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 they will certainly prepare you for whatever comes your way.
*Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something that we have recommended. Please check out our disclosure policy for more details. Thank you for your support!
35 Essential Items to Have on Your Packing List for a Road Trip
Before you set out on your next road trip, take a minute to create a list of road trip essentials. The following items are necessary for long hours in the car, ensuring everyone has what they need to make the time pass quickly. These important road trip essentials will get your road trip off to a great start!
1. Grocery store trash bags
I save grocery store trash bags specifically for car rides and airplane rides. We have two children I save the plastic bag from the grocery store specifically for car rides and airplane rides. We have two children with varying degrees of motion sickness and these always come in handy.
The garbage 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
It’s always helpful to keep some tissue in the glove compartment, but on a road trip, it 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 phone charger and plenty of cords. We also bring a car adapter with dual USB ports so multiple people can charge at once.
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.
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 recommend a reusable water bottle. Try not to fill them up too often or you will have to stop for bathroom breaks all the time!
If there’s a coffee drinker in your family, be sure to bring a travel mug so they can keep their coffee warm.
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. Downloading everyone’s favorite songs is 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 granola bars, dry fruit, and apples close at hand, but the rest of the snacks are packed.
Once you have all these snacks, you need a place to keep them out of the heat of the day. Use a soft-sided cooler and fill it with ice packs. Just keep it within easy reach of the back seat so you don’t need to pull the car over to access the food. It’s also a great place to keep cold drinks for the long car ride.
If you’re staying in a vacation rental, be sure to read our easy meals to cook on vacation so you can bring along any spices or special items you might need!
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. It might not be a bad idea to add a sleeping bag or travel pillow as well, just in case you have to stop somewhere to sleep overnight.
The blankets and sleeping bags can also be used 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.
If there are any other personal items they are attached to, be sure to bring them along in your day pack.
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 flipflops 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, consider getting a grown up coloring book.
I always like to bring a printed paper 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.
If you prefer to rely on your phone, be sure to download Google Maps and Waze before your trip.
Please don’t forget your wallet. And if you don’t want to bring all of your credit cards, leave them 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 rest stops or gas stations 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 roadside emergency 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. Ensure you are traveling with a spare tire in case you get a flat tire and need to make it to the next available service station.
It’s a good idea to have a maintenance check and fill the vehicle with gas before the big trip. Throw in some jumper cables in case you have a dead car battery along the way.
35. Your patience
This might be the most essential road trip item. Drives on the open road can be long, and if you come with a positive attitude, the time will fly by.
Before you head out on an epic road trip or a cross-country road trip, be sure to use this comprehensive list to ensure you have your road trip necessities.
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 these road trips from Dallas and Midwest road trips!
Don’t forget your road trip packing list!