Whether I’m shuttling my son about town or we’re embarking on an hours-long trip, I prefer our little adventures to be happy ones. Keeping a few essential items in the car, I have found, can make for smoother, and safer, travels.
Last winter, for example, I kept an air compressor in the trunk which saved me from having to change a slowly-leaking tire on the roadside. And, by keeping a few cleaning products in the car, I find I do a much better job of corralling the little messes before they get out of hand.
I’m not alone: Parents all over the world swear by a few simple products to make commuting with kids easier. On Amazon, thousands of fellow motorists have weighed in to help compile this list of must-haves to help we parents travel with a little more sanity, if not order.
1. A seat-back cover that will save your interior (and your sanity)
Seat-back covers are invaluable. Not only do these ingenious items protect your seats from little feet, they can help keep toys and books within your child’s reach. That means less wear-and-tear on your upholstery and less fumbling around for dropped toys. Lusso Gear makes a seat protector that checks all the boxes—it’s easy to install, stays tight to the back of the seat and has helpful storage pockets. For younger kids riding in a rear-facing seat, Brica has you covered with a seat protector made of an easy-to-clean material and anti-slip grips for additional safety.
Average rating: 4.8 stars
Get Lusso Gear seat protectors for $16
2. Catch the muck from your shoes with all-weather mats
While some all-weather floor mats sell for hundreds of dollars, these are much less expensive and can still be customized to your car’s interior. The deep channels on these mats do a great job of trapping dirt and spills, thus keeping your floorboards clean. They’re also substantially easier to clean than carpeted mats. You’ll definitely want to keep them in your car this winter.
Average rating: 4.4
Get the Armor All 5-piece set for $40
3. A baby mirror that helps you see what your toddler is up to
Is your little one being quiet because they’re up to something, or simply because they’re asleep? Do they have something in their mouth? Do you need to pull over? This helpful, softly-lit mirror lets you answer all those questions with a glance, and the handy remote puts you safely in control of the LED lighting.
Average rating: 3.5 stars
Get the Yogo Baby car mirror with light for $20
4. Specialized wipes to clean up spills
This handy product from Armor All makes the trusted brand easier to use on the go. Keep these wipes near for quick spot-cleaning or those rare occasions you might actually clean the whole the car. Whether you need to quickly clean up a mess courtesy of your little one, or you’re trying to protect your dashboard from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, or restore leather upholstery, this package can help you do it all.
Average rating: 4.1 stars
Get Armor All Wipes Car Interior Cleaning Pack for $11
5. A little vacuum that packs a big punch
All those little crumbs jammed into your seats will disappear with one use of this powerful handheld unit from Dyson, which is the best handheld vacuum you can buy. The best part is you can use it in a parking lot, a highway rest area or your driveway anytime you like. The battery lasts up to 30 minutes, giving you plenty of time to tidy up. This less expensive model from Dyson has the same power and versatility—just fewer attachments.
Average rating: 4.1 stars
Get the Dyson V7 Car + Boat Hand Vacuum for $239
6. A portable changing table for the in-transit diaper change
A portable, wipeable changing cushion sure is convenient when that diaper simply must be changed. Having played the precarious game of changing a messy diaper on the car seat, I can tell you this is a better, less stressful way to travel. This one is great because it folds neatly for easy storage when you’re not using it. Stash this in your trunk along with an extra diaper or two and breathe easy knowing you’re prepared for any type of mess in your car.
Average rating: 4.7 stars
Get the Skip Hop Baby Pronto for $20
7. A truly effective way to eliminate offensive odors in your car
Lingering smells from spilled milk or a gym bag filled with sweaty soccer gear will linger no more with this odor neutralizer from California Home Goods. Instead of simply throwing a fragrance, this product is made with charcoal to actually absorb moisture and naturally get rid of unpleasant odors rather than just masking them. Whether your car smells like a wet dog, leftover Chinese, or an old sock, this air filter will nix the stink.
Average rating: 4.3
Get four charcoal air filters for $25
8. A trusted booster seat with clever storage
The first thing that sets this booster apart from others is that it anchors to the seat bench, much like an infant’s car seat, for greater stability and safety. Also, the back support can be removed to give you a simple booster seat as your child grows. My 6-year-old son likes using the sliding storage compartment for his sunglasses.
Average rating: 4.5
Get the Graco TurboBooster for $67
9. A spill-proof cup that actually fits in the car seat
Why not prevent spills instead of just cleaning them up as they happen? This transitional sipper from OXO got top billing when we tested the best sippy cups and comes highly-rated on Amazon, too. The handles on this cup are removable, which helps it to fit in nearly any cupholder. It will prevent spills in your car and, once you get home, is easy to clean.
Average rating: 3.9 stars
Get the OXO Tot Transitions Cup for $10
10. A great waterproof trash bag to help prevent messes
This thing is a lifesaver for long rides and road trips. Instead of climbing through the car to pick up loose trash after it accumulates, secure this leak-proof trash barrel to your center console to catch trash. Amazon reviewers even say the long straps enable you to hang it anywhere, from the back of a seat to a hand rest, so the kids in the back will have a place to put their snack wrappers.
Average rating: 4.0
Get the Power Tiger hanging container for $10
11. A portable charger to keep those devices ready, no matter what
Whether your phone is showing you the route, or you need a tablet to quell the squawking in the backseat, the RAVPower Mini Dual charger will do the job. Not all USB chargers are created equal, but we found that this is the best USB car charger you can buy. The design is compact, but the charger puts out plenty of amps and actually regulates its power for more efficient charging.
Average rating: 4.5 stars
Get the RAVPower car charger for $8
12. A must-have emergency tool for peace of mind
This emergency item falls into the category of preparing for the worst while hoping for the best. You may never need to cut a seatbelt or smash a window to reach safety, but put this in your car and feel better knowing you’ve got it. This one comes with a helpful mounting bracket so you can store it wherever it might be most convenient.
Average rating: 4.5
Get two IPOW belt cutters and window punchers for $11
13. A portable compressor for tire emergencies and maintenance
This portable compressor gets more use than I ever anticipated. The fluctuating temperatures during winters in the Northeast, where I live, saps tire pressure. This top-rated device works great for maintaining my tires and does well in a roadside pinch, too.
Average rating: 4.3
Get the VIAIR 85P portable compressor for $48
14. An ingenious roadside emergency kit
It’s no fun being stranded, particularly with kids in tow. This thoughtfully prepared emergency kit is highlighted by jumper cables, a flashlight, a rain poncho, duct tape and some first-aid items. There’s even a cloth towel to wipe your hands.
Average rating: 4.2
Get the AAA endorsed Lifeline kit for $25
15. A collapsible tote to keep all your car’s necessities organized
This collapsable organizing tote fits in the trunk of your vehicle so you can safely store your roadside emergency kit and your cleaning products, and keeps them from rolling around in the trunk. Its sturdy construction makes it more durable, and it features skid-proof grips on the bottom.
Average rating: 4.7
Get the FORTEM trunk organizer for $25