Road Trip Essentials: Ultimate Packing Checklist

This is the most important resource you need for planning any sort of road trip.

We focus on family adventures so there are quite a few family items here, but we have you sorted for road tripping with your partner or your mates too!

Get your notepad ready or pop on over here to download a printable version of this road trip packing list.

It’s important to note, not all road trips are created equal! It’s impractical to think you’ll need the same gear trekking through Europe in a hire car in winter as you’ll need for a summer RV trip across the United States; we’ll include here a very general checklist for all types of road trips, plus additional items to consider in extreme weather and certain locations.

Car Essentials: Important Items to Pack for Vehicle Safety and Maintenance

Before we get on to personal comfort and entertainment, it’s essential to consider the road trip essentials for your vehicle. Whether it’s your own car, a campervan or a rental vehicle, here’s what you need to ensure is packed in your road-tripping vehicle.

Insurance

It should go without saying THE most important thing to have before you commence a road trip is travel insurance and car insurance.

Think not just any potential damage to your vehicle, are you insured for theft, delays and cancellations or personal liability if you cause an accident? Will your travel insurance or credit card insurance cover these things, or do you need extra protection?

Roadside Assistance

What would happen if your vehicle breaks down mid-trip? If your vehicle is rented, your car hire company might have this covered for you – but do check the fine print when you’re signing your contracts who is responsible for what.

If it’s your own vehicle, you may need your own coverage, separate from your insurance. Some premium credit cards include roadside assistance, but perhaps only with limited conditions (e.g. within a certain distance of home).

Check, double-check and make sure that phone number is saved somewhere you can easily grab in an emergency!

Drivers License

A valid drivers license is a very important road trip essential! If traveling out of the jurisdiction where your license was issued, check if your driver’s license is accepted at your destination or will you need to obtain an international drivers license?

Vehicle Registration

You will also need evidence of vehicle ownership with you, or a rental agreement showing ownership.

Car Manual

No doubt this bulky item spends 99% of the time taking up space in your glove compartment but do not dream of leaving it behind on a long journey. Just imagine a scenario where you are stuck on the side of the road with no internet, no cell service and no roadside assistance; when all else fails, check the manual!

Emergency Roadside Kit

Even with roadside assist, there may be a few running repairs you can take care of yourself. Consider packing your own jumper cables, spare bulbs, small torch, screwdriver and tape – or even easier, invest in an emergency kit you can keep in the trunk.

See more below on extra safety gear considerations for cold weather road trips.

Spare Tire

So often our pre-road trip checks go as far as what we can see inside the car and making sure our oil and water levels are OK, but never forget about your spare tire!

Ensure it will still be road worthy get you out of trouble when you really need it – and that your car is equipped with the appropriate tools including a jack and bolt remover if you get a flat tire.

Smart Phone

I think we can all agree Smartphones are needed for pretty much every aspect of our lives now and road tripping is no exception. From navigation to music, QR Code reading, camera – oh maybe even making a phone call?!

There’s no hard and fast rule on the best road trip smartphone; it’s down to whether you’re camp Apple or Android. We would suggest a phone with tons of storage space or the ability to add external storage.

Travelling overseas, you may want a phone capable of dual sims – and don’t forget to have your phone unlocked if you want a sim on a different network.

Road Tripping Apps

Of course, a smartphone is only as good as the apps you have downloaded. Here are some essentials to consider:

Roadtrippers

This app is a total game changer if you’re a regular road tripper, particularly at the planning stage. Load it up on a big screen first and play with all the different routes you can take. You’ll get driving distance estimations, add filtered layers for road side attractions, food and accommodation options and even a fuel calculator. (Google Play | App Store)!

Once you hit the open road, use the offline maps and look out for any last-minute detour planning; it even has guided navigation. Currently, detailed maps are available only for the USA, Canada, Australia & New Zealand. It’s one of the few “free apps” we’ve tried and immediately seen the value of upgrading to Plus. The free version is good but limited in how many stops you can add.

Get $5 off the plus version here! Code: BTR5QTP

Google Maps

We do still keep Google Maps as our backup navigation tool. Just remember if you will be out of range to download maps in advance (many apps will require you to upgrade to the pro feature if you use this feature). Be mindful that downloading maps can be heavy on your phone’s memory, so delete the maps you no longer need.

Charger / USB Cord

With all the handy uses for smartphones these days, you can see just how quickly you’ll drain the battery once you hit the road. You’ll want some sort of charging device in your car, whether this is through an in-built USB port in your car or on older models, an adaptor that can fit in the cigarette lighter socket.

Just check if you need USB, USB C or a combination of both, as well as the right cords for connecting for your devices.

Phone Holder

Even better than having your smartphone floating around the car, get a purpose phone holder that can attach your dash. You can then easily use your smartphone for navigation; these holders can also act as a phone charger meaning one less car accessory you will need.

Flashlight

Super handy when your car battery has died or you’re seeking out lost items under seats. Keep a torch in an easy-to-grab part of your car.

Multitool/Pocket knife

Another handy item to always have in easy reach, be it minor running repairs, mini scissors or taking off bottle caps. An indispensable family vacation packing item is a pocketknife or multitool!

Windshield Sun Shade

If you are road tripping in hotter climates, you’ll quickly realize just how essential this item is for your car. Look for a design that covers the entire windshield and can easily fold back into a convenient pouch.

If you are driving a truck or larger SUV, be mindful you will need larger shades than regular cars.

Loose Change

Parking meters, tolls, tips. We might be heading further towards a cashless society, but we’re not quite there yet. Always handy to have some local currency coins rattling around in your car for emergency situations.

Notepad and Pen

Likewise, as much as our smartphones manage our lives these days, a good old fashion pen and paper at times never goes astray as a handy emergency item.


Road Trip Essentials for Families

So now we’ve got everything you need to keep the vehicle going and navigate your way; here are all the items you need to keep your family clean, fed and cared for.

First Aid Kit

We all know accidents can happen anywhere – literally anywhere! You can probably have a full first aid kit tucked in your trunk, but an easy to access kit should be kept inside your vehicle, must likely in your glove compartment. Think items such as Band-Aids, children’s Panadol, diarrhea tablets.

Tissues & Water Wipes

Snot, spills, spit-up; you know the drill if you’re a parent. We always keep tissues for the front and back of the car and a good supply of water wipes for those heavy-duty cleanups on the go, not to mention constant hand cleaning!

Motion Sickness Tablets

Don’t let long windy roads impact on your road trip enjoyment. If you have a motion sickness sufferer, plan your route carefully and bring a few different remedies. Just be aware many motion sickness tablets make you tired, so don’t pop one right before you need them to make a roadside stop!

Trash System

Keep your car organized with an appropriate spot to keep your trash. This can simply be a reused plastic shopping bag or if you love your car clean and neat, try these purpose-made car trash bags.

Water Bottles

Hydration on the road is essential, but don’t overdo it! The larger the bottle you give kids, the greater propensity you’ll be pulling over every 30 minutes for bathroom breaks.

Pick a good insulated bottle for every family member (if possible, assessing the size of beverage holder they’ll have in the car).

Reusable Coffee Mugs

Do the environmentally friendly thing and cut our plastic cup waste on your road trips. If you love your hot beverages, BYO it! Just check, some coffee travel mugs that come with handles that may not fit in a car beverage holder.

Snacks, Snacks and More Snacks

A healthy supply of road trip snacks is KEY to keeping the hangry’s at bay. They are the ultimate pick me up, and kids really look forward to this part of a road trip.

However much you think you’re going to need, pack double. Oh, and as cute as those trays of food in one big tackle box look, do think practically too; if one child knocks it over, will you lose your entire journey’s supplies? If you’re going bento box-style, keep it compact.

We have a huge list of 40+ Healthy Road Trip Snacks for kids over here.

Polarized Sunglasses

Make sure the driver has some good 100% UV protection sunglasses, and especially in warm and sunny climates your passengers too.

Car Organizers

Keeping your car organized can be an ongoing challenge for a road trip, but certainly a sanity saver if you can put some good systems in place.

Back of the Seat Organiser

These are great when taking your own vehicle for having an organized system in the back seat of your car for the kids. Find a home for tissues, wipes, snacks and toys that can stay in the car. Some even come with fold-down trays and tablet holding systems.

Sun Visor Organizer

These are a great convenient spot for keeping things like parking passes, loose coins, insurance documents – even a handy spot for things like tissues, wipes, face masks.

Travel Tray For Kids

Great, especially for your preschooler and younger children in a forward-facing car seat. A travel tray expands the number of car games that a child can play and gives them a flat surface for eating snacks and somewhere to hold their drink bottle and tablet.

Trunk Organizer

These are great on longer road trips where you may not want to pull everything out at every stop. You can have compartments for picnics and trail stops, another for food and a quick and easy to reach spot for toilet emergencies.


Road Trip Essentials Babies and Toddlers

As you’re no doubt acutely aware, babies and toddler add a whole extra element of complexity to our travels! We won’t necessarily call them challenges – but just a little extra thought, and space – tend to be needed when road tripping with very young children.

Infant Car Seat

Family Road Trip 101. Every child needs the appropriate safety restraint in a vehicle until they reach the height and weight to move into a grown-up chair (which may be much later than you think!)

You will need to check the local regulations on where you’ll be road tripping as some countries are much stricter than others on the appropriate type of restraint. If you are looking to use your car seat on a plane too, there are extra considerations to think about – you’ll find a good guide here on what types of car seats are appropriate for cars and planes.

Booster

Even if your child has outgrown their infant car seat, they may still sit too low in their seat to use the seat belt properly. There’s a long in-between phase where kids still need a booster.

You will likely start with a high back booster that can convert from a 5-point harness to a lap belt, then as they grow, downgrade to a portable backless booster that just gives them a little extra height and support.

Car Mirror

When your infants are still super small and unable to communicate with you – particularly when still in a rear-facing infant seat – it’s vital you have some way of keeping an eye on them. One way is to install a car mirror above their seat that you can see from your rearview mirror.

Car Baby Monitor

Alternatively, a portable car baby monitor may give you a clearer vision of your child without needing to strain in a mirror or distract you from the road ahead. The disadvantage of a camera in the car is that you have extra wires to deal with, and they take up a plug point – which may invaluably be needed for your smartphone or navigation device!

There are pros and cons to both car mirrors and baby monitors. We’ll cover these for you soon in a comparison guide.

Side Window Shades

We talked earlier about keeping the sun off your dash while parked but don’t forget your side windows too. Young children can be distressed by the light coming through the window, especially if they’re trying to nap so a great addition to keep your back seat guests cozy is a properly fitted side sun shade.

SUV’s and larger vehicles consider you may need a larger shade or two shades on each window to get full coverage.

Portable Bottle Warmer

This is probably more of a “nice to have”, but if your bubs are especially fussy and like their bottles at a certain temperature, you’ll find it a total lifesaver. There are plenty of portable bottle warmer models made especially for cars (though do be mindful that again, they’re all competing for that valuable in-car plug point!)

Don’t forget an insulated bag too if you’re taking bottles in the car with you.

We talk more about drinks & cooling systems below in road side stops!

Quick Change Diaper Kit

You don’t need to pack your entire diaper bag in the car with you for a road trip! Sure, make space for a full change kit in the trunk, but in the car, we prefer to have an easy access grab and go change mat for roadside stops – or even in the front seat if you need to!

Include spare diapers, wipes, disposable baggies and diaper cream that fold inside a changing mat that doesn’t take up loads of space.

Porta Potty

On to the next stage… potty training parents will sometimes know you simply need to go NOW!! Often bathrooms are not readily available when you need them, so do consider having a simple travel potty seat in your car, preferably one you can bag up the mess and deal with at your earliest convenience.

Also consider whether a freshly toilet-trained child might need to wear “special car pants”. There’s no shame or regression in suggesting to a child they need their special pants for longer journey’s until you’re certain they can go longer stretched and their warning system improves.

Piddle Pad

Graduating again to the next stage. Even with our well-trained preschoolers, we kept a liner in their car seats for years to come. They will put an extra layer of protection between your child and the seat and are much easier to clean in case of an accident than spend days with the smell of a urine-soaked seat.

Road Trip Essentials for Entertainment & Comfort

With all the safety and practical items dealt with, it’s time to get you all cozy and entertained ready for your next long road trip.

Travel Toys

No matter a child’s age, they still need car toys! For babies this can be simple items they can kick and chew on, through to more complex puzzles and coloring for your older kids.

Think about items that can’t be choked on without direct supervision and won’t roll away and get lost between seats. And don’t forget to throw something in that can be used at road side stops too, think frisbees, balls.

You’ll find our favorite toddler car toys here

Tablets/Portable DVD Player

A savior for us on the very long driving days has been allowing the kids to use their tablets or electronic devices.

Each family will need to determine their own rules once it comes to screen time on the road. Just remember you may not have WIFI or internet connection once you hit the road so anything on their devices needs to be downloaded in advance.

Music, Audio Books, Podcast

Music is a given on any road trip, but why not mix it up with some family audiobooks and podcasts? There are plenty that are suitable for families that you can either listen to together, or download onto each family member’s device so they can listen to alone. We’ve found Amazon Audible invaluable for this.

Headphones

With electronics, music and audiobooks, these go hand in hand with the whole family having their own headphones!

Remember, younger kids will still need something that is volume limiting to protect their hearing, whilst older kids may prefer to graduate to smaller earbuds. Children can still watch something together if you get them a headphone splitter.

Portable Power Banks and Battery Packs

Now we’ve seen just how vital our electronics are these days when we travel by road, don’t forget all these items need to be charged at some point!

Sometimes it simply can’t wait until you are back at your accommodation and have a power source. We strongly recommend having for your car a multi-power adaptor which can work through USB, or having several battery packs, pre-charged and ready to help when a device is running low.

You can get smaller units each that will easily fit in their car trays or seat organizers, are go with a big family model 20,000 mAh that will surely last you al an entire day on the road – one of the most useful but often forgotten items for a family road trip!

Family Games

Away from screens and devices, think ahead to games you can play in the car that don’t need any additional props or accessories. Younger kids can easily pick up a game of I-spy and counting games, whilst your older kids I’m sure can enjoy a few rounds of “Would You Rather” or more challenging alphabet games to pass the time.

Our full guide to family car games that need nothing extra coming soon!

Seat Belt Cozies and Neck Pillows

Once kids move out of a high back booster, they have much less support for their heads. Fine when they’re awake and chatting, but you’ll want something that adequately supports their head for nap times – likely on longer trips.

This can be attaching a comfortable cushion over the seat belt they can snuggle into, or even better a neck pillow that can complete wrap around their head giving a comfortable fit.

Road Trip Essentials for Roadside Stops

Traveling long distances with children will require regular rest stops, be it for gas stations and a restroom, or a longer stop to stretch the legs and explore the trails en route. Here’s what we always keep handy in the car for those essential road trip stops:

Small Day Bag

Ready to grab and go when you leave the car, we keep a small backpack ready with the essentials we might need for snack stops, short hikes and play parks. This can double as the bag you keep snacks in and the important little things like first aid kit, sanitizers and fresh face masks.

Masks

A post-COVID world brings this precautionary measure to the top of our list. Regardless of the rules in your location, its a sensible travelers precaution in the 2020’s to bring a face mask when you’re road tripping from one destination to the next.

We keep a cloth mask each in the car as well as a stash of disposables ready when needed for any emergency stops.

Hand Sanitizer

Goes without saying, right? It comes everywhere these days, with every child having one clipped to their own day packs, plus the first aid kit, the purse!

Sanitizing Wipes

These, I am sure, have been in every mom bag well before COVID germs were a thing. We have long been rubbing down tables and cleaning grubby hands on the go. We do like to keep stronger surface wipes separate to those we use on their faces and more sensitive parts of the body.

Spare Toilet Roll

How many bathrooms have you stopped at on a long road trip only to discover there’s no toilet roll! A roll of spare toilet paper is always a handy road trip essential to pack. (And depending on the country you’re in, a few coins too in case it’s a pay toilet).

Cooler Box

Important for meals on the go, keep your food fresh using a cooler box. The size really depends on whether you are camping and the cooler will be housing all your food and drinks, or are you simply needing to get the most perishable food from one fridge to the next?

On larger camping trips or with a campervan you may well have a plugin fridge that runs of the car battery. All you will need then is a smaller snack pack size cooler is needed for day trips. Look to add soft ice packs with your small cooler box to keep drinks cold all day and restock with ice cubes when you can.

Small Blanket

Easy to grab and go with your picnic lunch stops there are a great range of sand proof and waterproof blankets that can fold down extra small, so small they should fit in your daypack.

Cutlery

Whilst we hate to do the dishes on the road, we hate even more how environmentally damaging plastic waste can be. If we’re going disposable, make sure its made from recyclable material like bamboo cutlery. Better yet, it’s a great idea to pack your own picnic set if you think you’ll be making frequent roadside stops.

Bug Spray

It doesn’t take long for the bugs to find you on those roadside stops! Flies, mozzies, midgies, gnats, keep yourselves protected with bug spray, look for those gentle on kids skin.

Sun Hats & Sunscreen

And don’t forget the suns harmful rays too. Even on a short trail, playground or roadside stop, the sun can catch you out on a hot summers day. Keep little heads protected with sunhats and out in the midday sun remember sunscreen too.

Raincoats & Umbrellas

Winter road trips you will no doubt have the opposite issue with kids getting wet no matter what you try! It’s still important you get everyone out of the car regularly to stretch legs so do make sure you pack appropriate provisions to deal with the weather including rain coats and umbrellas.

You may also want separate rain boots that are kept in the trunk so not to dirty up the back of the car.

Quick-Dry Towel

You can be sure if there’s any sort of pond, river or even just a puddle on your roadside stop, kids will find it! We love having a few quick dry towels within easy reach in the trunk (plus a couple of spare outfits) ready for inevitable dampness that happens en route, no matter the season!

Hair Ties

Ladies with long hair will know exactly what we mean! Heading out on a trail, it’s always handy to keep one of these on your wrist – ideal for MacGyver style repairs on the move, too!


Winter Road Trip Essentials List

Travelling in icy or snowy conditions will require you to have a few more road trip essentials to hand. We recommend you also include on your checklist:

De-icer & Scraper

In colder climates or areas prone to frost it is wise to have a de-ice your car with a brush and scraper attachment.

Chains

These anti slip devices are a requirement in certain places. You’ll want a set of these handy to grab in your trunk ready to go in snowy and icy conditions.

Defogging Spray

Internal screen fog can be caused by extreme temperature differences. A defogging spray will assist you in quickly clearing screen fog.

Collapsible Shovel

When all else fails you may need to get out of the car and make your path in the wintery conditions. These collapsible shovels and gloves are a winter road trip essential for anyone in cold and snowy climates.

Printable Road Trip Checklist

Save time packing for your next family road trip and get this road trip packing list printed out ready to check off items as you go!


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