Ahh, family road trip time… whether you find road trips with kids to be an adventure or an onset of anxiety (or maybe a little bit of both), one thing is for sure… they will go a lot more smoothly if you have everything you need. We’ve gone on many, many long road trips with our kiddos, so I’ve made a comprehensive road trip packing list for families.
This family road trip packing list includes everything you need to have a safe and successful road trip, whether you’re traveling as part of a family vacation, visiting some national parks, or simply traveling to visit grandparents.
We had our first 3 children when we lived in Ohio, and would routinely drive 12 long hours (not including traffic or stops) to visit my family in Rhode Island.
We now live in Rhode Island and make the drive to Ohio with our now 4 children, at least once per year. It is a (very!!) long car ride!
We have also taken many other road trips, both shorter and longer, and have logged many hours and lots of travel tips for family travel with young kids. So, buckle up (pun intended), and get ready for your family road trip!
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Road Trip Packing List for Families: The Basics
While traveling, I am usually of the mindset that less is more; however, on long drives with kids, there is a lot that can go wrong and I like to be prepared for everything.
Flat tire? No worries. Child busts a knee at a rest stop and is bleeding? Got it covered. Somebody is throwing up? 100% prepared for that.
(Let me state that I am only 100% prepared for a vomiting road trip situation because I have been on a road trip with a vomiting situation UNPREPARED and there is nothing worse!!!!) Buy the traveling vomit bags. Please. Just. Trust. Me.
I’m sure some of these items seem like common sense (like of course you need a driver’s license and car seats for your children!) but it’s nice to double-check everything on your packing lists.
On the flip side, I’m sure there are some things that you can skip. If you’re traveling in the summer, you won’t need hand warmers if you break down, while you won’t need cooling towels in the winter!
- Valid driver’s license: Always good to double-check, as I lost mine recently and only discovered that it was missing when I got to the airport!
- Car registration and insurance: I usually carry my insurance card on my phone but for road trips, I make sure to have a printed copy in case my phone dies.
- Travel trash can or plastic bags: We bring along a stash of grocery bags but if you want to be fancy, this car trash can has great reviews.
- Printed map or google maps: We use google maps but I like to also have a paper map for the kids to look at.
- Car phone holder: Safety first! Make sure you have a way to mount your phone if you plan to use it for directions. This car phone holder works with your air vents and this one goes in a cup holder.
- Portable charger: we have this portable charger and have been very pleased with it.
Road Trip Checklist for Families: In Case of Emergencies
While we really hope that there will be no emergencies, it is a good idea to be prepared, especially if you are going on a long trip in a less populated area.
Some of these items are weather dependent. You obviously don’t need hot hands hand warmers if you’re not planning a winter road trip.
- Extra water
- Hot Hands Hand Warmers: these are fantastic and will keep you warm if you get stranded when it’s cold out. My husband and son take these on boy scout camping trips when it’s cold out.
- Cooling towels: in case you get stranded and are traveling in severe heat.
- First Aid Kit with medicine
- Spare tire and jack in case of a flat tire
- Jumper Cables
- Tire pressure gauge
- Warning triangles
- Travel puke bags: trust me on this one. Even if you don’t have a family member that gets motion sickness, we had one awful road trip where half of us came down with a stomach bug. Let’s just say that I will NEVER travel without having these within easy reach again!
- Paper towels and disinfectant wipes
- Spare Key
There are also many emergency road kits that are already put together on Amazon.
Whether you create your own or buy one already put together, just make sure that you’re prepared for an emergency, especially when you’re traveling with kids.
For more tips on car travel with young children, be sure to check out this post –> Tips for Driving Overnight With a Baby or Toddler.
Road Trip Essentials for Families: Essentials For the Kiddos
I have an entire post dedicated to car activities for kids, so I won’t spend much time talking about entertainment. You can head over to that post if you’re looking for specific road trip entertainment for kids because I have LOTS and LOTS of ideas.
Here are the basics to remember for children:
- Car seats that fit them properly: it’s always good to double-check the fit as sometimes kids have growth spurts without us noticing.
- Blankets and special stuffed animals.
- Child-sized travel pillow: these are our favorite travel pillows!
- Travel potty: this might not be necessary if you have older kids and you’re traveling a route that has a lot of rest stops along the way. However, if your route is more rural and you have toddlers that are newly potty trained, it is a great idea to have a travel potty! Don’t forget the disposable potty liner bags for easy cleanup.
- Change of clothes.
- Diapers/wipes if needed.
- Pacifier/bottles/breast pump if needed.
- Portable sound machine: if your kids are of napping age. I absolutely LOVE this portable white noise machine because it charges by USB, so I can easily charge it in the car or hotel room and don’t have to worry about bringing batteries.
- Reusable water bottles.
- Ipad Holder for Headrest: we currently have a DVD player in our van, but we used this when we traveled with our toddler who was rear-facing. This way, the older kids watched a movie on the DVD player and he watched a little show on the Ipad.
- Kids Headphones: We own these headphones and use them for air travel. We personally don’t take them on road trips because our kids don’t each have their own devices.
We definitely use screens as a tool when we’re traveling, but we also like to break it up with other activities.
Taking a break from screens after a rest stop is a great way to break up screen time. It’s a lot easier that way because young children are refreshed from stretching their legs and have forgotten about their beloved screens.
Some of my favorite screen-free road trip activities for kids are these:
- Crayola Color Wonder Mess Free Coloring
- Magnetic Playset
- Drawing Tablet
- Reusable Sticker Book
This is just a brief preview, be sure to check out my post on Car Activities for Toddlers for lots of other fun road trip activities for your long road car ride with kids!
You also might want to invest in a kids travel tray! These are great, especially for toddlers who are prone to dropping things. Having a few toys and snacks in easy access can keep them happier for longer.
Road Trip Packing List: Comfort and Entertainment for Adults
While adults (and I suppose some children…but not mine!) can scroll on their phones, it is a good idea to have other means of entertainment.
My husband likes to drive and usually drives most of the way, so he will be prepared with audiobooks, podcasts, and snacks
I will read on my kindle, sometimes watch something on my phone, and often write.
- Ipad or portable DVD player
- Kindle or e-reader
- Audio books
- Paperback books
- Journal or notebook
- Travel pillow
- Weighted sleep mask (this is an absolute necessity for me if I need to sleep on our road trip!)
Road Trip Necessities: Road Trip Food and Drinks
We like to pack lunch and snacks and stop for dinner. Even if you plan to stop for both meals, you will need snacks and drinks!
If we have a shorter drive, we will stop in a pleasant area and have a picnic and let the kids run around to burn off some energy.
Snacks are crucial for long trips for the whole family. They may actually even be the most important things.
Cranky toddler? Snack! Bored teenager? Snack! Dad getting tired behind the wheel? Snack! (and maybe take over driving for Dad for a bit…)
I like to make my kids each a big ziplock bag of snacks that they can access as they want them. I give the toddler’s snacks to the kid sitting closest to him. I try not to pack anything super salty that’s going to make everyone drink a lot of water.
- Foldable soft cooler: We like having one that folds up so that it can be tucked away in a suitcase when we aren’t using it. This is a cooler that we recently used on a trip to Disney World and then a drive to the beach in Florida and we loved it for Disney, the beach, AND car travel!
- A water bottle for each person
- Extra water
- Electrolyte drink or powder (we use liquid IV)
- Energy drinks or coffee drinks: I love to stop for coffee on road trips, but I always get a few fancy coffee drinks from the grocery store to have on hand in case we don’t pass a coffee shop. My favorite is La Columbe!
- Individually portioned snacks
- Disposable utensils if needed
I usually do a combination of healthier road trip snacks: carrots, cucumbers, peppers, apples, oranges, string cheese, and yogurt pouches that go in our cooler, along with our packed lunch.
Some crunchy snacks: Annie’s bunny crackers, cheese its, goldfish, pretzels, and animal crackers.
And some snacks that are more treats: fruit snacks, candy, cookies, etc.
You can’t go wrong with a healthy variety!
Road Trip Packing List: For Overnights
One of the biggest travel tips is that if we are staying overnight on our road trip, I will pack one overnight suitcase. In it, I will put everything we need for that night, plus the following day. Here’s what our overnight suitcase will include:
- Clothes for the next day
- Laundry bag for dirty laundry
- Toiletries and personal items
- Melatonin for both kids and adults (we sometimes have a hard time falling asleep in hotel rooms when we are all together).
- Portable sound machine, if needed (or bring in the one from your car).
- Night lights, if needed.
- Any jewelry or valuables you are traveling with.
- Be sure to also bring any electronics into the hotel room with you so they aren’t left in the car.
I like to put my kids’ clothing into Ziploc bags with the day of the week on them so they can dress easily and independently in the morning.
I actually prefer this method over packing cubes! Then I put all of our pajamas inside of a single packing cube, and add it to the overnight bag.
These are not essentials for road-tripping, but I thought I’d include my favorite packing essentials!
My old toiletry bag from when we were first married finally broke, so I caved and bought this one that I’d been eying for many years. It is actually amazing! It holds soooo much. I also love that it has a handle and looks like a regular bag, so I can carry it on its own if I need to.
I use packing cubes for so many things! It is such an efficient way to keep things organized in suitcases.
We purchase this 3-piece luggage set a few years ago and it has held up amazingly well. I would definitely purchase it again.
I love these silicone travel bottles. I love that the kit comes with a funnel to easily pour your precious skincare products into them without spilling any!
I also love that it comes with a spray for products such as hair spray and face wash.
Whew! There you have it. Road tripping with young children is a lot of work and requires quite a bit of preparation. However, it really is an adventure that we look forward to!
Good luck preparing for your next road trip and happy travels!