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Backseat Edit: Organize Your Car for a Successful Road Trip

Bring Kondo-esque Zen to the back seat of your car.

Erica Silverstein · 11 months ago

  • travel

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My kids can destroy a backseat on a 20-minute drive to Grandma’s house. A few hours in the car, and it looks like a bomb of books, stuffed animals, blankets, and snack bags exploded all around them. My back and neck are in pain at the end of any road trip from the numerous times I’ve had to turn around in the passenger seat to retrieve dropped items, hand over snacks, and settle screen time disputes.

I have vowed to be better organized the next time we plan a driving vacation. If your family’s like mine, here are eight tips to follow — and organizers to buy — to bring Kondo-esque Zen to the back seat of your car.

1. Give Gear A home

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I naively thought that a backpack of toys and books was good enough organization; the kids can take “Magic Treehouse” out and return it when they’re done. Nope — nothing that comes out of the backpack ever goes back in, especially when it all gets dumped on the floor to find the pack of crayons at the very bottom.

Try an organizer that attaches to the front seat to give key items a home and make it easier to return toys to a designated space at eye level. You can MacGyver a shoe organizer for this purpose, or buy a purpose-built backseat organizer. The best have slots for a tablet for easy backseat movie screenings.

Little kids can’t reach the seat in front of them? Try a between-the-seats organizer instead. Or go minimalist with headrest hooks to hang winter coats and tote bags.

2. Create A Workspace


Day To Day Imports Inc

Do you know how hard it is to find the one red crayon that has dropped beneath your child’s feet when you’re searching blindly with one hand while your arm is pinned between the door frame and the front seat? If the kids in your family like to draw or do puzzle books on road trips, save everyone a headache and order travel trays. You can find toddler and bigger kid versions that provide a lap desk space and special pockets to contain writing implements, water bottles, tablets, and small books.

3. Set Up A Snack Station

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High Road

On our last road trip, we sacrificed nutrition to gain peace of mind and gave each kid their own lunch box of healthy and less-healthy snacks. They could choose what they wanted to eat, when they wanted to eat it, and I wasn’t doling out food or negotiating apples vs. cookies every 20 minutes. Take this idea up a notch with a car cooler that offers insulated sections for drinks, sandwiches, and yogurt pouches, as well as pockets for napkins and cup holders for water bottles.

4. Set Up A Movie Screen

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Our pre-owned minivan does not have a built-in DVD player, and our unloved children are forced to pass our sole tablet back and forth on long car rides. Inevitably, the kid who isn’t holding the tablet complains loudly about not being able to see. I intend to solve these first-world problems on our next road trip by investing in a headrest mount for smartphone and tablet. Look for flexible mounts that can be positioned either directly behind the headrest (for one person to watch) or projecting out between the two front seats (so two or three can watch at the same time).

5. Provide A Trash Can

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Raise your hand if your family thinks you are a walking, talking trash can. I can attest that whatever apple cores and granola bar wrappers aren’t dropped on the car floor get passed up to me like I’m Oscar the Grouch. Teach your family to be self-sufficient by tricking your back seat out with a trash can. The best kinds are spill-proof. Life hack: Use a plastic cereal storage bin with a lid you have at home to achieve the same purpose.

6. Build A Charging Station

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Jelly Comb

Most modern family road trips involve numerous smartphones, tablets, portable game systems, and DVD players running at once. But if your car has limited power outlets, the family is bound to end up arguing over who gets access to the charging cable. (Hint: The GPS always wins.) Make your road trip more pleasant by creating a charging station. Purchase a multi-port outlet that plugs into a lighter socket and 10-foot charging cords, and keep everyone powered up all the way down I-95.

7. Make Naps More Comfortable

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It’s cringe-worthy watching a family member sleep in the car with their neck at an awkward angle or an exhausted kid jerking awake every time their head lolls. You could bring a bunch of pillows from home, but they just crowd up the backseat when not in use — and they aren’t that effective for car naps anyway. Save space and sleep deprivation with a neck pillow, either the kind that attaches to the headrest for airplane-style neck support or a soft one that doubles as a lovey.

8. Leave Space For Emergency Pit Stops

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Anyone who has traveled with very young kids knows that they always have to use the bathroom RIGHT NOW — when you’ve just passed the last exit for 15 miles. If you’ve got a minivan or SUV, leave some space in the back to create a port-a-potty spot when you can’t wait for the next rest stop. Set up a travel potty (the best options double as a potty chair and a toilet cover) in a clear section of the way back, with a kit of toilet paper, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, and a couple of changes of clothes nearby. Stow a beach towel or two for privacy screens. It might not be glamorous, but it’s better than the alternative.