This post contains affiliate links.

So, last week we packed up the trunk of our little Toyota Rav-4 with clothing, food, and hiking equipment for a three-week, 6,000-mile road trip. Woah! That’s a lot of driving! How about we take a look in the passenger compartment this week to see what we had at our fingertips for the long driving days and how our boys kept occupied.

We’ll start at the front seats…

Travel Notebook

While we had all of our trip plans and reservations on laptops and phones, I’m still old school and need hard copies of everything. You never know when devices might fail or, more likely on a trip like this, that we’d be out of cell range. So, tucked between the passenger seat and center console was our binder full of travel plans, an interstate exit guide, reservation details, and more, all easily accessible right beside the passenger.

The binder also included a large envelope for receipts so they could be quickly organized and out of sight. The binder included the following:

  • daily travel itinerary
  • travel and exit guide /rest areas and preferred eating establishments 
  • all reservations
  • receipt envelope
  • gas and mileage log
  • postcard stamps and family addresses

Center Console

We kept our food stash in a tub in the trunk, but always stored one day’s worth of snacks in the center console between the front seats for easy access on the road. I suspect that there might have been a few snack-sized packages of M&Ms, too. Maybe.

Using the center console for this purpose is especially convenient because the boys can’t always reach a food bin on the floor in the back and adults don’t have to twist and contort to reach something behind the seat. Accessing the center console is easy and snacks can be tossed to the back seat as requested.

Glove Box

Our glove box held a multitude of small supplies that the driver or passenger might need within easy reach. It was our office, nursing station, and catch-all drawer all in one.

  • cash and coins for tolls
  • National Parks Pass / a must during a road trip!
  • pens and note cards/scrap paper
  • Post-it notes for any random reminders and boys’ bookmarks … I always carry Post-it notes!
  • Sharpie markers for Cadillac Ranch
  • basic medical kit including sunscreen and bug repellant
  • hand lotion / my hands always get dry driving with the air going
  • tool pouch with Leatherman, knife, screwdriver, prybar, scissors
  • headlamp for seeing around the car after dark without distracting the driver with interior lights
  • wet wipes
  • roll of trash bags

On to the back seat….

Between the seats

The middle seat between the boys’ booster seats would naturally be the perfect place for a bin containing books and activities, but we kept this space empty since they couldn’t reach their seat belt latches with a box in the way. However, we learned that it’s always a good idea to leave some spaces empty to accommodate unexpected items and this middle space ended up being occupied by the boys’ stuffed animals and blankets during the day. We allowed the boys to each bring one stuffed animal and one blanket, although Jasper’s menagerie of animals grew throughout the trip. Fortunately, this space gave them all a place to rest.

Floor box #1 – Kid Activities

We used two medium-sized clear plastic boxes for storage in the back. These boxes stacked on top of one another in the middle of the floor where they were reachable by all travelers.

The box on top stored the boys’ activities. To keep the boys busy on long driving days, we packed a variety of books, notebooks, and toys. The activity box contained the following:

  • Books / 5 each which the boys selected prior to departure day
  • Sketch books / The boys each had one which they filled up by the end of day two. Gavin used the back cover of his to log the state license plates we saw on the road. We ended up seeing 48 on the entire trip, only missing Hawaii and Connecticut.
  • Full ream of copy paper / Despite the full sketch books, we are always prepared with paper! Running out of drawing and writing paper would have been tragic!
  • 12-pack of sharpened pencils, colored pencils, sharpener / A dozen pencils was not enough. All 12 were nubs by the end of the three weeks.
  • Lego boxes / We gave the boys each a plastic pencil box to fill with Legos before the trip. These were perfect for creative play on the road and kept the pieces contained.
  • Pipe cleaners / I’d seen these recommended on other road trip blogs and they were INCREDIBLE for a day but once they were used and bent, they were impossible to fit back in the activity box. Next time, we need an extra container just for spent pipe cleaners as they double in size after use!
  • Rope / Jeff taught them several knots along the way. Those who know him won’t think this is an odd addition to the activity box.
  • Mad Libs / Halfway through the trip, Jasper received a few Mad Libs books as a birthday present so they were added to the activity box for the remainder of the trip.

In addition to the core activities, we had surprise activities hidden away in a box underneath the middle back seat to hand out at random times during the three weeks to keep the activity stash from getting stale.

We had 4-5 surprises for the boys and saved them for long days in the car when we’d mostly be driving. The surprises included new books, small Creator Lego kits (PERFECT for a road trip as the sets are very small and can each be reassembled into 3 different models), dinosaur info cards, and WWII vehicle info cards.

Floor Box #2 – Acquired Items

Throughout the trip, we acquired all sorts of paper goods: park maps, brochures, guidebooks, Junior Ranger booklets, souvenir postcards, and magnets. All of these items went straight into the second box stored under the boys’ activity box. This allowed these random items to be quickly tossed and not to be seen again until we returned home.

Seat Backs

We used one seat back organizer for a few of the boys’ easy-access items, however we don’t like these because they took up too much space and we found they were in the way when the boys got in and out of the car. They probably work better in larger vehicles with more space between the driver’s and back seat. Still, they kept a few things off the floor and organized.

  • boys’ sunglasses
  • National Parks passports
  • water bottles
  • Additional books and toys

Back Floor

  • purse / I always tossed my purse with wallet and camera on the floor in the back. It was always easy to reach when we passed picture-worthy scenery outside the windows. Prior to the trip, I traded my trusty digital SLR in for a smaller, lighter mirrorless camera. My old Canon served me well for many years, but I’d been tired of its bulk and weight for a while and this trip was the deciding factor to finally downsize. The new camera is a smaller Olympus that produces images of similar quality. I can quickly shoot in P mode most of the time but have the ability to go fully manual when necessary. The new camera was one of the best decisions I made for this trip!
  • boys’ slip-on shoes / The boys both wore slip-on Vans on driving days. These allowed them to comfortably travel in socks yet quickly throw their shoes on whenever we stopped for a break.

Under Back Seats

There is limited space underneath the back seats that is difficult to access. However, we wanted to leave no space unused so we found a purpose with items we wanted to carry “just in case” and that only needed to be removed once.

  • Under Gavin’s seat / Rain coats for all. We didn’t use them once on the trip but it sure was nice knowing they were there!
  • Under Jasper’s seat / birthday gifts. Jasper’s birthday fell in the middle of the trip and family members kindly gave him small, flat gifts that would be easy for us to pack. All of his gifts slid under his seat and he didn’t even know they were there for the entire first week!

Traveling on the road for three weeks with the limited storage capacity of a small SUV is entirely possible. We loved traveling light with the economy and freedom that such a small vehicle gave us. Hopefully our packing strategy is an inspiration for you to hit the road no matter what vehicle you drive!