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 trips 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 But I recently looked at our family road trip packing list and realized how outdated it was.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 trips with kids 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/ campervan, 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 ‘road trip essentials’ 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!
READ ALSO: Top Tips for Traveling with Kids
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.
This is our road trip packing list for families:
Tech gear and entertainment
- Smartphone and charger
- 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. Check out this best-selling battery pack!
- 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 favorite 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). Alternatively, pack a tablet with some games (but you’ll likely need one tablet per kid). Or – my best suggestion – an MP3 player with audiobooks for children (our kids’ favorites are Harry Potter audiobooks). Here you can read more about our experience with audiobooks 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. We also always pack a USB-charger for in the car.
- GPS or Google Maps app on your smartphone. Make sure you download the maps of the area where you will be road-tripping. In the past, we used to pack our TomTom GPS for every trip. Nowadays, we usually rely on Google Maps, unless traveling to a place where it doesn’t work well.
- 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 pictures of the entire family. Extra batteries and memory cards, etc.
First aid essentials
The following items are among the most important road trip essentials for kids. So put these on your checklist and make sure you always have them at hand!
- First aid kit (such as this compact first-aid kit) is good to have on any trip. But it’s literally a life-saver on a family road trip!
- Ice spray. Ice spray or a cold pack is a must when traveling with young kids. Our boys are so active and adventurous, so when they were little, they used to fall all the time. But on a road trip with kids, you don’t have an ice pack or ice cubes at hand. An ice spray is a real life-saver!
- Band-aids. Make sure to pack some in different sizes and always keep at least a few of them within an easy reach.
- Disinfectant. We use iodine antiseptics for wound treatment.
- Pain medicine (for kids and adults).
- Mosquito repellent. We usually pack mosquito repellant spray, but recently we bought mosquito repellent bracelets and they seem to work well too.
- Sunscreen lotion. We always pack SPF50 sunscreen lotion.
Road trip essentials for kids
Here are some of the main items for your road trip with toddler checklist:
- Comfortable car seats for kids adapted for their age. When traveling in 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 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 coloring books. Check these Amazon bestsellers for preschoolers, kids 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… Just don’t pack too many of these. Often, a simple car game played by the whole family is much more fun for the kids than any game you can buy.
- 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 an 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.
Food and drinks
Here are some useful items that should be on your family road trip packing list as well:
- 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 few large bottles of water as well, so that we can refill the bottles if there is no good tap water available.
- 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 a practical and stylish design, but its advanced cooling performance with high-quality insulation also promises to keep your food and drinks cold for up to 3 days. There aren’t many other coolers out there that 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.
- Dried fruit, nuts, cookies, etc. Small snacks should always be on your family road trip checklist! There’s nothing worse than a couple of tired hungry kids stuck in a traffic jam for a few hours…
- Printed map, a 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! GPS is important in order to guide your family to your hotel or camping at the end of the day, but it can ruin the joy of a traditional road trip.
- 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 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 a Swiss knife and a roadside assistance emergency pack or at least a couple of screwdrivers in the car.
- 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.
- Trash bags
Best bags for road trips
- Duffel bags. Pre-kids we always traveled 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 with wheels. Here you can read more about the travel bags that we have used for the last 3 years – Thule Subterra luggage.
- 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).
READ ALSO: Best Travel Bags for Kids
Clothing that is always in our car
As already said, I’m not going into detail on all the clothing you should pack for a road trip. So here are just the main, essential clothing and footwear that you should always have with you when road-tripping with kids:
- Rain jacket. We never pack umbrellas when we travel, but a good light waterproof rain jacket is a must.
- Sneakers or walking shoes. Also Flip flops or crocs.
- Sun hat and 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-canceling headphones for those moments when the kids get too loud in the car.
- Travel mug, in addition to a reusable water bottle. We only pack these when driving in our own car from home.
- Neck pillows and blankets. We always pack light fleece blankets in the car for kids if planning to drive at night. They are also very handy for those winter road trips to the mountains! 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
Here are some items that you better leave at home:
- Hard shell suitcases.
- Too many toys for kids. Definitely 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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