road trip essentials packing car

Family Road Trip Essentials: The Ultimate Road Trip Packing List

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Are you planning a family road trip soon? If so, you need to be sure that you have all the road trip essentials for an epic journey. This road trip packing list will help you prepare for your next lengthy drive with tips and tricks from seasoned road trippers! We will cover everything from what to pack, how to pack the car, how to pass time on long drives with kids, and much more!

Packing For A Road Trip

There are many essential items that you may need to pack for a road trip, and it can be overwhelming when trying to figure out what items are necessary. Especially when you are planning a road trip with kids!

We created this guide with the intention of helping you decide what items are essential for your trip and giving you great tips on the items you may not have considered before you leave home so that you can enjoy your trip much more.

After all, a well-prepared trip is often a happy trip!

On the other side of the scenario is not wanting to over-pack with items that just end up taking up that limited valuable storage space in your car or motorhome that you don’t end up using.

This essential road trip packing list will help you filter out those items so you’re only packing the things you actually need!

If you are planning to take a campervan road trip, check out our RV essentials packing list!

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Planning a family road trip

Before you can start planning what to take on your road trip, the key to planning a family road trip is determining the details of your trip.

Start by deciding on a destination, a time frame and the time of year that you are travelling because each of these factors can have a huge impact on the items you need to pack.

The length of time will influence the amount of clothing, personal items and food you need to bring along and the time of year will determine the type of clothing and accessories.

For example, if you are taking a winter road trip, you need to pack clothing to suit cold weather.

If you are road tripping during the peak holiday season, such as in the summer months, it may mean more traffic on the roads and the need to give yourself more time to reach each road trip stop.

It also helps to plan your road trip stops before you leave, giving yourself at least a rough plan of where you will stop each night and where you will sleep. If you are sleeping in your car, you need to ensure the rest stops you plan to stop at allow for camping.

Road Trip Tip #1: Having a list or a travel app with gas stations will reduce stress on the road when you are running low on fuel and haven’t seen one on the open road for a while!

Family Road Trip Packing List: Essential Road Trip Items

This family road trip packing list will give you an idea of what items to take with you to suit every road trip, along with suggestions on items that may be relevant for different times of the year, longer road trips compared to shorter road trips and road trip essentials to suit the ages of your children as well.

Let’s get started with the absolute essentials that you need for every road trip, no matter the season, the length of the trip or the size of your family. These road trip essentials are a must-pack for all driving holidays.

License, Insurance & Vehicle Registration – Make sure you have your essential documentation to make driving legal, by double checking that you have your drivers license and car registration and insurance documents for your car.

Road Side Assistance – Having a roadside assistance membership is a great idea to drastically reduce stress if something does go wrong along the way.

First Aid Kit – This is essential road trip item for any family trip and one of the most important things to pack. You should make sure that you have enough bandages, pain relief and other items in your first-aid kit which may come in handy if there’s an emergency or someone gets hurt along the way.

Navigation – Whether you are using a GPS fitted in your car, your mobile phone, or using a traditional map to travel during your road trip, make sure your navigation tool of choice is up to date so you don’t end up lost on roads that have since been upgraded. Mobile phone map apps, such as Google Maps, tend to be the most up to date compared to paper maps and GPS.

Road Trip Tip #2: For long road trips, it’s a good idea to have a paper map of the area that you are travelling through in case your phone battery dies or stops updating. It can also help with navigation if GPS is unreliable or not working.

Car Charger – You will need a car charger for your mobile phone, tablet and other electronic devices. Ideally, use one that can charge multiple devices at once!

Portable Battery Pack – As a back up for doing day trips and hikes during your road trip or for use in the backseat to charge the kid’s devices, a portable battery pack is a useful item to pack. After all, kids will likely want more screen time when they are seated for long periods.

Pocket knife or multitool – These tools, such as a Swiss Army Knife, can come in handy for a number of reasons, such as opening packaging or cutting a cord and is a useful item to keep in the glove compartment of your car.

Flashlight – You may need to use this on a dark night if you decide to pull over and sleep in your car, or if you get stuck with a flat tyre or break down during the night. Just make sure it’s fully charged beforehand or bring spare batteries for a battery-operated torch!

Blankets & Pillows – If you are sleeping in your car, you will need bedding, such as a sleeping bag or blanket and a pillow for each person to keep warm overnight. This may not be essential if you are planning to stop at hotels each night, although it’s still a good idea to bring them for your kids who may like to nap during the drive.

Roadside Emergency Kit – Basic tools such as pliers, screwdrivers and a wrench set in case you need to do any repairs along the way, such as changing a tyre. Jumper cables, air compressor, flares and an air pressure gauge are useful to include in your kit too.

Spare Tyre – Make sure you inspect your spare tyre before you leave to ensure it is suitable in case you do find yourself in a situation where you need to change your tyre. The same goes for checking the tyres already on the car and making sure they are pumped up to the correct level before you leave.

Paper and pen – This is a good idea for keeping track of important information such as the license plate number or insurance details just in case your phone dies or becomes unusable. You can also use it to take notes about anything interesting you see on the road.

Food and drink – If you are going on a long trip then it’s important to pack food and water for everyone with plenty of variety. Try to avoid packing just junk food so you can eat well while you travel and feel better for it.

Cooler – An esky or a cooler will keep your food and drinks chilled during your drive.

Plates, Bowls & Cutlery – If you are having meals on the way, make sure you don’t forget the plates and cutlery so you can eat your meals! Reusable options can be washed to save space or disposable options if you have room.

Reusable Water Bottle – A reusable water bottle takes up much less room than bulk disposable water bottles and there are places along the road you will be able to stop and refill your water bottles.

Microfibre Towels – It is always good to have something to dry yourself in case of rainy weather and for washing up in public bathrooms when you are on the road. Microfibre towels take up much less room and are very absorbent.

Wet Wipes – You don’t need to have a baby to realise how useful wet wipes can be for cleaning spills, wiping dirty hands, cooling sweaty faces and plenty of other uses.

Lip Balm: – Sometimes the atmosphere dries out inside the car, which causes your lips to become chapped and cracked. Add a chapstick or lip balm to your trip accessories.

Medication – On the trip, you may suffer from a cold or may have an allergy. There is also a risk of someone in the family experiencing motion sickness, so keep the below-mentioned medication with you while going on any trip or vacations:

  • Pain killers (Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Cold and Flu tablets)
  • Allergy Tablets
  • Motion sickness medication
  • Prescription Tablets

Hygiene Products & Toiletries – Take the mini bottle of all these items because hygiene is essential to maintain your health throughout the trip, with hygiene and personal care items including:

  • Soap/shower gel
  • Shampoo & conditioner
  • Deodorant
  • Toothbrush & Toothpaste
  • Hand sanitiser or wipes
  • Mosquito repellant
  • Sunscreen
  • Tissues

Road Trip Tip #3Take the mini bottle of all these items because hygiene is essential to maintain your health throughout the trip. And make sure you pack your toiletry bag near the top so you can easily grab it when you need it.

Toilet Paper – Don’t get caught out when you stop at a public restroom that has no toilet paper. Keep a roll or two in your car just in case!

Travel Insurance – If you are doing a long road trip, across states or international borders, you are better to be prepared with travel insurance in case you encounter any issues. This is a good idea even when you are using your own car, but especially useful if you are hiring a rental car for your road trip. The extra cost will bring peace of mind on your travels. Check out World Nomads for travel insurance.

Travel Documents – If you have pre-booked any accommodation, car rental, day trips or insurance, keep a copy of your travel documents with you in case your internet access is unreliable and you can’t access the details on your phone.

Plastic Bags – Bring a few plastic bags and ziplock bags with you. They have plenty of uses from collecting rubbish to storing wet clothing or opened snacks.

Day Bag – If you are stopping for day trips or short walks during your road trip, have a day pack that will fit your essentials, such as water bottles, snacks, phone and charger, sunscreen, hats etc.

Music Playlist – So maybe it’s not essential, but a good road trip playlist will help those long hours on the road pass and keep the whole family entertained singing along from time to time.

Handsfree Phone Mount – Keep your phone in easy view when using maps by having a mount in your car.

Road Trip Clothes Packing List

Packing clothes for a road trip is not drastically different from up boxes, cutting packing clothing for other types of travel. The key is packing enough clothing to suit the length of your trip, taking into consideration the availability of clothes washing facilities along the way and also being mindful of the limited space you have to pack.

packing for a road trip

As a rule of thumb, our packing rule for all shorter trips is to have enough sets of clothing for every day of the trip for each person.

If the trip is longer than a week, then it can sometimes mean packing fewer outfits than days of travel and either re-wearing certain items, such as jeans, since you can usually get a couple of wears out of jeans before needing to re-wash them, or making a point of visiting a laundry during your travels to wash your clothing.

We recommend packing no more than three pairs of shoes per person on any road trip, and always pack more socks and undergarments than you need. 

For warmer weather, pack the following road trip clothing:

  • T-shirts
  • Shorts
  • Swimsuits
  • Sun-hats and sunglasses
  • A light sweater or cardigan
  • Flip flops
  • Walking shoes
  • Poncho or rain jacket
  • Sarong / cover up

For cooler weather, pack the following road trip clothing:

  • Jumpers or sweaters
  • Long pants and jeans
  • Long-sleeve t-shirts
  • Beanie
  • Scarf
  • Gloves
  • Wool socks to wear with boots during cold spells

Road Trip Food List

Food is not essential for a road trip, if you would prefer to stop off for food along the way, however, we recommend at the very minimum packing enough snacks to last a few days.

Having healthy snacks that are suitable for a road trip are especially essential when road tripping with kids and it will make your drive much easier when you have food the kids can eat along the way. And avoiding lots of junk means you’re less likely to end up with upset tummies during your long distances.

If you have the space for a cooler and want to keep your food budget down, you can also consider packing some make-ahead meals for your trip as well.

For an extensive list of ideas and a free road trip meal planner, check out our road trip food list.

Road Trip Meal Planner

Check out our road trip meal planning tips, meal ideas & grab the free printable meal plan and food list.

You may also want to check out these camping meal ideas for other options that would be great for road trips as well:

Kid’s Road Trip Packing List

Packing for kids for a road trip is not drastically different from packing for kids for any trip, nor is it drastically different from packing for yourself. The same road trip clothing essentials listed above can be used to pack your kid’s clothing.

If you are taking a road trip with a baby or toddler, we recommend packing a few extra sets of clothing though. You will also need:

  • Nappies
  • Wet wipes
  • Baby food essentials for your length of travel
  • Bottles / formula
  • Steriliser
  • Nappy rash cream
  • Stroller or baby carrier

Other kid’s road trip essentials:

  • Car safety seats – Booster seats for older children who have outgrown a forward-facing seat.
  • Pillow and blanket – To allow your child to comfortably sleep during the drive.

Road Trip Entertainment For Kids

Road trip entertainment is almost as essential as clothing and snacks for kids during a long drive. You will regret it if you don’t pack enough entertainment to get them through most of the trip without whinging!

Kid’s like to have the freedom to move around, so being confined to a car seat for hours or days at a time can be extremely frustrating so ease their frustration as best you can by offering up activities and fun to keep them occupied.

Road Trip Tip #4: If you have a spare seat between your kids, set up a basket or tub between them with a selection of activities, snacks and drink bottles to keep everything in easy reach.

  • Books, including both reading books and activity or colouring books
  • Pens, pencils or crayons
  • Travel games such as magnetic board games so the pieces don’t easily become lost
  • A favourite toy from home for comfort
  • A portable DVD player, iPad or tablet with movies and TV shows to watch. If you don’t have internet-enabled devices, pre-load your child’s tablet with movies and shows from Netflix or other streaming services before you leave home. You can download most titles for watching offline, which is perfect for road trips!
  • A music player or Smartphone with headphones for listening to music or podcasts.
  • A road trip activity set to make the drive itself more fun and get them looking out the window more often
  • Water bottle and snacks in easy reach

There are some very cool and compact road trip activities for kids, and this list is extensive if you want even more ideas! These toddler plane activities are also great options for car travel with younger kids.

Winter Road Trip Packing List

If you are taking a winter road trip, there are a few other items you may need to consider packing. This will depend on where you are travelling and exactly how cold it gets.

Of course, you will need to adjust your clothing packing list to ensure you have enough warm clothing and accessories to suit the climate.

And if you are road tripping during winter in a destination where snow is a common occurrence, you will need to consider taking snow chains for your tyres and fitting these if necessary so make sure you know how to do so.

An emergency blanket is another must-have items will keep you warm during cold nights and they are very compact so they don’t take up much space in your bag.

And if you are taking kids on a winter road trip, it’s important to be aware of the increased dangers they face.

This includes being more susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia when you are outside your car or sleeping in your car or the increased risk of experiencing car accidents due to icy conditions.

How To Pack The Car For A Family Road Trip

Packing the car for a road trip is never an easy task, especially if you have a smaller car or a large family. If you are lucky enough to have a wagon or a vehicle with large storage space, your packing will be easier.

But in most cases, it often ends up resembling a game of Tetris in the boot!

If you are limited on space, roof racks can be a great way to add more storage space for your road trip. This is where you can pack any larger gear, such as camping gear and a tent if you plan on camping during your road trip.

Otherwise, the best way to pack your car for a road trip is pack the items you will need least often in the rear of your storage first. This way you can pack the items you will be using more often towards the front, making them easier to access.

Road Trip Tip #5: One way to make this work really well with a family road trip is to pack clothing by day rather than by person. You can have a set outfit for each member of the family packed into a packing cube so each day you only need to access a single packing cube of clothing rather than pulling out a separate bag for each person every time you stop to change and wash.

Packing cubes are a great way of keeping clothing organised and they take up much less space than a big bulky suitcase or bag, so you can pack them in around other items as well.

Make sure you pack your belongings for your road trip in a safe way so that you don’t end up with lots of items falling out on you each time you open the rear of the car. If this is likely to happen, consider using storage containers to keep your gear together and more organised.

Printable Road Trip Packing List

This road trip essentials packing list is sure to help you prepare for your next road trip with kids. If you want to ensure you are completely organised, you can get our printable road trip packing list from our online store.

This printable family road trip checklist can be reprinted as often as you need for future road trips you take as well, making it a great way to avoid feeling overwhelmed when packing for a road trip.

Get it here:

road trip packing list

Packing for a road trip can be daunting. And the list of things to pack doesn’t stop at just clothes and toiletries. These essential items are the things most people should have on their packing list, but this is not an exhaustive list by any means. Make sure you are well prepared for your next family road trip with our printable road trip packing list.

Road trips can be a great way to bond with the family, but they also require some careful planning. Just like you would pack clothes and snacks for your road trip adventure, it is important that you plan ahead as well when packing items such as entertainment or safety equipment in case anything goes wrong on your journey.

Did we miss something? If there is something else you think should be on the road trip packing list, tell us in the comments so we can update the essentials!

Need inspiration? Check out our favourite road trip itineraries and tips:

road trip essentials packing list