Road trip essentials for kids: a family road trip packing list

family road trip essentials kids

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Road trip with kids packing list

Planning a road trip with kids, but not sure what to pack? This family road trip checklist will give you all the essentials you need for a road trip with kids.

From the best road trip items for kids to family car safety, from road trip activities for kids to the best travel snacks for kids, we’ll cover it all!

Hearing ‘Are we there yet’ after you left for 10 minutes, we’ve been there 😉! The fear of how the kids will cope with such a long drive is real for many parents. How to survive a road trip with family? We’re here to help you.

We travel full time and live the van life in our vintage VW bus. Road tripping is part of who we are. We’ve done road trips with babies, toddlers, kids, and now almost teens. Let’s just say, our family spends a lot of time in the car together 😊.

Read more: camper van essentials for your next van life trip

In this article, we’ll give you everything you need to know about family road trip essentials. All the things that will make your trip more fun, easy, and enjoyable. Read until the end to download your free road trip packing list for families.

Family road trip packing list printable essentials

This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, we may receive a commission at no extra cost to you. Please read our affiliate disclosure and privacy policy for more information.

Why go on a road trip with kids?

A road trip with kids is a great way to travel as a family. It gives you so much freedom to explore new places, allows you to travel with kids on a budget, and usually creates fun and unexpected memories.

When you fly, you miss out on so many amazing places along the way.

And, as a photography lover, a road trip is great for taking pictures as well. So easy to pull over, take your shots, and continue your trip.

Read more: the best tips for amazing family travel photography

As road tripping is all about the journey, and not just the destination, you want to make sure being in the car is also a pleasant experience.

Family road trip Slovenia with kids
Road tripping through Slovenia with our kids in our VW Bus

With the right planning, it will be a great family road trip. You’ll have happy and entertained kids. Without that, you’ll probably never want to road trip with your kids again.

That’s why we made this family road trip packing list article. Don’t just throw everything in. You want to be organized!

Our best tips for family road trips

Before we dive into all the road trip essentials for kids, we want to give you our best family road trip hacks. Sometimes it’s not about what to pack for a family road trip but how to pack it and how to mentally prepare yourself for a long road trip with kids.

  • Be organized! It’s a no brainer, but for a family road trip you want to plan ahead! We’re big lovers of the go-with-the-flow vibe and spontaneous last minute decisions, but we can’t deny that a good itinerary plan and family road trip packing list are essential when you plan a road trip with kids.
  • Only pack the essentials! Space is limited when you road trip, especially with kids. For every item you pack, ask yourself if you really need it!
  • Adapt your expectations! Don’t expect your road trip as a couple to be the same with kids. Know you’ll have to stop more frequently, travel slower and not everything will go as planned. The best family road trips are those where you don’t have too high expectations.
  • Be ready for the mess! You’re travelling with kids, things will get messy, clothes will get dirty. Make sure to bring wet wipes, plastic bags and a spare set of clothes for every family member, easily reachable from within the car.
  • Have your swim gear ready in an easily reachable, seperate bag! If the opportunity arises and you pass by the perfect swimming spot, you want to be able to have a swim without a lot of hussle.
  • Dress in layers! Be prepared for any kind of weather or temperatures out and inside the car.
  • Help your kids through the long drives! Sitting hours in the car is hard for kids so make it more easy on them. You could create a visual map or drawing that shows your kids the itinerary and where you are at the moment. Bring a bag of small, inexpensive new toys and gradually take them out during the trip, every time they start to wine or be uninspired on what to do.
  • Enforce quiet time, really! It will make all the difference. You, as adults need that time to survive the trip. And the kids need it too. Say they have to be quiet for at least half-an-hour. They’ll probably fall asleep or will be all hang up in a movie or book.

Road trip essentials for kids

From here on, we’ll give you our road trip with kids packing list. We won’t be covering everything. I guess we don’t have to tell you to pack clothing, toiletries, …

No, we’ll talk about all the family road trip essentials! Starting with some general items that are either must-haves or very handy to bring along! Where possible, we choose eco-friendly items.

  • Plastic trash bags (preferably eco-friendly or biodegradable): for all kinds of trash, motion sickness, wet or dirty clothes and swimsuits. Check how to recognize and prevent motion sickness in this helpful article.
  • Closable bags, either biodegradable or reusable: perfect for left overs, food in general or wet items.
  • Biodegradable wet wipes: can’t do without these when road tripping with kids! They are perfect for almost anything, from drawing incidents to messy food disasters.
  • Hand sanitizer and extra masks for kids and adults (during covid)
  • Biodegradable toilet paper and tissues: better to be prepared for anything when road tripping with kids
  • Picnic blanket: for a quick lunch by the road or a nap in the shade. We prefer the sand free, compact and lightweight beach blankets over the standard picnic blankets.
  • Blankets (fleece): perfect for family members who can’t stand the airco or for kids who want to have a nap. We love the compact, lightweight travel blankets and use them as pillow as well.
  • Swiss knife: you won’t regret to bring one of these along. Handy for any picnic or emergency along the road.
  • Car seat organizer: a true essential to keep your kids happy in the car. It allows everything to be in easy reach, from toys, the tablet and pencils to a water bottle and snacks.
  • Flashlight: handy for (late) night drives.
  • Travel mug: for those parents who really need that coffee or tea.
  • Quick-dry travel towels: we never bring regular towels anymore. These microfiber towels are very compact and lightweight.
  • Flip flops: we always bring flip flops inside the car. The kids love to take their shoes of and make themselves comfortable. Flip flops are perfect for short stopovers and toilet breaks.
  • Sunshades for your car windows to keep the sun out, essential to keep everybody happy and comfortable for the ride.
  • Umbrella (foldable): choose a small, foldable umbrella that easily fits inside the car.
  • A travel guide or road atlas: great for the kids to follow along but also very hand when modern technology decides to abondon you. You could also download maps through an app such as Google Maps.
  • Binoculars: maybe not a family road trip essential, but it’s been always a big hit in our family. The kids love to look out the window and try to spot wildlife or just read the road signs.
Essentials family road trip picnic
Enjoying a roadside picnic with our sand-free picnic blanket

Healthy and safety items for family road trips

  • Seat belt cutting tool and hammer: let’s hope you never need this, but for family car safety this is one of the road trip essentials for kids. It can safe your life or that of your family members in the unfortunate occasion of an accident. 
  • Road side emergency set: we always carry on of these in the car. In some countries, a few of these items are even obligatory.
  • First aid kit: especially with kids, you’ll want one of these in the car. Don’t forget to add band-aid and disinfectant.
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Sunscreen: we always used SPF50 for our kids and recently have started to use suncreen that is sea safe (doesn’t harm the marine life).
  • Medication within reach against motion sickness, antihistamine, pain/fever, upset stomach, …
  • Thermometer
  • Smartphone holder: don’t make the mistake of handeling your smartphone while driving or having to look down to see the road directions.

Family road trip snacks and drinks

Whoever traveled with kids, knows the secret to happy kids (and therefore happy parents) is snacks, snacks, snacks!

When you’re planning your car snacks for kids don’t take just anything. The best road trip snacks (for toddlers especially) are non-sticky, mess-free, and crumble-free. Thank me later 😀.

Another great tip is to have your travel snacks for kids packed individually, per family member, or in boxes with separate compartments.

First, some general items that are very useful to bring along when you’re talking about road trip snacks for kids.

  • Reusable water bottles: first of all, we always bring our refillable water bottles, one for each member of the family. They are much better for the environment and you can fill them almost anywhere these days.
  • Cooler or portable fridge: essential to keep sandwishes, healthy snacks, small meals, fruit or water cool in the car. Ice packs can be a great alternative as well.
  • Snack containers with compartements: our girls love their own snack container, with seperate fruits, vegetables, crackers, … Bento boxes are fantastic!

So which car snacks for kids to pack? Here’s what we like to bring with us:

  • Healthy snacks for road trips
  • Portable meals and bites such as pasta salad, boiled eggs, sandwiches, wraps, burritos, salads, juices, hummus, cheese, …
  • Some sweets, chips, muffins, … Only for older kids though, if you don’t want it to be messy.

Road trip activities for kids

How to keep the children busy during a long road trip? If you want to enjoy your journey, you better think about some fun things to pack for a road trip with kids.

First of all, give them their own backpack with their most favorite toys and stuff. During the first hour of our road trip, our girls were always busy discovering what’s inside their bags.

Focus on quiet toys! You don’t want to be trapped in a car hearing the same tune over and over (and over) again.

Before you leave, buy a few (small and inexpensive) new toys or crafts. Hide them and gradually give them to your kids while you’re driving.

Some of our favorite and fun games to play in the car (that are totally free) are:

  • I spy
  • License plate game
  • Going on a picnic
  • Road trip bingo
  • Spot the car
  • Road Signs ABC
  • Storytelling: the kids can each choose two (or more) random words and we need to come up with a story around these words.

Check this fun video that explains a few of these free road trip games:

Other fun road trip essentials for kids:

  • Outdoor toys: probably not the first thing you’d think, but they are key to a successful journey. When you pull over, it’s the perfect moment for kids to burn off their energy! Take a frisbee, ball, jumping rope and let them play! You’ll buy yourself some quite time when you head off again!
  • Travel craft supplies: our kids have always loved to draw, colour and sketch. So we always bring colouring books, crayons, pencils, pens, white paper, a clipboard, sketchbooks, …
  • Origami: I loved it as a kid and it has kept our girls busy as well during our road trips. Take some origami paper and an origami book with instructions.
  • Activity books: when they were younger, our girls loved activity books. Being older now, they enjoy travel activity books a lot!
  • Travel journal: we have a few travel journals from when they were younger and they are the best memories!
  • Books, comics, magazines
  • Road trip activity pack: so much fun in one package!
  • Scrapbook: our girls love to collect all the entry tickets, brochures, maps, postcards, … and then collect them in a nice scrapbook afterwards.

There are many, many travel games for kids out there. Here are a few of our favorite road trip games for kids:

Read more: Fun photo scavenger hunt ideas for kids

travel games for kids road trip
Playing a board game while stopping during a road trip

Road trip entertainment and tech gear

Although we try to reduce screen time, we have the proper amount of tech gear with us. And let’s be honest, we’re very happy if they are quiet for half-an-hour 🙈.

Road trip movies for kids are great and always work here, but think further. Have you thought about audiobooks? Some of the best audiobooks for family road trips are for example the Harry Potter series, a big hit in our family.

Last but not least, there are some great road trip apps for kids, such as Angry Birds, Sago Mini Road Trip, Playground Buddy, Road Trip Bingo, …

Read more: Best general apps for travel

Here’s our road trip with kids checklist for tech gear:

  • USB car charger: No entertainment without charged devices. Some cars have their own USB chargers. However, take one of these USB car chargers with you, just to make sure.
  • Phone holder: essential for a safe trip. You don’t want to hold your phone in your hand while driving or having to look down to see the road directions. We always bring one, even when we rent a car.
  • Wireless portable bluetooth speaker: to play your best road trip playlists. On our family account with Spotify, the kids have their own playlists, but not every radio will support USB or bluetooth. So bring your own speaker. Our Bose waterproof wireless speaker has seen a big part of the world, and we love it!
  • Audiobooks and podcasts, played on your smartphone or an MP3 player. Use the audible app from Amazon and find some of the best family audiobooks such as Harry Potter. Or check our article on the best family travel podcasts.
  • Power bank: you don’t want the tablet, Nintendo Swith or phone to die out on that exact moment when you need them to be quiet. With an external power bank, there’s nothing to worry about.
  • Tablet + holder: our girls watch movies and play games on their tablets. They actually use ours, but you can buy tablets suited for small kids as well. We have a tablet holder that attaches to the back of the car seat.
  • Portable DVD player and DVD’s: before we had our tablets, we used these portable DVD players and brought along some DVD’s.
  • E-reader: ever since the girls are bigger, they love to read on their Kindle e-reader.
  • Headphones + headphone splitter: one of the best things we ever bought is headphones for the kids and a headphone splitter. Headphones are great to give you some peace and time to speak to each other as parents. A headphone splitter allows your kids to watch the same movie or listen to the same music.
  • Camera: I don’t leave without my Sony A7RIII camera, but we have a smaller Sony A6000 camera with us as well, for the kids to use while we’re driving and they see something pretty. For smaller kids, there are tons of fun cameras to play around with.
  • Computer: as we work online, and our kids are getting bigger, we always have a few laptops with us.

Check the full list of our travel camera gear here.

Read more: Best laptops for blogging

Road trip essentials for toddlers and babies

A lot of the items we mentioned above are very useful for small children as well. However, there are some road trip necessities for toddlers and babies we haven’t talked about yet.

  • Car seats: a true road trip essential for toddlers and babies. Try to find the best booster or car seat, suitable for your child’s age and length. We had one that turned sideways, easy to take the kids out. There are special travel car booster seats folding together very compact, perfect if you have a flight to take in your way to your road trip.
  • Car seat travel tray: we’ve never used them, but a few of our friends did and highly recommend them for little ones.
  • Extra diapers and a spare set of clothes: you’ll want these preferably within easy reach!
  • Stuffed animals: don’t forget these, for many kids they are essential. And check before you leave a parking spot, you don’t want to loose them along the way.
  • Extra formula / baby food: always bring some extra formula or baby food. You never know if you’ll hit a traffic jam, have a car break down or some other unforeseen circumstance.
  • Portable diaper changing pad
  • No spill cup

Family road trip packing list printable

We hope this road trip with kids packing list was helpful to you. To help you out, even more, we created a FREE downloadable and printable checklist with all of our road trip essentials for kids.

This detailed road trip with kids checklist contains all the necessary items for a successful family road trip! Not the obvious stuff, such as clothing and toiletries, but the family road trip essentials.

Download our road trip packing checklist for kids and you’re all ready for your next vacation!

If you have any other recommendations or remarks, please leave us a comment!

Free printable road trip with kids checklist
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Road trip essentials for kids: a family road trip packing list

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