Librarian on the Road: Packing for Literacy with Littles

I don’t travel well. I suffer from a bad case of over packing. Doomsday Preppers meets Type A mom of two. When Preschool Bookworm was a baby, he cried hysterically on every single car trip, short or long, for the first six months of his life. I don’t think I’ve ever fully recovered. Each trip we take that might amount to more than 10 minutes requires preparations.  (Really, I keep the car stocked with books, toys, and snacks for a trip to Costco.)

literacy road trip

So, you can imagine the check lists, research, and planning that we sustained in preparation for our recent trip of 800 miles. Maybe you can benefit from my neuroses. Today I’m sharing the physical and digital packing that helped us survive our expedition to visit our family three states away. I fully admit that I’m a lightweight, brought back to earth by the gentle nods of mom friends who have traveled much greater distances and with greater regularity. “Uh huh. Yeah. That sounds hard. You’ll be fine.”

Anyhow, here’s what the Librarian on the Road packs with literacy in mind: (My bookworms are age 3 and 18mo.)

traveling bookworms


Duh. We packed more than I could easily carry in a single bag. Normally I avoid bringing library books, but this time I decided we would just be extra cautious. Idea: print out your library account of checkouts & highlight the items you’re bringing along. Makes for an easy inventory. All our books made it round trip. 🙂

5 kinds of books for waiting rooms

As for WHAT we packed, I stuck with a similar list as we typically bring to restaurants and the like: visual puzzles, wordless books, favorite books, word books, and interactive books. Read more about this here.  Favorite books for this trip were Where’s Walrus? and Dear Zoo (see this post about this classic title). Recent library find Search & Spot: Animals was a hit, too!


We adore audiobooks in our home (and in our car!). The kids rarely go a day without listening to at least one. On this trip, I was so grateful for the familiarity of our favorite Mercy Watson audiobook. The kids were hitting a wall of tiredness coupled with frustration of not being able to move in their 5 point harnesses. I popped Mercy in, and, well, it was mercy for my weary ears.  The kids both audibly relaxed into the familiar story. The narration by Ron McLarty is fabulous. I’m working on a longer post detailing our relationship with audiobooks (update: post here!), but for this trip we also packed The Poky Puppy and Strega Nona & Other Stories from Near & Far.

toddler book bag

Ebooks & Apps.

Preschool Bookworm thought he was in heaven with some unbridled screen time! He laughed his way through The Monster at the End of This Book and Another Monster at the End of This Book. We love that these ebooks have interactive elements while also reading the text of the story, highlighted as it’s read. (Read my post about the original vintage story here.)

His favorite educational apps that don’t use wifi are Monkey Preschool Lunchbox and Endless Numbers.

Toddler Bookworm’s favorite apps are Cookie Calls and Scratch a Sketch.

hoopla library downloads

Our favorite all-around app which allows us to download videos, music, ebooks, audiobooks, television shows, and comics (for grown ups and kids) for free from our library is Hoopla. Check if your library offers Hoopla. It is awesome! Ours allows 10 checkouts per month of digital content offered through the service. What is especially fabulous about Hoopla is that you can download content easily without needing to worry about having access to wifi or killing your data while traveling. Items are automatically returned at the end of the borrowing period and the content doesn’t languish on your device, taking up memory. Here’s their promo brochure with previews of their kids’ offerings.


This is by far the area that I overpacked the most. I thought for sure we’d be breaking in our brand new DVD player on this trip (we literally bought a new (to us) minivan 6 days before our trip, which happens to have a built-in system!). Although we were fortunate enough not to need any videos, we were certainly prepared! We borrowed several DVDs from the library (note: be sure you’re aware of borrowing periods for videos. Our library has a 1 one week borrowing period followed by another week renewal, which I promptly forgot to log on and renew while we were away. I guess a $4 fine isn’t bad all considered.) The DVDs we borrowed were Little Einsteins (we LOVE this series! My three year old has been known to hear classical music playing and say, “Hey, I think this is Tchaikovsky. Wow! What a crescendo! Those are cellos I hear!”), Sharks: Knights of the Sea, and Baby Signing Time.

In addition, we downloaded to the limit on our Hoopla account, also free from our library. We downloaded a video of the Laurie Berkner Band, a full length movie Turtle Tale, and a few shorter videos for Toddler Bookworm from the Brainy Baby series. Before we had Hoopla, I was so frustrated finding videos for my tablet that didn’t require wifi. Note: the renewal period from our library is shorter than our trip was, so we needed to refresh with some new downloads before hitting the road for home.


Post-It Notes. Simple but effective. Both bookworms played with these for MILES. I suppose the obsession is multi-generational, based on the massive collection in my stationery drawer.

Stuck-On Stories. I count this in the toy category, although it is part book, too. We own the Thomas & Friends edition, picked up at a thrift store. It has been well loved from toddler stage through to preschool. The book features suction cup characters that are rearranged on each double spread according to the story, a game, or just at your bookworm’s whim. There are dozens of character varieties (Frozen, My Little Pony, Pixar movies, Sesame Street, Batman, etc.).

Melissa & Doug Water Wow. A HUGE hit with every preschooler I’ve ever met. (This was my go-to 3rd birthday gift for a while.) It’s essentially a paint-with-water book with no mess. Preschool Bookworm is always so proud to show me his completed book (which dries and can be reused, for at least a year now in our house!).

road trip toys pack

Melissa & Doug Reusable Sticker Pad. Fine motor practice and imaginative play that holds sustained interest of preschoolers? Yes please! We took these into grandma’s house and decorated her fridge and dishwasher, too.

Melissa & Doug Switch & Spin. This toy has so many functions– it’s a travel size magnetic white board surface for starters (if you’re feeling brave enough to pack dry erase markers, or maybe just some old fashioned magnets). It comes with 10 designs with color-coded elements in each for bookworms to match magnetic pegs & gears to.


We purchased two of these travel trays and have been happy to have them! They work a lot better for forward facing car seats, but we have used them with rear facing, too. They wipe clean and are waterproof.

travel with kids convenience

I use the gyrobowl at least 4 times a week for Toddler Bookworm to avoid the dreaded car nap (which sets my whole day off course)!! The alternative seems to be a lap full of food! Ha! I love that I can pass him a snack diagonally from the front seat without any spillage.

"Ha! Mom forgot the gyrobowl."

“Ha! Mom forgot the gyrobowl.”

Amazon links in this post are affiliate links; all other links are for convenience only. 

Happy Travels!





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