Road trips are such an amazing way to see the world with kids and to have opportunities to explore in nature. But with more space than on a flight, packing for a road trip can be a bit overwhelming! Over the last 11 years of parenthood (and road tripping over 60,000 miles), we’ve gotten better at streamlining our road trip essentials with kids.
Here are the things to pack for a road trip that always come with us, whether in the car or RV. These family road trip necessities always help our road trips with kids go much more smoothly!
Of course, the most important thing when taking a road trip with kids is to ensure they’re properly restrained. Be sure to check into legal requirements wherever you’re traveling in addition to the safest situation for your child. If you’re uncertain, child passenger safety technicians can provide invaluable advice so it’s great to check in with them. Here’s more on the car seats for travel that we use.
Snacks + Cooler
Number one on this list of road trip essentials for kids has to be snacks. There’s nothing that will ruin a road trip for us faster than having hangry, grumpy kids. We like to have mostly healthy foods they already love. We find we all feel better and act better when we’re not just eating tons of junk. But of course we always have some fun snacks that we wouldn’t have regularly at home, too!
Here’s a list of some of our favorite healthy road trip snacks for kids. We also like keeping fresh foods handy in a soft-sided cooler. This one keeps things cold for forever and is great to add to your road trip must haves.
Books: Kids Kindles + A Few Physical Books
I try not to overpack entertainment because I find that my kids tend to actually use the items less when there are too m ≤e category: BOOKS.
My older 3 kiddos (currently ages 11, 9, 7) love their Kids Kindles, which makes it easy to take lots of books without packing tons of stuff. They also allow us to download more along the way if needed. They tend to be best for kids who enjoy chapter books, but aren’t great for picture book readers. (More about the Kids Kindles for travel in this post.) Here’s a list of a few diverse novels for road trips that we love. And here are some kids books about the world that would be great for a road trip.
Here are some tips that have helped us raise kids who love reading to prepare for this must have on our family road trip packing list.
Audiobooks (Yoto Player)
Speaking of books, we also always stock up on audiobooks before a road trip. We usually use the Libby app to download them through our library, but also use the following audiobook services:
- Audible free trial and get up to 2 free book credits
- Libro.fm membership and get a free audiobook credit for Aru Shah (this supports local bookstores!)
- audiobooksnow.com free trial and get it for $7.88 (or $15.75 without signing up for the free trial)
- audiobooks.com free trial and get 3 free book credits
- 30 day free trial of Scribd
We also LOVE using our Yoto player. It’s especially great for our younger kiddos because it’s so young-child-friendly. They love being able to control exactly what they’re listening to with the cards. Seriously such a lifesaver on family road trips. This also allows my 4 year old, for instance, to listen to a different book than what the older kids are listening to in the car. (More about the Yoto player here.)
We love these toddler headphones for our younger kids (and my older daughter still uses hers because they’re so soft and comfortable). Perfect to use with the Yoto player or to listen to something on a tablet if needed. We also like these for older kiddos on our family road trip checklist.
Trash Bags (and/or Vomit Bags)
It’s frankly quite incredible just how much trash manages to accumulate on road trips. Like, where does it even come from??
A trash bag in each row of the vehicle is one of our road trip must haves. That way, there’s easy access while kids are buckled. We usually just use plastic grocery bags (the Target and Walmart ones tend to be really sturdy). You could also use something fancier like this.
They’re also useful to have on hand if you happen to have kids who tend to get motion sick. We don’t generally, but we’ve had once or twice on a very windy road where a kiddo has been reading and suddenly felt sick. We were very grateful to have some bags handy. (I’ve also heard good things about disposable vomit bags if you have kids who puke regularly.) Add this to your family road trip packing list!
Baby Wipes/Cleaning Wipes
I’m convinced it is impossible to have too many baby wipes. I shall purchase them until all my children are grown adults, forever and ever, amen. They’re just so darn useful in so many situations! Spilled drink? Baby wipes. Scoop up crumbs? Baby wipes. Clean the floor of the RV? Baby wipes. No toilet paper in the public restroom? Baby wipes.
And yes, I have actually used baby wipes for every one of these situations and many more. They’re a staple on our road trip packing list. You’re welcome. It’s even one of those road trip essentials for couples!
Sanitizing wipes are also helpful, especially during pandemic times, for cleaning anything and everything.
I have oddly strong opinions about the thickness and texture of baby wipes and quite like these. I personally love the cucumber scent but the regular works just fine, too.
I love having each of my kids pack their own travel backpack with their activities, water bottle, and a few personal snacks. This helps keep some fighting to a minimum and my kids are usually more excited about things they personally picked out and packed. The biggest benefit is that things tend to stay tidier when they have a specific space to contain their things. This is also one of those great road trip essentials for teens so they can be sure to have what they like handy.
Here’s what our kids usually pack in their travel backpacks – all great things to add to your road trip essentials with kids.
As I mentioned above, I try hard to not go overboard with the activities because I find that my kids tend to use them less the more there are. But we do like to pack a few things that keep them engaged for longer periods of time. Here are some of our favorite road trip activities for kids when putting together your packing list for family road trip.
Water Bottles + Bento Style Containers
Nothing makes me feel more ragey on road trips than spilled drinks and food. I know I should anticipate it, yada yada, but it still stresses me out. We find that everyone having their own water bottle helps significantly with keeping spills to a minimum and is one of our road trip necessities.
I like this hard spout insulated sippy for babies and young toddlers. THIS and THIS are great travel water bottles for younger kids. I also like this one (which is surprisingly spill-resistant, but the straw can get dirty since it doesn’t have a cover).
We’ve also had a few trips where we’ve taken the kids’ Bento-style school lunchboxes as part of our road trip checklist for family. These are great for keeping food neat, especially if you’re having a whole meal while moving. It also makes it easy to close up leftovers without them spilling everywhere. We love these lunchboxes because they’re leakproof, both to the outside and between compartments.
We don’t often drive super late at night as neither Dan nor I is great at staying up to drive. But we do sometimes we do drive past at least the younger kids’ bedtimes. We find it’s easier for everyone to fall asleep if they have similar sleep cues to what they’d have at home or in a bed. So we include pajamas, pillow, stuffie, and possibly an eye mask in their road trip essentials list. We usually turn on some calming music (this is our go-to) or white noise over the car speakers to help them drift off.
First Aid Kit + Medications
It’s amazing when kids manage to get injured, and it’s definitely happened to us on road trips before, too. We always like to keep a first aid kit handy – this is for sure a road trip essential that you always want to not need but will be very grateful to have it if a need does arise. These are our very favorite bandages that actually stay on so they always stay on our road trip packing list.
Don’t forget any specific medications you might need to add to your road trip essentials with kids, as well – we always carry a pain relief roller since a couple of our kids get growing pains. We always take children’s melatonin, as well, if we need help adjusting to sleep, especially if we’re changing time zones. (This one isn’t specifically made for children but it’s the exact same formulation and dosage, cheaper than kid-specific ones, and works faster. Be sure to check with your medical professional before using.)
I always like to keep these two things handy in the door of the vehicle on road trips so we can find them easily as we’re leaving.
This is our favorite sunblock for kids – it’s a mineral sunblock that blends and protects so well (and is reef safe). It also comes in stick and spray form. I personally love this facial sunscreen to go under makeup, and this brush on mineral sunscreen is great for refreshing over makeup during the day. We always have this in our vehicle for summer adventures and on our summer road trip packing list.
When we’re in very buggy areas (or in areas where mosquitoes have a greater risk of carrying disease), we always use this Deet-based lotion repellent. It works super well and stays on for a long time. When we’re not as worried about diseased mosquitoes, we typically use this kind.
An Easy Outdoor Toy
Everyone gets a bit stir-crazy on a long road trip, so it’s nice to get in as much movement as possible when you stop. We like to head to a playground or even an empty field. We always keep a ball or frisbee on hand, and possibly even a couple of baseball gloves, for some easy and fun movement. Usually, we just keep this with our other road trip supplies so we don’t forget!
One of those things that’d I’d rather have too many of than too few! Especially if you’re road tripping through more remote areas, be sure you have a good stash handy with your road trip car essentials. For my younger kids who are toilet trained, I try to make sure to put them in a diaper before napping or if there’s risk of them falling asleep in the car; washing car seat covers is absolutely no fun, especially while on the road.
It’s so fun to spot wildlife, buildings, and other landmarks while on a family road trip. We recently got these mini spotting scopes for kids for summer travel and I think they’ll be great for entertaining the kids on all kinds of road trips. They’re powerful enough to not just be a toy, but small enough that they’re easy to pack. Each of our kiddos got their own and I think they’ll quickly become one of our favorite fun road trip essentials, especially in places with lots of animals.
While we often rely on map apps on our phones, it’s always good to double check with a physical map of the area where you’re driving, especially if it’s a more remote spot. Plus, map-reading is a great skill for older kids to confirm routes, detours, stops, etc.
We don’t do a ton of electronics or road trip movies, but it’s always nice to have this as an option when needed. we just use an old iPad if we’re in the car or our DVD player if we’re in the RV. Nothing fancy. It’s not highest on our list of road trip essentials with kids but definitely useful in a pinch.
I love having my kids keep travel journals of our adventures. I don’t have them necessarily write about days when we’re just driving, but it’s such great practice to have them write details about the special adventures and excursions. Plus, it’s delightful to read about the experiences through their eyes, and I hope they’ll enjoy reflecting back on them when they get older.
It seems something is always running out of charge (or someone forgot to charge it) while on the road. This portable charger is powerful and fantastic for road trips. This is another terrific one that charges really quickly. And I love this tiny but powerful little power bank for on the go.
Car Seat Protector
It is truly remarkable just how gross cars get beneath car seats. We like to have these especially under our younger kiddos’ car seats to protect the actual vehicle a bit.
We usually like to keep a few quick dry travel towels handy when road tripping with kids. These are great if there’s a spill, but also if we go out and someone gets wet and needs to get cleaned up. In the RV especially, we love these Turkish bath towels. They dry fast and don’t take much space (and everyone has their own color). We also always take a few of these microfiber towels to pack along on hikes or to the beach. We always fly with a couple of those, as well!
What kind of post on road trip essentials with kids would this be if I didn’t include some sort of trunk organizer solution? Like everyone else, we love these things, and not just for the trunk. We love storing one under the table in the RV to hold books and activities. Smaller ones are great to go on an empty seat in a car. Basically, anything that can keep all the STUFF that comes along with road tripping with kids somewhat organized and available to find when needed is a lifesaver.
There you go! Some of the road trip essentials with kids that we never travel without. How about you? Are you a road trip family? And if so, what is crucial to your road trip with kids success?
A Few Other Useful Items:
These items aren’t really for kids, but they’re super useful for a road trip!
- Portable Car Jumper (Car Battery Booster) (also available at Home Depot)
- Spare tire + tools
- Car top carrier & protective roof liner
IF YOU LIKED THIS POST ABOUT ROAD TRIP ESSENTIALS WITH KIDS, YOU MIGHT LIKE THESE POSTS TOO:
- Toddler Road Trip Tips
- Toddler Road Trip Activities
- 50+ Healthy Road Trip Snacks for Kids
- Tips for Travel with Baby or Toddler