Summer road trip packing essentials for families traveling with kids

Family Road Trip Packing List (+ What Not To Pack)

In Travel Gear, TRAVEL TIPS by JurgaThis post may contain affiliate links, which means that we may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. More info: Disclosure.

We have a standard packing list for all kinds of trips: beach vacation, city trip, skiing holiday, and, of course for our favorite way of traveling – road tripping with kids. But I recently looked at our family road trip packing list and realized how outdated it was. So it’s high time to update our family road trip packing list, and I thought I would share it with you as well.

This road trip packing list contains all the items that make our life easier and road tripping more enjoyable. At the same time, it’s not a complete road trip packing list. I guess you don’t need someone else to tell you how many socks or t-shirts to pack for your upcoming road trip, or to remind you to carry car registration and insurance documents or a passport if visiting a foreign country…

There are two types of road trips – the ones you make with your own car, and the ones where you travel overseas and rent a car. Needless to say, you will be able to pack much more if you are traveling close to home. After all, you are probably not going to carry a huge cooler or a car seat organizer on the plane. So use this packing list as a guideline, to check if you haven’t forgotten any of the useful items that will make your family road trip more comfortable. Find out!

Road trip packing list for families

Before I tell you about the more traditional items you need to pack for a family road trip, let’s start with the most important things first. You may not have needed any of this ten years ago, but now it’s unthinkable to set on the road without these items.

Tech gear and entertainment

  • Smartphone and charger
  • Battery pack (like this best-selling battery pack) to charge all your electronic devices. It’s a true life-saver if your phone tends to run empty long before you reach your hotel for the night.
  • Tablet/ DVD player/ or an MP3 player to keep your kids entertained in the car. I’m not going to tell you to pack your favourite CD collection for a family road trip. If you are road tripping with kids, you will never get a chance to listen to it anyway. Instead, make sure you have plenty of DVD’s with children’s movies (check here for some of the best-selling kids DVD titles), a tablet with some games, or – my best suggestion – an MP3 player with audiobooks for children (our kids’ favourites are Harry Potter audiobooks). Here you can read more about our experience with audio books during long car rides with kids.
  • Make sure you also pack chargers for each of these devices. That’s where the battery pack comes in handy.
  • GPS. Make sure you download the maps of the area where you will be road-tripping. We love our TomTom GPS with world maps, we pack it on every road trip.
  • Camera gear. Tripod and wireless remote control for your camera are nice to have when road tripping with the family. It allows you to easily take nice family pictures along the road.
  • Extra batteries and memory cards, etc.

First aid kit

Road trip packing essentials for kids

  • Comfortable car seats for kids, adapted for their age. When traveling with our own car, we use Britax belt positioning boosters for all our kids. When children sit in a car for hours, it’s important that they are comfortable, safe, and also have a good head support. When we rent a car overseas we never rent children’s car seats. We carry our Trunki BoostAPak for each of the kids instead.
  • ***Read also: Best booster seats for travel***
  • Car seat organizer. Car seat organizers are really useful if your family likes road trips a lot. They will hold all the kids stuff in one place and will save you lots of frustrations (‘mom, where is my…’ or ‘dad, could you pass me my… ‘).
  • Activity books and colouring books. Check these Amazon bestsellers for preschoolerskids ages 7-9, and older kids.
  • Crayons, pencils and pens. We usually pack twistable crayons since they last longer.
  • Road-trip games and books, e.g. Travel Scavenger Hunt, Spot It! on the road, Mad Libs on the Road, and more
  • Magnetic car games. If you are planning to pack any games to play in the car, go for magnetic versions!
  • Extra diapers/wipes/clothes/quiet toys for the youngest ones
  • Sickness bags and easy-to-access clean pack of clothes for the kids. Motion sickness bags are ideal to pack for a road trip.
  • Ball or a frisbee. If you have some space in the car, pack a ball. It’s a great way to tire out the kids during short stops on the road. Alternatively pack a frisbee or a foldable frisbee.
***Read also: Road trips with toddlers – survival guide***

Eating and drinking

  • Cooler. If you have space in your car, then a cooler might be a nice thing to pack for a family road trip. If you’re looking for a heavy-duty waterproof and leak-proof cooler that has plenty of space to store food and drinks for the whole family, check the Tourit Portable Travel Cooler. Not only does it have practical and stylish design, its advanced cooling performance with high quality insulation promises to keep your food and drinks cold for up to 3 days. There aren’t many other coolers out there can do that! And yes, quality has its price, but we had to throw away several cheaper coolers (and the food inside) after just a few days of use, so now we rather go for quality and certainty.
  • Reusable water bottles. We usually pack one reusable water bottle per family member. In most places in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Europe you can easily refill water bottles with tap water. It’s free, it’s healthy, and it’s environmentally friendly. On top of that, water doesn’t leave any stains if the kids spill it in the car. We always buy a large bottle of water as well, so that we can refill the bottles if there is no good tap water available.
  • Snack container with separate compartments, like this or this one.
  • Dried fruit, nuts, cookies, etc.


  • Printed map, road atlas and a travel guide of the area you are traveling to. Do you really want to drive on the main highways all the time when there might be an alternative scenic road leading to your next destination? Plan your trip well: include some stops for the kids to play, add a few off the beaten path places to your itinerary. When you use a good old fashioned map you can see so much more! But don’t forget the GPS to guide your family to a hotel or a camping at the end of the day.
  • Roadside assistance emergency pack and a Swiss knife. We never ever leave on a trip without our Swiss knife. We have used it on more occasions than I can remember and it served many purposes, from peeling apples and carrots in the car, to repairing a broken air pipe of our car’s engine. And while we always have a good travel insurance, without that Swiss knife we would have probably been stuck in the middle of the highway in France on a rainy Sunday evening… Since that trip we always have Swiss kniferoadside assistance emergency pack or at least a couple of screwdrivers in the car.
  • Flashlight
  • Instant stain removers like this one from Tide or stain remover wipes.
  • Paper tissues, wet tissues, kitchen towels, and – if you have some space – a picnic blanket. You will need all of these when road-tripping with kids.
  • Quick-drying towel. Microfiber towels are very handy for any road trip.
  • Sun glasses
  • Trash bags

Best bags for road trips

  • Duffel bags. Pre-kids we always travelled with hard-shell suitcases. But if you ever tried to squeeze more than two suitcases in the trunk of the car, you know that they are pretty useless. No matter if we are making a road trip close to home or flying overseas, we always use duffel bags nowadays. We use duffel bags with wheels and the kids love to help with ‘carrying’ the bags. Here you can read more about our new favourite travel bags from Thule.
  • Day backpack and rain cover. We have many backpacks, but the one we tend to use most is the 30l  backpack from Jack Wolfskin (it comes with a rain cover, but you can also just get a universal rain cover for any backpack).

Clothing that is always in our car

  • Rain jacket. We never pack umbrellas when we travel, but a good light waterproof rain jacket is a must.
  • Sneakers or walking shoes
  • Flip flops or crocs
  • Sun hat
  • Swimwear

Nice to have for road trips

  • Binoculars. We have small binoculars for each of the kids and it keeps them busy on the road. We used them in Africa, in Australia, in Yellowstone, and pretty much on any road trip ever since.
  • E-book. Kindle e-reader is always in our bag.
  • Headphones. My husband likes to pack his noise-cancelling headphones for those moments when the kids get too loud in the car.
  • Travel mug
  • Neck pillows and blankets. If you are looking for a compact neck pillow that doesn’t take too much space, take a look at this highly-rated Amazon best seller.

What not to pack for a road trip

  • Hard shell suitcases.
  • Too many toys for kids. Leave all the noisy toys at home.
  • Umbrella. We never pack an umbrella for a road trip. Take a rain jacket instead.
  • Too many clothes and shoes. Pack less and make sure you can layer when needed.
  • Sweet food and drinks, or anything else that gives too much energy and makes their hands sticky.
  • Too many food containers or other items that take a lot of space in your car.

So, these are our road trip packing tips for families road tripping with children. Do you have any tips or packing essentials to share? Please feel free to leave a comment below!

***Read also: Most beautiful road trips in the world***

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Family road trip packing essentials. Find out not only what to pack for long car rides, but also what to leave at home...



  1. Thank you for sharing these packing tips. It is so helpful for this summer as we are planning to take our first road trip EVER.

    1. Author

      Glad you found this useful, Jennifer. Enjoy your trip!

  2. This is a very comprehensive list to have a successful and smooth road trip. Having a road trip means that you want to have fun, relax and enjoy your vacation which is why it’s very important to check almost everything to avoid any hassle along the way. The least we wanted is to get stuck on the road due to car problems instead of enjoying our trip. That is why I make sure that my car is in great condition before the said date. What I usually do is to visit my car shop at least a week before to have my car checked for possible repair and maintenance. I think this would be a great addition to your list.

    1. Author

      Hi Erwin, yes, absolutely – checking that the car is in good condition is vital before any road trip.

  3. Thank you for the helpful post.
    Google Maps is awesome for driving directions, but it’s infinitely more fun to track your progress on a real, printed-out atlas. Trace your route on the map as you go along, then hang it in your bedroom or office to smile at every day.

    1. Author

      There is definitely charm in traveling with a real paper map or an atlas, that’s for sure. We used to do it all the time…
      But I love the peace of mind of having a good navigation system these days – so much more relaxing, especially in the cities or when trying to find your accommodation after a long day’s drive.
      One mistake people make a lot is switch on the GPS and just take the fastest route. That’s not what road-tripping is about. So having a good map (or preparing really well in advance) is a must if you want to explore some great stops along the way, rather than drive from point A to point B…

  4. Yeah I agree with everyone mostly the Aussie dad

  5. where the hell are you planning to keep all this gear ? you’ll need a dam truck (sarcasm) to carry half this list.. I didn’t read any where about .. roof racking and luggage pod! or a trailer. Surely that’s essential for any one wanting to travel with a family ??

    1. Author

      🙂 Your comment made my day. I went back through this list again and didn’t find anything we wouldn’t take or anything that would require too much space. This is pretty much what we pack on every road trip with kids. Also when we rent a car for a road trip overseas (with very few exceptions depending on the destination). And no, we never have a roof rack or a trailer 🙂 . Actually, we usually travel with 3 soft duffel bags (check this out to see what luggage we use if interested), kids’ car seats (Trunki boosters), and a small backpack or two.
      If you take the time to actually read this post, you’ll see that most items are actually very small. The only thing that’s bigger in this list is a cooler and I have to admit that we only took it once when we had to fly/drive on our road trip in Namibia, otherwise we wouldn’t take such a big item when flying. But when we travel with our own car, we pack all of this and much much more – just think of all the clothes and shoes you need for a family of 5… And you’d be surprised at how tidy our car trunk looks.

      1. We are a family of 7 (2 adults and 5 kids). We make a family road trip up to Oregon each summer to visit grandpa. I carefully read your whole list and I agree that most items you listed are essential for safety as well as comfort. As the kids have aged out from one stage to another some items may not be needed (booster chair, etc.) but I think your list is awesome. The one thing that I have learned is that technology may not always work for one reason or another so it is a good idea to have a printed map (AAA members get them free) just in case. Toilet paper and wipes are always good to have for sanitary reasons. If we are not able to sit on a picnic blanket (ants, etc.), our family has packed a 6-seater portable bench if they want to stretch out legs and snack outside if no facility is available. The snacks help a lot so we can avoid the “fast food” diet and sugar rush. For movies, the kids can download them on their tablets before they head out on the road trip. We also have a portable battery charger (we acutally used it a few times to jump our battery or help another family on a road trip, including inflating tires. It also charges devices if needed). Thanks again for your list! It was fantastic. =)

        1. Author

          Thanks for sharing your experiences and practical tips for packing for a road trip. I never even heard of a portable bench, just looked it up now here – looks quite fun for a big family :). It’s always useful to learn from other people’s experiences…
          Happy travels!

    2. I’m surprised at the frustration at the size of the list and the things to take. It makes sense to me.
      My family of 5 has repeatedly made the trip from Portland, Oregon to Salt Lake City, Utah in a murano without trailer or roof rack.
      I pack the family clothing in space bags then put them in a rubbermaid tote for the drive (usually 2 days there then back). We don’t have to get into them while we’re on the road, each person has a personal bag (backpack size) with a change of clothing and items for in the car.

      1. Author

        Hi Susie, yes, it’s so much easier if you can pack whatever you need close to you, so you don’t have to unpack everything during the trip. Thanks for sharing your experience.
        We always try to pack light for our road trips, but there are still so many little items that we end up taking with us, because they make our road trips so much more comfortable.

  6. This packing list is truly awesome. You need these things and it’s too easy to forget something. I have bookmarked this for future when I take my next roadtrip.

    1. Author

      Good to hear you found it useful, Edward. I also always have to remind myself to quickly check the list before we leave and indeed I often forget one or the other thing. And something trivial like a game to keep the kids busy in the car can make or break the whole trip 🙂

  7. Such a comprehensive list Jurga 🙂 We’re doing a small road trip through the state of Victoria in Australia next month and it was good to be reminded of what I have forgotten to pack.! Thanks!

    1. Author

      That’s the reason we always check the list too. No matter how many trips you make, there is always something you forget to pack. 🙂 Enjoy Victoria! We loved the Ocean Road and also The Grampians!

  8. I’m with you on the twistable crayons, but you’ve also given me a few other tips – I’ve heard about these quick drying towels – what a great idea! And, I’d forgotten to put picnic blanket on the list

    1. Author

      Honestly, we only take picnic blanket when we travel with our own car here in Europe, Alex. It’s too big to carry on the plane. But it’s always so nice to have, as we love picnicking so much.

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