Hitting the road but need a travel-tested road trip packing list (and a FREE printable checklist)? Our family has done quite a few this summer, as it seems to be the vacation of choice for many families.
My ultimate road trip packing list for families with over 101+ top essential items will help you bring what you need and leave home what you don't! Plus, I include a handy printable road trip list of essentials, so you don't have to write down a thing. All of the road trip essentials will be on this list!
A lot of my friends have planned a road trip or have gone on one already, and I keep hearing the same thing. “What should I bring on a long road car trip with kids? What should I bring for fun?” I have also been asked what the basic things to pack for a road trip are.
This can be tricky because taking a Texas road trip is going to be very different than a San Diego, California, or Northern Montana road trip. And packing for a road trip where you may be hiking is different than if you will be visiting beaches. Of course, a summer road trip will be different than a winter road trip.
But not to worry. We have taken so many family trips on the road, including to National Parks. So, I have the ultimate road trip packing list with the best things to bring, even if you will be doing a range of activities. And, I have a handy FREE PRINTABLE travel packing checklist I rely on to be sure I don't forget a thing for any road adventure we go on.
These Road Trip Packing List essentials is so complete; it even includes the things you need to save space, one of my favorite road trip tips. From road trip car essentials to snacks, activities, and more, I have everything covered with these road trip must-haves.
Whether you are heading out for a short weekend jaunt or a longer road trip, here is our tried and true list of things to bring on a road trip! And, if you are wondering how to plan a road trip checklist, you can also grab my FREE road trip packing list to make sure you have all of your road trip essentials handy! This will make sure you know what NOT to forget when traveling on your road trip.
This road trip essentials post contains affiliate links for which I receive a small commission as an Amazon Associate, at no additional cost to you should you make a purchase using this link. See my disclaimer. Cover photo credit: @ Gorilla/depositphotos.com
Why Road Trips For Vacation
Taking a road trip is one of my family's favorite ways to vacation because it is such a great way to see everything you miss when you fly from one point to another. Though they can be long and tedious, they are often a lot of fun.
With the right road trip activities, your kids can be kept engaged enough to pass the time. Our family loves a variety of activities, especially some of the best family audiobooks for a family road trip to help make daunting drives more enjoyable! It can be a great way to bond over an engaging story, like Harry Potter.
Now, let's be honest. Having road trip activities is part of the road trip essentials you don't want to leave home without! It will make the long driving periods better for kids and for grownups.
And, with the right road trip packing list, they can be very fun! Just as long as you have your road trip packing list essentials.
Road Trips Are About The Journey
Many years ago, before kids, my husband and I did a road trip in Ireland. We flew into Shannon and spent a week driving across to Dublin, stopping in a new bed and breakfast each night, as we would find places as we went.
This road trip was before the iPhone and internet on demand (dating myself), so we would call places out of the travel book we bought each night to check on availability. While we definitely found some gems, in some places, we often found basic and over-popular options (which were more than good!)
But if we had free Wi-Fi, or a smartphone, back then, we could easily find something more exotic such as the most famous alternative routes in Dublin.
However, that is what makes a road trip so special. Sometimes, on a road trip, you see things you didn't expect to see, giving opportunities for unexpected stops.
Whether it's a hotel recommendation or chatting with a local, often you find hidden gems. And those are some of the most special experiences!
In fact, sometimes, we would plan to see a town but didn't care for it much. Moving on to the next town that wasn't on the plan was sometimes more exciting than the one we planned.
And then there are the photo opportunities. Taking a road trip allows you to find the best photo stops in National Parks to capture the location's beauty in ways you simply can't do if you travel on planes and trains.
Like if you take a road trip to gorgeous Arizona, the mesmerizing landscape and unique roadside attractions would be missed if you traveled by plane.
Road Trips Can Immerse You In A Location
Because you are spending hours driving through somewhere, you get to see a lot of a location.
In fact, this past summer, we took a three-week summer road trip through Montana, Utah, and Colorado, and it included four National Park visits and a Dude Ranch. It was definitely one of the best USA road trips we have ever taken because visiting a national park or dude ranch is a very unique experience. But it also required a list of long road trip essentials.
In addition to really taking in the gorgeous landscapes and spotting things new to us, like buffalo grazing in the field, we also stopped and supported many local businesses selling delicious local foods and chatted with locals. Roadside stands selling huckleberry treats in Montana were a highlight of the trip.
During our Ireland road trip, we also listened to Irish radio. Listening to popular music in the country (or state or region) and local news can teach you a lot about what is going on in that location, and you can learn a lot about a culture.
Taking a Roadtrip Can Inspire Unexpected Adventures
Sometimes, we will find an unusual roadside store, a last-minute attraction, or a view that we want to see. Unexpected adventures are often some of the things my kids remember most about a road trip.
In fact, sometimes even gas stations can be interesting! When we travel to France, their gas station stops have great souvenirs and fantastic food.
One of the reasons I love the Road Trippers app is because this handy helper not only provides directions, places to stay, rest stops, and places to eat. But it will alert you to unique attractions and things to see along the way. Waze and Google Maps are some road trip apps we love, too; they can help you find a rest stop or gas station close to where you are.
Road Trip Tips for an Epic Road Trip
- Plan in advance. Knowing where you are going, the amenities at the accommodations (i.e., kitchens, laundry, etc.), and the activities you will be doing will help ensure a successful road trip. I also recommend mapping out your route in advance and making sure you bring the road trip must-haves below.
- Make sure your car is ready for the road. Having it checked from oil to tire pressure is a great idea to make sure it is safe for driving. Also, be sure you have a battery charger or jumper cables to jump-start your car battery.
- Bring a spare key. Having a spare key or an extra set of keys with another family member can make all the difference in case you lose your car keys or accidentally lock them in your car. It is definitely one of the top road trip essentials to bring along.
- Have a plan, but leave room for flexibility. Sometimes a road trip can have detours (literally and figuratively), so having the option and room for flexibility is important. Family road trips can make for long days, but if you can keep an open mind for flexibility, that can help when unexpected things come up. You never know when this will happen, but you can be prepared to reroute and regroup by leaving room for flexibility.
- Get plenty of sleep before you drive. Ideally, have another adult with you as well who can share the driving and also help with navigation. It's one of those long road trip must-haves.
- Bring healthy road trip food, your own meals, fresh fruit, and snacks. These are road trip packing list essentials that help save money, stops, and are healthier.
- Stay hydrated. Bringing lots of water and a refillable water bottle will help you avoid getting sleepy while driving. Honestly, we like to bring a water bottle for each family member. I also bring a travel mug to refill coffee on the road.
- Plan your rest stops. Whether it's an overnight in a hotel room or a rest stop, having a plan if you can of where and when you will be stopping. This can even be every so many hours or miles. Some of your rest stops should include visiting a gas station and you can even do this using a road trip app.
- Chew gum to help stay awake. This is a road trip essential for me.
- You can use awakening aromatherapy scents in your car to help keep you awake. Or bring a personal towel you can put some aromatherapy oil on or pour some water to freshen your face or help wake you up when you feel drowsy.
- Bring road trip activities for the kids. When you pack for a road trip, always give the kids a “carry-on” for the car, which can have all of the things they need to be self-sufficient during the trip. This is one of those road trip essentials that can help keep them busy during a long road trip.
- Pack a ONE-NIGHT bag if you will be stopping in a hotel for an overnight on your road trip. We just plan for this when we pack for a road trip. We add one set of pajamas, clothing, and toiletries, so you only have to bring in the one-night bag into the hotel room rather than all of the suitcases.
- Consider buying travel insurance for your trip.
Check out more of my road trip tips here.
The Ultimate Road Trip Packing List For Families
Now that you are ready to plan your road trip let's get you set with what to bring on your road trip! Having a good road trip checklist is helpful when packing so you know the road trip must-haves to bring with you.
While generally speaking, what you pack for a road trip will be dependent on where you go and what you will be doing, my road trip essentials list has all of the necessities you will need. Of course, hiking in a National Park will require different road trip supplies and packing then, say, a beach destination.
But, there are some standard road trip essentials you should have when packing for a road trip vacation. You don't want to get caught not having emergency equipment or be ill-prepared for changes in weather along the way. Successful road-tripping is all about planning, which is why I created this list of road-trip packing list essentials for my family and now you.
This ULTIMATE road trip checklist includes all of our recommendations for the must-haves you need to take on a road trip, including a road trip checklist for the car (so you don't forget anything from that spare tire to the refillable water bottles).
It also includes what you may need for visiting a National Park, as well as a variety of other family vacations.
Be sure to grab your family road trip checklist printable below!
Road Trip Essentials Checklist: The Car
Some of these road trip essentials should be accessible as you will likely need them when driving the open road. But not everything needs to be in the front of the car. You also want to be prepared in case you get a flat tire or run into other car troubles, especially in remote areas where there may not be many passing cars.
To save space and keep organized, use a car truck organizer so that you know where these items are should you need to reach them on the side of the road or quickly.
- Driver's License
- Roadside Assistance or AAA card
- Road Map, Atlas, GPS, or Google Maps
- National Park Card to get into the national parks
- Car Registration
- Car insurance
- Rental Car Agreement (if applicable)
- Car Manual (we keep our car manual in the glove compartment)
- Car Essentials (spare tire and tire changing tools in case of a flat tire, jumper cables for the car battery, scrapers, tire pressure gauge, warning triangle, etc.)
- Extra blanket in case of car breakdowns in cold weather
- Car Keys and Spare Key/Extra Car Key
- Roadside Emergency Kit with charger for car battery
- Snow Kit: Ice Scraper and Brush, snow shovel, and maybe tire chains (for Ski Trips or winter travel, an ice scraper, snow shovel, and brush are must-have essentials)
- Empty Gas Can (in case you run out of gas)
- Weatherman All-In-One Tool (a super handy tool with a variety of functions for those just-in-case moments)
- Hands-Free Car Mount for Cell Phone
- First Aid Kit
- Car Seats (If you are traveling with little ones, check out this review of the best portable car seats to take on a road trip.)
- Trunk Organizer to keep your car organized and tidy
- Sunshades for windows
- Travel pillow and blanket (lovey for kids)
- Windproof Umbrella
- Trashbags or Travel Trash Can
- Freezer Bags (in the event of carsickness, they can be used)
- Pen and Paper
- Paper towels and Disinfectant wipes (in case of spills/carsickness)
- Toilet Paper
- Duct Tape (you never know why you might need Duct Tape, but it can come in handy if you have to ship anything home or secure things together!)
- Baby Wipes/Wet Wipes for hands (and to keep your car clean)
- During Covid, PPE Kit:
- Extra Masks
- Hand Sanitizer
- Extra Disinfectant Wipes
Road Trip Essentials Checklist: Food and Meals
Bringing your own Road Trip food list will help save money and time and is healthier. I recommend putting a cooler in the back for the road trip meals layered so that what you plan to eat first is on top. But keeping road trip snacks handy and accessible is important, so here is a list of the road trip necessities we like to bring.
- Portable Snacks
- Granola Bars
- Single Serving Snacks like Pretzels/Chips
- Hummus (in cooler)
- Cheese and Crackers (in cooler)
- Energy Bars
- Single Serving Cereal
- Single Serving Nuts/Seeds
- Fresh Fruit
- Vegetables (easy ones like baby carrots)
- Mini Almond Butter Packs
- Hard Boiled Eggs (in a cooler)
- String Cheese (in a cooler)
- Trail Mix
- Refillable Coffee Mugs for Coffee/Gas Stations Stops
- Refillable Water Bottles (at least one reusable water bottle for each family member in the car)
- Cold Drinks
- Portable Fridge
- Portable Meals
- Pasta Salad
- Egg Sandwiches
- Smores kit in case you have a fire pit
- Disposable Cutlery
- Plastic Picnic Blanket (a picnic blanket is great for picnic tables or sitting on the ground)
- Sandwich Bags For Storing Leftovers
- Plastic bags (freezer bags)
- Plastic bag (trash bag) to collect trash
Road Trip Essentials Checklist: Your Suitcase/Your Trip
Use compression bags and packing cubes to save space in your suitcase. You can also use a “hamburger” or car luggage carrier for the roof for things you won't need to access right away. We find these road trip essentials necessities.
Plus, a luggage carrier may be a must to add to your list of long-road trip essentials if you're planning on being gone over a week depending on how large your family is.
- Compression Bags to save space or Packing cubes to pack clothes (the best ways to maximize space)
- A day pack or bag for essentials you need for activities throughout the day so those things aren't buried in your car
- Quick Dry Travel Towel
- Toiletry Bag
- Dry Shampoo
- Body Wash/Lotion
- Hair Brush/Hair Products
- Hair Ties
- Clothes (shirts, shorts, pants)
- Rain Jacket/Light Jacket/Windbreakers
- Cooling Towel
- Day Pack for Day Trips
- Trip Specific Needs
- For Disney
- Walking Shoes
- Pin Lanyards
- Disney themed outfits
- Door Decorations
- For Hiking
- Backpacks for Hiking
- For Camping
- Sleeping Bag
- Portable Grill
- Smore's Kit
- Camping Equipment
- Flip flops or shoes to wear just around the camp
- For Dude Ranch
- Cowboy Boots
- Riding Gloves
- Beach Trip
- Swimsuits/Bathing Suit
- Beach Clothes/Coverups
- Goggles/Snorkel Gear
- Water shoes/Flip Flops
- Beach Gear (buckets, noodles, floaties, wagon, canopy/umbrella, flip flops, etc.)
- For Ski Trips
- Ski Gear (skis, helmet, poles, jackets, pants, boots, gloves, hot pockets)
- For Travel With Babies/Toddlers
- Baby Wipes
- Diaper Disposal Bags
- Extra Clothes
- Diaper Bag
- Baby Food/Formula/Jar Food
- Changing Pad
Road Trip Essentials Checklist: Electronics
Be sure to keep your electronics accessible and organized. I recommend checking the USB port in your car to make sure you have the right plug or converter to keep them charged during the trip, as they are a road trip essential!
Here is a list of our road trip necessities for our handy electronics and other necessities for our devices.
- Cell Phone
- Portable Charger for Car (car charger and double check the plug to make sure you have the correct ones for your phone and the car's USB ports) and small mini charger so you can keep taking photos of your epic adventures
- Cell Phone Mount
- Solar Charger for outdoor adventures
- Portable Wifi
- Toll Transponder
- Global Star Spot Device (in case you are hiking where there is no cell service)
- Chargers for Your Electronics
- Download the Road Trippers app (get 30 days free of Road Trippers Plus with my link ⬅). Alternatively, use Waze or Google Maps. This will be helpful when also navigating around National Parks like Yellowstone or Glacier
- Paper map in the glove box (just in case you need easy access to a map and don't have cell service)
- Virtual Private Network (VPN) to protect your sensitive information in public WiFi places
- Mobile WiFi Device (may come in handy if you don't have cell service)
Road Trip Essentials (for kids, especially!) Checklist: Entertainment
Before you go, be sure to download to tablets and phones your favorite road trip podcast and audiobooks as you may not be able to access the internet while on the road. I also recommend getting and printing out my road trip activity pack in advance. Having a variety of activities and road trip games is definitely part of your road trip necessities when planning your road trip packing list, so you can focus on the open road!
- Audible audio books app
- Kid Road Trip Activity packs (my favorite road trip essential!)
- Portable DVD Player
- Travel Games (like the license plate game)
- Travel Journal
- Sketchbooks and Colored Pencils or Clipboard with Paper
- Road Trip Kit
- Other road trip games your family loves
Check out over 35+ Road Trip Activities For Kids, Toddlers, and Teens!
Road Trip Essentials Checklist: Money and Travel Documents
Make sure you have all of the essential travel documents, including travel insurance cards, medical cards, driver's licenses, and any additional information you may need. These are road trip necessities that aren't a big deal as long as you have them and don't need them, but if you need them and don't have them, that's bad! I recommend keeping these with you upfront in case you need to access them quickly.
- Credit Cards
- Traveler's Checks (if applicable)
- Travel Insurance Card
- Coins for the car for tolls/laundry/parking meters
- Travel Wallet
- Travel Purse
- Portable Safe
- Travel Documents/ID
- Contact Information For House/Petsitters
- Travel Itinerary (Flight Details, Hotel/Accommodation Details, Tour Information and Contacts)
Road Trip Essentials Checklist: Health and Safety
Sometimes things happen on a vacation, and that is the same with road-tripping. Be sure you have these road trip essentials “just in case”.
- Health Insurance Cards
- Travel Insurance Information For Your Trip
- Covid Vaccination Cards If Needed
- Road Trip Insurance
- First Aid Kit For the Car
- Bug Spray
- Lip Balm
- Medicine Pack
- Essential Medicines and Prescriptions
- Allergy Medicines
- Motion Sickness Medicines
- Pain Relievers for Adults and Kids and Dispenser
- Upset Stomach Medication
- PPE Cleaning Pack
- Hand Sanitizer Portable
- Hand Sanitizer For Car
- Disinfectant Wipes
Frequently Asked Questions
What Should A Teenager Bring On A Road Trip?
If you are looking for what your teenager should bring on a road trip, My recommended road trip packing list essentials include headphones, their cell phone or tablet, an external charger, audiobooks and real books, a sketchbook and colored pencils, and playing cards. I also love teen-centered road trip activities for kids.
How Can I Make A Long Road Trip More Comfortable?
For long driving days, be sure to add a pillow and blanket to your road trip essentials list, and be sure to make your cold drinks, road trip food, and snacks accessible. Kids can also have a lovey available and a backpack near them with a blanket, snacks, activities, and anything else they need to access near them on their road trip packing lists.
I also recommend trying to pack your car on the road trip so that everyone has plenty of legroom. Be careful to not have too much luggage or bags near people's feet. This can be difficult during long drives.
Be sure and take leg stretching breaks and potty breaks every so often (be sure to have toilet paper handy in case you can't find a gas station). This will help you stay safe when driving.
Also, be sure to stay hydrated, and be sure to bring road trip activities to keep the kids entertained.
Lastly, I highly recommend dressing comfortably! Leggings and sweatshirts are a go to for our family.
How Should I Pack My Car For A Road Trip?
Our best tip for road trip packing and how to pack your car is to bring what you need but try not to overpack. We also recommend you know what your car can handle in terms of space and weight.
Now, if you don't have a car big enough, consider renting a car. We did this for our last road trip, as it saves miles on your car, and you can get a big one.
This is especially helpful if you take a long road trip. You can compare the prices of rental companies to get the best deals.
If you need to, get a roof carrier or bring a trailer if it suits your car and your road-tripping. We also pack our trunk with the things we don't need right away, and the biggest suitcases go in first.
What we need to access is either near the trunk (so we can just pop it open and grab it) or accessible by the passengers if they reach over the seat or upfront.
If your car can't fit everything for your road-tripping adventure, consider renting a car. On our recent USA road trip from New England to Florida, we got a large rental car to fit all of our belongings and family comfortably.
While we may have been able to wedge everything into our car, we didn't want to get caught not having enough room. Our rental car made for a much nicer and more comfortable experience.
Important Note About Packing A Car For A Road Trip
Any road trip essentials we need to access, like our driver's license, road trip cooler, tire pressure gauge, toilet paper, road trip food, or our overnight bag, are either in the front near us or in the back closest to the trunk door. We try to give lots of leg room for the passengers but make sure the kids' road trip activities are accessible.
Bringing our own meals limits the number of stops at gas stations and rest stops, as well as the amount of time spent at these stops. And it reduces extra costs. When we approach a rest stop, we can just spread out on a picnic table to eat without purchasing expensive snacks from the vending machines.
Lastly, you shouldn't drive until all passengers are safely buckled in, and you can see out of all of your windows. If you are accessing google maps, you need to make sure your phone has a holder where you can see it and don't have to look down.
You will also want to make sure you know how to use (and where to access) any road trip packing list essentials like first aid kits, a spare tire, jumper cables, a roadside assistance phone number, or your roadside emergency kit.
You never know what type of unexpected situations can arrive, so you want to make sure to bring all of the “just in case” items in the event of an emergency or last-minute change of plans.
Be sure to also have any information, documents, and travel insurance in a place you can easily access. I recommend bringing hard copies and having electronic copies of all of these important documents.
What Are Some Good Road Trip Snacks?
This will ensure you won't go hungry on your trip. But granola bars, energy balls, muffins, single-serving snacks like popcorn and trail mix, and high protein snacks are our must-haves for our road trip packing list items.
What Are Some Road Trip Essentials?
This checklist is called the ULTIMATE because there are over 100+ items to help you determine what you may NEED to pack for a road trip. It is a comprehensive list.
Some of these road trip packing list essentials may not apply to your trip, depending on if you are taking a USA road trip, visiting a National Park, headed to the beach, or taking a long car ride vacation elsewhere, and depending on the time of year.
Once you review this list and download my road trip packing essentials list, you will have what you need to pack and be ready to hit the road!
Final Thoughts About The Road Trip Packing List For Families
When we took our very first road trip, I wondered what to bring. But over time, we have evolved from experience to create a complete road trip checklist for everything we need to know and need to take on a road trip (and tips for where to put it!)
Packing for a road trip can feel overwhelming, but this handy road trip packing list essentials to help you plan. Plus, with my free checklist, you can focus on keeping your thoughts on the journey! And it will ensure your epic adventure is so fun you'll be ready for your next adventure!
While each road trip is different, planning ahead for the things you need for a road trip and packing efficiently will make your family vacation go much smoother. Use this road trip packing printable list for families to make your packing easier, so you can keep your eyes on the road making lasting memories with your family whether you're visiting a national park, beach, or someone else.
These road trip tips will help you enjoy an epic road trip adventure with your kids!
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