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Family Road Trip Packing List for Sanity and Safety

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This family road trip packing list will help keep your crew content and safe on the go. Road trips promise freedom, scenic landscapes, and quirky roadside attractions. Hitting the road with children, however, can also mean seemingly constant potty breaks, sibling disputes, car sickness, and backseat whining. For a smooth car journey, be sure to pack these road trip essentials for kids.

Use this family road trip packing list for your next car trip with kids

Use this family road trip packing list for your next car trip with kids (Photo credit: HayDmitriy, Depositphotos.com)

1. Travel Toys and Games

Old school games like 20 Questions and the Alphabet Game can be entertaining, but eventually kids will want something else to pass the time. Before every road trip, I purchase at least one travel craft for each of my children. A plastic travel soap box holds crayons nicely and can be used on every trip. Buy a special new toy or two for each vacation, too. You should also store a separate stash of hidden travel toys to keep old favorites fresh on each trip. Need some suggestions? Check out our picks for the best travel toys and crafts for kids and the best travel games for toddlers to teens.

Bring outdoor toys for road trip stops

Bring outdoor toys for road trip stops (Photo credit: LanaStock, Depositphotos.com)

2. Pit Stop Playthings

Keeping kids content inside the car is important but don’t forget to bring some outdoor toys for pit stops as well. Mini bottles of bubbles, a beach ball, Frisbee, or jump rope can help kids get active when you stop along your route at rest stops and parks.

Make time for play during your family road trip

Make time for play during your family road trip (Photo credit: alenkasm, Depositphotos.com)

3. Plastic Trash Bags

Road trips with kids can be messy. A plastic grocery bag keeps trash off the floor and seats. I hang a bag in the backseat from the front armrests. This enables my kids to deposit their juice boxes and snack wrappers into the trash themselves. Bring a few along so you can easily toss refuse at pit stops.

Be sure to keep a bucket within reach

Be sure to keep a bucket within reach (Photo credit: kitchbain, Depositphotos.com)

3. Bucket for Motion Sickness

If traveling with young children, then a bucket is a road trip must-have. Why? You’ll need this case of car sickness or sudden bout of food poisoning or stomach flu. Older kids can probably manage just fine with a plastic bag, but young children aren’t great at aiming and shouldn’t handle plastic bags due to suffocation hazards. A simple plastic beach pail should do the trick. Keep the bucket within arm’s reach. It won’t do you any good buried under a pile of suitcases in the trunk. Learn tips for avoiding motion sickness before you hit the road.

Listen to music during a road trip with a baby or toddler

All ages love to listen to music on the road (Photo credit: Depositphotos.com)

4. Road Trip Playlist

Sure, you can listen to the radio. But a road trip playlist makes the miles more fun. Create a playlist for your smart phone and plug it in for the whole family to enjoy through the car’s speakers (if your car offers this technology). Choose songs that appeal to all family members, so everyone is excited to listen along. 

Audibooks make time on the road zoom by

Audiobooks make time on the road zoom by

5. Audiobooks

Audiobooks are a must for any family road trip packing list. Stories keep imaginations active and families entertained on the road. Save money by borrowing some fun books from your local library before your next car trip. You’ll also love these audio books for road trips recommended by family travel experts.

Road trip snacks are essential

Road trip snacks are essential (Photo credit: serezniy, Depositphotos.com)

6. Travel Snacks

Pack some healthy snacks and drinks for the journey. Suggested items include fresh and dried fruits, trail mix, and whole grain crackers and cereals. Keep a cooler stocked with items that need cooling like hardboiled eggs, cheese sticks, sandwiches, and juices. Slowly give these goodies to your children throughout your ride to get the most bang for your snack bucks. You may want to bring along (or stop to buy) a “forbidden” treat or two to use as incentive for good behavior, too. Looking for more ideas? Take a look at the best travel snacks for kids.

Keep scissors in your glove box for safety's sake

Keep scissors in your glove box for safety’s sake (Photo credit: ibphoto, Depositphotos.com)

7. Scissors for Safety

It’s important to stow a pair of scissors in your car’s glove box for safety’s sake. Children sometimes do silly things when mom and dad aren’t looking…like get themselves tangled up in a seat belt. This can lead to strangulation. Read one mom’s account of a near-strangulation seatbelt incident. Then, pack a pair of scissors in your glove box!

Pack a roadside emergency kit for your family road trip

Pack a roadside emergency kit (Photo credit: VadimVasenin, Depositphotos.com)

8. Roadside Emergency Kit

You should always keep a roadside emergency kit in your car filled with bandages, a flashlight, and other useful items. Add a pre-filled roadside emergency kit to your family road trip packing list.

Travel medications for family road trip packing list

Keep medications handy (Photo credit: mcherevan, Depositphotos.com)

9. Medications Within Reach

Keep a stash of medications within reach. Any prescription items, like an asthma inhaler, should be kept close for handy retrieval. Also pack in your purse or day bag some motion sickness medication like Dramamine for Kids, an antihistamine like Children’s Benadryl Chewables in case of an allergic reaction, and pain/fever reducer like ibuprofen. Even if you have these medications stowed within your luggage, you’ll want easy access to these medicines should a need arise during your family road trip.

unplugged road trip activities for kids

Discover unplugged road trip activities for kids (Photo credit: Depositphotos.com)

Learn More Tips for Traveling with Kids

Want to keep your kids off tech when traveling? Take a look at these unplugged road trip activities.

For additional packing ideas, check out our full list of packing lists including our kids’ pack-myself list.

Your family’s travels will be easier and smell sweeter with these handy vacation laundry tips.

Want to save money on your family vacation? Of course you do! Read these tips for saving money when traveling with kids.

Essentials to Pack for a Road Trip with Kids

Save this Family Road Trip Packing List

For future reference, save this list of packing essentials for family road trips. Simply pin the image above to Pinterest. We hope you’ll follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you’re at it!

Is there anything else you think we should add to this family road trip packing list? Let us know in the comments below!

About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments
  1. Gallon-sized Ziploc bags to seal up stinky food until you can pull over to find a trash can! Hate to say it, but we bust out the iPad, too.

  2. Great suggestions! And make sure you can reach the critical ones without getting unbuckled or stopping the car 🙂

  3. Thank you Colleen!
    My husband and I will be taking a road trip with our 19 month old this weekend so this is greatly appreciated. I definitely have wet ones, puffs and trash bags on the list.

  4. Capitol Resorts says

    These are all good ideas! Especially the bucket and roadside diversions. Kids need to get out all their energy during a road trip, even if it means running around a rest stop for five minutes.

  5. Hilda Davis says

    Those tips are amazing! I am getting so frustrated by the thought to travel with my kids. I have no idea where to start from, what to pack etc. It is good to have some clever ideas how to arrange the packing process.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Hi Hilda – So glad you found these road trip packing tips handy. Use one of our printable packing lists to take the stress out of packing for a trip with your kids. Enjoy your travels!

  6. This list is a must before any family road trip! It’s so easy to forget something important and end up in the middle of nowhere in panic or with grumpy kids.

  7. I love this list. I think it’s great that you included safety items on this list. I see a lot of lists that seem to leave that off, but it’s key with children.

  8. So many great reminders. I feel like we always forget something really important!

  9. I fear that by the time it’s safe for us to take road trips again, that I will forget everything I need to do. This is a great reminder.

  10. Such wonderful tips Colleen! I never thought about carrying medicines but I can see those can come in so handy sometimes. Will pack it for my next trip without fail now on!

    • Colleen Lanin says

      I’ve made the mistake of packing medicines in the luggage instead of in a day bag and then we had to pull over, pull all of the suitcases out and rummage around to find what we needed. So much better to keep medications handy!

  11. This is a really great list. We will be traveling soon and I’ll make sure to reference this list.

  12. You know, I never thought of it but it is a good idea to keep a bucket in the car (and a disposable bag) just in case. There’s no pulling over sometimes when a kiddo gets car sick!

    • Colleen Lanin says

      And even if you can pull over, they sometimes can’t make it out of the car in time! We pulled over a lot for my motion sickness-prone daughter when she was little, unfortunately.

  13. This is a great list! I did an 18 hour road trip with my kids last summer and definitely made sure to pack most of these, thankfully. I wish I would have thought about the motion sickness bucket! Hahaha

  14. Road trips with the whole family can definitely become chaotic! These are all such great tips and tricks for having a great time.

  15. Great tips – planning ahead with this list will save a lot of grief on the road! Having the medications within reach is an excellent point. We once had to stop and find a pharmacy to buy antihistamine lotion when my daughter’s fingers started to swell on a road trip. Fortunately we were able to find one quickly but it would have been less stressful to have had some handy in the car!

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Oh my! I’m glad you were able to get your daughter the medicine she needed. Antihistamine really is one of those things we should always carry with us — traveling or not. Allergic reactions can be so scary!

  16. Emman Damian says

    These are great list of items to bring during a family trip. I also do a checklist so I won’t forget any. Thanks for your tips!

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