A family road trip is filled with possibilities. During the ride, emotions can range from excitement to irritability, so it’s best to have a plan in place before heading out the door. Taking a family road trip can be a blast as long as you are prepared. These 35 road trip essentials to pack for your trip may not prevent missteps or meltdowns, but it will certainly prepare you for whatever comes your way.
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35 Things to Have on Your Packing List for a Road Trip
1. Grocery store trash bags
I save grocery store trash bags specifically for car rides and airplane rides. We have two children with varying degrees of motion sickness and these always come in handy. The trash bags are also great for storing wet swimsuits and clothing.
2. Wet wipes and hand sanitizer
Chances are the kids are going to want to eat snacks on a long drive, so having wet wipes available to clean up before and after (and any messes in between) is essential to any road trip. Bring along the hand sanitizer for anytime wipes aren’t available.
3. Kleenex and/or toilet paper
Self explanatory, but can also be used as toilet paper for an unexpected “emergency”. It’s definitely been one of our road trip essentials since we started traveling with kids.
4. Cell phone
Not many of us will forget to bring one, but use it to download handy travel apps and maps. Need ideas? Check out some of our favorite Best Trip Planning Apps.
5. Portable charger and cords
Most cars have the ability to charge devices, but just in case, I like to bring along a portable charger and plenty of cords.
My kids could spend hours just taking photos out the window or at various stops. It gives them something to do and I use the camera when we get to our destination. I’m loving the photos I take on my iPhone, but I also love my Sony A6400 Mirrorless Camera.
I am very fortunate that two of our three kids love to read (we’re working on the youngest one). We bring plenty of books (and books on tape) to keep them entertained. Looking for ideas? Here are 25 Favorite Read Aloud Books for a Road Trip or Best Audio Books for a Family Road Trip. If you’re tired of reading, check out one of these best podcasts for road trips.
What would a road trip be without a few movies to pass the time? Choose your favorite DVDs and bring them along, or check out some from a Redbox and you can return them along the way. Better yet, download them to a computer and everyone can watch when they want.
Some of our favorite games are the license plate game and “I-Spy”, but there are plenty of road trip activities to keep kids busy. Want to entertain kids without electronics? You’ll want to read this.
I grew up in Arizona, so having water in the car at all times was a non-negotiable. We always travel with water in the car. Empty bottles come in handy for boy bathroom emergencies.
11. Insulated water bottles
We’ve tried juice boxes, but inevitably, someone would spill and everything would be sticky. We switched to water bottles and try not to fill them up too often or we will have to stop for bathroom breaks all the time!
12. Music playlist
This used to be for the benefit of my husband and myself, then it evolved to the toddler years, the elementary school years, and now we’re into the teen years, so the list is quite a mix. It’s a great way to pass the time and keep everyone happy.
Please don’t forget the most important thing of all, the snacks! We usually keep a few Kind bars, dry fruit, and apples close at hand, but the rest of the snacks are packed. We have plenty of lists to give you ideas: 25 Easy to Pack Snacks, 25 Nut Free Snacks, and 25 Easy to Make Travel Snacks.
Once you have all these snacks, you need a place to keep them out of the heat of the day and a soft sided cooler is perfect. Just keep it within easy reach of the back seat so you don’t need to pull the car over to access the food.
15. First aid kit
You will want to bring along the basics as well as any prescription medicine you need. We pack bandaids, pain reliever, allergy medicine, cotton balls, q-tips, and sunscreen in our travel first aid kit. We’ve had to use all of them at one time or another so they have earned their place.
If you are traveling at the crack of dawn or late at night, bring blankets for snuggling and keeping warm. They are also great for impromptu picnics.
I never could sleep with a pillow in the car, but my kids swear by them.
18. Lovies/stuffed animals
If your child has a favorite toy or stuffed animal DO NOT forget it or you may be turning the car around to go back for it.
19. Change of clothes
Hopefully you are packed for longer than a day trip, but keep a change of clothes handy for any unforeseen diaper accidents or spills. It’s easier to have these nearby than to dig clothes out of the luggage on the side of the road.
20. Flip flops
Unless you’re traveling in the dead of winter, bring flip flops for the kids to put on when they get out of the car. It’s easier and quicker than putting on shoes.
Chalk this one up to a learning experience. We did a stop between stops and ended up with very muddy and dirty kids. If we had packed towels, it would have been easy to clean them up and get back on the road. Instead we had dirty, complaining kids for the next two hours.
22. Paper towels
These can be used instead of towels or in addition to them. We have used them to clean up spills and vomit and were thankful we had them both times.
23. Note books and colored pencils
Kids will doodle when they’re bored and there can be a lot of boredom on the road. We prefer colored pencils because crayons can (and will) melt in the heat. If your kids are older, considering getting a grown up coloring book.
I always like to bring a printed map of our route just in case the phone stops working or getting a signal. Kids can use them to follow along and learn map reading skills.
Please don’t forget this your wallet. And if you don’t want to bring all of your cards, leave it at home and travel with a slim wallet instead.
Bring sunglasses for driving and if you’re headed somewhere you’ll be outdoors a lot, bring some for the kids too.
27. Bug spray
In the summer you don’t want to be caught without bug spray, so throw it in the car.
When traveling at night it can be easier to use a flashlight to find things or read instead of turning on the internal lights and waking up the kids.
29. Extra diapers/wipes/formula/baby food
If you’re traveling with infants and toddlers, always bring more than you think you need!
30. A football or frisbee
It’s easy to pack a football or frisbee in the car. When stopping at a rest stop the kids can run around and burn off some energy while having fun!
If you don’t want to listen to “Spongebob Squarepants” for 3 hours straight, bring wireless headphones. Better yet, bring some for the kids!
32. Car emergency kit
It’s always good to have a road side assistance kit in case of an emergency. And depending on your definition of emergency, you might want to pack this power inverter in case everyone’s electronics die along the way.
33. Spare set of keys
If the keys can get misplaced, they will (at least in our house). Find a place to keep a spare set of keys just in case.
34. Check the car before setting out
Make sure your car is ready to go. Have a maintenance check and fill the vehicle with gas before the big trip.
35. Your patience
Buckle up, it’s going to be a long ride!
Family road trips can create amazing family memories, and we always enjoy a good one. If you’re looking for ideas, don’t miss this west coast road trip through California or this road trip through Canada.
Don’t forget your road trip packing list!