16 Must-Have Items for Busy Parents On the Go

Getting kids from point A to point B is an under-appreciated feat, whether you’re taking the tykes to the playground or on a cross-country flight. We asked parenting bloggers what they always have on hand or in the car to make traveling with kids easier.

By: Mina Hochberg

Photo By: Ashley Muir Bruhn

Photo By: Ashley Muir Bruhn

Photo By: Ashley Muir Bruhn

Photo By: ©iStockphoto.com/Milan_Jovic

Photo By: ©iStockphoto.com/AleksandarNakic

Photo By: SET

Photo By: Mina Hochberg

Photo By: Gina Kirk

Photo By: Jadon Laitmon

Photo By: Excerpted from Parent Hacks®:134 Genius Shortcuts for Life with Kids by Asha Dornfest (Workman Publishing). Copyright © 2016. Illustrations © Craighton Berman.

Photo By: Excerpted from Parent Hacks®:134 Genius Shortcuts for Life with Kids by Asha Dornfest (Workman Publishing). Copyright © 2016. Illustrations © Craighton Berman.

Photo By: Jen Mayer Kulp

Photo By: Jen Mayer Kulp

Photo By: John Kinnear

Photo By: John Kinnear

Photo By: Chris Routly

DIY Audio Books

Turn car rides into story time by making your own audio book. Hither and Thither’s Ashley Muir Bruhn uses the Voice Memo function on her iPhone to record her kids’ favorite books. This allows her to incorporate the voices, sound effects and pauses that they’ve come to expect at story time.

Grab-and-Go Snacks

Preparing snacks can be a time suck when you’re in a rush to get somewhere, so Ashley Muir Bruhn preps “grab-and-go” snacks the night before. She sometimes bakes mini berry muffins and tosses them in a zip-top plastic bag. Another tip: Freeze yogurt sticks overnight to make for a sweet little treat the next day.

Makeshift Game Pieces

Cheerios make great game pieces when you’re on the go with your kids. Ashley Muir Bruhn likes to thread Cheerios on pipe cleaners, “fish” for Cheerios from a raisin box using tweezers, or play Tic-Tac-Toe with Cheerios (just bite an O in half to differentiate your piece from your kid’s).

Crayons and Paper

There’s a reason family-friendly restaurants hand out paper and crayons for free: They’re invaluable tools for keeping antsiness at bay. “I always carry crayons and paper in my bag,” says Ilana Wiles, creator of Mommy Shorts. “If you want to be the kind of family that goes out to restaurants, you need to have stuff on hand to keep the kids occupied while they wait for their food.”

Umbrella Stroller

It’s tempting to ditch the stroller in favor of a baby carrier when flying with your little one, but strollers can be invaluable on trips. “Not only is it easier to take a kid through the airport, it's really useful while on vacation because you can get your kid to take their nap without having to stop what you are doing to go back to the hotel room,” says Ilana Wiles. “While in Cancun, we got our daughter to sleep by wheeling her in laps around the pool.”

Travel-Size Games

Keep kids busy in the car by bringing along the travel version of your favorite board games. Joanna Goddard, creator of Cup of Jo, entertains her two boys with SET, Bananagrams and Apples to Apples.

Mini Magnetic Boards

For kids who like playing with letters and numbers on the fridge, why not take the fun on the road? Buy a mini magnetic board, pack some letters and numbers in a plastic baggie and, voila, you have some educational (and non-digital!) entertainment for the car. You can also use the board as a play surface for magnetic toys like Magna-Tiles.

Bento-Style Snacks

Gina Kirk of Is She Really organizes her kids’ meals in these attractive Bentgo Kids Lunch Boxes. “Although we use them as lunch boxes during the week, they are perfect for carrying multiple snacks on the weekends,” she says. The attractive design makes parents look super-organized and also allows for a variety of foods.

Comic Books and Graphic Novels

Spice up your kid’s portable library with age-appropriate comic books and graphic novels. Nathalie Laitmon, publisher of Suburban Misfit Mom, recommends the Big Nate books, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and the go-to classic Batman.

Wine Bottle Tote

If you’re driving somewhere with the kids, Asha Dornfest, author of Parent Hacks, recommends organizing your essentials in a wine bottle tote. Not only are these totes already compartmentalized, but the compartments are deep, offering plenty of space to store items like snacks, toys, napkins and sippy cups.

Stroller Stabilizers

Do you tend to hang jackets or shopping bags from the handle of your lightweight stroller? Does your stroller then tip over when you take baby out of the seat? Asha Dornfest offers a neat way to prevent stroller tippage: Strap a pair of ankle weights to the front wheels and you have instant stabilization.

Fully Charged Tablets

“I don't care what the naysayers have to offer, if I didn’t have fully charged iPads for a road trip or even sometimes while going out to eat, we'd never make it out alive,” says Adrian Kulp, creator of Dad or Alive. “Kids watching iPads while out to dinner not only offers us the ability to get through the meal, but everyone else around us as well.”

A Bin to Call Their Own

When Adrian Kulp and his wife take road trips, they pack three small storage bins, one for each kid, and label each bin with the kid’s name. “We fill it with individual snacks, surprises and often a new movie that they can take turns watching on the DVD player in the truck. It gets them excited and keeps them occupied on a 10-hour haul,” Kulp says.

Restaurant Snacks

If you want to bring kids anywhere, especially lunch or dinner, pack snacks to tide them over in case things takes longer than expected. “At a restaurant, we order and it might be five minutes, or it might be 25 minutes,” says John Kinnear of Ask Your Dad. “The kids do great with five minutes, but at about 15 we’re always glad we have some crackers to hand them.”

Two of Everything

Keep the sibling peace by bringing two of everything when possible, whether it’s coloring books, drinks or snacks. “No matter what we bring, we do our best to have two of everything. Whatever one kid has, the other kid wants,” says John Kinnear, father of two. “For now, the duplicating of toys and activities is what keeps us sane on long drives.”

Airplane Safety Harness

If you’re flying with a kid who’s between 22 and 44 pounds, you can leave the car seat at home (or at least check it) and use this FAA-approved CARES harness instead. “Once our boys were big enough, the CARES airplane harness was a huge help in traveling, as it meant we didn’t need to carry on car seats any more but could feel confident that they were safe,” says Chris Routly of The Full Routly.