So you’re going on the great American family road trip! Both of my parents love to travel and brought us practically everywhere they went, and those are some of my favorite memories. Taking your kids on the road, no matter the extra effort, is really worth it for all the special memories you’ll create together.
So, what will you need on your travel packing list? Unfortunately, a lot more stuff than any other road trip. In addition to necessities like wet wipes and sippy cups, you’ll need a lot more entertainment to keep the kids busy. Kids just don’t have the patience for sitting for long periods of time like adults! Plan on getting extra storage (car-top or hitch) if your car isn’t huge.
In addition to this travel packing list, I really recommend that you tailor your trip to include a lot of stops along the way to keep the kids from getting too antsy. There are lots of things to stop and see, even if they’re not five-star amazing sights. What you might find boring, may actually be interesting to a kid who’s never seen it before – like an old-time drugstore in one of the last traditional downtowns you’ll still find in some smaller towns or a feed store in a farming community.
Pressed for ideas on how to map your family road trip? Check out my article Map It! for ways to add lots of fun to your journey.
If you have teenagers, you’ve got an entirely different set of challenges. The best bet is to sit down as a family and get your teenagers to input on where to go on your vacation. They’re more likely to get excited about a trip they had a hand in planning, rather than one that you planned and they’re just going along with.
What should you pack? I’m going to focus on younger kids in this travel packing list rather than older kids who are usually more self-sufficient.
- Wet wipes, napkins, and extra paper towels. You will be amazed at the mess your car and kids will become if you forget these.
- Battery-powered mini-vacuum to pick up bigger messes. You won’t want to spend your whole trip looking for gas stations with a vacuum.
- Diapers, baby powder, and everything else you usually need to change diapers. Also, bring a soft machine-washable blanket so you can use almost any surface to change diapers.
- Formula or breast milk in a cooler with ice if you’re nursing. Warming it up on the road will be tough, so unless you’re breastfeeding, you might want to wait a while to take a road trip.
- Bottles or sippy cups.
- Binkie’s and other favorite comforts such as blankies.
- Toys! Go through your kid’s books and toys and try to find ones that will work well in the car. Even if it makes a mess (like Legos) it’s okay as it’s unavoidable – your car will be a mess. Make sure that each child’s favorite toy (assuming it’s not huge or plug-in) is along for the ride as well.
- DVD players and audiobooks for those times when you need a rest from keeping the kids entertained. Don’t rely on these solely though – a road trip is one of your best opportunities to bond with your kids.
- Coloring books and crayons.
- Lots of trash bags for garbage.
- Books for reading in the evenings and for bedtime stories.
- Cooler with snacks and beverages that the kids like. If you’re usually strict about what the kids eat, this may be a time to relax the rules a little and let them have some treats. Make it clear that they are treats and let it be part of the fun of your trip. Remember, every bit of crankiness you can head off, you’ll appreciate. But, a word of caution: too much sugar will make matters worse, so be careful with the amounts they’re eating.
- Disposable cameras for each child to use. Kids have so much fun with this and it makes them feel grown-up. Yes, there will be lots of shots of the car floor and of fingers covering the lens.
- Mesh laundry bag to keep all the dirty clothes. If you can, stay at hotels that have a laundry room and bring a small version of your favorite detergent. You’re not going to be able to bring enough changes of clothes for all those messes, so being able to do a load or two now and then will be a huge help.
- Nightlights for the kid’s bathroom and bedroom at your hotel, especially if they’re used to them at home.
- A pillow and a blanket for each child so that they can nap in the car when they get tired.
Some people rely heavily on DVD and portable CD players with earphones. I don’t suggest this due to the tremendous opportunity you’ll be missing to bond and have fun together as a family. If everyone goes off in their own little world, you’ll miss it! Instead, save those easy entertainment options for when you’re really needing a break – not only will the kids enjoy it more (hours and hours of videos can stop being fun at a certain point), the ensuing silence will be that much sweeter!
Consider checking out my Road Trip Games and Songs for ways to entertain the kids for miles while doing it as a family. Come up with a family road trip soundtrack! Your relationships with your children will deepen with every activity you do together as a family.
Use my General Road Trip Packing and The List articles to help you round out your packing list for your trip. A little preparation and planning (and this family travel packing list) will really help to make your next family road trip a wonderful experience!