Is your family finally starting to feel the itch to get out into the great outdoors, out on the open road? Fresh air, wind whipping your hair, goldfish hitting you on the back of the neck? Wait. What? Oh, your kids are there, great. So what do you pack to make the trip memorable for all the right reasons? Here are all the essentials of what to pack for a road trip with teens and kids to create the ultimate family road trip packing list.
Whether you are heading out to the mountains for a camping trip, to the beach for a swim, to the national park across the country, or to grandma’s house for the holidays, setting out for a road trip means preparing for a potentially long journey with children. Children who no matter the age, will inevitably speak the words, “Are we there yet?”
What should we bring so we are covered in case of an emergency? What should we make sure to pack that will help the hours fly by, so the kids don’t notice, so mama can keep her sanity?
What to pack for a road trip for the driver and front passenger
For the Driver and the Glove Compartment
- ez-pass/electronic toll collection system transponder for your region
- hands-free phone stand
- chargers for cellular phones
- paper map/atlas because GPS is not full proof and also, we should NEVER rely solely on cell towers, wifi, and batteries to navigate.
- cash – keep a coin purse with change for meters, 10 singles, and 2 5s
The Main Snack Cooler
Whether it’s you seated up front in the passenger seat or another adult, usually someone is in charge of passing out the snacks, especially for the little ones.
In your snack cooler for road trips, having pre-packed or easy to grab food items will make passing out snacks much simpler.
There can be sandwiches and drinks inside one iced-up cooler and another cooler for snacks that don’t require refrigeration.
- whole fruits
- grapes, berries
- cut-up fruit
- applesauce packs
- baggies of cookies
- favorite treats like sweets
- chips, pretzels
- beef jerky
- fruit gummy packs
- mixed nuts
- utensils and paper products
Some families choose to let each teenager select and carry the snacks of their choice in their backpacks and learn to ration out their own portions to last the journey. This is smart and one way to train them up for the real world.
You know your kids and the level of their maturity when it comes to self-control. Do what’s right to make the trip less stressful and more enjoyable for all of you, keeping the budget and the next rest stop in mind.
Another money-saving tip is to buy all the potential snacks you think you will need for the trip and stash the extras in the cargo holder or in a container in the trunk. This way you’re not blowing your budget in the convenience store, and you have food stashed away out of the reach of hungry hands, just in case.
Bag of games/activities to keep the kiddos busy
- tic, tac, toe white erase boards and markers
- travel Connect 4
- travel Trouble
- travel Scrabble
- travel Battleship
- coloring pages and pencils
- playing cards
If you are looking for my ultimate list of Best Games for Teens, check it out here.
What to pack for a road trip on top of the car
In order to keep your car from getting packed so tight you all feel like sardines, consider investing in a cargo box for on top of the car. Pick the one that fits the length of your car. You can throw these items that you won’t need to access until you arrive at your destination.
- Thule XXL Rooftop Cargo Box
- sleeping bags, camping gear, other gear
- stroller (if you have a baby/toddler)
What to pack for every passenger’s comfort
Each passenger should have their own backpack and supplies with them at their seats. The following is what I recommend for the comfort and entertainment of each passenger while they are traveling.
Each passenger should have all these at their seats where they can reach it:
- backpack for each family member to put their things
- sweatshirt in case the temp is a bit too cool for them
- water bottle
- spillproof travel mug (for warm and cold drinks)
What to pack for a road trip with kids and teens
What you don’t want is to have to spend hours of your trip providing entertainment for your kids. You probably will want to rest for some portion of the trip, or read your own book, or watch your own movies without interruption.
For the kids and teens, remind them to pack inside their backpacks the entertainment they prefer to have on hand:
- their preferred electronic devices (phone, tablet, computer)
- accessories for their devices (charging cables, plugs, and headphones)
- portable battery
- favorite games
- lapboard to play cards and put devices on
- crossword and word search puzzles and pencils
A love note to the iPad and its MANY uses on trips both long and short
Nothing beats an iPad, Apple Pencil, and AirPods or headphones to pass away the hours in the car. Your kids (or you) could read ebooks on Apple Books, listen to an Audiobook, play video games in Apple Arcade, listen to podcasts, listen to music on your downloaded playlists, or download your favorite movies and tv shows from the Apple TV app or your iTunes library.
To unleash their artistic creative side download the ProCreate app and be astounded by their artistic creations made while you speed down the highway.
What to pack for a road trip that goes in the Trunk
The Car Road Trip Essentials to keep in the car at all times
I usually have these car essentials in a plastic tub or in a zippered tote bag with pockets, in the trunk or the rear of the car.
- Utility items: Flashlight with fresh batteries
- Car Starter
- hand sanitizer & wipes
- Changes of clothes for the family, (especially extra shirts)
- First aid kit with Neosporin, wound wash, ace bandages
- Extra contacts and contact solution or extra glasses
- box of emergency road trip stuff
- picnic box with napkins, paper products, cups, bowls
- toilet paper
Toiletries kit to keep in the car for cleanup in travel sizes:
- makeup wipes
- lip balm
- face wash
- body wash
What to pack for a road trip with a Baby or Toddler
If you have a baby on board, pack these extras to keep inside the car to make the trip a bit easier for everyone.
- Definitely extra diapers on hand (not packed in a suitcase or on top of the car in the cargo box)
- a package of wipes in a ziplock bag so they don’t dry out
- a couple of pouches of baby food for emergency hunger
- goldfish/cheerios/non-perishable baby snack
- changes of clothes for the baby in a zip lock bag
- a changing pad this one by SkipBo lets you stash diapers and wipes
- a muslin cotton swaddle blanket (this has lots of uses: mini picnic blanket, burp cloth, bib)
- Portable potty if they are in no longer in diapers in the event nature calls in between stops
- Books, toys, and favorite snuggly
- Extra sippy cup
What to pack for a road trip with the Dog
Yay! Chevy gets to come along on this trip! Be sure to pack what you need to care for your dog along the journey.
This list of what to pack on a road trip should get you started. You don’t want your car packed so full that you are like sardines in there. And there really is no reason to go overboard. Remember, you can usually pick up something you forgot out on the road.
Create opportunities to talk together, laugh a lot, and take lots of pictures with your teens and tots.
I hope that you have a wonderful trip with your kids and teenagers. I hope that you create opportunities to talk together, laugh a lot, and take lots of pictures with your teens and tots. Whether it is a Staycation down the road within your state, checking off items from your child’s Summer Bucket List, visiting extended relatives, or a trip across the country, happy travels!
Chandra is the chocolate-chip loving mother of 2 teenage girls who started over again with a baby boy in her 40’s! She is the author of The Mom’s Playbook to Conquering Softball Season. She gives other moms the tools they need to prepare their daughters for real life. Her content is centered on helping girls grow up to be well-rounded, equipped, expressive, confident, intelligent, capable, kind and independent.