We’ve had our fair share of crazy road trips. What should have been a 3-hour drive turned into an unexpected 18-hour road trip, and we are so thankful we had the road trip essentials with kids dialed in, or we would have been hurting. More on that unexpected 18 hours shortly, but for now, let’s talk about how to stay sane, pack efficiently, and have a great time.
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Why Road Trip with Kids for Vacation
Not only are road trips one of the best ways to get around once you get to your location, it often saves families a lot of money. A plane trip will usually get you there quicker, yes, and sometimes very cushy. A road trip brings its own benefits and family vacation fun time. Getting out on the open road allows you to experience the world in a new light, with Nature and new cities all around to explore. Our favorite part is to unplug from our daily routines and enjoy the open road while we build memories as a family. Without these Road trip essentials, kids list, and tips, you will become more confident when you travel, and road trips won’t sound as scary.
Preparing for the unexpected
A few years back, we were making our way back from a San Francisco winter weekend and found out that every freeway and road to get back to Reno, Nevada, from California, was closed. So much for an easy road trip with kids right?
Many times a “hidden” path reveals itself, and people take it and get trapped, but we knew better. You should not always trust technology, thanks to Google and Apple Maps. I80, the main freeway that corrects California to Nevada, was closed, due to snow, and people were taking alternate side roads (not freeways) to beat the “system.” Always check CAL Dot for updated road closures and information. I tell you this small part of the story because if we were not prepared for a 4-hour car ride, we were doomed for anything longer than that.
Always check State approved websites for Road Conditions
We live in a winter town, so traveling anytime from November-March, and as I look at the snow outside now, into April. We have a great possibility of running into winter road trip issues. Snow, rain, and road closures are normal. Just this past weekend, on our way back from Sacramento, CAL Dot closed I80 again because of white-out conditions. Not only do you need to know how to drive, but a little winter weather driving knowledge is important to have during the winter months of travel, but not all driving will be winter related sometimes, it’s you and the open road for miles.
I will be honest. We’ve made the drive from Reno to Los Angeles many times, it’s roughly 9-10 hours, depending on who and what you are driving. A long car ride is a long car ride, no matter how many hours or what road trip tip you use. Once you get past the first hour, everything is relatively the same from there on out. Once you start to implement some of the road trip essentials with kids, you will no longer travel 30 min the same anymore.
If that’s travelers insurance, or bringing a few extras of an item, you never want to skip something in hopes that it doesn’t happen or you won’t need it.
Not to scare you, but we just started a movie on Netflix recently where someone was taken from a gas station. Anxiety overload over here yelling at the screen. Now there are LOTS of ways to stay safe when stopping at a rest stop or gas station. Google Maps or Apple Maps are great resources for this, you can easily type in what you are looking for, and it will pull multiple options close to where you are.
Finding the best spot to stop or eat is just as essential as packing for the trip, we try to stop at well-lit and well-trafficked spots like the grocery store or busy gas stations. Here are a few things to stay safe when stopping.
- Check your surroundings
- Go together
- Don’t explore alone
- Take your phone with you
Stop and Stretch on Road Trip with Kids
Not only is finding the spot to stop a good thing to think about, but the most important road trip essentials tip I can share is to get out and stretch during your stops, especially on a long trip. We will never forget our 18-hour car ride, and how sore/tired we were from being in the car, but that’s because the 18 hours were a little unexpected, and we did not plan the stops well because of the snow. For those that know what they are getting into, planning stops to get gas, eat food, use the restroom, and stretch should just be part of the stop.
- Walk around
- Jumpking jacks
Get your body moving so that you do not become stiff and uncomfortable. That is the last thing you want. This also means getting your young children out of their car seats and allowing them to move around also. They have the least mobility of everyone in the car since they have a 5-point harness that does not allow them to move more than an inch in any given direction. Everyone will thank you later for this great idea.
Road Trip Essentials Snacks For Kids
The most important Road trip essentials with kids item is food. It’s a really good idea to bring your own food while on long drives. It’s not always easy to stop, and not ideal to take additional breaks outside the gas station, it cuts into your drive time and, to be honest, will cut into your budget. Here is our go-to snack list, please note if any substitutions need to be made for your family. We used to travel with powder formula because finding lactose-free milk on the go was darn near impossible, and attempting to keep the milk cold and bringing enough was just not feasible. Don’t just pack candy and sweet snacks, it’s important to bring healthy snacks as well. Eating healthy is not easy while traveling, it’s easier to stop really fast for Mcdonald’s since they are off every exit.
Here are the best road trip snacks
- Yogurt melts
- Dried fruit
- Fruit snacks
- Fruit strips
- Trail mix
- Nut mixes
- Bars or protein bars
- Apple sauce
- Veggie chips or straws
- Seed-based crispy treats – like rice crispy treats but healthy.
Road Trip Essentials for Toddlers
Toddlers need a few extra items for a road trip than kids so here are the most important things to bring with you.
Diaper bag with all the baby/toddler essentials.
Diapers, wipes, cream, changing pad, and a change of clothes.
Finding the best travel toys for your toddler starts with finding something new, and exciting, and a little bit of help from them. Let them pick their new toy out, but only allow the toy during travel. You could also check out our list and pick something from there
If you will be going through altitude changes, your sippy cup matters. Or how you open it matters. if it has a straw, it will spill everywhere, even if it says it’s spill-proof.
Snack Box and Snacks
Refer back to the snack section for a list of preferred toddler snacks. These should be a range of healthy and sweet snacks to keep your toddler occupied and engaged. We always like to stop for sweet snacks like ice cream, cake pops, or donuts. This is a good way to get out and stretch and praise those in the car for the long trek.
Use sunglasses or a window shade to keep the sun out of your child’s face. We have 8 pairs of sunglasses, and they are kept in each car, and any purse we carry so that we don’t forget a pair.
The portable window shades are really nice for taking with you and being able to put them in any car you take for your road trip.
Keep it steady and give them something flat to color, puzzle, or play games on. The travel tray is designed to fit over a standard car seat. If you are three deep with car seats in your back seat, this will not work out as well.
Screen time device
Our favorites are a pay-as-you-go phone and the Amazon Fire Kids Tablet.
Not that you will forget your child’s car seat, but car seat travel is tough! We have a travel car seat and an at-home car seat. Depending on what we are doing and where we are going will dictate the car seat we will use.
There are some very unique and cool car seats on the market now, making travel significantly easier. We will try them out and give our honest feedback when we do.
For now, we love this car seat for travel because it’s light weight, and doesn’t break the bank.
Everyone always asks me how I stay fit and how I carry our daughter still. The Carrier! Literally, that and pushing a stroller with a 34-pound child in it is exhausting. Having a carrier helps distribute the weight of your child and gives you both hands-free to do other things.
Our infant HATED carriers and would throw a fit every time she was in it. We kept working at it, and by the time she was 2 anytime she wanted to be carried, she would bring the carrier, knowing that was the only way we could do it.
This is our second carrier purchase, and I wish I would have purchased the ergo baby 360 right off the bat because of its toddler transition and weight limit. We will be able to use this well into the future, and with so many carrying options is ideal for larger kids and toddlers.
We highly suggest using babyquip when you can and rent baby gear once you get to your location to save space in your car, but if you want to bring it with you, here are the few baby gear items you want to bring with you
There are so many strollers on the market, but a small umbrella stroller or the pocket stroller is our go-to when traveling, especially by car. Unlike our Nuna, which we LOVE, it is not the most ideal for travel because of its weight and size.
We like this option for travel the most, but if you are looking for more of a pack-n-play, we love this one. A sleeping mat, although not very comfortable to put on the hard ground, is a great option for toddlers as most use them at school. They know this is their safe spot to sleep and can be pulled out anywhere, and has come in handy many times while traveling.
The best highchairs to travel with are the countertop highchair and the over-the-chair highchair. The only thing we ran into with the over-the-chair highchair, is that every chair is not created the same, and you might not be able to use it everywhere you go.
We also like the Bobbi as a highchair concept. You can purchase a tray in addition, but we used to put her in it to eat and just feed her ourselves.
Road Trip Activities for Kids
While all the items above are also very important road trip essentials with kids, it’s important not to forget about the entire family on your upcoming road trip. Fun games are great for a long road trip, your favorite song, podcasts, audio books, Ispy, the license plate game, trivia questions, The alphabet game, a scavenger hunt, and the restaurant game are great options for the entire family, especially for older kids. The ideas are endless.
Kids need a lot of the same items as toddlers. You probably know what ones you can skip as your children grow.
Road Trip Essentials for Adults
The list for adults is short, we don’t need as much specifically since one is typically the driver, and if there is a second adult, they are often tending to the needs of the driver, kids in the car, and themselves. Drinks, snacks, and something to listen to.
I love to bring my own blanket and pillow on road trips, it’s my favorite way to relax and be cozy in the car.
Road Trip Checklist for Family
This is the larger all-encompassing family road trip checklist great for a longer road trip, we just finished the few items specifically for each family member, but this is the list for the whole family.
Although many would say this is a 50/50 split for parents, we are screen time parents and love it. We have educational apps and games for her to play. Check out our top 19 apps for toddlers – flying or not, these are amazing apps because they work with or without wifi or cellular data. We used one of our old phones for Sloan and recently replaced it with a pay-as-you-go phone. The portability of the phone, and you do not have to activate the phone until you are ready… if ever.
We are very particular about what she plays and watches. Youtube and Youtube Kids are a NO go in our house. You have to decide what is best for your family, and if you are not a device family, skip this one and head to essential tip for kids #2.
Portable DVD player
All jokes aside if you are not a tablet family, you might be a movie family, and we will say movies and shows are probably one of the most important things to bring. It passes time much more quickly and keeps kids entertained.
Our lifelines will always be on my lists because, without the silly line item on my list, I wouldn’t remember to ask my husband if he has his phone.
Car seat travel tray
We’ve never used one, but I’ve seen them, and they seem VERY helpful, especially for longer trips and children who are not screen-time kids. We are a screen family, and it keeps our daughter entertained for hours. We will always lean towards educational apps and movies, but for those that don’t, your child will need something with a hard surface so they can do puzzles and color. A travel tray is designed to work with a car seat, although if you have too many car seats in the back seat, the trays will not work. #multiplekidslife We only have one child, so the tray is not an issue, but it is something to think about if you have multiples.
Car Seat Organizer
Car seat organizers are really great for organizing things in your car, they often have cup holders, and a small tray and are within easy reach for the front and back seats. These organizers hang on the backs of the driver and passenger seats and hold a lot of your family road trip essentials. Although not only used for road trips, we find we do not need as many things in our car during short trips, we use a smaller collapsable tote during the week or for shorter trips instead of the larger seat organizer. The best road trips addition is an organizer of any kind so that all of your items are not free rolling around the car.
Change of clothes
While most of your clothes will be in your duffle bag or suitcase, digging through each bag to find clothes is not ideal. Pack a change of clothes for each person into a weekend or day bag so that it is easier to grab what you are looking for quickly.
Whatever you do, do not forget the lid of your travel mug. Nothing is worse than spilled coffee with creamer in a car. EW… It might not be one of the most important items, but coffee is pretty high on my list.
Plastic bags and Trash bags
Bags for any kind of mess. Aso an easy way to clean out the car if you’ve stayed on top of trash pickup in the car as everyone is enjoying their snacks, either way, something is bound to happen on your next road trip, so have some items for easy throw away available, or for the occasional upset stomach.
Wet Wipes to clean your car
To piggyback off of the last point, either sticky hands, or a small mess, you want enough napkins and wipes to clean with ease and not worry if you have enough. We signed up for the honest diaper subscription, and they sent more wipes than we know what to do with. The wipe packs from Honest are really great for cleaning up both kids’ hands and the car in a pinch.
First Aid Kit
I wouldn’t skip either of these and to be honest, they should be in your car ALL the time. Tylenol, Aquaphor, motion sickness medicine, hand sanitizer, bug spray, and any personal items you or your family might need specifically for medications. Make sure this kit is within reach of the front.
Motion Sickness Medicine
For us that don’t do well in the car having medicine to ease car sickness is a game changer. This works wonders in two ways. Yes, you are supposed to take Dramamine before you get sick, but if you are sick, take them anyways, and you will feel much better shortly. In addition, drink lots of water and eat a good breakfast before you head out on the road. Having something as a base will help you not get as sick. Stay away from a lot of sugar and greasy foods to help not get sick.
Reusable Water Bottles
Sippy cup for littles, I cannot tell you how many times Sloan drops her water bottle in the backseat, and if it was leaky and spilled all over the back seat, I would be so mad. Wasted water and a mess, no thanks. Buy sippy cups that don’t leak and aren’t crappy, seriously, don’t waste your money, go for the best option.
If you are staying at a hotel, we highly suggest packing extra water bottles so that you do not have to consistently buy them for more than they are worth. We didn’t bring enough water for our quick overnight trip and had to buy a $9 Smart Water. Not the best purchase of all time. I will be milking that water and bottle for as long as possible, it’s my new reusable water bottle at the moment.
While you can use it to blow a nose or clean something up, let’s be honest when you have to pee, you have to pee, and it’s always right after you pass a rest stop. Trusty toilet paper to the rescue.
Family Road Trip Packing List PDF
Car Essentials for a Road Trip
If you are taking your own car, many of the items will already be in your car, if not, you will want to do a once over on the car and check all essential items. Once you have completed your check, it’s time for some useful items and to check a few other things.
- Spare tire
- a flat tire will ruin your day if you do not have a spare and all the essentials to change the tire.
- Check everything from the seat belt to the windshield wiper fluid and wipers, especially if this is from Turo or a rental car. You do not want to miss something being damaged and then have to pay for it because you missed it on the check-in
- Car Registration
- Jumper Cables
- Roadside Emergency Kit
- Many of these fit inside of a glove box, but there are larger ones with flares and cones that fit well in your trunk. This is one of the top road trip necessities for your car.
While the ultimate road trip packing list should solve all your needs, let’s discuss a few questions that typically come up about road trips as a family.
Frequently Asked Questions About Road Trip Essentials with Kids
Q: How do I prepare my child for a long road trip?
When it comes to preparing your child for a long road trip, it’s important if you have time to practice being in the car for long distances. Small children need lots of encouragement and practice to be good at a new thing, this includes talking to them about the road trip, that they will be in the car for a long period of time,
Q: How long does a car trip have to be to be considered a road trip?
Many people will say to be considered a road trip, you need to leave your state. I cannot express how wrong that is! A road trip can be within your state or leaving the state. Our shortest road trip has been an hour, and our longest was 18 hours. A road trip, by definition, is a trip by car, bus, and possibly a train, with no long hours or state hopping required. I think the most important part of the “road trip” is truly the exploration and experience of the road trip. I just saw a large publication call a plane-hopping trip a “road trip.”
Q: What not to pack for a road trip
The list of what not to pack for a road trip is also very worth noting. Anything that goes bad by not being in the refrigerator should be kept cold in a cooler or not packed for the actual drive. Illegal items and those in question, and to each state their own. That portion of the list would be too long to write in this section. So PLEASE do your research on what you are allowed to carry and not carry in your car. Guns, drugs, plants, and more.
Q: Should I get travel insurance for a road trip?
Yes, you should get travel insurance even for a road trip. While your auto insurance will typically cover your car, it will not cover any incurred costs or lost money over the mishap. For example, if you had tickets and a hotel for Disneyland and you had the unfortunate experience of your car no longer being able to make it, your auto insurance will cover your car, and your traveler’s insurance could cover your missed hotel stay, attraction, and tour tickets.
Q: How often to stop on road trip with toddler?
For every 6 hours, it’s said to add an additional 2 hours when traveling with kids and toddlers.
Q: How to survive road trip with a toddler?
This is a tough one to answer for many reasons. The best way to survive a road trip with a toddler is to stay calm, communicate, and understand what triggers you and them. Food, tiredness, bathroom, I’m sure your child isn’t freaking out just because they want to piss you off. It can be tough sitting in a car seat for long periods of time. Be patient and enjoy your time.
We hope you have a wonderful time on your next family road trip. Create lots of memories, and take lots of photos, we cannot wait to hear about your journey.