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Road Trip Regrets: Forgotten Essentials That Can Ruin Your Trip With Kids

Planning ahead and being organized are the keys to a great road trip with your kids. Here are the things you might not think of and won't want to leave behind!

Pre-Trip Prep: Set the Stage for a Smooth Ride

Kids on a merry go round at a park
Photo Credit: Alissa Zorn

Beyond choosing a route, it's highly worthwhile to do a little extra research for your route. Look for rest stops, family-friendly attractions, potential food stops, and emergency facilities. You can use Google Maps to pin these places. This not only helps in timely breaks but can also turn a mundane drive into a mini-adventure. Did you know that some rest areas have playgrounds? Instant energy burner!

Your Flexibility

Teen in the hallway of a car wash taking photos because it is the carwash featured in Breaking Bad
Photo Credit: Alissa Zorn

While having a plan is great, road trips are unpredictable. Embrace the detours and unexpected stops. Sometimes, those unplanned moments end up being the most memorable. And if you've done a little pre-trip research, you'll probably have a handy list of potential places to stop in case you need an unexpected break.


Red First Aid Kit sits on a cloth in front of small bottles and a bag of soap
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Don't forget prescriptions or just-in-case meds like travel sickness remedies. It’s better to be prepared than to need a late-night run to CVS. Also, be sure to pack a first-aid kit stocked with band-aids, antiseptic wipes, and maybe some fun stickers for the brave patient.

Large Ziplock Bags: Car-Saving Super Travel Item

Liitle girl in car seat looking sad or tired
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If you've ever had a child moan and tell you they think they're going to be sick while you're on an impossible-to-pull-over stretch of road, then you will know why having a plastic bag within reach is a must. Simple, yet effective. Zip-lock bags also come in handy for trash or wet clothes if needed.

Extra Clothes:

Two Teens jumping on white sand dunes
Photo credit: Alissa Zorn

Spills will happen. Mess will happen. Unexpected weather can happen, too. Toss in an extra set of clothes somewhere with easy access in case of surprises. When one of your kids spills a water bottle on themselves, it’s much nicer to have the extra clothes on hand than searching through the luggage to find some spares.

A Road Trip Mascot

Orange stuffed animal on a car dash board on a road trip
Photo Credit: Alissa Zorn

Okay, this isn't super essential, but it's really fun. We took a fluffy orange toy that got nicknamed “The Shnordle” on a week-long trip across the Southwest, and it became a source of photo-ops and upbeat motivation: “We can make it one more hour, The Shnordle wants to see the next town!”   

Organizers and Bins for Easy Accessibility: Your Road Trip Lifesavers

car organizer for road trip hangs on the back of a car seat holding a water bottle, a tablet and a stuffed animal
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Investing in backseat organizers is well worth the money. They allow kids to have their toys, snacks, and drinks within arm’s reach. In the trunk, storage bins and containers can help compartmentalize items, making it easier to find packed items along the way.

Digital List or App

San Francisco Peaks with a gorgeous blue sky and clouds and a strip of road in the foreground
Photo Credit: Alissa Zorn

Consider using a note-taking app or digital list to keep track of where specific items are packed. It might seem overboard, but when you're looking for that one elusive item, it'll be a blessing. You can use something as simple as Google Keep and make a label for your road trips so you can easily pull up the information at any time.

A Cozy Blanket

Little girl in a car asleep under a blanket
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A cuddly blanket can be rolled into a pillow, give a kid a place to ‘hide out' while stuck next to their sibling, or make new places feel more familiar. Even big kids tend to enjoy having a blanket along on a trip to make themselves more comfortable.

Coolers and Snack Baskets:

Happy child eating a snack in car
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Instead of scattering snacks everywhere, keep them centralized in a snack basket or cooler. This allows for easy distribution during rest stops and ensures you keep track of what's being consumed.

Set Expectations Ahead of Time

here it is sign with mom and three kids standing on front of it
Photo Credit: Alissa Zorn

Talk to your kids about the road trip. Discuss the duration, the stops, and the fun places you'll visit. When kids know what to expect, they tend to be more cooperative. It’s all about building that excitement!

Playlist or Audiobook Selection:

Little girl in car listening to headphones
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Music and stories make the ride so much better. You can help kids create their own playlists, or create a family playlist with favorite songs, or dive into a thrilling audiobook. It’s a fantastic way to pass the time and engage everyone.

Games to Play in the Car

Two Kids in back of car laughing
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Road trip games keep kids happy and when we play these games, we make memories and build connection. Some of my best memories are from playing interactive games in the car.

Conversation Starters to Spark Interesting Chats

Happy man talking with his wife in the car
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Conversation starters are not only a great way to learn about each other, they're also a fun way to pass time on the road. Save a few to bring along on your next trip, and you'll be excited to see where the conversation leads.

A Backup Plan for Keeping Cool You Hit Bumps on The Road

Child running at a stop on a road trip
Photo Credit: Alissa Zorn

Stay Calm and Positive: Kids often mirror the emotions of their parents. If you stay calm during an unexpected event, they'll likely remain calm too. Remember, it's all part of the adventure.

Flexibility is Your Friend: Missed a turn? Can't find that awesome rest stop? It's okay. Sometimes, it's about the journey and not the destination. Being flexible allows you to discover hidden gems you might not have planned on visiting.

Communication is Key: If there's a plan change or a delay, talk to your kids about it. They're less likely to become restless or frustrated when they understand what's happening. Plus, making them a part of the decision-making process can be empowering.

An Adventurous Spirit

Toy Car with Toy Suitcases stacked on top ready for a road trip with kids
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Every road trip is its own unique adventure. Remember, it's not just about the items you pack; it's about fostering connection, creating shared memories, and embracing every twist and turn the journey throws your way.