Road Trip Packing List for Families
Being stuck in a car for hours on end with your kids might seem like the stuff nightmares are made of. As much as we love our kids, we know they can be whiny, impatient, and unreasonable. Especially when there is just no room to go.
I totally get it. As crazy as this sounds now, my husband and I once made what seemed like the longest road trip with the girls. We were moving from Illinois to Washington State at the time. And while we used a moving company for our stuff, we needed to take our van with us.
So we drove.
It took us a whole week. Our youngest was just over one and a half years old, and she has never been one to stay still. Needless to say, we made frequent stops along the way, and slept in a different hotel every night. Plus, I was the one doing the driving, and I hate driving.
While we have never made such a long drive again, we do travel a few hours north once a month to my in-laws. We make the occasional 5 hour long trip to visit our other daughter in college, and even accompany my husband on work trips out of state, if he is driving.
To say that we have perfected this road trip thing would be a huge overstatement. However, with time, tears, and experience, we have managed to figure out what to include in our road trip packing list to make it work. Without losing our minds.
Road Trip Packing List for Families
For your convenience, this post may contain affiliate links. That means that, if you click on a link, and make a purchase, I might make a small commission out of the sale, at no added cost to you. For my full disclosure policy, go here.
Waterproof pouch for important documents
There are several important documents that you should always take with you, like car registration, owner’s manual, insurance card, etc. However, keeping those documents sound and safe while you are all pilled in the car for hours on end, can be a bit difficult. A waterproof pouch can take care of that. Just remember to keep it on your person at all times, especially when you leave the car unattended.
I know, I know. Using a map is very old fashion. In this day and age we depend on our cellphones for pretty much everything, even to guide us to our destination. The problem with that is, well, we have all had poor signal at one point or another. And when the signal is lost, so will you be, if your only guide is Google Maps. A trusty old map will come in very handy, if (or when) you most need it.
“I love squinting in the sun”, said no one ever. Definitely not the driver. From personal experience, I can tell you that keeping my sunglasses within reach can make a huge difference. No matter what season of the year you are in, keep in mind that Mr Sun can make sudden appearances when you least expect it. For such occasions, keep your sunglasses close by, and keep them clean.
First aid kit
Emergencies happen. There’s very little we can do about that. What we can do, is be ready. Having a first aid kit in the car is a must at all times, not only for long road trips with the family. A well-equipped first aid kit could be the difference between a successful trip and an unsuccessful one.
I have purposely put this into a separate category. While many minor incidents can be solved quickly, and will not be life threatening, certain things like an Epipen, or any medication for things like seizures must be much more easily accessible. Keep those in a separate place inside the car, as easy to reach as you can.
Let’s face it. Kids are messy. They spill, dirty and puke like nobody’s business. For such occasions, a Lysol wipes travel pack will come in handy. Not only will it help clean up the messes, but it will remove odors, AND disinfect.
Along the same lines, a travel pack of baby wipes is a must-have when taking a road trip. While you can clean up the seats, carseats, rugs, doors, etc with the Lysol disinfecting wipes, you shouldn’t use those on the skin. Even if your kids are not babies anymore, having wipes can mean the difference between clean hands and faces, and dirty ones.
Even if no one in the family is sick, it’s always a good idea to have tissue in your car. A sudden case of the sniffles, a cold, or allergies can occur, and tissues are much softer and gentler on the skin than napkins, or even baby wipes.
Just like tissues are much better for the sniffles, napkin are the only way to go for a quick wipe after you eat. While baby wipes can do this job just fine, they are much more expensive, and it’s better to save them for sticky messes, and stick to napkins for everything else.
Unless you are planning on making extremely frequent stops, having no-spill cups/bottles will be a sanity saver. A good quality no- spill bottle is the only way to ensure that, even if the bottle falls, no liquid will come out. We have found that the Hydroflask bottles work great. As long as the lid is screwed on properly, and the flip cap is on, you are pretty much safe from spills.
Writing, drawing & coloring materials.
A good notebook or sketchbook can be a multipurpose tool. You can use it to draw or sketch, but you can also use it to play games like hangman, tic tac toe, and more. This could keep the kids busy and entertained for quite a bit. Keep one handy in your car at all times. Add things like regular pencils, drawing pencils, a coloring book, and crayons to your road trip packing list.
Having at least one lap tray is very convenient, especially when you have children in the back. A lap tray has many uses, including eating tray, coloring, drawing, writing, playing cards or other travel games, and more.
Travel size games
Speaking of fun, travel games are another great addition to your road trip packing list. The advantage of travel games versus regular games is that they are not only small and portable, but most of them are also magnetic.
Behind the seat organizer
Because, well, there are just too many things in the car. An organizer with lots of pockets is where things like sunglasses, pencils, crayons, and even earbuds are kept, so that they are not all over the place. The organizer will make things easy to find. As long as things are returned to their proper place, of course.
Always encourage your children to travel with their books in tow. For younger children, having a picture book or two will keep them entertained, especially if they pick it themselves, and it’s their favorite book.
Having their books with them will do no good when night falls, unless you pack reading lights. The advantage of a reading light is that each person can have their own and not be intrusive to others, especially the driver. Of course, there is always the cellphone flashlight, but there is no need to drain that battery.
Because, at some point, the kids will get bored with their coloring, sketching, and reading. That’s a fact, especially if the trip is very long. A portable DVD player and a few fun movies will also help you keep some of your sanity. There are several different types of portable DVD players. Some can be attached to the back of the front seat, and some can’t. There are also some DVD players that come with 2 screens instead of just one. Whatever you pick, make sure it meets your family’s needs.
Along with the portable DVD player, a good pair of headphones will give you some peace… and the chance to listen to your own music, instead of hearing Elsa bellowing “Let it go” at the top of her lungs. With headphones, everyone gets to listen to whatever they want, which will be a Godsend after a few hours together in the car.
Even younger children riding in car seats, should have their own neck pillow. Riding in the car for several hours can be stressful, and cause some neck tension. And it will make the kids happy to be able to nap, and wake up fresh and rested, not in pain.
Must be now 2-3 years ago, when we decided to purchase these small caddies. We have one per person, and they have come in handy more times than I can count. Getting out of the car for meals is ideal, but when you are running late, or half the family is asleep, eating in the car might be the way to go. These small caddies have several compartments, which means that there’s room for everything. They are easy to clean, and you can even stack them while not in use.
Remember that behind the seat organizer I mentioned above? Yeah, those are also great for snacks. Your car has 2 seats, which means you can pack one full of toys, and trinkets, and the other one with snacks.
The size of your cooler will depend on how long the trip is, how far you’re going, and how many people are in the car. Nevertheless, any sized cooler will do to keep some ice, and cold drinks and maybe snacks or stuff to make sandwiches during a rest stop.
Parents typically install window shades when they have babies in the car. However, even older kids or adults who want to nap can benefit from having them. Window shades block out the sun, and also help keep the heat at bay during sunny days.
Music (USB or otherwise)
Making a fun playlist for your road trip is definitely a must. We used to just carry a plastic container with a bunch of CDs in it, but have now upgraded to a USB where we have all the music we all love. The tricky part is when there are different music tastes among the travelers. So make sure you add good selections to please everyone, even the little one who loves to sing along Frozen’s ‘Let it go’.
Small bag with quick change of clothes
When packing the trunk of your car, the tendency is to just pack it where it fits. And that makes sense! However, I consider of extreme importance to have 1 small bag with 1 change of clothes per person. This bag must be easily accessible. That way, if there is an emergency, you don’t have to dig around all the bags to find clothes for everybody. Needless to say, such a bag comes in very handy at all times, not just for road trips.
Toilet paper roll
I don’t know about you, but I really don’t like to wipe my tush with napkins or wet wipes. That’s why we keep a roll of toilet paper in our car at all times. The “secret” is to keep it in an empty plastic coffee container (Folgers, Maxwell House, Yuban, etc). The container will not only keep it hidden, but also dry and clean.
Empty plastic bags
Having empty plastic shopping bags is very convenient for many reasons. For one, you can put your garbage in it while on the go. Another good use for them is to put in wet/stained clothes. As long as the bag has no holes, it will keep the mess/water contained, and protect your other belongings.
Empty paper bags
Small, brown paper bags serve one purpose and purpose only while you’re on a road trip: puke recipients. Although not the sturdiest, they can hold their own, at least until you find a place to stop.
Gallon of water
I can think of a few uses for a gallon of water. For long road trips, the water can be used to fill up the coolant and/or the wiper fluid, but also for rinsing out spilled gas from the car, and even to rinse out sandy feet.
Never, ever, leave your home without a jack in your car. Even with new tires, you just never know when you’ll need it. And when taking a road trip, your time on the road and probability of emergencies increase.
Fix a Flat
Not a permanent fix, but having a can of fix a flat can mean the difference between having to change the tire in an unsafe road, and making it to the next gas station to find help.
Jump start cables
Another must-have item for a car, not only for road trips. While nobody will purposely leave their lights on, it could happen, and the worst-case scenario will be having a dead battery and no jump start cables.
Road Trip Packing List for Families
While there is no way I can guarantee your road trip will go without a hitch, I can promise you that just packing your car with all the necessary things will make the time together much more manageable. Heck, you might find that, when you are prepared, you can even enjoy yourself.
So, next time you and your family go on a road trip, pack your car with all the things you might need. By being prepared for it, the long hours ahead won’t be a painful drag. Road trips with the family can be fun, and an excellent opportunity to grow closer, and make memories.
Do you take road trips your the family? Did I miss something? What are your must-haves for your road trip packing list? Please, share with us in the comments. Inquiring minds want to know!
Road trip packing list for families