Road trip checklist for family trips on the road: family road trip packing list with all you need for the car, the kids and yourself to stay safe and entertained on the road – Updated 2020
Road trips have always been one of my favorite ways to travel.
The idea that on the spur of the moment you can just throw a few things in the back of the car and take off is immensely appealing to me and makes me dive back into old family memories when my parents and I would go on long European journeys with our faithful old car.
I can still feel the unmistakable chill of the early morning, the emptiness of the streets before the beginning of the working day.
With the house locked and a tank full of petrol, we would leave the city with a vague idea of a direction and select our destination following the sound of a name on the map.
Now that I have kids of my own, family road trips stay as one of my favorite family travel adventures.
Planning a family road trip near home and planning one at the other end of a long plane journey require are two slightly different things.
However, I find that that family road trip checklist is the same for both trips.
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In one case, you may need to get stuff for your car and in the other, you can use this road trip checklist to ask your car rental agency what is and is not provided by them.
This is the family road trip checklist we use on our own travels. I hope you find it useful to plan your own too!
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Road trip checklist: must-have for the car
When packing for a family road trip the first thing you need to look at is your car, may it be your own or a rental one.
After all the safety and roadworthy checks are done and you are sure the car is road safe, make sure you pack:
Car documents including:
- Last check details
- Car insurance
- Roadside assistance contact
- Car rental details and contacts
- Car manual
- Paper map
- Print out of all your reservations along the way
- Wifi hotspot if needed
- Notebook, pen and pencil
Top tip: if planning a family road trip abroad, also make sure you have a good roaming contract for your phone use or a local sim card. Do invest in a wi-fi hotspot if you think you will need to consume a lot of data.
Your own documents and safety essentials including:
- Driving license for each driver
- International driving license if needed
- Spare pair of glasses should your driving license requires them
- All essentials medications and prescriptions
Car safety essentials:
- Spare tire
- Car emergency breakdown kit
- Any equipment for specific road conditions you may encounter: extra water for you and the car for hot trips, shovel and blankets for snow, snow chains for tires etc
- Child seat (if you need to fly to your destination, you can find our selection of the best car seats for plane travel here)
- Hands-free phone holder
- Window shades, to protect the kids in the back from the sun that can be harmful to their eyes and skin
Road trip checklist: family safety and toiletries essentials
For safety and comfort on the road, I recommend you pack:
- First aid kit (you can read what we pack in ours here)
- Snacks (I will share ideas on the best road trip snacks below)
- Toilet paper
- Wet wipes
- Garbage bags / car trash can
- Motion sickness medications
- No-spill cups for smaller kids
- Towels (for spills, impromptu stops at the lake/coast etc)
- Extra layer should you get caught in a bad weather spell or be on the road for longer than expected
- Hand sanitizer
- Bug spray
Family road trip toiletries and nice to have:
- Toothbrush, toothbrush, floss
- Family body wash/soap
- 2 in 1 shampoo and conditioner
- Baby toiletry essentials if different from your own
- Hair brush / comb
- Hair ties
- Eye drops (I find the air in many cheaper roadside hotels is often dry and hard on the eyes)
- Sunglasses for the whole family
- Sanitary pads/women essentials
- Shaving cream and blades
- Sunscreen / UV protection moisturizer
- Lip balm
- Fully stocked baby changing bag
Packing for a family road trip: electronics and entertainment
- Hands-free phone holder
- USB charger cables
- Battery pack
- Road trip games (click for a cool selection of free printable ones)
- Kids tablets or electronic entertainment of choice, if any
- Playlists with your favorite music
- Playlist with your kid’s favorite music
- Child-friendly podcast or audiobook
Top tip: make sure your playlist is available offline or on a support, like a cd or iPod, that can connect to your car music system. Especially in remote areas, the radio may not be reliable and internet signal even less: do not count on them and consider them an extra, should they come available.
Family road trip packing list essentials for kids
Kids have their own special needs when it comes to long times in the car. These are our road trip with kids essentials:
- A safe and comfortable car seat
- A car seat approved travel pillow (have a look at our favorite travel pillows for kids here)
- Shade for the window
- Sippy cup/ non-spill cup for younger travelers
- Kid-friendly tech if using with headphones (find our favorite kids’ headphones for travel here)
- Healthy snacks
- A cuddly teddy
- Teether toys
- A change (or a few changes actually) of clothes
- Slip-on shoes
- Comfy clothing
- Sun hat
- Kids motion sickness remedies if any
- Good road trip games and toys: ‘I spy’ checklist, sticker books, wooded groves puzzles (avoid anything that can fall on the floor like real puzzles or stacking cups), coloring pens etc, binoculars, kiddie camera)
Nice to have: especially if the road trip is with your own car, you may want to invest in a car seat organizer. They can be very handy to give a home to all the bits your kids will be using on the road and help keep the car somewhat decent.
Best snacks to pack for a family road trip
Snacks are pretty much a family travel essential no matter what type of family vacation you are on and some are more road trip friendly than others.
The best snacks for a family road trip in our experience are:
- Fruit (already peeled and stocked into a sealed container)
- Vegetables like carrots and celery (washed, chopped and stored safely)
- Granola bars
- Hard cheese
- Rice cakes
- Sultanas / raisin / dried fruit
- Mini sandwiches with ham/peanut butter/chocolate spread etc
- Hard-boiled eggs
Top tip: whatever you end up packing, make sure you have a lot of water with you. I tend to stay away from juices (too much sugar and messy in the car) and yogurt pouches – they tend to make a mess in the car and they are a garbage disposal nightmare in my experience!
Best games for a family road trip
We always have lots of games up our sleeve for long car trips with kids, some that we pack for the car and some that we use in the evening to pass the time when the put stop has little to offer.
Some of our favorites are:
- I spy (usually with a theme: license plates, animals, etc)
- Scavenger hunt (with checklist)
- Tutti Frutti (following the alphabet, each person need to name an animal, an object, a person etc starting with a certain letter)
- Sticker books
- Creativity games such as sticky balls, playdough etc
- Connect 4 travel edition (for the hotel)
- Othello travel edition (for the hotel)
You can find more ideas for screen-free entertainment on the road here
Useful bags and luggage for a family road trip
The best type of luggage for a family road trip depends on the type of trip you are taking.
If you are flying first, then you will do with whatever items are sensible for your plane journey, while if you travel from home, you have a little more lead way.
If you want to see how we keep out family essentials carry on only, you can have a look at how we pack light with kids here.
I personal like soft shell luggage and always throw extra bags including:
- Packing cubes (they are excellent to pack in more in less space)
- Wet/dry bags
- Reusable tote (one of my favorite and most versatile sustainable travel items ever)
- Garbage bags
- Food bags / lunchboxes / reusable water bottles
Family road trip checklist: clothing
No family road tips packing list could be complete without a mention of clothing!
What you will pack will vary widely depending on your destination and season of travel however, make sure you always have:
- Comfy clothing (no tight fitting clothing for the long car journey)
- Breathable materials for tops and bottoms
- Extra layers
- Extra underwear and socks
- Comfy shoes + one pair of flipflops or similar for not so clean shower floors etc
I hope you found this family road trip packing list useful. Safe family travels!