Road Trip Packing List for Families 101
If you are planning a family road trip, you need to have a packing list. But, if this is your first time, you may be at a loss for what you should actually be packing. Or maybe you are a chronic just in case overpacker and need some tips on what you actually need to bring. I got you covered. We’ve been on many a road trip, from cross country moves to local jaunts for a few days, and everything in between. I created this packing guide for you to use as a reference and reminder on what should (and should not) be going with you and your family on your next road trip.
First we will highlight our top reasons why we think you should road trip with family (I’ll give you a hint, it’s not because of the kicked seats or the whiny are we there yet for the millionth time). Then we will go into our essentials list to bring for the family, kids, adults, car and safety gear. And follow it up with what not to pack on your road trip.
Our Road Trip Packing for Families skips the obvious bring socks, undies and a smile, and focuses more on those things that are often forgotten. I want to help you avoid the last minute back and forth, honey can you grab the kids water bottle, our toothbrushes or other almost forgotten items. Or even worse realizing at your first gas station you forgot your wallet.
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Why Take A Road Trip As A Family Vacation?
Road trips are an amazing way to see your own country or explore a new one. Here are our top reasons why we love and recommend taking family road trips
- Immerse yourself in the landscape & location – You have a chance to really immerse yourself in a location and the landscape of the places you drive through. When you are driving it provides an opportunity to get to know what makes the area unique, support local business and experience new things. Like seeing the Northern Lights in Yellowknife.
- Opportunities for spontaneous adventures – We once ended up staying in a teepee for free at a small park off the beaten path because we noticed a sign and decided to just follow the adventure. Grab the Road Trippers App, before you go, as it not only will help you map out your route, and where to stay and eat, it also gives suggestions for unique and inspiring points of interest along the way.
Why you need a list when packing for a family road trip
Although it isn’t absolutely necessary, having a packing list can make your life before, during, and after your road trip fairly simple.
Instead of wondering what you need, you can create a list of specific items and mark each item off as you pack them. Not only will this ensure that you have everything you and your family will need, but you will also save time in your packing process.
So, if you’re looking for an efficient way to pack less, and quicker, grab a pen and paper, and jot down some of these packing ideas.
Family Road Trip Packing List
Road Trip Essentials: What to pack for the family
When packing for your entire family, you may find that you don’t need (or want) as much as others. Or, on the flip side, you may find that you like to bring everything but the kitchen sink, just in case. No judgment here!
Do you have to bring everything on this list? Absolutely not! Specific items you pack for your family road trip will vary based on preference. But, there are some broad categories to get you on the right track and make things a little more enjoyable for everyone.
Here are some easy items that can be very beneficial to have handy on your next family road trip:
- Mouthwash – If you plan on bringing snacks, or even stopping to eat, having mouthwash is a must. Between having fresh breath and smelling fresh breath, you don’t want to forget this. Mints or minty gum also does in a pinch.
- Portable Charger / Power Bank – You can save yourself so much trouble if you bring a pre-charged battery pack on your next family road trip. From avoiding getting lost as your cell GPS is fully charged, to calming down your kids with a movie when they get a bit wrangy, a portable charger is a must.
- Chargers – Not only should you have a portable power bank, but bringing extra chargers that can be plugged directly into your car are a good idea. Don’t forget your device cables too for when you are in the hotel room. (Kindles, cells, tablets, gaming devices, laptops etc.)
- Camera / Go Pro – While you are out creating memories, be sure to document the fun, silly and sometimes ridiculous and unexpected moments along the way. Purchasing a separate camera is optional for a lot of people with cell phones today. But often times a good quality camera or Go Pro can be an enjoyable way to document your road trip. Whether you take pictures of the road trip itself or shoot at places you stop, its a great way to capture memories for the years to come.
- First Aid Kit – If you are traveling anywhere, at any given time, I highly recommend keeping a first aid kit in your car, and a smaller one in your backpack if you are off on hikes for the day. This can help you out in so many different situations. It can also be a royal pain if you don’t have one. Besides, if your kids are anything like mine, they go through bandaids like they are going outta style.
Here are some items we include in our family first aid kit, in addition to the usual suspects, that would be helpful to include in yours.
Family First Aid Kit Essentials
- Extra Band aids
- Mole Skin
- Blister Band Aids
- Acetaminophen & Ibuprofen (Kids & Adults)
- Prescription Meds
- Gravol / Anti-Nausea Meds
- Allergy Meds
- Rehydration Tablets
- Gauze Pads
- Medical Tape
- Mosquito Repellent
- After Bite
- Ice Pack
- Hand Warmers
- CPR pocket mask
- Small Flashlight
- Small Pocket Knife
- Hand Sanitizer
- Face Masks
- Plastic Gloves
PRO Tip: Buy a small cloth first aid kit, or toiletries bag and fill or switch out with your preferred Family First Aid Kit items. Keep First Aid Kit and medications handy and within reach.
- Road trip games – There are plenty of road trip games or activities that you can include on your next road trip. Keep your trip fun and engaging for the kids! Here are a few of our favourites:
- Road Trip Activities – Outdoor Games – We like to bring a few outdoor activities like frisbee, bubbles and bocce. Helps us get the wiggles out at rest stops and provides entertainment at our campsites along the way.
- Road Trip Playlist – While you could just listen to the radio, making and playing a road trip playlist will up your parent cred, and make groovin’ in the car a hit. Don’t forget to croon at the top of your lungs.
- Cooler – If you have extra room in your car, or you are trying to save money on food costs, you can’t go wrong with packing a cooler to keep your drinks, snacks and road trip meals cold. However, I don’t recommend packing this if you are already tight on space or plan on eating out a lot instead. Check out our Easy Road Trip Meal & Packing List Ideas
- Snacks – If you don’t pack anything else on this list, please pack snacks. This will save you hangry kid and partner moments plus save you money. Pack snacks like nuts, sandwiches, beef jerky, protein bars, and string cheese. Avoid packing sticky and messy snacks. We keep our snacks in individual reusable containers or make up snack packs for each of us. We like to use divided containers like these ones
- Towels – As a safety precaution, it never hurts to add a few towels to your packing road trip. This can help in various situations of spills, sickness, and comfort. Quick Dry Towels are our go-to as they pack down small and dry quickly.
- Seasonal Gear – Depending on the time of year you road trip, you may want to bring ski equipment, bikes, boogie boards, kayaks etc. What you can bring will depend a lot on what size and type of vehicle you are traveling in.
PRO Tip: A Back seat organizer that fits over the front seats keeps all the snacks, electronic devices, books, small toys contained and in reach of the kids.
Road Trip Essentials: What to pack for the kids
The thought of packing for a road trip with kids can be overwhelming. But, it doesn’t have to be. Keep in mind that you want to be including items for them to keep your trip stress-free as well.
- Tablet – Adding a tablet to your kid’s packing list can keep them entertained for those moments when you just can’t take hearing another “are we there yet?” Make sure you charge it before you leave, though! Also, you will want to download any games, music, or apps beforehand since the likelihood of being around WiFi while on the road may be slim. A Kids Fire Tablet is a great all-in-one solution for younger kids to pre-teens.
- Headphones -You do not want to hear everything everyone is listening to on your road. A symphonic cacophony is not the most relaxing of sounds. So, save yourself the trouble, and pack headphones for everyone. If you are bringing wireless headphones, make sure to charge them before the trip.
- Books – If no one is prone to getting car sick, pack a few books for your family to enjoy on your road trip. You can include learning books, entertainment, or even coloring books. PRO Tip: A Kindle is our go to for voracious readers (myself included). An Audible membership is also a great idea too if your family enjoys listening to books on the road like we do.
- Change of clothes – The last thing you want to happen is to have a mess with all of the extra clothes packed deep in your luggage. To alleviate the chance of this happening, pack an extra outfit in one small bag that stays on top of everything else.
- Pillows – Providing your children with comfort during their road trip can greatly enhance the quality of their time. You don’t have to pack king size pillows, but letting each child bring a neck pillow (at minimum) is a great start!
- Blankets – The battle of the AC will begin as soon as you turn on the car. Instead of arguing, include blankets with everyone’s packing list. This way, you won’t have to try to decide on a set temperature. Instead, anyone who is cold can snuggle down into oblivion and take a nap. Plus they are essential in winter months, or if you are driving overnight
- Snacks – Yes this is on the list twice. Snacks, snacks and more snacks! Unless you want to stop at every exit for gas station snacks, make sure you pack some of your kids’ favorite items with the rest of your road trip snacks. We have some easy road trip snack recipes you can make here.
- Drinks – Just like snacks, you need to pack some of the drinks your children like. Although this seems like an extra step, it can save you a lot of stress and problems during your trip. We use resuable stainless steel waterbottles, and refill them as needed.
PRO Tip: Freeze a water bottle or two full of water, then you can have cold water as it melts. It can also double as an ice pack in your cooler.
- Paper/ journal – If you have creative kids, I recommend packing some journals, a sketchbook or paper to practice art, writing, and crafting with. Let your kids keep their own memories of their trip, with a kids road trip journal.
- Pencils – Of course you can’t have paper without something to write on it with. If you have young kids, you may also want to avoid having pen and marker traces all over your car. So, pack a few different crayons / pencil crayons and let them go at it! You can also add markers or pens in your overnight bags, so they can “fill-in” later. Pro Tip: Use twistable pencil crayons so you don’t have little bits a shavings all over your car.
- Diaper bag – Depending on the age of your children, you may want to include an extra in car diaper bag for your road trip. Fill with extra diapers, wipes, a couple of changes of clothes that is easy to grab and carry at rest stops.
PRO Tip: If you are moving around a lot on your road trip, pack each days clothes into a ziploc bag or in a packing cube you can just bring into the hotel with you, rather than bringing all the bags in and out each time.
Family Road Trip Essentials: What to pack for the adults
Packing for yourself will be a lot easier than the rest of your family. You know what you like and need to keep you entertained on the road. Here are a few items to keep in mind:
- Travel Pillow – Just like for your children, the passenger also needs to be comfortable. Don’t forget to pack a pillow for you and/or your partner!
- Phone charger – If you don’t want to get lost, make sure you have plenty of phone chargers packed and easily accessible. Trust me- you also don’t want your kids stealing yours. So, be sure to pack one or two extra.
- Journal – Even though you probably won’t have time to get bored on your family road trip, pack a small journal and keep it with you. You can document funny comments, questions, or even make note of something you need.
- Cell phone holder – Especially when using GPS, having a cell phone holder can be a game changer for your road trip.
Family Road trip Packing List: Clothing
As mentioned earlier, I’m not going to go into every piece of clothing you should bring on your trip. I will highlight a few key pieces.
- Rain jackets – Instead of carrying an umbrella, pack some light rain jackets for everyone. Not only will this help if your family has to stop somewhere while it is actually raining, it can also help your little ones stay warm. We like this one for kids , this one for men and this one for women.
- Footwear – We like to bring a few options. Walking / hiking shoes, easy slip on sandals for the car and warm weather, then boots for rainy and winter season. I admit I love my Crocs for road trip travel days. Easy to slip on and of and comfortable for walking around all day if needed.
- Sunglasses – Whether you are the driver or not, sunglasses will cut the glare, protect your eyes, and keep you in the height of fashion.
- Hats – Sunhats, ball caps, garden straw hats, water hats. The possibilities are endless to keep the sun off your face.
What to pack for the “just in case”
Accidents happen. But, how you handle them can be completely different if you are prepared. Not to mention there are certain things you just don’t want to forget.
- Map – You may not ever need it, but make sure you have a paper or book road map. In case your phone dies, you lose signal, or anything else happens, you will be glad you have it.
- Plastic bags– No one wants to talk about this, but you need to have extra bags in case anyone gets car sick. We also like to have a designated car garbage bag we empty out every day. That way the mess stays somewhat in check. Or have a small spill-proof car garbage can.
- Paper Towel & Toilet Paper – Need I say more? Spills are inevitable with kids.
- Baby wipes – Whether you have a baby or not, baby wipes are life savers for road trips. You can clean up spills, hands, and even clothing with a few baby wipes. My daughter is 8 and we still use baby wipes for all our travels. Not just for kids!
- Licenses & wallets – Just as a reminder, make sure you have everyone’s licenses, wallets and debit / credit cards before you even walk out your front door.
- Health Care Cards / Medical Insurance Info – Also make sure to have your health care cards or medical insurance info handy.
Car Road Trip Essentials
- The Road Trippers App, is a fantastic tool to add to your phone to plan oyur route, while collaborating with others. You can get their Plus Plan 30 days free.
- Car registration and roadside assistance info – Another “just as a reminder”, you want to check your glove compartment box before leaving your house to make sure you have any (and all) information you may need in a very worst case scenario.
- Extra Set of Car Keys – make sure to store it somewhere you won’t lose it, preferably in a bag you bring with you out of the car.
- Rental Car Agreement – If you are renting a car for your road trip, make sure to bring the agreement with you in the glove box.
- Sun Shades for the Windows – The sun can get a bit overwhelming, especially if you have really young children in the car.
- Roadside Emergency Kit – It is better to be safe than sorry! You want to make sure you can handle the unexpected. Bringing, a road side emrgency kit will give you peace of mind knowing you have the basics. Plus I don’t know how many times it has come in handy for helping other travelers out along the way.
Your Emergency Vehicle Kit should include:
- Jumper cables
- Tow Rope
- Spare tire
- Tire Pressure Gauge
- Flashlight & batteries ( we prefer head lamps)
- Jack & Tools
- Food / Energy Bars
- Matches / Lighter
What NOT To Pack for A Family Road Trip
Now that we have our essentials road trip packing list, let’s get into some things we think you don’t need to pack on a family road trip
- Everything but the kitchen sink – I know the temptation is to bring more as technically you have more space. But once you pack in the kids, cooler, dog, clothes, road trip activities, there may not be as much room in your vehicle as you expected. Think about where you are going, and what types of activities you’ll be doing there. Can you rent summer or winter gear there? What is absolutely necessary for your families enjoyment, comfort, and safety?
- Lots of Toys – Inevitable if you have too many toys pieces get lost, favourite toys get left behind, or there are fights amongst siblings. We recommend packing a few car games, and maybe one small toy, but leaving most of them home.
- Too Many Sweets – While it is fun to have some treats, too many sweets can bring everyone’s moods high and then low. Not the best combo when stuck in small space together for hours. Not to mention strange combos of food and too many sweets can lead to nausea. Which you definitely don’t want on a road trip. A combo of whole fruit, and protein (nuts, jerky, trail mix), can give you the sweet with sustaining protein.
- Avoid Large or hard shell suitcases – Because they take up too much space. We much prefer small duffels, or backpacks. I have even been known to just bring my clothes in a reusable shopping bag. You can pack them in tight around stuff.
- Messy Car Snacks – Save the messy car snacks for rest stop picnics or avoid bringing all together. Kids will be kids, and it’s not fair spending the wole time getting mad at them for making a mess when we’ve set them up to fail.
Road Trip Packing List for Families in Conclusion
There you have our list of essentials to bring. Although you need to be a bit more mindful when packing for a road trip with your family, it doesn’t have to be too complicated.
When making your packing list, ask yourself:
- How long will we be in the car?
- What necessities can my children not live without during this time?
- What will provide the most comfort for my family on this road trip?
Once you answer those questions, you will have a solid road trip packing list for your family.
What are the top 3 things to pack for a road trip with my family?
I would recommend including a change of clothes, snacks, and comfort items for every family road trip. Especially when you have younger children going with you, that may not really understand why they have to sit in the car for so long, these are necessities.
Does it matter how many people I have going on this road trip?
Depending on how many people you have going on your family road trip, you may need to have multiples of some of the items listed. But, it is all up to you.
Can I do away with some of these items listed?
This list is totally optional. You can add and remove as many items as you would like. We do recommend keeping the family road trip essentials; snacks, kids activities, emergency roadside kit, cellphone, and handy change of clothes or two at a bare minimum.
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