Toy Car with Toy Suitcases stacked on top ready for a road trip with kids

Ultimate Guide on How To Pack for a Road Trip With Kids

Toy Car with Toy Suitcases stacked on top ready for a road trip with kids
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

A road trip can be one of the most memorable experiences for a family. The open road, the change of scenery, and the anticipation of adventure can make it an exciting time for everyone. But packing? That can feel like you’re getting ready for a cross-country move. 

With three boys under seven myself, I've definitely been there. Planning ahead and being organized are the keys to a great road trip with your kids. Include your kids in the process, and they might surprise you with what they think about ahead of time.

Planning Ahead

When it comes to road trips and family vacations, it’s all in the preparation. Here’s how you can set yourself up for success.

Research Your Route: Look for rest stops, family-friendly attractions, and emergency facilities. 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!

Chat with the Kids: Getting input from your kids can be a game-changer. They might remind you of that special teddy that’s a must-have or the new game they’ve been dying to play in the car. Plus, involving them can build excitement!

Create a Checklist: A checklist can be a lifesaver. And not just for packing but for last-minute to-dos as well. Are there favorite snacks to pick up or chargers to remember? Jot them down.

Be Flexible: 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.

Essential Items: Making Sure the Bases are Covered

Oh, the many, many things kids need! Packing for a road trip can sometimes feel like you're moving out. But don’t fret. I’ve been there and done that, and here’s a breakdown of the essentials you'll want to make sure to pack.

Car Safety Gear: This one’s non-negotiable. Booster seats are a must for the little ones. Neck pillows can help with the inevitable car naps, and a sunshade is a savior from glaring sun rays. 

Medications: Whether it’s a prescription 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 some fun stickers for the brave patient.

Snacks and Drinks: We’ve all faced the wrath of a hungry toddler or a hangry pre-teen. Pack healthy, non-messy snacks. String cheese, pretzel sticks, or granola bars are all great staples. A cooler for some fruit and water is also a good idea.

Extra Clothes: Spills will happen. And so unexpected weather changes can, 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.

Entertainment and Comfort: The Key to a Meltdown-Free Journey

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

We've all heard it, and after the tenth time, “Are we there yet?” can wear on your nerves. Here's how to pack in the fun and comfort and keep the questions to a minimum.

Technology: The trusty tablet. A double-edged sword, but sometimes, a lifesaver. Pack your tablet with favorite shows, movies, or educational games. Don’t forget the headphones and chargers. Balance is key—mix tech time with other activities to keep things fresh and the screen time to a minimum.

Traditional Games: Throw it back to the road trips of your youth with some good old car games. ‘I-spy’, ’20 Questions’, and classic sing-alongs can be surprisingly entertaining. These not only pass the time but can be a great bonding activity. Plus, they require zero packing space!

Toys and Books: Introduce a surprise new toy or book during the journey. The novelty can buy you some peaceful drive time. Tactile toys like playdough or activity books can be great for younger kids. For older ones, a travel journal, puzzle books, or a map to trace the journey are good surprises.

Comfort Items: For many kids, a familiar blanket or soft toy can make all the difference in unfamiliar places. If your child has a special comfort item, make sure it’s within easy reach. It’s the little things that provide a sense of security.

Organization and 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
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

You've got the essentials, the entertainment, and the snacks. Now, how do you ensure you can easily grab that toy or snack while speeding down the freeway? Here's your guide to staying organized.

Organizers and Bins: 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.

Ziplock Bags: Simple, yet effective. Pack outfits for each child in separate ziplock bags. This keeps things organized and can be a time saver when you make overnight stops. Plus, they can be used for trash or wet clothes if needed.

Coolers and Snack Baskets: 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.

Digital List or App: 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.

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

Three Kids on a road trip squabbling in the back seat
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Before you hit the open road, these last-minute preparations can be the secret sauce to a peaceful ride.

Vehicle Check-Up: Before taking off on a road trip, ensure your vehicle is up to date on its maintenance. Check tire pressure, oil levels, and brakes, and also ensure you have a functional spare tire and the necessary tools for a tire change.

Plan Your Stops: Having a rough idea of where you'll take breaks can ease anxiety. Look up parks, rest areas, or family-friendly spots along your route. This helps in stretching legs, taking restroom breaks, and keeping the kids in good spirits.

Set Expectations: 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: Music and stories make the ride so much better. 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.

Handling Bumps in the Road: Keeping Cool When Plans Go Awry

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

No matter how well you plan, road trips can sometimes take unexpected turns. From a surprise rainstorm to a sudden detour, it's essential to remain adaptable and keep the journey enjoyable for everyone. Here's how to navigate those unforeseen bumps.

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.

Have a Backup Plan: Whether it's extra snacks, alternative routes, or additional entertainment, having a backup can save the day. Keep a special toy or treat hidden away for those moments when you need a little magic to lift the mood.

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.

Conclusion: The Road Less Traveled

Every road trip is its own unique adventure. Packing for a trip with kids might seem daunting, but with preparation and the right mindset, it becomes part of the fun. 

Remember, it's not just about the items in your suitcase; it's about fostering connection, creating shared memories, and embracing every twist and turn the journey throws your way. So, pack those bags, cue up your playlist, and hit the open road. Happy travels!