Car Accessories to Make Road Tripping Better
July 8, 2019 4:54 PM   Subscribe

Having just returned from an 800 mile road trip spread across 4 days, with two adults, two kids, and a multitude of bags and coolers, I ask you, dear Mefites, for your best tips, trips, and links (Amazon or otherwise) to accessories that make road tripping easier for everyone.

There was the bag which contained, I kid you not, forty books. There was the electronics bag which contained the ipads, the headphones, the laptop, all of the chargers, and a few dvds (before you ask - I was not in charge of this bag. Either the laptop was backup for the ipads, or the ipads were backup for the laptop. In short, yes, there was redundancy. There was a reason for it, I know not the reason). There was the bag of toys. There was the cooler. There was my backpack which contained the remaining flotsam and jetsam that one *might* need or want while in the car.

We normally roadtrip in a Toyota Sienna minivan. It has third row seating with good cargo storage in the back. Cargo was not an issue. These bags were my issue. They need to be accessible to the adult in the passenger seat, so they were *all* underfoot in the area between the front captain's chairs and the second row.

I think a good portion of this could have been resolved with individual backpacks. That's fine, I'll work on that.

Despite all of the thoughtful touches in a Sienna, there simply are not good cupholder options for a small child seated in a car seat in the second row. When we're tooling about town I've solved this issue by securing a stroller organizer to the middle seat in the second row. This doesn't work for the way we roadtrip. My hubby took it out and chucked it into the cargo area.

Also, having the cooler in the middle space of the captain's chairs would be great. It doesn't need to be a plugin cooler, it just needs to be up closer to the front seats. This would mean removing the middle tray table, which then eliminates 4 cup holders, which get heavy use.

Anyone have any ideas as to how to replace those cup holders? A slim profile cooler with secure cupholders on the top or back? Any other tricks?

I would also appreciate your favorite road trip tips or tricks in general. I'm all about doing things more efficiently.
posted by vignettist to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I got a super-duper long iPhone charger. It plus into the front aux thingy, and stretches all the way to the third row. That way any of my passengers can charge their phones, or be the DJs for road trips (wheeee the joy of being a Girl Scout troop leader). I have another charger in the cigarette lighter with shorter cables, for the driver and front-seat passenger to charge their phones.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:16 PM on July 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

Growing up in the 90s, my family used to road-trip regularly. I think our longest trip was about 900 miles round-trip with 4 adults/2 school-aged kids in a Dodge Grand Caravan. I still road-trip on the regular (just got back from a 500 mile trip to see family over Fourth of July), but I don't have kids, so grain of salt on the following more modern tips, but:

When I roadtrip in my Tardis (Honda Civic: it's bigger on the inside), all I have in the front is a plugged-in USB charger for music/audiobooks/navigation, a trip planner for the navigator (usually a printed Google Doc, organized by day, with sites, restaurants, hotel -- the big document lives in a folder in a suitcase in the trunk; daily documents are retrieved by the designated navigator that morning), and a drink for each person in the front cupholders. Purse/daypack goes on the backseat, along with picnic-type snacks. Everything else goes in the trunk.

Not clear from your post whose belongings these were, but it doesn't seem like 40 books + a million electronics are required while in the car. Make a rule of 1 book and 1 non-phone electronic device per person. With less stuff in the passenger zone, you'd have space for the stroller solution. You can also buy coolers that have built-in cupholders on the top, but not sure how sturdy /secure they are in a moving vehicle with kiddos.
posted by basalganglia at 6:28 PM on July 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

There are coolers with cup holders built into the lid. The downside would be everyone would have to hold their drinks or the person taking off the lid would have to balance it when getting into the cooler.
posted by stray thoughts at 6:35 PM on July 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

They can use reusable water bottles with caps/lids that are spillproof and then the drinks don't necessarily have to stay upright.

I've seen organizers for the back of the front seats that can hold a lot of things. Something like this might be useful.
posted by crunchy potato at 7:44 PM on July 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

There are toddler car seats with built in cup holders. I swear I’ve seen them
posted by SLC Mom at 8:14 PM on July 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

One thing I’ve started doing is not packing stuff together according to type (electronics, books, etc) but by priority / urgency. There’s need to have, good to have, nice to have. Most urgent and needed stuff goes closest to the adult in passenger front seat. Good to have is reachable by front seated adult into backseat with some stretching but no contortions. Nice to have, kids fend for themselves with their own backpacks or they can have it when we make a rest stop. This means you have bags with lots of different kinds of things in them which can be maddening if you like a certain orderly grouping, but I like how simple it is in to deal with in real time.
posted by sestaaak at 8:39 PM on July 8, 2019 [6 favorites]

Yeah, every kid car seat we own has built in cup holders, and it's really handy. I'd definitely look into that.

Our family (two adults, three kids) just got back from a long vacation where we put 4000 miles on the car, and one little thing that helped a lot was this power inverter. It gives you four USB charging ports and two standard electrical outlets. Maybe in a Sienna you have enough power ports, but we used it all the time in our Santa Fe.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:07 PM on July 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

I don't mean to ignore your question, I just wanted to give you a different perspective on how my family of origin roadtripped:

6 people - 2 parents, 4 kids, oldest kid is 11 years older than youngest
Dad drives, kid with longest legs sits in passenger seat, Mom sits in back with kid who gets car sick
Younger kids get 1 toy each.
Older kids could have their walkmans. (walkmen? It was 80s-90s.) All kids responsible for their own in-car stuff.
Nothing is packed around driver. Everything is packed around passengers - so to get out at rest stops, lots of things had to be unpacked. Generally packed in paper grocery bags.
No DVDs. Everybody listened to oldies or whatever else the driver decided. Generally oldies or silence.
Snacks: not a ton of snacks. Maybe some sliced veggies, some pretzels, and sandwiches.
Not a ton of beverages. A small cooler - coleman old style - and everybody is limited so they don't need bathroom breaks.
People can entertain themselves by looking out the window, playing car games, talking to others in the car, taking naps.
Maps: the front passenger is in charge of the trip tik, if there is one.
Trips were usually long - there was one 3-week road trip, a lot of 6-hour drives, and a lot of 12+ hour drives. Stops were for gas - everybody gets out to use the restroom at that time, and that's it.

Again, I don't mean to ignore your question, but road trips when I was growing up were different, and that's ok.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 6:48 AM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

In our crossover, the second row doors have cup holders. If there are none in the Sienna, can you add some? I have no specific recommendations, but there are ones available for the window and for the seat backs.
posted by soelo at 8:25 AM on July 9, 2019

I start this comment with the disclaimer that I haven't specifically tested the exact items linked, as most of my versions have been gifted to me and I don't have the exact purchase info.

To store the books, iPads, chargers, non-cooler snacks and assorted kid bits-n-bobs, put an organiser like this on the back of each front seat. If the kids are big enough to reach these organisers while seatbelted in, they can now pretty much fend for themselves between stops.

Additional cupholders for all parties can be mounted on the doors using something like these. Extra space can also be slotted in on either side of a central cooler between the front seats using slide-in gap fillers like these.

If you'd like to encourage the kids to draw or craft as a break from their phones, you probably want to provide a flat surface for them. Something like this tray would be useful for eating a meal on the go as well, if that is part of your travel style. Personally we always stop for meals because we usually have the dog and want to let him and our human passengers get out to take a break, but I know that eats up time and there are days when you just gotta crank out some miles.

A seatbelt pillow can be useful to help the kids nap without having to bring their bed pillows into the cabin of the car and find space for them. Heck, I like one myself when I'm the passenger.

My local library has a huge audiobook selection that I can pre-download to my phone via their Libby app. Your library might use Overdrive but I believe it also allows for books to be downloaded so that you have access even when cell coverage is spotty. When I'm driving through an area of natural beauty and it annoys me that everyone is staring at their phones instead, I'll put on an audiobook and make everyone look out the window while they listen. I know that makes me a grump but you know what, it's a lot of work to drive people over long distances and my mental health is important too! If we're driving through Zion you'd better not be watching Peppa Pig, is what I'm saying, but I will compromise and provide a different form of entertainment instead.
posted by DSime at 10:10 AM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have no idea if this will interest you, but I just ordered (yesterday) the new Amazon Echo Auto, which is designed for cars. It connects to your cell phone and the Amazon app and allows you to do all sorts of things using your voice.

So, for example, I could ask it to play an audiobook I own through Amazon and it will do so and broadcast it to the car radio. Or, since I subscribe to Amazon Music, I can ask it to play almost any song and it will play it.

It also works with Google Maps and Waze, supposedly, so you can ask it to handle navigation using your voice.

Mine will arrive today and I'm eager to see if it works as advertised or not.
posted by tacodave at 4:12 PM on July 9, 2019

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