These are my top 10 essential items to pack when road tripping with kids. We went road tripping with the kids and my mom between Christmas and New Year, from the Free State through the Northern Cape, and back. A total of 1783 kilometres in three days! It was awesome! Originally my husband and I were supposed to go away on the motorbike just the two of us, but in the end, we decided to take the girls and mom with us. As we only decided this the day before we were due to leave the packing was a bit rushed.

That said, after doing this a few times there are some essential items you should never forget to pack when going on a road trip with kids. Here is my list in no particular order: 

Roadtripping With Kids | 10 Essential Items To Pack For A Road Trip With Kids

10 essentials when going on a road trip with kids

1. Baby Wipes!

Baby Wipes are the perfect thing to keep in your car at all times, but especially when going on a road trip with kids. My girls are both long out of nappies etc, but I still buy baby wipes on a regular basis.

Here are my top uses for baby wipes on a road trip:

  • They are perfect for cleaning sticky faces and fingers before those fingers touch, everything! Including the windows. In case you haven’t heard this one before, I frequently refer to my girls as ‘the window lickers’. No joke!
  • Wipes can be used for cleaning up mystery spills and other miscellaneous residue left on the car seats etc.
  • Wipes are the perfect substitute for toilet paper in an emergency.
  • They are essential for cleaning little hands properly after using a public restroom or other facility because kids touch everything!
  • Wipes are perfect for removing sand from skin, not just beach sand, but any sand.
  • If you keep your wipes in your cooler box, they can be used to cool down and refresh yourself!

2. Chargers & extension leads

Judge me all you like but my girls each have a small tablet and a LeapPad that they share. I load these with games and music before each road trip and they have earphones (which always break, but I just buy the cheapies now). Inevitably the tablets will die at some point and then they have to move on to something else like colouring in or playing with their toys. They are actually really good at this now.

Wherever we end up staying on an overnight stop, I find that there are never enough plug points to cope with the sheer number of devices I want to charge up at once. The list includes 2 phones, 2 tablets, 1 Leap pad, 1 iPad, and that’s just when there are four of us!

I usually pack a short extension that I know has a variety of plug point sizes and I make sure I have a dedicated cable for each device we take with us. There is nothing worse than one cable having to be shared between three devices, that will never work. By doing this everything can be charged up in one go overnight, ready for the next day. The extension cable with all the cords gets put back in its own little bag every day and back in the car, ready to use the following night.

3. A Cooler Box

When going on a long road trip a cooler box can be used for keeping your water and drinks cold, your baby wipes cool (see above), and of course your padkos (snacks for the road) fresh.

I know that sometimes you just don’t have enough space, but even just taking one of those smallish soft cooler bags with a couple of ice bricks in for your water is a good idea. Wherever you end up staying usually has a small bar fridge as a minimum and you just put the ice bricks back in the freezer compartment overnight and you’re good to go the next day.

The only drawback of a cooler box is that when it’s a scorching hot summer as it usually is in South Africa, any actual ice you have in there melts at some point so you do have to spend a bit of time keeping the cooler box clean, draining the melted ice water and restocking it with ice, but it’s worth it! Alternatively, you can get a car fridge that can be plugged in to keep your snacks and drinks cool whenever the car is running.

Taking a cooler box along with a variety of drinks in can also save you quite a bit of money. Kids get bored so if you pack small juice boxes in there then when the inevitable “I’m hungry, I’m thirsty” comes up, you can just get them something from the cooler box instead of stopping at the garages and paying three times the price for everything!

road trip for a family with kids

4. Pack A Map

An actual paper map that you can hold in your hands that does not require a power supply! Yes, I know we live in the digital age. These days you don’t even need a GPS in your car because your phone has a built-in map system that works just as well.

However, we learnt a valuable lesson this last road trip where we ended up so far off the beaten track that the phone signal went completely. For about 40 kilometres on a dirt road with numerous little side roads coming off it, we had no GPS from the phones at all. We weren’t too worried, but it would have been nice to have a good detailed map with us as backup! Old school, but reliable!

I think if we’d been on our own we wouldn’t have worried at all. When you have kids your sense of responsibility kicks in and I did stress a little so having a map would have been better for me, they had no idea!

5. A Notebook

When we go on a road trip, I try to record everything we do. It’s nothing fancy, just the date, starting point, kilometers we do per day, temperatures, places we visit, animals we see, and always the money we spend. It’s good to keep track of things, especially if you have a budget set in advance.

The kids especially love checking off the animals we see, and I usually file my handwritten notes in my ‘memories box’ when we get home, along with all the pamphlets we collect along the way.

6. A Plastic Bag

Setting off on a road trip with kids with at least one plastic bag in your car is essential. There will inevitably be a mess in the car: empty drink cans, juice boxes, empty crisp packets, sweet wrappers and used baby wipes. All this rubbish can really pile up. I keep at least one, but usually three or four in the car for this purpose. I collect all the rubbish and discard it in a bin when we get to one.

The inside of your car will always end up a mess when you road trip with kids, but at least you can try to keep the mess separate from the dirt!

7. Sunblock

Even if you don’t think you’re going to need it, just pack it. When we go on road trips we normally have a very loose, vague plan of where we will end up, the journey is more important than the destination. We always find these little gems in the middle of nowhere, be it a local monument you need to walk a short distance to, or a pad stal (farm shop) with a quaint little tea garden and children’s play area. You will always need sunblock.

Mom Of Two Little Girls | A Parenting blogger based in Yorkshire, raising strong girls in a modern world.

8. A Towel

Whilst this is handy for wiping up spills too, the primary purpose of this is to hang it up in the window to create a curtain for your sleeping child to shield them from the sun.

I know you can buy those window socks or sun screens that stick on the window, but none of them is as effective as an old towel. It certainly blocks more of the heat and rays than the transparent socks do, the kids can’t pull them off, and they are easy to stash away when not in use.

9. Toilet Roll

I can’t tell you how often I stop at a garage or services and the toilet roll supply has run out. Always! I’m sure it’s some kind of universe prank on me but I always end up in the stall without loo roll! It’s one of those things you don’t think about until you really need it.

Also, kids … need I say more? They have virtually no bladder control, and an unquenchable thirst when they get in the car! Enough said!

10. Water

Last but not least, when going road tripping with kids you should always carry spare water in your car. If you have a breakdown on the side of the road, you can be stuck there for hours. It’s essential that everyone stays well hydrated at all times. Water is life.

That concludes my list of 10 essential when road tripping with kids! Granted, my kids are a bit older but do check out this post from Carries for tips on a road trip with a toddler. She offers some awesome tips and activities to help make your road trip with a toddler or two go a bit smoother.

I’d love to hear if you have any other items to add to this list, and don’t forget to pin this for the next time you are planning on road tripping with kids! Safe travels!

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