15 Road Trip Essentials Every Family Needs

Make sure you have all of these road trip essentials before heading out on that summer family road trip. Snacks, games and activities, a car sick bin, and a schedule to keep everyone on track as you head down the road will make for a much more enjoyable trip for both kids and adults!

I always hear people talk about how July is the prime time for family road trips and summer vacations, and it’s no wonder. 

Even if you homeschool and have the flexibility, have you ever tried to take a road trip in January in between blizzards? Um, no thank you! I’d much rather travel in the middle of the summer.

Last summer, we returned from an 850-mile family road trip (each way) to North Carolina, and it was amazing! No one wanted to kill each other, and I didn’t end up with a migraine. Plus, Nate and I didn’t go insane after 16 hours on the road and threaten never to do it again!

It took a little planning to make it such a success. And now, I’m going to share a few secrets and must-haves that helped our long road trip with four kids (ages 4, 6, 8, and 12) be such a great experience.

top road trip essentials for families pin

15 Road trip essentials every family needs

We’ve taken family road trips before, but this one was a great learning experience on how to do it successfully so that everyone has fun. For the ultimate positive road trip experience, prepare these essentials and combine them with my 25+ Hacks And Tips For Traveling With Kids.

Here are 15 road trip packing list items every family needs in order to make adventures truly enjoyable.

1. Plan out a schedule

This is my favorite must-have for a successful family road trip with kids. Plan out your route and your stops. And have potential backup stop ideas too, because something always seems to come up. 

For example, find out where a favorite restaurant is along your route and plan a stop there. Not only does this keep the trip segments more reasonable and give the whole family a scheduled break time, but you’re less likely to end up at a nasty gas station bathroom.

Look up traffic and construction, too – Google Maps is a great resource for this and one of our road trip essentials. It might be faster to take a slightly longer (in miles) route in order to avoid traffic. 

For example, on our trip down to North Carolina, we went through (around) Washington DC, but even at 1 in the afternoon, we got stuck in traffic for almost 2 hours. On the way home, we went a longer route through the middle of Virginia and saved an hour of driving time!

In the past, you had to know the area (or guess about traffic patterns) or ask someone fairly local for this kind of information. But now, Google Maps has made this easy because once you enter your destination, it will put you on the fastest route. And the app will even reroute you if there’s an accident, traffic jam, etc.!

2. Technology

If you just cringed when you read that, I get it. I prefer to limit my kids’ screen time too. And my 49+ Brilliant Ideas And Road Trip Games For Kids may be very helpful to avoid giving in to more screen time than you want to allow.

However, I have learned through experience that super-long trips work better when we allow some (ok, a lot of) tech time. And it doesn’t all have to involve screens!

Whether it’s an available built-in CD player or DVD player, or you allow tablets or phones, technology is Mom’s best friend when it comes to traveling. For example, bring along a few favorite movies for the kids to choose from. One movie will help pass a couple of hours easily. 

Spend time listening to a favorite family station on Pandora (did you know there are actual road trip playlists?!) It’s a blast to sing along with your kids and be silly!

Audiobooks and podcasts for kids are other great ideas for entertainment and help pass the time too.

3. Make a travel kit for each child

My kids had so much fun with their travel activity kit binders. They followed along with the road trip maps and colored and played games. Some of the activities were independent, and some of them could be done together. 

I also included this DIY Travel Coloring Kit to add some variety.

The kits are road trip essentials because they provided a great balance of activities and solo/together time to break things up (and change from watching DVDs) as we rolled down the open road.

travel kits for kids

4. Prizes

I am not above bribing my kids to behave in certain situations, and a long road trip is definitely one of them. Although this method is really less about bribing and more about rewarding for good behavior (potato/potahto?).

Pick up a few items from the dollar store or low-priced toy sections (like the Target dollar spot). 

Wrap the toys or simply put each one into a brown paper bag. Label with the child’s name and the # prize. I had 5 prizes for each child on the way down and 5 on the way home. 

Pro Mom Tip: I recommend separating them into two different bins – one for the trip down and one for the trip home so that you don’t accidentally give out too many or confuse them as you’re juggling other things.

Set a timer if you need to as a reminder, and periodically hand each child a “prize.”

road trip essentials for kids

5. Name clips

I learned this brilliant idea from other bloggers and am so thankful for it that it’s now one of our road trip essentials!

Here’s what I did.

I printed and cut out the kids’ names, covered them with packing tape for durability, and hot glued them to clothespins. I then attached the name clips to the front of our vehicle using reusable adhesive. Our visor was too thick for the clips to fit there as I originally intended, so I improvised.

The name clips stayed up as long as the kids had kind attitudes and weren’t teasing each other or being overly hyper. Because the name clips were in the center of our car, it was a visible reminder to everyone. 

name clips for road trip behavior incentives

Only twice did a child lose their name clip. We set a one-hour time, and during that period, that child didn’t receive a prize or snack. They had to wait until the time limit was up and try again after that.

This idea worked amazingly well. Normally, my kids tend to bicker like crazy, but for the entire 850-mile trip there and another 850 miles back, they were really good. I was so proud (and grateful)!

road trip essentials for behavior

6. Sticky notes

Bring a sticky notepad and permanent marker on your road trip.

I wrote down times for prizes, snack times, and the next stops (remember your plan in #1 up above?). 

Then I attached the sticky note to the front of our vehicle so the kids could see it. This drastically cut down on the “Are we there yet?” questions and also helped Dad with our schedule when I took a turn driving.

travel schedule on sticky note

7. Snacks and gum

I never give my kids gum, but I figured one piece here and there on such a long road trip wouldn’t hurt them. It was a simple no-mess treat they loved! 

I also packed brown paper bags with snacks for each child (cheese sticks, crackers, cuties, raisins, trail mix, etc.), which helped cut down on the mess.

Depending on your family’s needs for food, you could pack a cooler with sandwiches for lunch or a bin of prepackaged snacks to keep everyone satisfied and prevent those hangry fits.

8. Games

Whether you bring along tablets or smartphones or use Travel I-Spy or other free printable activities, you definitely want to bring along some games for some good old family fun. 

It could be a simple mad libs type of book or the road trip favorite license plate game.

We had such fun playing a bingo game and debating whether the picture of a cow on a billboard counted as a cow or not!

9. Water schedule

Bring plenty of bottled water (or reusable water bottles) along and label the cap with each person’s initial.

I planned a very specific schedule for drinking water so we wouldn’t have to frequently stop for bathroom breaks. 

I only allowed the kids to have their water bottles 1.5 hours before a scheduled stop and took the water bottles back before we stopped. No one had anything to drink when we stopped for meals, either. (We stopped every 3-4 hours so the kids were plenty hydrated.) 

This method worked extremely well because we only had one extra bathroom stop on the way down to North Carolina, but DC traffic was to blame for that! That was for my four-year-old, Luke, too!

10. Packing

Suitcases and bags are NOT one of our road trip essentials. Instead, we use laundry baskets, plastic bins, or packing cubes because it’s much easier to pack and then find things when you’re at your destination later. 

You won’t miss digging through a bag only to mess everything up and find your item at the very bottom. 

When you arrive, simply put the clothes away in a dresser, or if you’re someplace clean (like us at Grandma’s), lay them on the floor in piles.

11. Chargers for devices

Make sure your vehicle’s outlets are working and you have at least one USB charger for each device (we had 5 tablets and 2 smartphones for our family!). 

Plan ahead of time so you can take advantage of your technology. Otherwise, you’ll end up with dead batteries.

We also have been known to take small external charge packs (that hold 1-2 charges for 1 device), especially because we have too many devices for the number of outlets in our vehicle!

12. Car sick bin

Even if your kids haven’t been sick in the car before, that can change on a long road trip. Three of my four kids became car sick on our road trip, but thanks to our handy Car Sick Bin, it wasn’t too bad. 

I recommend packing a round plastic container with a screw-on lid for possible throw-up. The screw-on top makes it leakproof as opposed to a regular cup that can tip over.

Also, bring a small towel, motion sickness bands, and motion sickness medicine (like Dramamine) or remedies.

Car sickness isn’t fun, but with a little preparation, you can make it less miserable.

road trip essentials for families

13. Baby wipes

Even if you don’t have little ones in diapers, purchase a bin of baby wipes because they’re road trip necessities! 

You never know when you might need to clean up kids’ sticky fingers, the gift of an open packet of salsa on big brother’s pillow (true story), or carsick situations. 

Trust me. Bring them because you’ll be glad you did.

14. Bandages and pain reliever

While a full first aid kit isn’t one of our road trip essentials, I do bring bandages and pain relievers in the car with us. 

Keep these things up front in the glove compartment to have them on hand if the need for them ever strikes.

15. Trash bags

Bring a few plastic bags to use as trash storage in the car. There’s no guarantee the kids in the back will use them, but it will help cut down on the mess.

Honorable mentions

If you have room in your vehicle, a few other road trip essentials that might be helpful on your road trip checklist could include: 

  • Cameras
  • Travel pillow
  • Backpack (to hold the bags of prizes or one for each kid to hold their road trip binders and games)
  • Blanket
  • Sunglasses
  • Hats
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Jumper cables
  • Roadside emergency kit

There you have it! Try out these ideas for road trip essentials and tweak them to work for your own family. I’m confident that you’ll be amazed at how great your family road trip can be!

More road trip ideas:

15 family road trip must-haves pin

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