First- tons of snacks that are easy to clean. We had chewy bars, goldfish, veggie straws, baby carrots, raisins, trail mix, water bottles, and the occasional juice pouches for the kids. We also had some candy bracelets, gummy bears, and fruit snacks for the girls as little treats. We brought our own snacks to help stretch those miles near meal times and to help work more savings into our budget. Because we didn't have to buy a snack at every restroom stop, we were able to treat the girls to beneigts in New Orleans, frozen custard in Destin, and finally bought them a gas station treat on the last leg of our roadtrip back. Having these snacks on hand (with a bowl to put Johnny's in), really helped Johnny too as he would get restless when he needed to nap. Each day, if we have him his water and a little snack, he would munch on a few, then fall asleep, content that his needs were met.
Bring lots of new activities that you don't care about making it through the trip. We bought new color books, foam stickers, pop beads, and other assorted activities from the dollar store and other dollar bins at stores. We bought various magnetic dolls for cheap and got a handful of new books from the library (my girls are very good with books so I wasn't worried about these being ruined). We also found two new seek and find books at Half Price Books, which the girls love. I also had a few Color Wonder packs stocked up from Easter and Christmas gifts that I loved, the girls could use markers and I didn't have to worry about the ink getting anywhere. Both girls used a clipboard for writing and coloring on. All of these things were in a large tote bag with a backup tote bag in the back of the car to trade out if they got bored. They didn't! They also were allowed to bring a small shoebox with a few figurines or small toys. Those, paired with two new My Little Ponies from one of their Happy Meals, made for some great interactive play between the two big girls. They played with their toys in the boxes and across the seats and used colors and stickers to decorate their boxes too.
Johnny needed different entertainment. He had two Melissa and Doug interactive boards, one with latches and one with little doors for him to open. This was an activity approved by his OT as well, to keep his litte hands strengthening and moving as we drove. We also had a handful of musical toys for him to play with and several of his favorite books. We are fortunate that Johnny loves books and will flip through them for large spans of time. For the trip, we packed all board books and rotated through them.
One thing that worked for us was to tidy every time we stopped. All toys and books went back in the tote bags, a quick collection of trash was gathered, and anything that needed to be wiped or emptied was done when we ran into the restroom. It didn't keep our car clean, but it did keep things from becoming overwhelming. Additionally, when we got to Orlando, where we stayed for a week, we removed almost everything from the car. Even though the kids didn't have any time to play with their things while we were in Orlando, it was nice to have the car feel clean and to not have to fight with the toys as we drove to all of our destinations.
Because we would be driving late, we had the kids' Jammies ready to go in the car each of our driving days. Whenever we stopped for dinner, we would make the kids use the restroom, change Johnny's diaper, and switch all three kids over to night clothes. That way they could be more comfortable and the transition to bed was easier when we arrived at each destination. Further, because we stopped overnight in Destin on both legs of the trip, we had a small suitcase that had what each of us needed for just one night. It was much easier to bring one suitcase in instead of three.
Lastly, yes, we used the DVD player in the car and the iPads for the kids, but not nearly as much as we thought. We made it all the way to New Orleans on the first day with zero technology. By that point we had dinner and didn't mind the kids watching a movie to wind down as they fell asleep. The only day they used technology heavily was the last day, driving back from Destin to Houston. Even then, we made them take breaks from it and they happily played with all of their other items.
Lastly, if you have a child in diapers, especially one with explosive diaper episodes, be ready. We knew this was a potential problem and had plastic bags, extra clothes, baby wipes, and diapers, ready. What we were glad we also had by chance was Clorox wipes for the seat and buckles (it didn't fix the mess, but made it tolerable until we got to our hotel a couple hours later) and beach towels to lay said child down in the parking lot on. There was no other way we could have addressed all the mess. I wish we had a dry towel to put in the seat as well, but we adapted as best we could! He really needed hose since he had reached into it and spread it all over his body, but after we wipie-d him as best we could, took him into the restroom to wash his arms and face with soapy water as best we could.
Any other tips? Any questions? Feel free to let me know!