Roadtrip rules: No snacks in the back?

Six hours.

That’s how long it took a team of professionals to repair the damage three kids quietly inflicted our Honda Accord on a recent three-week road trip. 

I’ve never been so embarrassed — or thankful.

Interestingly, the semi-permanent, two-inch layer of cookies, lollypops and discarded wrappers on the floor of the back seat was totally preventable.

Let’s rewind to this summer, when we drove from our home in Orlando as far north as Quebec City in an unexpected odyssey that included earthquakes, hurricanes and floods. 

We started our road trip with a red-eye 12-hour overnight drive from Orlando to Richmond. Just the week before we had the car serviced, and really cleaned it both inside and out. 

As a rule we don’t let the kids eat or drink in the car, and this trip would be no exception. And for that first leg, motoring up I-95 as the kids slept through the night, things went as planned.

And that was the last thing to go as planned.

When we arrived in Richmond they were experiencing aftershocks from an earthquake that hit while we were already en route. This affected our schedule, moving up our travel times. Instead of an evening drive further north into the Catskill Mountains we left at lunch and had two meals on wheels.

After just a few days visiting with my parents we jumped ahead of an incoming hurricane – well, ahead of the eye of the hurricane, at least – washing into Montreal, followed shortly by Quebec City. We stuffed the car with all manner of comfort foods. Well, no mashed potatoes and gravy, but there were chips, muffins and fruit.

Then there was news of another storm developing in the south. By now the cooler packed with all manner of non-crumbly snacks and drinks had moved from buried in the trunk to below Erysse’s feet. The only thing more annoying than hearing the kids ask, “Are we there yet?” is the repetitive chanting of “I’m hungry! I’m hungry!”

The adults complied, feeding them whatever they wanted.

We hightailed it back through the devastation in New York’s watershed and landed in Washington to wait out the wind and rain for a few days. 

It was as I repacked the car to head home I noted something troubling.  I had some trouble fitting the cooler back in the foot well. Then I saw the problem. Both foot wells were lined with wrappers and half-finished juice boxes. I even found some banana and a half eaten apple.

Our kiddies were little piggies!

I am not sure how they did it, be it science or magic, but those beautiful men at the car palace restored what seemed to be a hopeless mess – as in buy a new car and abandon this one on the side of the road – to such brilliant new car interior quality. Even my mother would have raved – if I’d let her see the condition we’d dropped it off in.

We’re ready for our next road trip. This time, we have a strict rule: No food in the car.

Probably.

Kari Haugeto

Kari is a serial entrepreneur with an education addiction and a profound curiosity that, more often then not, fuels some pretty incredible adventures. Currently her attention is focused on social and digital media technology and she is developing a project with her family of five and a variety of sponsors to share their cross-country adventures online in an interactive, socially responsible, educational and authentic manner.


  • Grey83

    You need to control what they eat, but yes kids should be alllowed to eat in the car. As a rule the food stays in the front seat and is served by the non driver. When you are making a trip that long the amount of time lost if you stop to eat is tremendous. If you had managed it properly, they would have had old towels to put on their laps and several garbage bags to put the remains in.

  • Nathan Hershley

    I honestly do not think a road trip with the kids would be doable if they did not get to eat in the car. Yeah, it is really messy and destructive, but I am happy to pay detailers every so often to clean the car out. Otherwise I would leave the kids with the grandparents, but honestly, the trips would not be the same without them.

  • K.

    Part of the fun on a road trip is eating in the car! The trick is having a crumb-catcher of some sort–I like to use the plastic tubs that come with the Thai take-out. Just putting things on a napkin doesn’t work–the second the kids shift around, the crumbs go everywhere. It also helps to do car clean-outs at least once a day. And for the record, while they are delicious and nutritious, bananas are horrible road food. They bruise easily and the peels smell. :-)

  • Hcoronado

    “Both foot wells were lined with wrappers and half-finished juice boxes. I even found some banana and a half eaten apple.” Hmmm, probably you neglected to clean and throw trash away for some time…

  • Tmeasdy

    My kids are now grown. While they were growing up we did a number of long trips, e.g. Chicago to Yellowstone, to West Coast to Jersey Shore. We even brought them back each time. Just bring a couple rolls of quarters for those monster vacuums at the self service car wash. Plus a rule everything goes into the bag and gets tossed at the next stop.
    If you travel any distance with a hungry kid, you will destroy the car anyway when drive it off a cliff to quiet them.

  • Richall

    Allow your kids to eat, but make them behave like adults. Great early start skills for eating out in public at restaurants. Give them a trashbag to put their used stuff in but make them accoutable. If they make a mess, they can wash the carpet and seats in the car and clean it up ( with some supervision). Make them accountable for their actions, not just let them run wild.

  • Sylviaguarino

    I voted no, but not just because of the mess. My vote was based primarily on the health caution issue. Both adults and children should not eat and drive. There is documentation of children especially choking on food as a result of being in a moving car and not having easy stopping/access to deal with the problem.

  • Tammy

    “As a rule we don’t let the kids eat or drink in the car….” And, there, in a nutshell, is your problem. When they’ve never been taught how to do something properly, and then it is expected out-of-the-blue, you will get poor results. Give them a little training in it, and — while you won’t get perfection — you will get kids who can eat politely in the car with the car staying reasonably clean.

  • Anonymous

    You didn’t say, but did you provide a plastic trash bag for them? If you didn’t, where did you expect them to put wrappers, drink boxes, cans, etc.? Plus, they look old enough to be taught some rules of the road. Everyone of our road trips included a stack of napkins, trash bags, and a policing of the area at every stop that had roadside trash cans. Barring one or two accidental spills, it worked.

  • Anonymous

    I go one better…no kids allowed in the car…*PERIOD*
    I don’t have kids, but if I have to transport them, I make sure that the parent knows that I intend to strap them to the hood. It has an added benefit of using their screams as a siren!

  • MaryAlice

    As a child I traveled on road trips with my parents and three younger brothers. We wouldn’t have dreamed of making a mess in the back of the car… had we done so, we’d have been responsible for cleaning it up. Children should be taught the rules and not allowed to do as they please with no consequences.

  • http://www.familyadventureproject.org Stuart

    At least they weren’t throwing it all out the window! We don’t really get this problem travelling by bike, although I do remember picking cookie goo out of kiddy trailers when the kids were younger.

  • Joshua Katt

    Every time I gas up, and there had to be plenty during your trip, just empty the car of garbage and crud while the tank is filling (I keep a small ice scraper in the back seat pocket) to keep the pump going.

    Shouldn’t have gotten this bad in the first place. And making the kids use garbage bags? What a concept. Seriously, another generation of pampered, not responsible kids being released upon society…

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