7 Things That Will Make The Back-To-School Carpool Much More Enjoyable

Are you ready for back-to-school carpool season? From snacks to music, here's a checklist of must-haves to make carpooling your favorite part of the day (or, at least, reduce the pain)

Caption: By Following A Few Simple Steps, Carpooling Might Actually Be The Best Part Of Your Day. Photo: Allison Bell For A Girls Guide To Cars
Caption: By following a few simple steps, carpooling might actually be the best part of your day. Photo: Allison Bell for A Girls Guide to Cars

You prep your kids; get your car ready, too.

Does the word “carpool” fill you with a sense of dread? Do grumpy, monosyllabic teenagers or hyperactive young kids drain the life out of you as they climb into your hot, idling car? Are you tired of being greeted with “I’m hungry” instead of “hi, Mom”? Does your car resemble a landfill by the time Friday rolls around?

Well, my friend, then this is for you. If you’re gearing up for the back-to-school routine of shuttling kids from school to dance class to soccer practice and more, a little preparation can make the carpool season far more pleasant. 

This back-to-school carpool checklist will help ensure that you and your car have all the essentials for a smooth ride.

Related: The Nasty Task of Cleaning Puke Out of Your Car: Here’s How to Do It

1. Take out the trash

No one wants to be known as “the mom with the messy car,” but empty wrappers, crumpled school papers and other bits of garbage are an inevitability with children. The trick is stuffing it under the seats trying to stay on top of it as much as possible. 

For the new school year, start with a clean slate by taking out all the trash, vacuuming, dusting and painstakingly scraping off that dry ketchup stain that’s been baking on the seats all summer. Once you’ve fooled carpoolers into thinking this is the normal state of your vehicle, you can set a good cleanliness precedent by putting a car-friendly trash bin within easy reach of passengers. 

Related: 10 Must-Have Items to Keep Your Car Organized and Ick-Free This Fall

Listening To A Podcast Or Audiobook Is A Great Way To Pass The Time In The Carpool Line. Photo: Allison Bell For A Girls Guide To Cars

Listening to a podcast or audiobook is a great way to pass the time in the carpool line. Photo: Allison Bell

2. Put together the perfect playlist

Music is an instant mood enhancer, so a well-crafted playlist can either inject your passengers with a burst of energy or serve as a soothing sedative, depending on your preferred prescription. Could your car full of lacrosse players use a pump up song before the big game? Bust out their favorite tracks on Apple or Spotify. Want to calm a rowdy bunch of kindergarteners at the end of the day? Put together a “Chill Mix” to wind them down. (Pro tip: Yanni and Enya are powerful tranquilizers. Use them wisely.)

Whichever tunes you pick, make sure they’re family-friendly. The last thing you want is for little Timmy to repeat a choice phrase that he learned in your car. 

Related: Ultimate Playlists Inspired By the Cars We Drive

3. Stock up on sweet and savory snacks

Having some good snacks on hand is like being ready to diffuse a bomb before it goes off. If you’re on pick-up duty, the kids likely haven’t eaten in a few hours, so you can either risk the wrath of The Hangry or be the smart mom who stocks up on a few sweet and savory essentials. 

Here’s a list of good car snacks to get you started:

  • Crackers (Goldfish, Ritz, Wheat Thins or Triscuits)
  • Fruit snacks or fruit leather
  • Pretzels
  • Trail mix
  • Small bags of chips or cookies
  • Jerky
  • Granola bars
  • String cheese
  • Nuts*

*Always be aware of any allergies before doling out snacks to your little passengers.

Cleaning Products To Manage A Spill, A Bloody Nose, Or Whatever Else Your Kids Come Up With. Photo: Martin Forman

Cleaning products to manage a spill, a bloody nose, or whatever else your kids come up with. Photo: Martine Forman

4. Equip your car with Emergency Essentials

Even if you don’t have a particularly long commute between school and home, a lot can happen in a few minutes — especially with kids. A spontaneous bloody nose can turn your backseat into a crime scene within seconds. But if you’re prepared with a box of Kleenex, baby wipes, bandages or any other item you might need for leaked bodily fluids, you could save yourself hours of cleanup and minimize a potentially traumatic situation. 

Related: Your Car Emergency Kit: 100 Things You Should ALWAYS Keep in Your Car

5. Anticipate some Back-To-School Carpool Downtime

Okay, here’s the secret to all of your carpooling success and happiness: Have something to do while you wait. Whether you get there 20 minutes early to be first in line at pick-up or you procrastinate and have to wait behind 40 other cars, chances are good that you’ll be in your car for a while before the kids pile in. 

Now might be a good time to listen to that podcast or audiobook your best friend’s been raving about. If you’re feeling productive, you can take that time to respond to emails, clean out your inbox or delete extra photos from your phone. (Don’t do this once the line moves, however, or you might be taking a picture of a dented bumper next.)

6. Safety First

Listen, if you’re strapped for time and only have the bandwidth for one carpool prep tip, this is the one you can’t miss. Parents can forgive you for a messy car or a lack of assorted after-school snacks, but they’re trusting you to transport their most precious cargo (i.e., their children) safely from Point A to Point B. Scheduling a maintenance check is a great way to avoid any nasty surprises like faulty brakes or a busted timing belt. Otherwise, you might be starring in a viral TikTok video with the caption: “WHEN UR MOM ALMOST KILLS U.”

Oh, and if you’re hauling around younger children, don’t forget to properly install the appropriate car seats and boosters!

7. Enjoy the Ride

Last but not least, don’t forget to bring a good attitude to the carpool line! Sure, that can be challenging after a hectic morning or a long, hard day, but don’t forget — moods are contagious. If you’re feeling stressed and anxious, kids will soak that up like a sponge. Do your best to model happy, positive behavior and you’ll set a good tone for the day. And if all else fails, you can always fake it ‘til you make it.

With this checklist, back-to-school carpooling won’t just be another thing on your to-do list — it might be something you actually look forward to.

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Allison is a freelance writer, a mother of two, and the wife of a car-obsessed husband who got her... More about Allison Bell