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With summer here, many families are gearing up for that quintessential American adventure: the road trip. Whether you’re hitting the open road for a weekend getaway or embarking on an extended cross-country journey, traveling with kids requires thoughtful planning and preparation. A well-packed trip can make the difference between a trip filled with unforgettable memories and one marred by chaos and stress. 

Check out our weekend trip guides to Omaha and the Twin Cities if you are looking for a shorter road trip! Or even our guide to Sioux City for a day trip! Plus, check out our top ten tips for making your next road trip the best yet!

Here’s a comprehensive guide to road trip essentials for families, ensuring a smooth and enjoyable road trip for everyone.

Comfort and Safety Essentials

First Aid Kit

A well-stocked first aid kit is crucial. Include band-aids, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, allergy medication, and any prescription medications your family may need.

Blankets and Pillows

Comfort is key on long trips. Bring along blankets and pillows for nap times and to keep everyone cozy, especially if you’ll be traveling at night or in cooler climates.

Sun Protection

Sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses are essential, even inside the car. Sunshades for the windows can help protect little ones from harsh sunlight and keep the car cooler.

We love sunscreen sticks! They are so great to use especially on your face and kids tend to love them. 

Emergency Car Kit

Ensure you have a spare tire, jack, jumper cables, flashlight, and basic tools. Also, include a roadside assistance number just in case.

Entertainment and Activities

Books and Audiobooks

A selection of favorite books and new ones to discover can keep kids entertained. Audiobooks are fantastic for the whole family to enjoy together, turning travel time into story time.

For younger kids, we love the Toniebox! They are so simple to use that even a small toddler can do it by themselves. There are so many great story books, song tonies, and even education tonies for your kids to listen to. It even comes with a headphone option

Games and Toys

Pack a variety of games and toys, including travel-friendly board games, card games, and handheld puzzles. Magnetic games are particularly useful as they prevent pieces from getting lost.

For older kids, look at getting something like this road trip activity book

Electronic Devices

Tablets and portable DVD players can be lifesavers on long stretches of road. Load them up with educational apps, movies, and shows in advance. Don’t forget headphones to keep the noise level down.

Creative Supplies

Bring along coloring books, crayons, sticker books, and drawing pads. These quiet activities can provide hours of entertainment.

The Water Wow books can be great for younger kids! No added mess in the back of the car is a huge perk. 

Doodle Boards are always amazing to have in your bag and car! So easy to throw in without being worried they will break and no loose crayons to haul around. 

Activity Bags

Create personalized activity bags for each child filled with age-appropriate activities and snacks. This gives them something special to look forward to and helps manage expectations.

Snacks and Meals

Healthy Snacks

Pack a variety of healthy snacks such as fruit slices, vegetable sticks, cheese sticks, nuts, and yogurt. These can help keep energy levels stable and reduce the urge for unhealthy fast food stops.

To make the snacks you bring on your road trip a bit more fun, consider buying a snack variety mix! It could give your family the chance to try new things on the road. 

Easy-to-Eat Meals

Prepare simple, portable meals like sandwiches, wraps, or pasta salads. Bento boxes can keep food organized and fresh.


Bring plenty of water bottles for everyone. Insulated bottles can keep water cool for longer periods. Avoid sugary drinks as they can lead to spills and increased bathroom stops.

Cooler and Storage

A cooler with ice packs will keep perishable snacks fresh. Use reusable containers to minimize waste and keep the car organized.

A good car cooler can make a huge difference in what you can pack for meals on the road! No one is going to be interested in eating warm lunch mean…so keep your food cold with a good cooler! One of our favorites is this one

Comfort and Cleanliness

Wipes and Hand Sanitizer

Wet wipes and hand sanitizer are indispensable for quick clean-ups after snacks, meals, and unexpected messes.

Trash Bags

Bring small trash bags or plastic bags to collect waste and keep the car tidy. Designate a spot in the car for trash disposal. Using a small bathroom waste basket or a large cereal tupperware container can help keep things contained. 

Extra Clothes

Pack a change of clothes for each child in an easily accessible bag. Accidents, spills, and weather changes can all necessitate a quick outfit change.

We love keeping extra clothing handy in a baby wet-dry bag! When something happens we have both fresh clothing and a second section of the bag to place anything spoiled. 

Travel Potty

For young children, a travel potty can be a lifesaver, especially on routes with limited restroom facilities. The one we linked is even foldable! 

Navigation and Planning

GPS and Maps

Ensure you have a reliable GPS system. It’s also wise to have physical maps as a backup in case of technology failure or lack of signal.

Route Planning

Plan your route ahead of time, including rest stops, meal breaks, and interesting landmarks. Apps like Roadtrippers can help find family-friendly attractions along the way.

Hotel Reservations

If your trip includes overnight stays, book hotels in advance to ensure you have family-friendly accommodations. Look for hotels with amenities like pools, breakfast, and spacious rooms.

Fun and Educational Stops

Research Attractions

Identify fun and educational stops along your route. National parks, historical sites, museums, and unique roadside attractions can make the journey as exciting as the destination.

Outdoor Activities

Pack sports equipment like a frisbee, soccer ball, or kites for impromptu playtime during stops. This helps burn off energy and keeps kids active.

Learning Opportunities

Turn the trip into a learning adventure. Discuss the history of places you pass through, point out geographical features, and involve your children in navigation and planning.

Travel Documents and Essentials

Important Documents

Keep travel documents like IDs, insurance papers, vehicle registration, and emergency contact information in a safe, easily accessible place.

Consider making sure all your information is easy to find with a car organizer. Opening up your glove department and everything falling out when you need something can be rather frustrating! 

Cash and Cards

While most places accept cards, having some cash on hand can be useful for tolls, small purchases, or locations that don’t accept cards.

Comfort Items

Don’t forget comfort items like favorite blankets, stuffed animals, or pacifiers for younger children to help them feel secure and relaxed.

If you are planning on having people nap in the car, think about getting a portable sound machine. If you play a sound machine at home, it will make the transition to a car nap much easier! Even for older children and adults, a sound machine can help them sleep better in a car. 

Have a Happy Road Trip

Road trips are a fantastic way for families to bond, explore new places, and create lasting memories. With careful planning and packing, you can ensure that your journey is smooth, enjoyable, and stress-free. From comfort and safety essentials to entertainment and snacks, having the right items on hand can make all the difference. So load up the car, buckle in, and get ready for an unforgettable family adventure on the open road!