This road trip packing list will ensure that you have all of the necessities, from cell phone chargers to bug spray. No matter how many miles you plan to cover, keep everyone happy with the right entertainment, safety gear and snacks. Definitely snacks. You don’t ever want to forget the snacks!
When it comes to planning a family road trip, preparation is key. In fact, being prepared with all of the right travel gear can make the difference between a delightful and disastrous road trip experience.
Mini-road trips are something that I’d gotten pretty used to with my son since his birth. With one set of grandparents 45 minutes across town, we were in the car quite a bit. However, the real test came when I made a 3+ hour road trip alone with him from Virginia to New Jersey when he was just 2 years old.
I knew that if I wanted to keep the stops (as well as the “are we there yet’s?”) to a minimum, I’d need to be well-packed with all the essentials to make it a smooth ride for both of us. And other than the occasional minor traffic jam, it was just that.
With the help of this complete packing list for a road trip with the kids, you’ll also be well-prepared with all of the road trip essentials you need to have the best road trip ever:
Road Trip Packing List Must-Haves
No matter when or where you go, you won’t want to leave home without these road trip necessities:
- Car registration/Car insurance
- Passport and birth certificate
- Travel insurance
- Cell phone car charger
- Charging cables
- Portable charger
- Bottled water
Wallet: This may seem like a no-brainer, but don’t leave home without making sure your wallet is packed with all that it needs. This means making sure your driver’s license, credit cards, cash and coins (especially for the toll roads) are all in their proper place.
Car registration/Car insurance: Whether you’re driving your own car or road tripping in a rental car, you don’t want to drive off without your car registration and car insurance information handy in the glove compartment or center console.
Passport and birth certificate: If you’re planning on crossing the border at any point of your trip, be sure to pack passports and birth certificates for both you and your kids. I like to use a passport wallet such as the Valante Premium Family Travel Document Organizer to keep our documents organized and in one place.
Travel insurance: A good insurance plan is a must-have to keep you covered when traveling. World Nomads is my preferred travel insurance provider and is also great for road trips while abroad.
Cell phone car charger: The last thing you want when you’re out on the open road is a dead cell phone! Keep your cell phone battery charged and ready with a cell phone car charger like the AILKIN dual-port car charger.
Charging cables: In addition to having the car charger ready, don’t forget to pack the usual charging cables for all of your devices (phone, tablet, Kindle, etc.)
Portable charger: For recharging your cell phone and other devices on the go, I highly recommend packing a portable charger. The Anker Powercore is the one I never leave home without.
Medication: When traveling with my allergy-prone son, one of the first things I made sure to pack was his Epi-Pen. It’s also important to have over-the-counter medications packed and handy such as Benadryl, Tylenol and Imodium.
Bottled water: Having bottled water on hand is a must-have in the car during a road trip for quenching thirst as well as for cleaning. Opt for a reusable water bottle or large water jug to cut back on plastic waste as well as space.
First aid kit: A must-have on every packing list for a road trip is a well-stocked first-aid kit. Be prepared for emergencies with a portable kit such as the DAVEMED 2-in-1 Travel First Aid Kit.
Road Trip Emergency Kit
While these road trip essentials likely won’t make or break your trip, they are all good to have in an emergency. Even if there isn’t a true emergency, they’ll definitely make your road trip go much smoother as you make your way to your destination:
- Paper map/Printed directions
- Bathroom kit
- Roadside emergency kit
- Spare tire
- Phone mount
- Trash bags
- Multitool pocket knife
- Car manual
Paper map/Printed directions: Although GPS devices, cell phones and map apps have made it easy to find our way around when road-tripping, a paper map and/or printed directions are good to have handy for backup. Maps can be downloaded from Google Maps ahead of time for use when you’re offline or have limited cell service.
Bathroom kit: For the times someone has “gotta go” but a rest stop or gas station isn’t within reach, it’s good to have a car “bathroom kit” available. Be ready for those off-road potty emergencies by packing toilet paper, tissue, wet wipes, hand sanitizer and waste bag. The roll of toilet paper also can come in handy at the rest stop that has run out of paper.
Roadside emergency kit: For those unexpected roadside emergencies, you’ll want to be prepared. The BLIKZONE Roadside Emergency Car Kit has what you need for those breakdowns and flat tires such as jumper cables, tire repair kit, tire pressure gauge and other essential car items to help you get to your next destination safely, or at least until roadside assistance arrives.
Spare tire: While most cars already come equipped with a “donut” to temporarily use in case of a flat tire, having a full-size spare tire available is the safest way to get you back on the road during long road trips. Pack a can of Emergency Fix-a-Flat and a reflective triangle too. And make sure you have the equipment you’ll need to change the tire should the need arise. That includes a working jack with all the parts and a wheel lug if your tires require one.
Multitool pocket knife: Choose the brand that works for you but definitely keep one in the glove box. I like the Leatherman Tool. It has 15 tools that come in handy in all sorts of emergencies, from a sharp knife for cutting a seat belt after an accident to a set of pliers for opening a hard-to-open drink for a thirsty kid, which is its own kind of emergency on a long road trip!
Car manual: Yes, you can Google it, if you happen to be in an area with cell service. But if you’re not — and don’t these thing always happen when you’re not? — you’ll be grateful to be able to page through the manual looking up “what does that dash light mean?”
Phone mount: There’s nothing more dangerous than having to reach for and look down at your phone for directions or to answer urgent calls while driving. That said, I highly recommend having a phone mount such as the Humixx Car Phone Holder Mount to help keep your hands on the wheel and not your phone.
Flashlight: Stay out of the dark by keeping a portable flashlight or headlamp handy in the car. Recommended: GearLight LED Flashlight Pack.
Trash bags: Whether for trash or for the traveler who may get a little road sick, make sure to pack a few trash bags in the car for collecting waste.
Road Trip Essentials for the Kids
For a fuss-free trip, keep the following items on your road trip checklist for the kids:
- Sippy cup
- Sunglasses/Sun visor
- Diaper changing pad
- Extra diapers or Pull-Ups
- Portable potty
- Travel pillow and blanket
- Books and toys
The “nothing but fast food” feeling is my least-favorite part of travel. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be that way. My best travel tip: Pack homemade nut butters, juices, baby foods and more. That allows my family to start our day out right and stay energized on the road. I make them all quickly and easily with Vitamix! Explore all of the amazing things Vitamix can make for your next road trip here.
Snacks: Having healthy, portable snacks are a must-have on the packing list for a road trip with kids. Even at 8 years old, my son still loves to munch on cheerios, granola bars and goldfish during our road trips.
Sippy cup: For washing down the snacks, a sippy cup for your child’s favorite drink is a must-have on the packing list.
Sunglasses/Sun visor: One of the things that would make my son fussy during a long car ride was when the sun was shining in his face. Having child-size sunglasses or a sun visor for his side of the car would always help. I recommend the iZoeL Car Sun Shade, which has bright letters and numbers for entertainment and learning.
Diaper changing pad: For easy and sanitary diaper changes both in the car and at rest stops, a diaper changing pad is necessary. I would always make sure to keep a multi-functional diaper changing pad such as the TOPGOOSE Large Capacity Baby Diaper Changing Mat stocked up with fresh baby wipes, diapers and a change of clothes before my son and I hit the road.
Diapers and Pull-Ups: Bring twice as many as you think you’ll need. That’s why cars have trunks.
Portable potty: For potty-training toddlers or younger kids who are out of diapers but can’t quite wait until the next rest stop, a collapsible, portable potty can save the day. Recommended: Reusable Banana Travel Toilet Potty Training Seat can save the day.
Travel pillow and blanket: During long drives and mid-trip snoozes, a travel pillow and blanket will help keep the ride as comfortable as possible for the kiddos. Recommended: ARELUX Travel Blanket and Pillow.
Books and toys: When road-tripping with my son, I always pack a few new toys or books to keep him busy during the ride. I would also load up his Leapfrog tablet with new games and movies to keep him entertained and quiet. Don’t forget the headphones!
Road Trip Essentials for Entertainment
When on the road, these essentials will keep everyone entertained and happy for hours:
- Family-friendly music playlist
- Road trip games
Family-friendly music playlist: A road trip isn’t a road trip without some good tunes to listen to on the way! Load up your device with good family-friendly tunes from Amazon Music or Spotify prior to the trip so that you won’t have to rely on the radio or your wifi for music.
Road trip games: I’ll never forget the days when my family would hit the road for our annual beach trip. With hours to burn before reaching our destination, we’d pass the time with fun road trip games such as “I Spy” or “What Am I Counting?” Now I enjoy keeping my son entertained and off the electronics during our road trips with the same games.
Audiobooks: In addition to games and music, loading up devices with a good family-friendly audiobook or podcast is a great way to pass the time and keep everyone entertained.
Road Trip Essentials: Clothing
In addition to your luggage, it’s helpful to have these extras in the car for the journey:
- Change of clothes
- Rain jacket
- Light jacket/Sweatshirt
- Comfortable shoes
Change of clothes: Messes and accidents can happen during trips. That said, it’s always good to have an extra change of clothes and underwear handy in a carry-on bag.
Rain jacket: A lightweight rain jacket is good to have on stand by for rainy road trips.
Light jacket/Sweatshirt: For cooler temps inside and outside of the car, having a light jacket or sweatshirt is helpful
Comfortable shoes: Lightweight, comfortable shoes are a must for staying comfortable during long road trips. For an easy slip-on, slip-off shoe option, flip-flops are good to have.
Winter Road Trip Essentials
- Ice scraper with a brush
- Microfiber towel.
- Can of de-icer
- Tire chains or cables
- Small shovel
- Hand warmers and blanket
Ice scraper and shovel: For winter road trips, you won’t want to leave home without making sure that an ice scraper and snow brush is in the car. I like to keep them in my trunk year round so that I’m never caught off guard by snow or ice. Add an extra so the kids can help clean the car after a snowstorm! Recommended: Zone Tech Car 3-in-1 Replaceable Heads Snow Brush Kit. Also pack a pair of waterproof gloves to keep your hands warm and dry while you’re removing the snow and ice.
Microfiber towel: These quick-drying towels are perfect for wiping down side mirrors and foggy inside windows.
Can of de-icer: It melts ice, snow, and frost on contact, which sure beats standing in the freezing cold trying to scrape an inch of ice off the windshield!
Tire chains or cables: You’ll be happy to have them if you will be road tripping through the mountains. A freak snowstorm can be a scary thing, especially if you’re driving a smaller, lighter weight car. Be sure to pack some cash to pay a roadside installer.
Small shovel: You’ll need this to dig out in the event of a big snowstorm. This small foldable shovel can live in your trunk. Toss in a bag of cat litter or sand too. They help give your tires traction to drive out of the snow.
Hand warmers and a blanket: You’ll want those if you get stuck on the side of the road waiting for help.
Road Trip Essentials: Miscellaneous
Last but not least, you won’t want to leave these items off of your packing list for a road trip:
- AAA membership
- Packing cubes
- Sleeping bag
- Travel mug
- Manual Breast Pump
- Bug spray/Insect repellent
AAA Membership: While not completely necessary, an AAA membership definitely comes in handy when you need roadside assistance. Not to mention, AAA membership comes with great perks including hotel discounts!
Packing Cubes: There’s only so much space in your car. However, you can help make packing much easier and organized with a good set of packing cubes in your luggage. Recommended: BAGAIL 8 Set Packing Cubes.
Sleeping bag: If you plan on sleeping in your car during your trip, having sleeping bags are a must. Even if you don’t plan on it, they’re good to have in case of emergency.
Toiletries: Don’t forget hygiene essentials such as your toothbrush, toothpaste and shower products! A good toiletry bag such as the Bagsmart Travel Makeup Organizer helps keep everything organized so nothing is forgotten at home.
Travel mug: Keep a travel mug handy for your having your favorite hot or cold drinks while on the go.
Manual Breast pump: If you’re breastfeeding your baby, don’t forget to bring along a manual breast pump and breastmilk bags for when you need to pump on the go. I can tell you from personal experience that it’s much better than lugging around a big electric pump!
Umbrella: Rainy days happen, and can happen at any time during your road trip. Don’t forget to have an umbrella packed in the car just in case!
Towel: Have a towel handy for drying up messes in the car or drying off when that unexpected rainstorm hits.
Bug spray/Insect repellent: Keep bugs out of the car and off of your skin by packing the bug spray.
Sunscreen: Keep sunscreen handy to protect your skin from the blazing sun while on the road.
Batteries: Having extra batteries on hand is never a bad idea for road trips. You may need them for your flashlight or for the kid’s toys!
Are there any travel tips or items on your family packing list that we didn’t include above? Share with us in the comments below!