The Ultimate Planning Guide and Packing List for a Road Trip with Your Kids
Summer is in full swing, and if your family is anything like mine, they are ready for a vacation!
If you’re looking to save money and keep it simple, a family road trip can be a great option- whether you travel somewhere relatively close, like the nearest state park, beach or mountain destination, or you drive cross-country, proper planning and packing for a road trip is a MUST.
If you’ve ever traveled with kids, this is obviously not news to you; however, at The Curated Mom we like to make all.the.things easier for moms like you, so we’ve created a planning and packing guide for your next family road trip.
Planning Tips for a Road Trip
- Check to be sure your car seats and booster seats are properly installed. If you are unsure, just visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website to locate a local child safety seat inspection spot (typically fire stations will do this). Certified technicians can ensure that your seat is installed correctly and that it is the perfect size for your child. This website is also full of other safety tips that you will find helpful.
- In that same line of thought, be sure to check out all of the other safety features in your car, such as seatbelts, etc. Make sure they are in proper working order. Now is also a great time to get the gas tank filled, have the oil changed and perform other regular car maintenance before you get on the road with your family.
- Prepare for emergencies. Keeping a roadside emergency kit in your trunk, as well as a car battery charger is a good idea for travel (and everyday driving). Always keep a first aid kit in your car, as well as extra medicines (like Benadryl in case of an allergic reaction or even an Epipen if necessary). Another good idea is to keep bottled water and a towel or blanket (blankets are more for colder months). Batteries, flashlights, and even sunscreen and bug spray are good items to keep in the console of your car. You may see these items on the packing list for a road trip below, so just cross them off if you already have them at the ready in your car.
- And finally, be sure you have a functioning car charger for your phone– GPS and mapping apps tend to use a lot of battery “juice” so keeping your phone plugged in as you travel is always a smart idea. Having your phone battery die (and your directions with it) might lead to getting lost, which would NOT make for a fun family road trip.
- Play games. There are tons of fun options in this category. Of course there are tons of apps and games that will provide entertainment on a phone or tablet, but even better are family games that foster engagement. We’ve had a blast teaching our kids all of the old school car games, like 20 Questions, I Spy, License Plate Bingo, Going on a Picnic, and even Mad Libs. There are even some good board game options that come with magnetic boards and pieces that could work, like Checkers or Hangman. Card games are a possibility as well as long as you don’t need a ton of space to lay down your cards, like in Gin Rummy or Canasta.
- Make non-messy crafts. Braided string bracelets, or “friendship bracelets” if you will, are a fantastic car craft. Just bring a clipboard to keep the top knot steady. Other ideas of non-messy car-friendly crafts might be coloring, crossword or sudoku puzzle books, origami paper folding, or even some creative digital art activities.
- Watch movies. My husband and I constantly remark on how much we would have LOVED to have the ability to watch movies while riding in the car on long road trips. It still amazes me how much has changed since growing up in the 90’s. If your car does not have a DVD player installed, you can also download movies and shows on to tablets and phones through streaming services at home (before you hit the road and disconnect from Wifi).
- Listen to music. Again, if you’re a product of the 80’s you probably remember listening to your Walkman in the backseat (or a fancy Discman if you were a kid in the 90’s). Play some of your favorites for your kiddos to give them a “music education” of the best songs through the decades. We use the Apple Music app on our phones, but there are other great music apps like Spotify that will work just as well.
- Listen to audiobooks. If you can find a good audiobook that the whole family will enjoy, this is a GREAT way to keep everyone quiet and occupied for a longer period of time. You can sign up for services like Audible (usually includes 1-2 free audiobooks with a new trial), or even find great audiobooks through your free online local library system.
- Listen to podcasts. Again, just like audiobooks, there are some fabulous podcasts the whole family can enjoy together. If you’re having trouble finding one everyone will agree on, download one you really want to hear and simply use headphones to listen while the kids are occupied with another activity.
Other Road Trip Tips:
- Plan regular stops. You will definitely want to go ahead and plan several stops for bathroom breaks and regular leg stretching at rest stops, especially if you are embarking on a longer road trip. It is so much better to stop at a time and place you’ve planned for than end up with a child screaming from the backseat that they need to go potty and there’s not an exit for miles. You may also want to plan stops along the way at local attractions and amusement parks, historic sites, parks and trails or even popular restaurants.
- Stay hydrated. It is so important to stay hydrated all of the time, but this is especially important during summer months, as well as when traveling. When we’re off our regular daily schedules, things like tracking our water intake can take a backseat. Just be sure to keep all of your family members hydrated with cold, fresh water. Of course other drinks are fine too, but nothing is as good for your body as water. Staying hydrated can definitely be a good line of defense against car sickness as well.
- Don’t ride with an empty stomach. For me personally, riding in the car with an empty stomach is an automatic trigger for car sickness. I have to keep a little something in my stomach at all times when traveling to avoid that yucky feeling in the pit of my stomach. However, be mindful of what snacks and meals you are doling out to your car riders. Filling up on junk food while on a road trip can actually increase the likelihood of carsickness and will likely make your kiddos feel lethargic and even moody (due to the lack of proper nutrition in these foods). Prep lots of healthy snack options for the car ride and even go as far as to plan out stops at specific restaurants so you know you will be able to feed your family healthy, nutritious meals along the way.
- Keep the car clean and organized. A car trash can is a great investment, but if you don’t want to spend the extra dollars, simply bring disposable grocery bags to put in each row. Designate a garbage collector for each row if needed. Just don’t let the garbage, especially food trash, get out of hand. No one wants to ride in a car that looks and smells like a trash dump. There are also lots of wonderful car organizers to corral kids’ toys and books. These types of organizers can be such a practical help, especially on long road trips where your children may ask to bring more items than usual for the ride.
- Engage in conversation. Daily schedules can be so hectic with kids. This is a prime opportunity for uninterrupted quality conversation. It doesn’t have to be anything serious in nature, maybe even just reminiscing about past family vacations or telling funny stories. There are even some fun discussion starter questions out there to help you.
- Carefully arrange seating. Be strategic in assigning seat assignments within the family car. We always “strategize” through our seating arrangements prior to each family road trip in an effort to eliminate arguments and general frustrations. For example, we typically travel with our over-sized Golden doodle. She is a great car rider, but she is a food thief. Therefore, we need to position our younger kids away from the dog so she doesn’t feel free to help herself to their snacks. Our older kids aren’t so defenseless. They know how to hang on to their snacks before the dog sees her opportunity to sneak a bite.
Obviously, this will be different for every family. And it seems to always differ from trip to trip for our family. We do not always have the same seat assignments on every road trip. Just do what works and makes the most sense for your family to eliminate as much stress as possible.
⇓⇓⇓***PIN FOR LATER***⇓⇓⇓
Packing List for a Road Trip
We have broken down road trip packing into the following five categories:
Road Trip Essentials
- Travel Documents and Information: any printed out reservation information and check-in instructions, keys, GPS and / or maps, etc. (and obviously a valid driver’s license and up to date car registration and insurance information)
- Wallet with debit and credit cards, as well as cash for tolls (or other potentials emergencies)
- Roadside assistance membership card, such as AAA
- Emergency roadside kit
- Car battery charger
- Spare tire
- Batteries and flashlight
- First aid kit
- Medicines- any prescriptions, daily medicines like vitamins or sleep aids, and allergy medicines and creams, such as Benadryl
- Hand sanitizer
Road Trip Basics
- Clothes, pj’s, jackets and raincoats- Be selective and bring only what you think you’ll actually wear. *Packing cubes will be your new best friend as you travel! They keep even the messiest family members organized for travel.
- Shoes- Again, be selective and bring only what you need. *One genius tip is to always keep a pair of flip flops for each family member in your car, in case of forgotten shoes- hello, mom life!- or if shoes get crazy dirty with whatever fun outdoor activity you may be involved in.
- Hats and accessories
- Sunglasses, as well as glasses and contacts
- Toiletries, including sunscreen and bug spray. I also ALWAYS bring my dry shampoo on trips, as well as extra hair ties or rubber bands.
- Any seasonal items, like swimsuits in the summertime or warm coats if the weather will be cold during the trip
Road Trip Food and Drinks
- Snacks for the car ride- Again, the healthier the better and it’s always a bonus if they are non-messy, non-sticky snacks like fruit, veggies, string cheese, nuts, etc. Extra points if you’ve grown so of this in your own family garden!
- Drinks for the car ride- Be sure each rider has something to drink during the ride to stay hydrated. Remember, water is always best! Obviously, it is best for your health, but it is also best in case of spills. You definitely don’t want a cup of milk spilled in the car at the beginning of a summer road trip- no one will be happy riding in the “smelly car.” Ask me how I know!
- Refillable water bottles for each family member are really a must. I typically just fill one with ice water at the beginning of each trip for each family member as their “car drink.” You can use these over and over again, whether you are going hiking in the mountains or plan to spend the day on the sunny beach. You will use these daily!
- Cooler with ice and any frozen or pre-prepped meals that you plan to travel with. *Another genius hack is to bring along some extra insulated food storage bags from the Dollar Store to help keep food at the right temperature. This is my current go-to beach snack bag- it may not look “cool,” but it keeps the food and drinks cold and they are not nearly as heavy as a big cooler. I try to use them as many times as possible, but then I am able to simply throw them away, along with all of the pesky sand and stickiness that has accumulated in the bottom of the bag over the course of the trip. Easy peasy!
- Bring along extra wipes and paper towels for the ride, as well as plenty of empty garbage or grocery bags. I also like to pack a box of Ziploc bags for food storage or even wet swimsuit and clothes storage.
Technology on a Road Trip
- Any cell phones, tablets, or laptops with all chargers
- Streaming sticks and remotes
- DVD’s and portable DVD players for the car ride
- Let’s go ahead and say CHARGERS twice because that is such an easy one to forget!
Road Trip Items for Kids
- Toys (quiet toys for the car ride and any additional toys for the destination)
- Games and Books for ALL family members. Make sure kids have access to what they will want in the car, but don’t forget to pack your own books for the trip.
- Stuffed animals, blankets or any special “lovies” or comfort items
- Any necessary sleep items, such as a Pack ‘n Play, pillows, etc.
- Any necessary feeding items, such as a highchair or booster seat, bibs, bottles, etc.
- Travel potty, diapers, wipes and even baby bath items if you have an infant
- Any specific seasonal age-appropriate items needed for each child (floaties/Puddle Jumpers for littles, googles, etc.)
Miscellaneous Road Trip Supplies
- Quick dry towels and / or beach towels. I invested in a set of six quick dry beach towels a couple years ago and they are incredible! They obviously dry very quickly, but they are also great for the beach as they wick away sand. Win-win!
- Backpack– Bringing along some form of extra bag is a great practice. Backpacks are the easiest to carry so I tend to pack an empty backpack for each road trip (or really any traveling we do). You will likely use this each day to carry food, water and any other supplies you’ll want to have with you. But you may also want to use this to carry home any souvenirs purchased along the way.
- Umbrella– I try to keep at least one umbrella in each of our cars just in case. I always double-check to be sure it’s there before we leave for a trip. I also always pack a raincoat for each family member when we go on vacation. One great hack I’ve also seen is to keep a rain poncho from the Dollar Store for each family member in the trunk of your car. Then, you will always have some type of rain protection.
- Journal and pen. Whether you are an avid “journaler” or not, you may find that you or the kids want to document some of your family travels as you go or you simply may need a piece of paper to write something down at some point during the trip. A journal is always a good thing to keep on hand.
I have formatted all of these suggestions into a one page PDF free printable packing list for a road trip with kids. I have scribbled out so many road trip packing lists over the years, either on paper or even in the Notes app in my phone. And I would inevitably forget something important every time. So as much as this is for all of you other mamas out there, this checklist of what to pack for a road trip is for me as well!
⇓⇓⇓ Grab your Family Road Trip Packing Checklist here ⇓⇓⇓
Road Trip Apps, Websites and Other Resources
- This article from Orbitz gave some really great family road trip tips, as well as specific family-friendly apps to add loads of fun to any modern road trip.
- This video is older, but my mind was blown by her idea to pack in drawer stacks as opposed to suitcases. Have you ever tried this???
Do you have a favorite road trip destination or road trip packing hack? Leave it in the comments- we’d love to hear from you!