Packing Food for Road Trips – Easy Ideas To Save Money!

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You can save a lot of money packing food for road trips instead of eating out every meal. Here are some easy ideas for meals and snacks to take on the road.

Packing Food For Road Trips

Packing Food for Road Trips

Most families go out to eat so often at home that the novelty has worn off. The next time you travel try packing your own food, not only to save money but also to experience something fun and different. You might even try half and half. Pack for one meal and eat out for another. And don’t forget breakfast — Sometimes getting on the road the first thing in the morning is such a rush that it might be easier to wait and eat breakfast after you have driven an hour or two. This works especially well if you have to start out in the wee hours of the morning. If your budget allows it, pack foods that your family only gets for special occasions.


Watch our video here, where we share about packing food for road trips!


Here are a few ideas to get you started:


  • Muffins, banana or apple bread – Don’t forget the butter or cream cheese.
  • Donuts or honey buns – If you think it will be easier for you, buy them individually packaged. I’m not sure why, but kids seem to love individually packaged things and it makes everything more fun.
  • Bagels with cream cheese and jam – Mix the jam and cream cheese together and place them in a small container before you leave.
  • Individual boxes of cereal with milk – When I was young, I always thought that it was so neat to be able to cut the sides of the boxes open and use the cereal box for a bowl. My mom thought it was neat because she didn’t have to bring extra bowls and could toss the boxes.
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Little smokie sausages (the pre-cooked kind) – These can be eaten out of the package but if you like them hot, place them in a small thermos and pour very hot to boiling water over them. Put on the lid and by the time you are ready to eat them, the water will have heated them through.
  • Yogurt

Lunch and Dinner

  • Sandwiches – Sandwiches are always great for road trips. Use hoagie buns instead of regular sandwich bread. It makes them a little more special and they don’t crush as easily. Good old peanut butter is great for the kids. Pay just a few more pennies and get the peanut butter in the tube. You won’t have to deal with messy knives and it’s smaller than a jar. If you have spare packets of jelly from eating out, use those or buy jelly in the tube, too. If you put lettuce or tomato on your sandwiches, bag them separately and put them on just before you are ready to eat.
  • Chicken or slices of ham – Fried chicken is always a good picnic stand by. See later tips on keeping it cold.
  • Hot dogs – As with the little sausages, put the hot dogs in a thermos and cover with boiling water. They will be perfectly cooked when ready to eat. To me, these are so much easier than sandwiches and everyone loves them.
  • Potato salad or pasta salad Keep them in a small cooler.
  • Chips, crackers and cheeses – Buy chips in the cans. Slice or cut cheeses into cubes before you leave. Cheese sticks are perfect.
  • Baked beans Baked beans also keep great in a thermos.
  • Fruits and veggies – Apples, Oranges (already peeled) and firmer fruits. Clean and bag carrot sticks, celery, broccoli, cauliflower or other vegetables.
  • Cookies, brownies, quick breads and muffins – These are the best desserts.
  • Drinks – Of course pop works great, but I like to freeze bottles of lemonade. Lemonade seems more refreshing. You can also have juice or iced tea in bottles and coffee in a thermos for coffee drinkers. Be sure to freeze all your drinks to help keep your other foods cool in place of ice. Don’t forget the water! — Both for drinking and cleaning up.

General Tips

  • Kids usually whine and fuss for one of two reasons. They are hungry or tired. This is especially true on trips, so bring plenty of snacks and a pillow for everyone.
  • If you have room, box each family member’s meal in his own box like the box lunches they give out at activities. This is really handy if you have to eat while driving. When finished eating, each person can put his empty wrappers in his own box for easy clean up.
  • Be sure to bring those extra ketchup, mustard, salt, and pepper packets you get from fast food places. Don’t forget the plastic knives, forks and spoons along with napkins and a paring knife. Make sure just about everything is disposable.
  • If money is tight, you don’t have to have elaborate meals. I still fondly remember the trips when we stopped and bought a bag of chips, a loaf of bread and a package of bologna and cheese. We washed it down with an icy cold Pepsi and nothing tasted better.
  • If you can, buy the gadget that you plug into the lighter plug in your car to heat water. It works well for instant coffee, oatmeal and hot chocolate. Make sure you use it while the car is running so you don’t drain the battery.
  • With so many convenience foods available, it isn’t hard to pack a lunch for the road. Even using those convenience foods, it is usually cheaper than buying food for the whole family at a fast food place.

Over the River and Through the Woods to Grandma’s House We Go — Again!

It’s summer. That means exciting vacations and special trips to Grandma and Grandpa’s house! You have dreamed about it all winter long — your family, together in the car laughing, singing and playing road trip games. You stop at delicious restaurants –you know, the kind you see on Oprah where they serve the best hamburger or pie in the world. It’s totally relaxing. You finish your meal, savoring that last cup of coffee. You climb back in the car to complete the journey.

Then you arrive at Grandma’s!!!!!! (or Disneyland!!!!!)… Now wake up! –As I said, you were only dreaming. Now it’s time to take your real trip. After spending several grueling hours trying to fit ten suitcases into a four suitcase carrier top, you are finally ready to leave. Let the games begin! They (the games, that is) usually start before you even get out of your driveway. Everyone drags to the car half asleep and grumpy.

Then, there is the first fight of the day — Who gets to sit where? Once you get that settled, you are on your way (or so you think). Two miles out of town, you learn that someone has forgotten to turn off the iron. You have no choice but to head back home. One hour later, you are once again cruising down the highway when you get to play the second game of the day — the “bathroom game”.

Child: “I have to go to the bathroom.”
“Didn’t you go before we left home?”
“Yes, but I have to go again.”
“Well, you are going to have to hold it because there is no place to stop!”
“But I really have to go. I can’t wait another minute.”
Dad: “Let me see if I can find a tree or a bush!” (Good luck trying to find a tree or bush if you are traveling across Kansas!)

Once you persuade the child to go to the bathroom standing between the open car doors, you forge on. The next game takes a lot of skill and dexterity. It’s called “Baby Diaper Blow Out”. All at once, your older children start screaming “Oh! GROSS! Mommmmm!” (You know, the kind of “Mom” where “Mom” is two syllables.)

You see them in the rear view mirror climbing on top of each other to get to the opposite side of the car from where the baby is sitting, grinning from ear to ear. You know you are in for big trouble. About the time the odor reaches you, you KNOW you are in REALLY big trouble. Of course these games can only be played when the nearest town is at least an hour away. Once again, you pull over.

Who gets to hold the poopy baby? Where will you put the poopy baby while cleaning him up? You can’t use the back seat because it has diaper blow-out shrapnel on it. To make it worse, mom tries to clean up the whole mess — baby, car seat and sometimes the floor of the car, with only the few baby wipes that fit in that cute little container for your diaper bag. I think you can usually get 4 or 5 wipes in them. If all else fails, you can always dig out the extra wipes you packed in the suitcase that is tied on the top of the car in the too small carrier.

Look at the bright side — You could be doing all of this in a freezing snow storm instead of 100 plus degree weather! Half an hour later, everyone finally piles back into the car. This is not your idea of seeing America… After an hour’s worth of driving, you hear the first “I’m hungry”. You are more than willing to stop, if for no other reason than to find a place to trash that stinky diaper.

Next Decision: Since you are so far behind on your schedule, do you get lunch “to go” or do you stop and go inside to eat? If you go inside, you will have a battle on your hands trying to drag your three year old away from the McDonald’s playground. That last thought scares you more than the idea of pop and ketchup stains in the car, so you start hitting the drive-thru windows. I made that plural because, of course, everyone wants something different to eat and this is, after all, everyone’s vacation. Three restaurants and forty five minutes later, you hit the highway.

Now comes the part of the trip you like the best. Everyone is full and tired, so they lay back and take a nap. You hunker down, ready to relax and enjoy the view. In one split second, you forget the view and your eyes rivet to the rear view mirror once again. “Mommmm! I’m going to be sick!” I’ve never seen a mom move as fast as when she hears those dreaded words. The timing is impeccable. In one swift, single motion, off comes mom’s seatbelt. At the same time, she twists, turns and flips over the seat, grabbing junior by the neck and shoving his head out the window, all the while hoping that dad was on top of the game enough to have the window down for her. Another good save by mom!

Ten hours later, you arrive at your destination 200 miles from home. You haven’t been this dirty, smelly or tired since your last vacation, but you’re sure it’s all worth it. (You ARE sure, right???) I know a lot of you are thinking that you would love to be taking even a bad vacation right about now, but with gas prices so high you can’t imagine that’s possible.

Here are some suggestions that might help you:

First, you don’t necessarily have to leave town to take a vacation. I have spent some of my best vacations just staying at home. We would get up when we wanted, eat a couple of meals out at our favorite restaurants, read or watch TV all day or go on picnics. We just did what we wanted. If you have a little money, but not enough for gas, then check into a hotel in town and swim for a day or two. That’s what most kids love to do anyway and, once you’re inside, most hotels look pretty much the same whether you are in South Dakota or Texas.

If you have some money saved for a trip but you know that the gas cost is going to eat most of your funds, try cutting your budget in another area, like your food. Consider taking your food with you. At first this may not seem to be as much fun but you might be surprised.

I recently took two different trips with the grandkids. For one trip, we decided to stop for fast food meals along the way. We were getting tired and hungry. We exited off the highway and of course there was the great debate about which fast food place to stop. Once we finally decided that, we tried to find a parking place because half the population of the United States had chosen to stop at the same McDonald’s as us.

We dragged ourselves out of the car, grabbing kids’ hands to keep them from becoming road kill under the tires of the cars rushing through the drive-thru. Once inside, we stood in line and stood in line and stood in line… Thirty minutes later, we had our food. The place was packed, but we finally found a booth where all of us could pack in together like we were in the car. One spilled pop and dumped order of fries later, we threw the half eaten remains of the food into the trash and hit the road again.

The next trip, we decided to pack our food. Not only did it save money, but it seemed much easier. We planned to stop at a park or a rest area. While we were laying out the food, the kids ran around like a bunch of wild things getting rid of much of their pent up energy. If there was a spill, it was no big deal because it was on the grass. There was very little food left over because I had packed foods that were special treats.

We packed up the little food that remained and saved it for later. It was so much more fun sitting under the trees enjoying the breeze than sitting packed like sardines in a booth at a fast food place. Even on warm summer days, there is usually enough wind and shade to make it comfortable to sit outside. Going out to eat on a trip does not hold the excitement that it once did so why not pack your own food this year and enjoy some old-fashioned picnics!


You can find more great ideas in our post of Reader Ideas on Packing Food for Road Trips.


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  1. Tracy says

    Excellent ideas! I am going to use these tips on our first big family road trip this summer to Colorado :)

  2. Maggie says

    Your bologna, cheese and bread made me think of the trips our family took. We used to go to N.C. to visit my dad’s Uncle Willie and mom would bring a loaf of bread, bologna and cheese. After a few hours, dad would say to mom “who wants a cooler and some nabs” meaning who is ready for a drink and some cheese crackers. We’d stop and each of us would pick his favorite soda from the gas station and we would eat at the picnic table by the highway. My favorite drink was an RC Cola because it had the biggest bottle. My mom’s was a coke in the little green bottles. What good memories. Thanks for helping me remember.

  3. says

    When packing for a road trip a few things I do to make the food safer is to
    pack the deli meats in a sandwich bag just enough for the meal seal it and put it into a med. size freezer bag with ice cubes. Deli meats go bad quickly and just putting them into a cooler is not quite enough to keep bacteria out of it. So the ice pack is great and takes up no extra room.
    If you have room use a separate cooler for drinks and veggies and fruits. That way drinks are available while driving and the food cooler stays cold longer.
    To save your sanity tips.
    go to the dollar store or a book store and pick up a few books that will interest your children at any age. Keep them under your seat and pass them out when required. I prefer to use the library but things have a habit of disappearing on trips and you don’t want to have to buy the books from the library.
    Buy a couple activity or colouring books with a box or two of new crayons or pastels to occupy weary children.
    Think of word games you can play. Lots of riddle books are around and if you have a supply in your head or in the books it helps for after it gets a bit too dark to see much scenery.
    One that used to stump us as children was.

    railroad crossing look out for cars
    can you spell that without any r’s.
    let them puzzle that for a while.
    the answer is “that”

    When my sons got too old to appreciate the childrens tapes and cd’s we had collected I would sometimes pop one into the player. I know they still liked them but being too old they would cringe while the songs were playing. Gave them something to listen to and it was fun to listen to their critiques of songs they grew up with. It was also fun to listen to them telling me I was just like a little kid teasing them.

    I would also just out of the blue start singing the old commercial ditties. Like “you will wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with pepsodent” They had never heard of some of the products and got a kick out of hearing about them and making fun of them and then trying to come up with some of their own.

    Keep an inflatable beach ball and when you have a rest stop blow it up and have a game of kick the ball or dodge ball. When you get back in the car deflate it for next time.

    I have been doing the road trip for my entire life and the first thing that went into the car was a cooler. then the rest of the stuff went in.
    Restaurants are never there when you are hungry and in need of a break but the cooler was always right behind the drivers seat and always available.

  4. Sue says

    Some good ideas!

    Years ago, when we drove from CA to CO with a one year old, two three-year olds, and a nine-year old, we took full advantage of McDonald’s play areas. The kids would play and play while Mom and Dad relaxed and ate (next to the play area, of course, so we could keep watch over the kids). When it was time to go, I would take the kids to the bathroom to wash up and go to the bathroom (and change diaper on the little one) while Dad bought their lunch (usually chicken nuggets, fries, and Sprite). NO sauce, and clear liquid! With food, if we couldn’t sweep it out, it wasn’t in the car. They don’t need the sugary sauces anyway!

    No fights about eating instead of playing. It was very pleasant in the car. Kids had played, and now they could concentrate on eating.

    Rice cakes make good snacks. Reasonably healthy, and can be “swept out”. Fishy crackers, string cheese, grapes (well, not for a one-year old, of course, unless cut or bitten in half), bananas all kept the kids satisfied in between stops.

    We also keep a container of sunscreen in the car at all times.

  5. says

    for summer trips try freezing grapes and cherries and blueberries and other single fruits. nice and cold and more refreshing than drinks on a long hot day of travel. Also not as many bathroom breaks needed as for drinks.

    try and make sandwiches which do not require a drink to wash them down. Peanut butter is tasty but dry. When we went on school trips out of town everyone took a brown bag lunch for the bus and the drier sandwiches were either not eaten or lots of drinks were consumed.

    Bug spray and a towel are always in the car. Nothing spoils a break stop more than bugs biting and if you stop by water everyone knows someone will get wet. Keep a pair of socks for everyone just in case your feet get wet. shoes can dry in the trunk or the floor while your feet stay warm in dry socks.

  6. birthrightrose says

    We travel way more than the average family and are pretty pro at it. One thing that no one has mentioned yet are Books on Tape (or CD) We get them from the children’s section of the libray so they are appropriate for all ears, and then download them onto a MP3 player. This puts all of the discs (sometimes there are lots of them) into a small gadget. We bought a Sansa Clip MP3 for about $20 bucks online and it is weay cheaper than replacing a book on CD if we would happen to loose or have it stolen on a trip. We also have a small porta pottie for RV’s or boats which we pack so a bathroom break can be done at anytime. Having a minivan makes this possible, maybe couldn’t be done otherwise. This saves time and $ since we are not tempted to buy a coffee, soda or candy bar at a service station.

    • says

      My folks are mega travelers too and my mom loves her porta potty. We tease her about it all the time but it sure has come in handy for us often. When we don’t have room for a porta potty I do carry a large plastic bucket with a lid (the kind you buy a large thing of ice cream in). I usually fill the bucket with toilet paper and other emergency items that way if ever we get in a real pickle we can use our bucket with the lid.

      What made me start carrying this at all times was years ago we were in a terrible blizzard traveling across country. We were stranded and couldn’t get out of the car. Not to sound uncouth but it was for hours and all we had was a styrofoam cup to use. Never again. I am now prepared to be stranded in my car for weeks if need be. Wish I did have room for a porta potty.

  7. Jalayne Freeman says

    When I had “newly” trained potty goers and we went on car trips I would take a coffee can (the large size) lined with a garbage bag and we would use that in bathroom emergencies…a baggie from the grocery store ties up nicely and can be thrown away easily.
    Now that that kids are older they love watching movies. When we stop to get gas etc we stop at a Redbox…we turn in the movie we are done watching and rent a new one. One GREAT thing about Redbox is you can return a movie to ANY Redbox in any state!!!! I also have the kids bring their Snuggies…these are perfect in the car and aren’t as bulky as a blanket!

    • says

      Snuggies would be great in the car Jalayne. It made think of a tip for you grandmas out there. If you need a different gift for your grandkids make a cloth book (use the ones which are as big as I can find you or could buy one too I guess) and then make a pillow the same size as the book. Sew them together along one side of the pillow and the left edge of the book. Add a velcro tab to the opposite side of the pillow and book. Then the child can unhook the tab and read the book or close it, flip it over and they have a pillow for in the car.

  8. Shelly says

    Hi Jill, I agree with you on just about everything and I don’t have kids of my own. But what I don’t agree on is the “just about everything disposable part”. If you’ve already got hot water, just take some dish soap in a small container and take the extra minute to wash off forks, knives and spoons in a bowl that’s been used for cereal. The damp dish cloth will dry quickly in the back window of the car or put in in a plastic bag until the next stop and hang in out in the sun. There are lots of ways to do individual packages without buying those “throw-away” things.Some of it may take a little more room at the start, but once you start using things the containers can slip inside each other and be out of the way. Just a thought. Thanks for reading this.

  9. Ronda says

    We have made a couple trips lately and we always pack food. Even taking chips, crackers, fruit and drinks has saved a fortune. Then if we use a drive through we just grab dollar menu sandwiches. 5 people for 10$ or under. On a recent trip to Florida we saved a fortune taking our food. Chicken salad, Tuna salad, Lunch meats, bags of lettuce, containers of drained pickle slices. If we know we are going to eat in the car we will premake the sandwiches. When the kids were younger they would make their own and bag it in their own bag. Over the years we found box lids that slip over the top of the box(like from computer paper boxes) make great trays for the car. They contain the crayons, pencils, legos and such, Great for lunch and when you arrive they can be pitched. Thanks for a great website,.

  10. Emily says

    We travel a lot and with 7 people even the value menu cost a bundle. We have a hard small cooler that fits under the youngest feet and by adding ice from the hotel it keeps most foods plenty cold and a secret soda cold for me when I need it. I also put the apples and oranges (don’t pack if you are going to CA, they will take them) in there so they don’t get smooshed. I put a loaf of bread in a plastic shoe box and a small cutting board and knife with a cover in the box. They love fresh fruit cut up more than eating a whole piece themselves. My guys also love Hawaiian rolls with lunch meat and cheese. And I buy a box of 50 individual chips from Costco. The 50 pack is a small size of chips and the box is strong so they don’t get crushed and as we eat the chips I can add other groceries to the box. I also buy a case of bottled water at Costco and pack some lemonade packets so people can flavor it.

  11. Deb says

    When I was growing up in the 40s there were picnic benches by the side of the road almost every place we traveled. About the only highway restaurants were Howard Johnsons. We always took tuna fish sandwiches wrapped in wax paper with a few potato chips and half pint containers of chocolate milk. Stopping at those picnic benches was an adventure then. We didn’t need special restaurants or amusements on our road trip, just the three of us singing and two of us reading. In those days we also took tuna fish or baloney sandwiches to school in metal lunch boxes. They were kept in the classroom or in lockers – no cold packs or anything. We did buy our milk in the lunchroom so it was cold. Nobody ever got sick from those lunches. Why is it so different today?

    • says

      Can’t even use those metal lunch boxes for lunches at schools around here anymore.
      They might be used as a weapon.
      I never took a lunch to school as we lived in town and went home for lunch. Always thought I was missing out on some of the fun stuff when I wasn’t there.
      Go figure I went home to hot soup and sandwiches and wished I could eat at school where I would have a sandwich a warm drink and a piece of fruit.
      I guess the grass is always greener as they say.
      But I do wonder why we didn’t get more children sick from eating warm cold meat at lunch time. Did we have better immune systems back then?

      • Grandma too says

        Kids wouldn’t get sick now either, its just a trend, like sunscreen and bottled water. If you hear something enough times, people tend to believe it.

  12. Melanie says

    Instead of using disposable utensils, I pack washable sets of utensils and plates that stay in the cooler (mine has a side pouch). Then when we eat out, I bring it all back, wash and replace it in the cooler. That way I never forget to have the right stuff on hand. I also add any condiment packs I get to the cooler, so there is always an assortment of those too.

  13. Sheila says

    Great ideas for travelling. One of the things we do when we travel long distances, eating from a supermarket deli is a lot cheaper than the restaurants. Can grab your pre-cut veggies, cooked chicken, bread, fruit, drinks, etc. Each grocery store’s deli varies a little but is much healthier and cheaper than the restaurants. Also when at a hotel for a weekend or a few days, I have bought frozen dinners, which we never have at home. Just some ideas for on the road or on holiday.

  14. Sheri says

    We eat in the car and run at the rest stops. I bring bubbles for them to chase and pop. When the children stop moving, it’s time to get back into the car and go again.

    For food, we eat the perishable first and save the less perishable for later. I freeze a gallon of milk and it goes over the course of a day. But yoghurt is good, even after a day or two, same for cheese and kefir. I might make cheese pizza to eat or foccacia. Cheese and crackers. Peanut butter and jelly… That will last for a couple of days. Fresh fruit and water, along with carrots sticks go a long way. Dried fruit also works. I usually have food leftover for coming home too.

    I also bring a wet towel and a dry towel for clean up. The wet towel also helps in keeping the cooler cool. I lay it over the top.

    Nope! I’m not good at going to fast food while on a trip… It cost too much in money and time!

    Sometimes, I may stop at a store and buy a half-gallon of ice cream. Then I tell everyone. We have to eat all of this before we leave! They like obeying that order!

    If there is snow on the ground, I can make snow cones in their plastic cups and flavor it with juice concentrate.

    We also may use parks instead of rest stops if they are close to the freeway. It’s nice to have play equipment for little children.

    We have done a few trips from San Diego to Washington state or Iowa or Texas. The toughest trip was not the longest trip, but the one with the 6-week old nursing baby and I was the driver.

  15. says

    When we make a long road trip I do a couple of things. One, I individually wrap things like homemade granola bars, cookies and carrot sticks. I pack potato chips and popped popcorn from one large bag into individual baggies. Everyone really likes to get just their portion all wrapped up. And two, we just bring water to drink. Why just water? It keeps the kids from drinking too much while in the car out of just desire for soda or punch. This way they only drink from pure thirst. And we have a rule, no drinking until about 30 minutes before each planned rest stop, for obvious reasons.

  16. Lynn says

    Great ideas! As for food, something I want to try is making sandwiches for the kids with the dollar buns. They are small enough so kids don’t feel overwhelmed. I want to use a cookie cutter with the ham and cheese and make some fun shapes for the kids.
    We love books on cd, movies, bubbles (yes in the car), balloons (tie to the car seat strap to keep from floating around the van), coloring books,etc. We travel quite a bit.
    I am always on the look out for new ideas for food and snacks in the van.

  17. Kris says

    Sheri, we also eat in the car and run at the rest areas! The kids think it’s a big adventure to eat while driving and then they have more time for “getting out the wiggles” at a rest stop. We have a 10 hour road trip to my in-laws which we do twice a year. Our old car was tiny so I learned that items like pre-made sandwiches and dried fruit (as well as other small snacks) worked best for us, as they took up less room.

    I have also found it helpful to keep 2 small canvas bags pre-packed with toys/crayons/puzzle books, etc., for road trips. Books on CD are a big hit. We DO have a travel DVD player (gasp!) but I refuse to run it all the time.

  18. Brenda D. says

    My family and I are taking a road trip this summer from Missouri to South Dakota. The last big trip for us was to Galveston, TX but at that time I was driving a suburban with lots of room for everything. I have downsized to a car and am a little nervous about not having enough room for taking a cooler with food, drinks & snacks. Since there are 4 of us, we have decided that we are only taking 2 duffel bags of clothes and that we can do laundry at the hotel to help save some room and get that cooler in. Thanks for everyone’s ideas!

  19. says

    Hi Brenda,
    Bringing less clothing, with the idea that we will do laundry while on vacation, is exactly what we do. Don’t forget to pack a baggie of laundry soap, so you don’t have to buy their soap. And in a pinch, you could also use the hotel shampoo as laundry soap. I do that in the sink at night. I’ll wash out socks with hotel shampoo, then hang in the shower to dry overnight.
    If the back seat passengers will be children (with short legs, I’m thinking), you can use the space on the floor beneath their feet to put something like a small cooler, or even cardboard box of snack items or other non-perishable food. We’ve managed to get all 5 of us in a small sedan, and all our stuff and a couple of sleeping bags, and a cooler, and a box of groceries, and still come home loving each other. Snug, but it was do-able.
    And most important, have a wonderful trip!

  20. Kris says


    Lots of good tips above for you! You’ve probably already heard this, but rolling your clothes rather than folding them really does allow you to fit more in (or bring fewer items). I keep my toiletries pre-packed in a small bag and use travel size items to take up less room (most things can be re-filled–I’m not sure how many years I’ve had the same travel shampoo bottle!). Probably obvious ideas, but I’ve travelled with people who have carried full-sized shampoo bottles, so maybe what’s obvious to me isn’t to others!

  21. Maggie says

    Reading everyone’s travel tips really reminds me of all the trips we took (only 4 of us) to the beach every summer. I can pack a car like no one else in my family and it was amazing all the things we could get in a small car. Now, it is just my husband and me and it almost seems a shame not to have little ones eating snacks and food in the car. We go to the beach with my daughter and her family, my son, and a friend of my daughter’s and her child. Each family group brings a portion of the food, cleaning supplies, and paper products. It is much easier and less expensive for everyone. My husband does like his snacks on the trip so we do have a little cooler with goodies for the two of us along the way but no stopping since there are no “I need to use the bathroom, NOW” kiddos with us.
    Anyway, thanks for the terrific tips and the memories. I’ll have to share some of your stories with our family on our beach trip this year. Only 2 more weeks and a week away from work and time to love on the grands.

  22. Charity says

    Wow! That story just cracked me up! It was so funny and sounded so much like our vacations that i just had to read it to my husband! Now i don’t feel so alone, we have 6 kids to travel with! Too funny

  23. Alice says

    I have a problem with people taking “extra” packets of condiments and seasonings to bring home. (I said “taking,” not “being given.”) You can buy small packages from, or package your own. But don’t teach kids to think “a couple extra for later won’t hurt anybody.” It hurts us with higher prices.

    • says

      No I don’t think you should take extra either but I still manage to have a bunch of them either from what they give me when I get something to go. Taking extras of anything is wrong, like paper clips or pens and things like that from work or if there is a stack of coupons for something free and you grab half of the stack. We have a whole article addressing this same subject.

  24. Linda :o) says

    Oh Jill!
    That was so funny! I don’t have young children or grandchildren, and I’m not even planning a road trip, but that was so darned funny! Oh, I enjoyed it so much. Reminds me so much of one time I was traveling from California to Missouri. We were traveling through the desert, and I had a big box of crayons that melted. I dumped them out the window, but most of them went on the side of the car. I don’t think all of it ever came off the car. Thanks for the article.
    Linda :o)

    • says

      The scary part of it Linda is that wasn’t fiction at all and is what most of our trips are like. All of those things have happened at some point and many all on the same trip. We have the most “interesting” trips and never a dull moment. I’m holding my breath because I am getting ready to leave in a couple of days to once more head across Kansas to Colorado to see Tawra. : ) Let the games begin once again. : )

  25. Grizzly Bear Mom says

    Grizzly Bear Grandma and I just drove down Del-Ma-VA from Annapolis to VA beach. Didn’t bring the prewritten packing list and had to stop for shoelaces, sunblock, ankle brace, support stockings, and snack at the not Dollar Tree, inferior “somethings are near a dollar store”. Vry expensive and annoying. Resupplied at the Dollar Tree at destination with instant mac and cheese for breakfast verses $27 at the restaurant. Could have purchased oatmeal, granola bars or cereal but that’s not my preference. When traveling look for places with free breakfasts. Food adds up quickly, and I prefer someone else paying and cleaning up! Grandma Bear and I visited VA’s visitors center and had fun walking around even though she’s 79. Couldn’t IMAGINE forcing little kids to sit in a McDonalds both during a car trip. Suggest taking kids to Chinoteaque on Del Mar Va to see then herd up the ponies, swim them across the channel and then auction them off during the last week of July’s pony pennning week, or to VA Beach’s First Landing park for camping. Write in advance for free and cheap thrills. Best of the summer to you.

  26. Susan says

    Great ideas! For those of us that travel with pets,a small cooler serves well to keep the water cold and a collapsible water bowl works well.(I got mine from my vet) Instead of taking a bag of dog food
    I put some in a couple of gallon baggies and it is much easier to use than taking the whole bag.

  27. Veronica says

    Just the two of us these days so there is plenty of room for a cooler.
    I use the plastic containers with the divisions and tight lids. A bag of rolls or slices of buttered bread to fill with meat and granola bars or home made cookies. Soup if we fancy it and a thermos of coffee.
    Cheese and crackers make a quick snack and pre prepared fruit, fresh or canned, and cold drinks of choice.
    My much more affluent grandchildren enjoy DVD players and games. my youngest will drive for 12 + hours so the only stops are for a quick potty visit.
    For those who really do need a potty on the way there is a toilet seat that fits on a five gallon bucket and plastic liners which can have a special jell product poured in that will solidify everything for later disposal. very helpful if travelling with elders whose control may not be of the best. Wet wash clothes or paper towels and a bottle of water can help cleanup for kids and elders

  28. Zann Reid says

    I have been doing this for many years. I used to tell our kids, “Would you rather spend money at McDonalds, or would you rather have money for souvenirs or an extra activity?” Even when small, the answer was 99% of the time, an extra activity. Even now, when I travel by myself, I pack a thermos of soup, sandwiches, fresh cut veggies. I know what I’m eating, I don’t stand in line, & I save an enormous amount of money. So, to paraphrase Wayne & Garth, “Picnic on Dude!”

  29. says

    I am going to use the ideas in the article as well as the comments in this summer. Instead of buying the disposable containers, i am going to use the plastic containers that came with the pasta and potato salads. I am going to save some of the re usable yoghurt and ice cream containers too. Getting one more use on all the disposable items is still worth to save the earth.
    Still need to buy one more thermos to take hot water.

  30. Jodee says

    Lots of very good ideas here! We travel quite a bit (Last summer, a 3,000 trip with mom, dad, a 9- and 16-year old, then a 7,000 mile trip with mom, same 2 kids, and 2 mid-80’s grandparents, plus several 200-300 mile trips during the year)and have figured out every way to save money possible, which is how we afford to travel so much! Packing food and water bottles is always good, both financially and because it helps provide plenty of rest-and-play stops while eating or using restrooms. Be sure to take TP and hand sanitizer or baby wipes in case restrooms are unavailable or substandard. Stuff several plastic grocery bags in a door pocket or somewhere similar for convenient trash (or barf) bags. When possible, reserve rooms with a fridge and microwave or that provide breakfast. Troll online sites for rates and track down every possible discount! By using a discount available through our PTA (membership cost- $5) we were able to stay at a popular chain in a very nice room with 2 queen beds and a fold-out sofa with a kitchenette and sitting area that also had a lovely pool area and provided breakfast as well as a shuttle to the theme park we were visiting for $55 a night. By the time we factored in breakfast for 4 (minimum $25) and not having to pay for parking at the park ($14), we saved $39 a day. Add in bringing our own food from the market, preparing it in our kitchenette, and eating by the pool instead of a restaurant, and what we saved more than covered the cost of the room. There was also a charm to dining poolside. I also have a small plastic tote we take when we travel that holds paper towels, a mini bottle of dishsoap, a can opener, basic cooking utensils, cheap plastic plates, silverware, an instant hot water pot, a small electric skillet, and a medium size crockpot. The hot water pot allows us to prepare instant oatmeal and cocoa or tea for breakfast and a bottle of juice keeps nicely in the hotel ice bucket overnight. The electric skillet can be used for heating or cooking a simple meal and sometimes we will put stew or chili fixins in the crockpot to cook while we’re sightseeing so we come back to a hot meal with no effort. Knowing it’s waiting helps avoid the temptation to stop off at a restaurant. We make room for the tote by strictly limiting each of us to a backpack or small duffle bag and do laundry on the way. We take a single toiletries bag for everyone to avoid wasting space with duplicate shampoos, toothpastes, etc.

  31. Danielle says

    Thanks you had some very good ideas! my family and I going to use a lot of them since we really don’t like stopping for fast food very often and it would be a heather alternative to pack your own lunch. thanks again!

  32. Rhoda says

    I’ve loved reading everyone’s posts. Great ideas, and it’s a wonderful way to see the country, and spend quality time as a family! We’ve done road trips since the kids were small, and now they’re in their 20’s! They still love coming with us, and smile when I say “Road trip?”.
    I always packed a cooler, it was so much cheaper with 3 small kids, and they loved the picnic stops. we always found someplace with a park, or along the river, where they could watch the boats.
    I’ve used a lot of these ideas… two years ago we did a nine day trip from Montreal to Cape Breton and back, and not once ate out. I booked a motel with a kitchenette, and we stopped at a grocery store with a deli. There was 6 of us, the youngest was 19! plus a dog.
    A first aid kit, wet wipes, and hand sanitizer are necessities! I have a tote with napkins, utensils, plates, cutting board and knife, ziploc baggies, and it goes in the van next to the cooler.
    Our next road trip will include a four month old grandson, and his mother already has his “road trip” bag packed!

  33. Laura says

    Thank you for the tips. It has been a while since we have been on a road trip with the family and we are taking a grandchildren this time. =)

    • says

      Have fun. It is totally different going with the grand kids and they seem to have so much fun with grandma and grandpa. Even now with mine older I will take them with me. I haven’t decided if they love going with me because they get to go with “Nan” or because they now have their drivers permit and I let them drive most of the way. : ) Probably a little of both.

  34. me says

    This isnt an addition more so of a question ill be taking a mini road trip and the destination is a park as lunch will be sandwhiches im trying to think of a dinner we can have at the park when we arrive to watch the fire works

    • says

      Really many of the things mentioned in the post could be used. If you have a cooler with ice you can keep things for hours in it so you really can take almost anything. Chicken, slices of roast or ham are all good served cold with a side like potato, pasta or tossed salad, relish dishes, sliced fruit like oranges or containers of strawberries or something even easier like bananas or apples. Even fruit or veggie kabobs made up ahead of time.Make dessert something easy. Watermelon cantaloupe already cut up, cookies,cakes that don’t need frosting or desserts made with puddings are not as good a choice but pies aren’t bad, muffins, donuts are ok too.
      Really as long as it isn’t gooey or will melt easily you can use.


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