There’s nothing like the lure of the open road to give you itchy feet – but tempting though it is to just jump in the car and go, for a trip to remember, don’t set off without reading my road trip packing list with kids first.
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Driving can be a great way to explore as a family: my daughter ventured down the Pacific Coast Highway before she turned four, while there’s so much more road trip inspiration to be found, from Route 66 and the American Midwest to Ireland and a drive along the Great West Way in England.
So whether you’re starting slow and staying close to home or finally ticking off your bucket list adventure, this family road trip packing list is full of tips, essentials to remember, ideas of what to pack and more advice to avoid being asked ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ before you get five minutes from home.
When you get in the car for a road trip, there’s plenty that might come in useful (because it’s easier than stopping a million times to grab the things you forgot!) but before don’t forget the essentials that you really need to have with you for a road trip with kids.
So the first step in this family road trip packing list is those things you absolutely shouldn’t forget to make your journey more comfortable, safe, and fun.
If you have small children, it goes without saying that you’ll need a car seat that is appropriate for their age, height, and weight.
If you’re planning a family road trip abroad and want to take your own car seat, make sure it complies with local law – otherwise you’re probably limited to hiring one along with your car.
For older children who no longer need full car seats, but are not yet tall enough to sit in a seat with a seatbelt.
Whether you prefer to use a separate satnav, Google Maps or another app on your phone, having a good GPS system to give directions is pretty well essential if you’re unfamiliar with the area you’re visiting – and handy even if you’ve visited before.
Even if you have a GPS system, it is always a good idea to have a map of the area you are visiting, in case your GPS system fails or you lose reception.
If you don’t want to buy a book of maps for a single journey, consider printing out directions as a back-up, but if you’re planning a long road trip, a map of the area is good to have to hand.
Snacks and drinks
Having snacks and drinks available for your kids (and yourself!) will help to keep everyone happy on your road trip – check out my tips for the best road trip snacks for kids
Activities for kids
I’ve got a whole post on the best road trip activities for kids, with over 50 ideas of ways to entertain everyone on a long drive.
Run out of time to plan? Bring along some fidget toys as an easy solution – small, quiet and they won’t make a mess!
No one likes to think you’ll need a first-aid kit, but from unexpected teething to minor injuries as well as travel sickness or illness, it pays to have one to hand in the car.
Check out my essential first aid checklist for ideas on what you need for your family travels
Just like the first aid kit, it’s a good idea to hope for the best but plan for the unexpected, so always keep some emergency supplies in your car, such as a flashlight, a whistle, and a blanket.
Some countries also require you to have a specific breakdown kit – if you’re driving in Europe, check this list.
Although it’s not a legal requirement in many countries (although it is in Spain, interestingly!), having a spare tyre in your car – and one that’s road legal – is definitely a good plan in case you get a flat during your trip.
Unlike the spare tire, it is a legal requirement to have car insurance – make sure you’ve got any necessary paperwork before you set off on your road trip.
If you’re driving abroad, check your insurance covers you there, or that you’ve got suitable cover for any rental car.
It goes without saying to make sure you have your driver’s license (and that it hasn’t unexpectedly expired) – but make sure you also have any other documents you need (scroll down for more tips).
If you’re driving abroad, this could be anything from an International Driver’s Permit to travel insurance.
How to make the car journey comfortable
Whether you’re in your own vehicle or a rental, car rides can be anything but comfortable – and uncomfortable kids (or adults!) are unhappy ones.
From practical essentials to ideas for entertainment, this family road trip packing list is just what you need to make sure the whole family is as comfortable as possible along the route!
Portable DVD player
If your kids get bored easily, a portable DVD player can be a lifesaver on a long car journey.
If your family suffers from travel sickness, audio books can be a good alternative: a subscription from Audible is my top recommendation!
iPad or tablet
If your kids get to use a tablet as you travel, make sure it’s charged and any apps or content you want are already downloaded before you set off.
Coloring books and crayons
For my complete set of road trip activities for kids, check out this list
Games and puzzles
With lots of choice, these are always a fun way to pass the time on a long car ride, whether you choose family games, traditional car games or something for the kids alone.
Travel pillow and blanket
Travel pillows and blankets are great to have, whether you’re hoping your kids nap and sleep, or simply want to make them more comfortable along the way,
You can also get some great seatbelt pillows for kids to make it comfier to rest their heads on long drives – as well as these simple seatbelt pillows, younger kids will love these plush animal versions or the animal-themed Yondi neck pillow.
Memory foam pillow
If you want more support than a travel pillow, a memory foam pillow can help keep kids more comfortable, including smaller sizes that are handy for road trips.
Having a car organizer can be helpful for storing all of the snacks, drinks, toys, and other items you need to bring on your trip, as well as for safety reasons.
I’ve got a Diono Travel Pal which has space for bottles and room to store books, games, tablets and more.
A portable speaker can be a great way to keep everyone in the back entertained (or headphones if you prefer not to be!)
if you’re traveling with more than one child, headphones can be a helpful way to keep them from fighting over what to listen to.
For younger kids, child headphones with a volume limiter can be a good option.
it’s always a good idea to have plenty of snacks and drinks available for everyone, whether you’re looking for something easy, something to help kids with motion sickness, something for picky eaters or healthy options.
I know I’ve said it before, but you can’t have too many snacks!
Check out my tips for the best road trip snacks for kids
If your kids (or you) are affected by ear pain on long car rides, chewing gum can be a good solution once they’re old enough.
Ever got out of your car at the end of a road trip and sighed at the mess left behind? (Of course you have, we all have).
So having some spare bags available can be helpful for keeping your car clean along the way.
Essential documentation for a road trip with kids
In addition to your driver’s license and registration, there are a few other things you should make sure to bring with you on your trip
Car insurance information
In case of an accident, you’ll need to have your car insurance information available.
If you’re travelling overseas, make sure you have an International Drivers Permit if it’s needed, or any other required information for the destination, along with travel insurance.
If you’re renting a car abroad, some countries may need proof of insurance or official confirmation that you don’t have points on your driving license, for example.
Roadside assistance details
if you have roadside assistance, like an AAA membership in the US, Green Flag, RAC or the AA in the UK, make sure you have your details to hand, just in case.
Emergency contact information
It’s always a good idea to have any useful contact information with you in case of an emergency – again, if you’re travelling abroad, make sure you know the relevant numbers and that your phone will work.
Map and directions
If you’re traveling to a new area, it’s be helpful to have a map of the area with you, including an old-fashioned paper map in case GPS or reception fails.
It’s also worth printing out directions to your destination or accommodation if you’re not familiar with the area – having a string of landmarks to look out for can help if you’re asking for help, or to save you searching street names on a map.
Always, always, always let someone know where you’re going and what time you think you’ll be there too, for added security.
Clothing and toiletries for a road trip with kids
Needless to say, clothing and toiletries are a must-have for road trips too! But it’s not just what you pack, it’s how you pack it…
If you’re stopping for a single night along the way to your final destination, try to keep a separate small bag full of overnight essentials rather than having to unpack all the bags.
Check out my tips on clothing and toiletries to consider for a road trip with kids or for a more in-depth packing list, check out my 23-page travel planner.
A change of clothes for everyone
It goes without saying that you’ll have spare clothes packed, but it’s a good idea to have a change of clothes for everyone in the car (or very easily accessible) in case of spills or accidents.
Place the extra pair of clothing in a resealable bag, so it’s both easy to grab if needed and means you have something to put the soiled clothes in when you change.
If you’re traveling during the summer or you’re going to be near any bodies of water (which are safe to swim in), swimsuits can be a lifesaver to break up a long journey.
Even if you don’t plan on swimming, it can be worth bringing a swimsuit (and towel) with you for unexpected stops or extra pool time.
Sun hats and sunglasses
So easy to forget when you’re focused on the big things, but sun hats and sunglasses are one of the most important things you can bring on a family road trip.
It’s not just for the destination either, although for summer breaks, they’ll be essential to protect everyone from the sun. On bright days, you’ll likely want sunglasses in the car for during the journey too.
If you’re hitting the road when there’s rain forecast, don’t forget your raincoat – and this is one you really do want to have to hand inside the car (you’ll be grateful when you don’t have to race round in the pouring rain to fish it out!)
On the same note, make sure you pack clothing for cool weather, whether that’s extra layers, scarves or warm clothing available for everyone in the car once you reach the destination.
Unless you’re heading somewhere with guaranteed sun, better to be prepared so dressing in layers is always a good plan when the forecast is promising sun, cloud and rain!
Having a comfortable pair of shoes is always a good idea for long car journeys – ideally ones which are easy to pull on and take off as needed.
While you can usually stop and pick up essentials along the way, there’s no fun making a huge detour just to buy toothpaste.
Even if you’re planning to stock up on everyday items later in the journey, if you have particular products for your kids’ sensitive skin or your own favourite brands, it’s worth making sure you’ve packed enough for the whole trip.
And for shorter breaks, it makes life easier to pack everything you need on a daily or regular basis – from shampoo and conditioner to deodorant – as well as any extras like remedies for travel sickness. Having a roll of toilet paper is always a good plan too, even if you don’t expect to need it.
Entertainment ideas for a road trip with kids
Taking a road trip with kids can be a great bonding experience for the whole family, making some fantastic memories and also be a whole lot of fun!
But it can also be a bit challenging to keep everyone happy and entertained during those long car rides. Here are some entertainment ideas to make your next road trip packing list with kids complete – or check out my complete list of more than 50 of the best road trip activities for kids.
Download some audiobooks for the kids to listen to during the drive – this is better than books or movies if they suffer from travel sickness too. As well as their favourite stories, you can check out non-fiction titles so they could learn something new while also passing the time.
We have a subscription to Audible which has been a lifesaver on car journeys long and short.
Bring along some portable games that everyone can enjoy, especially if you have siblings who’ll play in the back as you drive.
Travel versions of classic games like Monopoly or Scrabble are always popular, if you don’t fancy trying something new.
If you have a portable DVD player, bring along some of the family’s best-loved movies to watch for a spot of downtime. This can be a great way to relax and unwind after a long day of driving as well.
Make sure to bring along some fun music for the car ride, both to entertain and help keep everyone’s energy up.
You can stick with your best-loved tunes or singalong favorites, but for some added fun make a playlist that links to your destination, so whenever you hear the track again, it’ll take you straight back to your family adventure.
One word of warning: you need more songs on there than you think, or you’ll end up hearing the same ones over and over and over…
Drawing or puzzle books and crayons/markers are always a hit with kids, with lots of different options to help them stay occupied during the drive and also create some artwork inspired by the trip as a souvenir.
Lap books/activity books
If you have small children, then lap books can be a lifesaver, with a variety of activities to keep toddlers and small children busy – everything from lift-the-flap pages to other hands-on fun.
Essentials for road trips with babies & toddlers
Babies and young children can be a handful at the best of times, so the last thing you want to do is be stuck in the car with them for hours on end without being prepared.
If you’re lucky, when they’re younger, they’ll nap once you set off: planning your drive around naptime and bedtime is always a good plan too.
But you can’t always rely on little ones to sleep when you need them to, so here is a list of essential items you should make sure you have in your car before setting off on a road trip with babies and toddlers.
- Portable Potty – as parents know, young children often have trouble holding it in for long periods of time, so a portable potty is a must-have on any road trip. Needless to say, plan plenty of breaks to try to avoid any emergency stops!
- Diaper/nappy changing essentials – make sure you have plenty of nappies/diapers, wipes, bags and cream packed and easily accessible.
- Plenty of baby toys – grab a few teething toys to help keep little ones distracted during the drive. If your baby is teething, keep the first aid kit close to hand as well.
How to get everything organized in the car for a road trip
Once you’ve got all your essentials, from documents to packing, take a bit of extra time to get organized before your road trip with your family.
Planning a road trip with your family shouldn’t stop at plotting the destination into your route map, so here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Keep a list – from notes of what you’ve got to take to what you’ve got to sort out, a planning list (or lists!) will help ensure you don’t forget anything important. Check out my complete family travel planner for ideas of everything you might need for your trip – available in bright colors and more neutral shades
- Pack an overnight bag – include items such as a change of clothes, toiletries, and any medications you may need.
- Pack a cooler/cool bag – this is essential for long drives. Fill it with snacks and drinks to keep everyone fuelled up.
- Organize your car – make sure everything has a place so it doesn’t end up scattered all over the car. Use car organizers to keep things in place in the back, or small bags for those ‘just in case’ back-ups.
- Leave room for everyone – you might have crammed in all the packing, but being squashed into a tight space won’t be a great start to your trip. So as you pack up the car, keep in mind everyone else that’s traveling with you and leave enough legroom.
When you’re planning a long road trip, there’s always a lot to keep in mind, so these tips are intended as a starting point to help you make sure you’re prepared for a road trip with your family.
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