My husband and I have done quite a few long-distance road trips with our kids. Actually, we started road tripping before we were parents, but now that I’m a mom I realise that those trips don’t count when it comes to the essential requirements of a successful family road trip. With all our experiences over the years, from road tripping with a baby to travelling with older kids, here are my top 10 things to pack for a family road trip that I would not survive without!
The number one rule: Always Be Prepared!
Road trips are actually my favourite form of family travel. Most of these trips took place when we were living in Zimbabwe and South Africa and frequently travelled between the two countries, most often via Botswana. But I do vaguely remember some of the tips we took when we lived in the UK … BK (Before Kids)! I think the one that will always hold a special place in my heart is the one we took through Scotland in July 2007!
We packed our kit bag each for a four-day trip, threw in an extra jacket even though it was ‘summer’ and off we went.
However … AK (After Kids), a family road trip, and everything else in life, takes a bit more planning, preparation and space!!!
My top 10 things to pack for a family road trip, no matter where you are in the world, or what the weather!
1. 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. Even your watch can do this.
However, we learnt a valuable lesson on our last road trip where we ended up so far off the beaten track that the phone signal went completely. For about 25 miles 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 back up! 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!
2. Chargers, Adaptors and extension leads
Judge me all you like but my girls each have a small tablet and a phone each. 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.
We don’t generally tend to plan our daily route in advance. We like to ‘risk it’ and find accommodation when we arrive wherever it is that we feel like stopping. However, it always seems that no matter where we end up staying over there are never enough plug points to cope with the sheer number of devices I want to charge up overnight. The list includes
- 2 phones,
- 2 tablets,
- 1 LeapPad,
- 1 iPad,
- and that’s just when there are four of us! Sometimes Gaya (granny) comes with too!
I usually pack a short extension cord 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 be used that night. No Mess – No Fuss! Yes, I’m a control freak! Duh!
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 no where’, be it a local monument a quaint little tea garden and a kids play area. You will always need sunblock.
FYI – Sunblock is not exclusive to summer! Have you ever had Snow Burn? It’s the same!!
One of the most important things you should always ensure that you never run out of is water!!! When planning your family road trip with kids you should always carry a few spare bottles of water in your car. If you have a breakdown on the side of the road (the car I mean, not you mom!), you can be stuck there for hours. It is essential that everyone stays well hydrated at all times, especially kids. Water is life.
5. Keep the Cool!
When going on a long family road trip a “cooler box” or “cooler bag” can be used for keeping your water and drinks cold, your baby wipes cool (see the next point), and of course your pack-up fresh.
I know that sometimes you just don’t have enough space in the car with all the other essential stuff, even just taking one of those smallish soft cooler bags with a couple of ice bricks in for your water is a good idea. Most hotels, b&bs or AirBnBs usually has a small bar fridge as a minimum. You can freeze your ice bricks 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 summer any actual ice you have in there melted. At some point, you do have to drain the water and spend a bit of time cleaning out the cooler box. But it is worth it!
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 motorway garages and paying three times the price for everything, including all the impulse buying of stuff you don’t even need!
6. Baby Wipes!
Baby Wipes are the perfect thing to keep in your car at all times, but especially when going on a family road trip. My girls are both long out of nappies etc (TG), but I still buy baby wipes on a regular basis. Here are my top uses for baby wipes on a road trip with kids:
- For cleaning sticky faces and fingers before those fingers touch … everything! this Including the car windows. In case you haven’t heard this one before, I frequently refer to my girls as ‘the window lickers’. No joke! This is real life!
- They can be used for cleaning up mystery spills and other miscellaneous residue left on the car seats etc. #kidsaregross
- 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!
- They are perfect for removing sand from skin, not just beach sand, but any sand. There’s always sand. How do they always find the sand?!
- If you keep your wipes in your cooler box, they can be used to cool down & refresh yourself!
7. A Notebook
When we go on a family road trip, I try to record everything we do. It’s nothing fancy, just the date, starting point, distance we do per day, temperatures, places we visit, animals we see. Most importantly, I always record the money we spend. It’s good to keep track of things, especially if you have a budget set in advance, which is always a good idea!!!!
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. Okay, not all of them, but the ones we actually saw.
8. A Disposable Rubbish Bag
Setting off with at least one disposable rubbish bag in your car is essential when embarking on a road trip. 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!
9. A Towel Or Baby Blanket
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 those things that stick on the window, but none of them are 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 down either and they are easy to stash away when not in us, and wash when you get home!
10. Loo Roll
I can’t tell you how often I stop at a 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!
That concludes my list of top 10 things to pack for a family road trip with kids! Here’s a handy travel checklist for a newborn because they’re never too young to start going on a family road trip. Thanks to Bella Baby for the checklist.
Do you have any other tips you want to add to this list? Please do share them, we parents need to stick together.
I wonder why carrying toilet paper never crossed my mind. I’ve had my fair share of unfortunate times without it.. I can’t help but eat street food and fall ill. They’re just too good!
If I had to suggest one more thing to consider for travel, it would be packing cubes. You can find a bunch on Amazon, and they save a whopping amount of space. There are videos on YouTube that can demonstrate how much space we lose if we pack it by jamming everything into our carry-on or suitcase vs. with packing cubes.