Road trips have always been one of my favourite 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 street on a summer dawn, 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.

In my memory, those trips were easily organised and our list of essentials was short. It pretty much included the following:

  • The ‘green card’, the document you needed to cross borders in Europe before the EU came into existence
  • A LOT of books (a good read has always been an essential  in my households)
  • A basket with pic-nic essentials such as cups, cutlery and plates
  • Some toys for me to play with in the back of the car. I know you’ll find this horrific and unacceptable (I do too now) but in those days you didn’t have child seats and the back of the car was my reign and the whole of it would turn, on the road, in my very own little house.

It wasn’t much, but we never needed anything else, so when I first thought of a road trip with my own kids I didn’t think too much about what to bring. I presumed it would be fine, they would get entertained looking out of the window and singing songs, like I always did… right? Not quite!

My children are a lot younger than me at the time of the road trips I remember and without going overboard with stuff, I think they do need a bit more than just a window seat. So I revised my list of essentials, accepted that essential is a lot less minimalist that I would like and came up with the following

List of must haves on a road trip with children

family road trip checklist

For the car:

    • Car documents: sounds obvious, but it isn’t! I have a tendency to displace paper and always spend ages whenever I need to root out insurance or mechanical data. Not something you want to do when your car has broken down on the road abroad. In this sense, I love when instead of my car I can use someone else’s car. If you take a car rental or use a company like Turo, the rooting out of paperwork and the proper checks is done by someone else! That’s because Turo allows you to rent cars directly from car owners. The same goes if you’re giving your car to someone else: great motivation to get everything in order.
    • Car safety essentials: like the documents, make sure you have all the legally required safety equipment, including car seats.  If you are driving internationally, check the regulations of all the countries you are going to visit as they might differ significantly (especially booster seats might have different age requirement in different counties)

For the kids

  • Snacks: crackers, rice cakes, wispy wafers, raisins, ideally in small portions or small packets to minimise crumbs and keep an eye on quantities
  • Water in easy to close bottle to avoid spillages
  • Change of clothes because spillages will happen no matter how clever a bottle you have
  • Baby wipes to limit the length of the scream ‘mammaaaaa my hands are stickyyyyyy’
  • Cd with children songs
  • Nappies and soother cleaner
  • 1 cuddly toy each
  • 1 creative toy each (pipe cleaners or play doh)
  • One blanket each
  • Sunglasses (‘the sun is in my eyeeeeeees’)

You might notice that we do not bring books or screens: this is not an oversight but rather experience of them giving the kids motion sickness. Also, we don’t usually bring many toys or, at least, we don’t give many of them to the kids for the car journey:  I find that in the car, the best entertainment is the one that includes old family favourite games that encourage engaging with the view outside: ‘I spy’, pick a colour and spot how many road signs in that colour there are, who can spot a cow, the questions game etc. What I like about this games is that they don’t create any mess in the car (nothing is more annoying that a toy that keeps falling on the floor and you need to become a contortionist to collect it) and do make the kids alert to the changes in scenery and tune in with the trip.

For the mental sanity of the parents

My mental sanity is usually directly proportional with the caffeine available, so my very own list of essentials includes, in no particular order,

  • A BIG thermos of coffee
  • A cd of non-kids music
  • A map
  • A list of cool stops on the road
  • My husband as travel companion

Do you ever go on road trips with your kids? Is there anything I should add to this list that you consider an absolute life saver? We’re gong on a road trip at the end of the month, so please your best advice in the comments!


Road Trip with children checklist: what should you pack for a family road trip? Here our essentials

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