The Ultimate Road Trip Packing List For Families (+ Free Printable Checklist)

Hitting the road but need a travel-tested road trip packing list (and a printable check list)? 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 75 top essential items will help you bring what you need and leave home what you don't!

So many of my friends are heading on road trips 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 are the basic things to pack for a road trip.

But not to worry. We have taken so many family trips on the road, I have the ultimate packing list for a road trip with the best things to bring. And, I have a handy travel packing checklist  I rely on to be sure I don't forget a thing.

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 check list, 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 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

road-trip-packing-list-family-ready-to-go
Photo credit: FlairImages/iStock by Getty

 

Why Road Trips For Vacation

Our family loves road trips 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 audio books 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.

And, with the right packing list for a road trip, they can be very fun! Just as long as you have all of your essentials.

 

trips for road trips mini van on a road

 

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.  This was before the internet, so we would call places each night to check on availability.

But what made it so fun is that we often saw things we didn't expect to see, giving us opportunities for unexpected stops. 

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. Road trips can allow 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.

 

tips for road trips with kids two camper vans

 

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 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.

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 was 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 alot about a culture.

 

tips for road trips road with now one on it

 

Road Trips 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.

road-trip-packing-list-kid-and-dog-and-suitcases-in-car
Photo credit: @ Natty88/depositphotos.com

 

The Ultimate Road Trip Packing List For Families

road trip check list road trip packing list

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 what to take on your road trip.

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 packing than say a beach destination. 

But, there are some standard 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. 

And, remember to prep your house before you hit the road.  There are some safety tips before leaving home you'll want to be sure and do, to give you peace of mind so you can keep your eyes and mind on the road. 

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

  • Driver's License
  • Roadside Assistance or AAA card
  • Road Map, Atlas, GPS, or Google Maps
  • Car Registration
  • Rental Car Agreement (if applicable)
  • Car Manual
  • Car Essentials (spare tire, jumper cables, scrapers, tire pressure guage)
  • Spare Key
  • Roadside Emergency Kit 
  • Ice Scraper and Brush (for Ski Trips or winter travel)
  • Hands Free Car Mount for Cell Phone
  • First Aid Kit
  • Flashlight
  • Car Seats (If you are traveling with little ones, check out this review of the best portable car seats.)
  • 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
      • Gloves
      • Hand Sanitizer
      • Extra Disinfectant Wipes

Road Trip Essentials Checklist: Food and Meals

  • Portable Snacks
    • Granola Bars
    • Single Serving Snacks like Pretzels/Chips
    • Hummus (in cooler)
    • Cheese and Crackers (in cooler)
    • Muffins
    • Energy Bars
    • Single Serving Cereal
    • Single Serving Nuts/Seeds
    • Fruit
    • Vegetables
    • Mini Almond Butter Packs
    • Boiled Eggs (in cooler)
    • String Cheese (in cooler)
    • Trail Mix
  • Refillable Coffee Mugs for Coffee/Gas Stations Stops
  • Refillable Water Bottles (multiple for all members in the car)
  • Cooler
  • Portable Fridge
  • Portable Meals
    • Pasta Salad
    • Sandwiches
    • Wraps
    • Egg Sandwiches
    • Burritos
    • Salad
  • Disposable Cutlery
  • Napkins
  • Sandwich Bags For Storing Leftovers

Check out my post on The Best Road Trip Food: 101+ Easy and Simple Road Trip Meals and Snacks You'll Love!


Road Trip Essentials Checklist: Your Suitcase/Your Trip

  • Suitcase
  • Compression Bags to save space or Packing cubes
  • Quick Dry Travel Towel
  • Toiletries
    • Toiletry Bag
    • Shampoo/Conditioner
    • Dry Shampoo
    • Body Wash/Lotion
    • Deodorant
    • Hair Brush/Hair Products
    • Makeup
    • Razor
    • Toothbrush/Toothpaste/Floss
    • Hair Ties
  • Jewelry
  • Sunglasses
  • Hats
  • Clothes (shirts, shorts, pants)
  • Pajamas
  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Sweatshirt
  • Rain Jacket/Light Jacket/Windbreakers
  • Cooling Towel
  • Day Pack
  • Trip Specific Needs
    • Sheets/Bedding/Towels
    • For Hiking
      • Backpacks for Hiking
      • Shoes/Boots
      • Socks
      • Pants
      • Layers
    • For Camping
      • Tent
      • Sleeping Bag
      • Portable Grill
      • Smore's Kit
      • Lantern
      • Pillow
      • Camping Equipment
    • For Dude Ranch
      • Hats
      • Cowboy Boots
      • Jeans
      • Riding Gloves
      • Socks
    • Beach Trip
      • Swimsuits
      • Beach Clothes/Coverups
      • Towels
      • Goggles/Snorkel Gear
      • Water shoes/Flip Flops
      • Beach Gear (buckets, noodles, floaties, wagon, canopy/umbrella, etc.)
    • For Ski Trips
      • Layers
      • Gloves
      • Socks
      • Balaclava
      • Ski Gear (skis, helmet, poles, jackets, pants, boots, gloves, hot pockets)
    • For Travel With Babies/Toddlers
      • Baby Wipes
      • Diapers
      • Diaper Disposal Bags
      • Extra Clothes
      • Diaper Bag
      • Baby Food/Formula/Jar Food
      • Bibs
      • Pacifiers
      • Bottles
      • Changing Pad
  • Camera
  • Binoculars
BVWK Tip
If you are planning to change hotels or locations often during your trip, here's a great tip.  Pack individual outfits in freezer bags (I love the IKEA ones because they are extra large) inside your suitcase, including top, bottoms, underwear, and socks, and have a portable duffle bag. This way, rather than bringing in your whole suitcase in each night, you just grab your outfit pack, toiletries, and pajamas and put them in the duffle minimizing how much you have to bring into your accommodations each night!  The ziplock also can be repurposed for your dirty clothes and makes it easier to find when doing laundry on the road.

Road Trip Essentials Checklist: Electronics

  • Cell Phone
  • Ipads/Tablets
  • Computers
  • Portable Charger for Car and small mini charger for adventures
  • Solar Charger for outdoor adventures
  • Chargers for Your Electronics
  • Download the Road Trippers app (get 30 days free of Road Trippers Plus with my link ⬅)
  • 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 activities for toddlers

Road Trip Essentials( for kids, especially!) Checklist: Entertainment

Check out over 35+ Road Trip Activities For Kids, Toddlers, and Teens!

BVWK Tip
I recommend giving kids their own backpack/road trip kids bag complete with their activity pack, sketchbook/pencils, clipboard, headphones, books, electronic for Audible audio books, portable charger, water bottle, and snack bag. This way kids can be completely independent during the journey. It is like a carry-on for kids, but for the car! We don't drive without road trip activities for kids. 

Road Trip Essentials Checklist: Money and Travel Documents

  • Cash
  • Credit Cards
  • Traveler's Checks (if applicable)
  • Travel Insurance Card
  • Coins for the car for tolls/laundry
  • 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)
BVWK Tip
Kids (and anyone who is prone to motion sickness) can get sick on longer car rides. Our family always travels with extra ziplock bags strategically placed in the event someone feels unwell. We also try to avoid milk products in the morning. If you have a motion sickness-prone traveler, you may want to take some precautions with motion sickness aids.

Road Trip Essentials Checklist: Health and Safety

  • Health Insurance Cards
  • Travel Insurance Information For Your Trip 
  • Covid Vaccination Cards If Needed
  • Road Trip Insurance
  • First Aid Kit For the Car
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug Spray
  • Medicine Pack
    • Essential Medicines and Prescriptions
    • Contacts/Glasses
    • Allergy Medicines
    • Motion Sickness Medicines
    • Thermometer
    • Pain Relievers for Adults and Kids and Dispenser
    • Upset Stomach Medication
  • PPE Cleaning Pack
    • Masks
    • Sanitizer Portable
    • Sanitizer For Car
    • Disinfectant Wipes
    • Gloves


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, I recommend headphones, their cell phone or tablet, an external charger, audio books and real books, a sketch book and colored pencils, and playing cards.  I also love teen-centered road trip activities for kids.

 

road trip activities for teens

 

How Can I Make A Long Road Trip More Comfortable?

Be sure to add a  pillow and blanket to your trip packing list items, and be sure to make your 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.

I also recommend trying to pack your car on the road trip so that everyone has plenty of leg room.  Be careful to not have too much luggage or bags near peoples' feet.

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). 

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 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.

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 so that what we don't need, 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 up front.

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.

 

road trip food car filled with camping equipment and cooler
Photo credit: @ ImageSource | depositphotos.com

Important Note About Packing A Car For A Road Trip

Anything we need to access, like our driver's license, road trip cooler, toilet paper, road trip food, or our overnight bag, is 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 lots of water in a water bottle, road trip meals, and snacks is also important, and we pack those in the order we will eat them – with the soonest items on top.  This limits the amount of stops at gas stations and rest stops, as well as the amount of time spent at these stops.

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 important items like first aid kits, a spare tire, jumper cables, a roadside assistance phone number, or your road side 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.  

 

What Are Some Good Road Trip Snacks?

Check out my complete list of the best road trip foods, including good meals and snacks to bring on your road trip!  I also have a list of the best road trip snack mix recipes to bring as well! 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.

 

road trip food
Photo credit: Stock Image via Canva

What Are Some Road Trip Essentials?

This checklist is called the ULTIMATE because there are over 75+ items to help you determine what you may NEED to pack.  Some of these items 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

road-trip-packing-list-family-ready-to-go
Photo credit: Vera_Petrunina/iStock by Getty

When we first started on family road trips, 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 take  on a road trip (and tips for where to put it!)

Packing for a road trip can feel overwhelming, but this handy essentials checklist will help you plan.  Plus, with my free checklist, you can focus on keeping your thoughts on the journey!

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.

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9 thoughts on “The Ultimate Road Trip Packing List For Families (+ Free Printable Checklist)”

  1. I love the tip about the outfits in freezer bags! I have never thought of packing everything individual before. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  2. Anything to make my life easier is awesome, as I am the designated packer of all things travel, including for road trips. I agree that the outfit in a bag idea is genius. I am trying to use less plastic in my life, and I am thinking that i could use packing cubes instead.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Donna. Yes, the compression packing bags I mentioned above are excellent for this purpose! They kept our clothes super organized on our recent three week, 2500 mile, road trip!

      Reply
  3. Keri, the freezer bag tip is a total NINJA tip. Why didn’t I think of that? Often we stay a couple of days here and a couple of days there, why drag around that big suitcase? I love this tip.

    Reply

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