to wipe faces, wipe spills... pretty much priceless), kleenex, garbage bags, extra change for tolls, sunglasses for adults and kids, IPOD (loaded with playlists, and read along books), DVD's, Anti Bacterial Waterless Hand soap. Twizlers for when Mommy drives!
In The Backseat: I sit in the back with the kids. I am lucky to have a spacious mini van that allows me to do this. Everything I use for kids entertainment is ONLY used on trips. I pack it all away when we return home so that the next time we pull it out, it will be like new.
With my six year old - I stack his front pocket in the seat ahead of him with comics, a few new books, a handheld game (we saved these from years ago, some of them date back to the 80's... but he loves them), personal CD player loaded with 6-7 reads alongs, the books to match the read alongs on his personal CD player (this can keep him busy at least an hour), I-Spy Books, A trip-tic (which he loves and you can get at AAA for free if you are a member. If your child likes maps, this is the greatest trick for car trips)
Each child has a pillow, blanket, and one favorite stuffed friend.
For My three year old - I have a small box with a handle that is filled with car toys she only sees on trips. I pull them out as needed. The include:
Wikki Sticks, small color wonder books. manga doodle, kids clips player, mini princess cd player, little container with polly pockets, small stuffed animals (like the ones you get in happy meals), books that make noise, dry erase boards (not to the wise.. this gives my daughter hours of fun, but it does stain clothing and it hard to get off of little hands and legs).
Reminder - VERY IMPORTANT TIP - All these toys get put away after the trip. They only get pulled out again when we go on another trip. This way they are new and exciting to the kids.
I told you that we have a DVD player in the car, right? Well, believe it or not... on a 12 hour trip we have been known not to use it once. My kids seem happy enough with their boxes of stuff, music, books, and snacks to not need it many times. If we do use it, we hold out to at least six hours into a trip. Then we try to limit it to 3-4 hours max per long trip. We hardly ever use it on trips less than six hours. I have found a day of sitting in the car watching DVD's makes it hard for my kids to sleep when we get to our destination. I think their little brains may be on TV overload and they can't get the images to stop flashing in their little heads... I find this makes for a hard first night. The less TV time on the trip, better sleep that night!
Hopefully you picked up an idea or two to make your long car trip a bit easier. If you have other ideas, please feel free to share in the comments idea. I am always looking for new ideas for long trips.