Keeping kids comfortable, entertained, and safe on the road, here are the most important things we pack for every family road trip.
Don’t forget to check out our complete road trip essentials packing list to get you & your car prepared too – or our complete guide to traveling with a newborn – this list is exclusively for your tots to school-aged kids!!
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1. Infant Car Seat
The most important thing before hitting the road with kids is ensuring they’re safe and secure.
Every child needs an appropriate safety restraint in a vehicle until they reach the height and weight to move into an adult seat. You will need to check the rules and regulations on the place you are road tripping to for the exact age and size a restraint might still be required.
2. Booster Seat
Once your child has outgrown their infant seat, moving them into a booster seat is the next vital investment you will make for a family road trip.
There is a long phase where your child will be too short to appropriately use a car seat, so you will need to move first to a booster providing a 5-point harness, then on to a seat that can be worn with a lap belt.
3. Seat Belt Cozies and Neck Pillows
Moving through the ages and stages of infant seats, you will find once they move out of a snug infant seat, there’s a tendency for little ones’ heads to start bobbing around while they try to nap in the car. This can be resolved by getting your child an appropriately sized neck pillow.
When they are very small, a wrap-around neck pillow, then as they graduate into a booster and full-sized chair, something soft and cozy they can wrap around the seat belt.
4. Side Window shades
Once your child is safely and securely seated, keeping the sun from their eyes is the next thing to consider to ensure a comfortable journey. We often think of the driver and front passenger needing sun shades, but often forgotten is how equally annoying those rays can be for a child in the back.
Whilst some new cars these days come with built-in sun shades that can be rolled up or down for sun glare, you will most likely need to invest in a set of side shades for your family road trip. Remember, SUVs may need a larger-sized sunshade to completely cover the window.
5. Car Seat Protectors
With the best will in the world, there’s no denying that kids are MESSY! Spilled drink bottles, cookie crumbs, bathroom accidents, you name it, we’ve cleaned it! What helps with the clean-up operation is having appropriate protection on our seats.
This includes a cover over their infant car seat or booster and a protective cover over the actual car seat. For toilet training kids, we recommend you invest in a piddle pad. These provide one more extra layer of protection to prevent your car from inground smells and stains.
6. Feeding and Snacks, Snacks, Snacks!
If you think snacks are important at home, just wait until you hit the road with your kids!
They seriously grow an extra stomach once they’re about 15 miles away from home. Having a great stash of pre-prepared snacks is an absolute essential on family road trips.
It’s really important, especially on those long driving days, that you focus on healthy snacks that deliver long-lasting energy, as opposed to highly sugared snacks that kids can’t then burn off while seated in the car
- We have a bumper guide to the best healthy road trip snacks for kids here
- Still feeding an infant? Look for our top tips tor traveling with breastmilk, along with our guide to the best portable bottle warmers, can also work great for warming infant meals on the go
7. Water Bottle
Hand in hand with snack time is keeping everyone hydrated. It’s a fine balancing act, though, between keeping hydration levels up and constant bathroom breaks – I bet we’ve ALL been that parent on the side of the road at least once!
Our tip is to keep the drink bottle a reasonable size. It should only last between bathroom breaks you have scheduled in. A sippy cup or bottle with markers is helpful so you can encourage them to drink more shortly before a designated break.
8. Tablets/Portable DVD player
Even if you’re normally a “no screens” family, we often make an exception for the very long road trip days. Tablets can be pre-loaded with your kids’ favorite movies or games to play.
Don’t forget you may not have any wifi or data during your journey, so make sure anything you want is actually downloaded on their device.
It’s important as a family to set your own ground rules when it comes to electronic usage in the car. Perhaps set it by mile markers or reaching a certain point on the trip; screens need to go away, so they’re not missing any highlights out the window too.
9. Travel Toys
Children of all ages need something more than just a tablet or electronic item that they can physically hold and play with. For babies and toddlers, this can be as simple as small rattles, felt books, and shape-sorting toys.
As kids get older, you can introduce sticker books, crafts, and coloring through to small travel games for siblings to play together.
10. Music, Audio Books & Podcasts
An Audible subscription can also be an excellent way to access a bundle of good audiobooks for your trip.
11. Family Games
As well as toys, we like to have a few family game ideas up our sleeve.
These can be simple games without any props, ranging from I-spy to “Would You Rather” type questions to counting games and taking sides in the car to spot things out the window.
Older kids will enjoy playing road trip trivia games to stretch their minds or keeping scavenger hunt running tallies.
12. Headphones & Headphone Splitter
For any use of electronic devices in the car, there will definitely be moments you want some headphones to accompany your kids’ entertainment.
Your kids can still listen to a device together with a headphone splitter but will need their own set of headphones.
- Remember, toddlers and younger children need something that is volume-limiting to protect their ears.
Your older tweens and teens may be ready to graduate to earbuds.
13. Travel Tray For Kids
Keeping your kids organized in the back, it can be well worth considering a car seat travel tray. These come in all different shapes and sizes, with the best models able to fit over your child’s car seat or booster.
They can use the flat surface for coloring and games and have a convenient place to hold tablets and drink bottles.
14. Tissues & Water Wipes
Kids are messy. Period! You will always want multiple packets of tissues and wipes in easy-grabbing range for your car.
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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