Family road trip tips (all the essentials you don’t want to forget!)

Believe it or not, we love road trips! Experience has taught us what to bring on a road trip in order to enjoy our time together in our small space on wheels. In fact, we’ve made some memories I’m rather fond of in the car.

“It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey,” right? Okay, I may be taking that quote a little out of context, but the journey to your destination can be a fun one! Or at least an endurable one;)

I believe this because I’ve been there… I’ve been on the road trips with journeys too nightmarish to justify the destination. And I’ve been on road trips with journeys as sweet as the destination!

a giant stuffed horse sitting in the passenger seat of a truck during a family road trip

What to bring on a family road trip

It doesn’t matter the size of your family or the size of your vehicle. A road trip can be a pleasant, fun, and comfortable experience. And, making sure you’re fully equipped for all sorts of possibilities is what often makes or breaks a long family road trip.

Chances are you know the basics… like activities, snacks, and such. But, hopefully a few of the below essentials and miscellaneous extras will help make your next family road trip a successful one!

Family Road Trip essentials related to food and drink

Small reusable food containers or baggies

If you’re a parent, I’m sure you already know all about the need to have snacks on hand, at like all times! But what happens when the food runs out or you’re heading back home and have nothing left to eat? If you’re like us, you’ll stop by a grocery store or gas station and try to pick the most affordable and semi-healthy options available. Or, maybe you’re at that point in the trip where you’re ready to throw sugar at the problem;)

Either way, this is when those reusable containers come in handy. You can dole out pretzels, popcorn or carrot sticks to everyone in their own little container. There’ll be less fighting and hopefully less mess if everyone has their own serving.

These containers are also handy for storing left-overs along the trip.

We use small Rubbermaid containers that stack into each other nicely. We also like to use zippered fabric snack bags.

And, you might be surprised what other things you can use these little storage containers for: collecting rocks and seaside treasures, sharing crayons or small toys, garbage, somewhere to tuck wet, dirty socks, etc!

Snack tip: before the trip, prepare individual snack/food baggies (containers) with easy to serve snacks for all the kids old enough to dole out their own food.

Leak-proof water bottles (and coffee cups):

If your backseat looks anything like ours after a road trip, you know that cup holders cannot be relied upon. Drinks are going to get knocked over or thrown to the floor. Save yourself serious headache and some nasty smells by using water bottles that seal nice and tight. It’s also ideal to find a bottle that doesn’t leak even when it’s left open!

Having a few reusable hot beverage containers on hand is nice too for the adults on the trip who might want to pick up a cup of coffee or tea along the way.

No-Mess tip: let the kids only have water in the vehicle. Water is so much easier to clean up and won’t leave a dry sticky mess.

Trash bag/bin

Garbage accumulates at rapid speed on road trips. I can’t explain it. But I know that having somewhere other than the floor to toss that garbage makes the trip that much less stressful… not to mention the clean up afterwards!

I’ve seen a great road trip hack where you tuck a plastic shopping bag into an empty cereal box. The skinny box is often small enough to wedge into secure spots in your vehicle. Another tip is to tuck a few extra bags into the bottom so if one fills up you have a replacement.

You could even make yourself two containers, one for recycling and one for trash.

A quick search on Amazon will also bring you a variety of specially designed vehicle garbage containers. Many of them fasten in some way to the console or seats to prevent them from spilling (or being kicked over).

Baby Wipes

You don’t have to have a baby to bring along a bag of wipes! They are incredibly useful for cleaning off sticky hands, cleaning after a bathroom break, and wiping spills off the seats. They can even work on the coffee you spilled in your lap while trying to sip and drive!

Tip: If you leave baby wipes in your vehicle for long enough, eventually they will dry out. So, if you have a bag of these in your vehicle already, you might want to check to make sure they’re still moist. But, you can always add a bit of water to moisten them up again!

Blankets and warm clothing

My kids like bringing their blankets and pillows on trips, but it’s also nice to have a large blanket or two stored away for if you get a flat tire on a cold night. Blankets also come in handy for a random picnic stop at a scenic park you just couldn’t pass by.

You can use blankets as towels if needed, for emergency diaper explosion changes, or to protect seats and kids if someone gets an upset stomach. Oh, or because your husband likes to keep the A/C blasting while he drives. Blankets are handy!

If you are driving in cold, wintry conditions you should also have snow suits, toques, mittens, and warm footwear for everyone. Remember to think about your entire drive. Perhaps you’ll be passing over a mountain pass where there’s increased potential for snow and icy roads, yet your destination will be a warm one. So, while you might not actually need the warm clothes, having them for emergencies could prove life-saving (or finger and toe saving!).


Remember that potential flat tire? You’ll be glad to have a flashlight. And a backup flashlight. Although, most people have cell phones with flashlights these days… but what if your cell phone battery is too low?

Tip: Make sure to check that the flashlight works before setting out.

Flashlights can also prove helpful for reading the map after dark, looking for lost Lego bodies under the seats, removing slivers, and going into roadside outhouses at night.

A Map

You probably won’t need printed directions or a physical map until you find yourself in the middle of nowhere without any cell service. Then, you’ll really wish you’d picked up that map at the gas station or printed out the trip directions before leaving!

Tip: A map can also be a great diversion and activity for kids. Have your kids spend time following your trip on the map and sharing what the upcoming towns and roads will be. Learning how to use a map is a great life skill and road trips are the perfect time for kids to have some hands-on practical learning.

First Aid Kit

Hopefully you already have a small first aid in your vehicle. But, if not, now’s the perfect time to get yourself one. You don’t need anything too fancy unless you’re really travelling far off the beaten path.

Generally, some sterile gloves, an assortment of bandages, tweezers, antihistamines, and pain meds in doses for children and adults should be sufficient.

Don’t forget that motion sickness treatment! Absolutely nothing utterly ruins a road trip like puking kids!

Oh, and one last thing to note is make sure that you’re car is road ready before the trip. As it would be a shame for your car to break down during the trip!

Oh, here’s a story…

Once on a family road trip we had to make use of both our flashlight and tweezers when our daughter stuck a raisin up her nose! You never know what will happen, especially when travelling with kids!

Here’s a family road trip video full of other tips and hacks that you might want to check out:

A few other road trip essentials

A bucket with a lid

So, speaking of motion sickness… This is where a bucket comes in handy!

Tip: Any container with a sealing lid will work: a family-sized ice cream tub, an old margarine container. Even plastic Ziplock bags will work, but your ability to see into the bag might be pretty yucky for everyone else in the vehicle!

Sometimes you simply can’t always pull over in time for someone to be sick. Really, this can be a huge saver! And, believe me, having a lid for that container means it won’t spill until you can dump it and you don’t have to smell it either, yuck!


You probably keep your sunglasses in the car or your purse, right? Good. My husband tends to
forget his. If you see a man driving around in women’s sunglasses…

Don’t forget sunglasses for the kids too!

Slip-on Shoes

Your kids are going to remove their shoes (and probably socks too!) at some point during your drive. To make getting in and out of the vehicle easier, make sure they have slip-on shoes so you don’t spend the first ten minutes at the rest stop trying to locate and put on everyone’s shoes.

Tip: If your kids are shoe-taker-offers, have the kids take them off just as they get in so you can
keep them in one spot where they’ll easily be found again.

Oh, and a ‘whoops, we’ve done this, speaking from experience’ tip: Make sure your kids are actually wearing their shoes when they leave the house so you don’t realize at the first rest stop, two hours away from your house, that your kid doesn’t have any shoes at all!!

A few extra diversions

If your kids are a bit older, they’ll probably make sure they’ve packed their bags with things to keep them busy on the long drive.

Here are a few things that we’ve brought along to help keep kids interested and distracted when needed:

  • Search and find picture books
  • Roadside bingo games
  • A new comic book, magazine, or novel
  • Audiobooks that the whole family will enjoy
  • Leap pads or tablets loaded with kid games and activities
  • Fidget spinners and Rubik’s cubes

Tip: Have a few special items tucked away to pull out for “emergencies”. These could be things you already have at home and wrap them up or place them in a special box to make them seem special, or treat your kids to something new.

One last very important tip: Silly putty is not a good idea! On our last month-long road trip my kids were very excited to find silly putty on the counter of a gas station. Well, one kid bought one. And, then, for days there was fighting over that putty in so many ways until we “accidentally” lost it. Ugh, we had silly putty stuck on car seats, clothes, shoes, water bottles, and hair! Just don’t bring the silly putty!

Making the family road trip a memorable one

This is not an exhaustive list of what to bring on a road trip, by any means. But we have found that these miscellaneous things are essential to facing whatever chaos ensues on a family road trip!

Last tips: Get your kids involved, stop when you can at fun road side attractions, be prepared, be safe, and remember, road trips are about making memories!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *