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.
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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.
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, 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?
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 about 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!
A valid driver’s 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. Will you need to obtain an international driving permit?
You will also need evidence of vehicle ownership with you or a rental agreement showing ownership.
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, cell service, or roadside assistance; when all else fails, check the manual!
Emergency Roadside Kit
Even with roadside assistance, 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.
So often, our pre-road trip checks go as far as we can see inside the car and ensure your oil and water levels are OK, but never forget about your spare tire!
Ensure it will still be roadworthy and 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.
We can all agree that smartphones are needed for almost 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.
Traveling 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 your downloaded apps. Here are some essentials to consider:
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 roadside 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 saw 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
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 a USB, USB C, or a combination of both and the right cords for connecting your devices.
Even better than having your smartphone floating around the car, get a purpose phone holder that can attach to your dash. You can then easily use your smartphone for navigation; these holders can also act as a charger, meaning you will need one less car accessory.
Super handy when your car battery has died, or you’re seeking out lost items under seats. Keep a torch or small flashlight in an easy-to-grab part of your car.
Another handy item to always have in easy reach is a multitool or pocket knife. Be it minor running repairs, mini scissors, or taking off bottle caps. An indispensable family vacation packing item!
Windshield Sun Shade
If you are road-tripping in hotter climates, you’ll quickly realize just how essential a windshield sunshade 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 that you will need larger shades than regular cars.
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 go 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.
You may also want to check in on our guide, “road tripping essentials for kids.”
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 first aid kit for road trips should be kept inside your vehicle, most likely in your glove compartment. Think items such as Band-Aids, children’s Panadol, and 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 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!
Keep your car organized and clean 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 bins.
Hydration on the road is essential, but don’t overdo it! The larger the bottle you give kids, the greater your propensity to pull over every 30 minutes for bathroom breaks.
Pick a good insulated bottle for every family member (if possible, assess the size of the beverage holder everyone will 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 though; some coffee travel mugs 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.
Make sure the driver has good 100% UV protection sunglasses. You’ll likely want a set for your passengers, too, especially in warm and sunny climates.
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 sun visor organizers for the car are a great convenient spot for keeping things like parking passes, loose coins, insurance documents – even a handy spot for things like tissues, wipes, and 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.
These trunk organizers are great on long 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 toddlers 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 consider – you’ll find a good guide here on what car seats are appropriate for cars and planes.
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.
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 car 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 sunshade.
SUVs 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, be mindful that they’re all competing for that valuable in-car plug point!)
Don’t forget an insulated bag if you’re taking bottles in the car with you.
We talk more about drinks & cooling systems below in gear you need for roadside 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.
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 journeys until you’re certain they can go longer stretched and their warning system improves.
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.
Psst – do you regularly suffer from the dreaded car stench on a long journey? We share our top tips for removing bad odors from your car and how to keep your car smelling pleasant throughout a long journey.
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.
No matter a child’s age, they still need car toys! For babies, these 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, won’t roll away, and get lost between seats if you’re buying road trip toys for toddlers and younger children. And don’t forget to throw something in that can be used at roadside stops, like frisbees or balls.
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 its own rules once it comes to screen time on the road. Just remember you may not have WIFI or an 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 them alone.
We’ve found Amazon Audible invaluable for this.
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 that 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, or 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!
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.
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.
We compare the best car seat pillows for toddlers here.
Particularly if you are prone to sciatica back pain, a comfortable car seat cushion for long-distance driving is another essential for drivers.
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 a first aid kit, sanitizers, and fresh face masks.
A post-COVID world brings this precautionary measure to the top of our list. Regardless of the rules in your location, it’s a sensible traveler’s precaution in the 2020s to bring a face mask when you’re road-tripping from one destination to the next.
We keep a cloth mask in the car and a stash of disposables ready when needed for any emergency stops.
Goes without saying, right? A small sanitizer tube comes everywhere these days, with every child having one clipped to their own day packs, plus the first aid kit, the purse!
I am sure these 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 from those wet wipes 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).
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 have a plugin fridge that runs off the car battery. All you will need then is a smaller snack pack size cooler 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.
Easy to grab and go with your picnic lunch stops. A great range of sand-proof and waterproof blankets can fold down extra small, so small they should fit in your daypack and help prevent sand and dirt from making their way back into your vehicle.
While we hate to do the dishes on the road, we hate how environmentally damaging plastic waste can be even more. If we’re going disposable, make sure it’s 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.
It doesn’t take long for the bugs to find you on those roadside stops! Flies, mozzies, midges, gnats, keep yourselves protected with bug spray; look for those gentle on kids’ skin.
Sun Hats & Sunscreen
And don’t forget the sun’s harmful rays too. Even on a short trail, playground, or roadside stop, the sun can catch you out on a hot summer’s day. Keep little heads protected with sunhats, and out in the midday sun, remember sunscreen too.
Pssst – worried about sunscreen stains in the car? We know; it happens! Follow our tips here for removing those sunscreen stains and a few extra tools you may want for car maintenance, especially on a beach road trip.
Raincoats & Umbrellas
On Winter road trips, you will no doubt have the opposite issue with kids getting wet no matter what you try! You must get everyone out of the car regularly to stretch their legs, so make sure you pack appropriate provisions to deal with the weather, including raincoats and umbrellas.
You may also want separate rain boots that are kept in the trunk so as not to dirty up the back of the car.
You can be sure if there’s any pond, river, or even 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!
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!
Traveling in convo with another vehicle? A great way to keep in touch with your comrades is a walkie-talkie for your road trip. On the lookout for a great place to stop? Radio on to your next vehicle when you need to pull over or to alert them to any hazards or interesting things to point out along the way.
While they can be a novelty fun for the kids and may not be seen as essential, heading anywhere off-road or remote, we think they’re a must-have for a road trip.
Winter Road Trip Essentials List
Traveling 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 de-ice your car with a brush and scraper attachment.
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.
Internal screen fog can be caused by extreme temperature differences. A defogging spray will assist you in quickly clearing screen fog.
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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