One of our favorite ways to travel is a road trip. It’s such a fun way to get to destinations, as you get to see, do, and eat so many new things along the way, listen to some good music, and have quality time with the family. Our kids have been road tripping since they were babies (see all of our road trip adventures here), and we consider ourselves to be road trip pros at this point. Today I’m sharing our ultimate family road trip packing list. Whether you’re new to road tripping or have been taking road trips for years, today’s post should help you plan the things to bring on a road trip, with new information included for hygiene and safety to limit the spread of germs. I’ve included all the things to pack for a road trip with your family, including things to keep the kids occupied, road trip snacks and food, and important luggage items that you don’t want to forget to bring.
In addition to pinning today’s road trip packing list post, you should also check out our tried-and-true Tips for having the best, low-stress family road trip (including lots of car activities for toddlers and young kids), a Super Easy DIY Hanging Organizer for Your Next Family Road Trip, and how to make a DIY road trip activities folder for toddlers and young kids.
To do before you leave on your road trip
There are a few important steps we always check off before embarking on a family road trip.
- Set travel alerts for your bank and credit cards. You’ll want to make sure your banking and financial institutions know the states you’ll be traveling through and the dates for your trip, or they may assume your card has been stolen (and shut down access to it) if they see it used in another state. The good news is that you can easily set these alerts online or in your banking app.
- Set up a mail hold with the USPS. You don’t want your mailbox over-flowing while you are out of town, and this free service by the USPS helps prevent that from happening. We set ours so that our carrier delivers all the accumulated mail the day we return, but you can also opt to pick up the mail from your local post office.
- Coordinate with a trusted neighbor to keep an eye on things. We ask a neighbor to keep an eye out for unexpected packages that arrive on our doorstep, water houseplants, and generally keep an eye out for anything at our house while we are gone.
- Coordinate boarding or sitting for your pets.
- Collect all hotel confirmation numbers. You can either print them, or save them in a Note in your smartphone. Confirmation numbers come in handy when checking in or calling hotels in advance of your stay.
- Call places you plan to visit to see if they’re open. During times like these, you can’t always depend on websites to tell you if a restaurant or attraction is open to the public, so I recommending calling them in advance.
Things to pack for a road trip: Essentials for your luggage
Here are the luggage basics to pack for a road trip. Make sure to have these items for each family member, and of course, consider specific clothes, shoes, and accessories needed for your destination (if you are going to a snowy or cold destination, if you are hiking or planning to do a lot of walking, etc.). If you don’t have space to pack different clothes for everyone for each day of your trip, see if any of your hotels have laundry facilities. Some campgrounds and state/national parks also have laundry. This can really help stretch your luggage while saving car space.
- Clothing basics (tops and bottoms)
- Shoes (have at least one pair of tennis shoes or closed-toed shoes with a grip for hiking)
- Flip flops and/or slip-on shoes (these are helpful for long driving days when you need to stop for quick bathroom breaks)
- Hat with brim (sun hat or ball cap)
- Knit cap (if you are traveling through colder climates)
- Scarf (if you are traveling through colder climates)
- Gloves (if you are traveling through colder climates)
- Swimsuit (we always have swimwear just in case – hotels and even some campgrounds might have a pool or hot tub)
- Towel (always pack at least one)
- Phone and device chargers
- Quarters for laundry (if you plan to do laundry during the trip)
- Laundry detergent (if you plan to do laundry during the trip)
Things to pack for a road trip: Toiletries
Again, make sure you have the various toiletry and medication needs for each family member. If you have infants, you may need even more specific items.
- Dental floss
- Face wash and skincare needs
- Brush or comb
- Hair styling products
- Hair styling tools
- Hair ties and/or hair clips
- Nail file
- Nail clippers
- Contacts/glasses, their cases, and their cleaning supplies
- Lip balm
- Bug spray
- Hand and body lotion
- Feminine hygiene needs
- Medicines (any important prescriptions plus age-appropriate OTC pain relievers, allergy medications, cold relief, etc.)
- See more personal care and hygiene things to pack for a road trip in the Hygiene and Safety section below
Road trip packing list: Food and drinks
Have you seen that meme about road trip snacks? I think it says “if your road trip snacks don’t look like a 9-year-old was left unsupervised with $100, you’re doing it wrong.” I love that one, and our road trip snacks do tend to look like that… we like to have enjoyable and fun treats to keep everyone happy on the road. That being said, we also have a few specific food items to bring on a road trip to help stretch your travel budget and minimize stopping. We like to organize our snacks in reusable shopping bags to keep them together.
- Reusable drinking bottles and coffee cups. Whether you’re planning to refill from your own larger bottles, at service stations, or at your hotel, bringing a reusable bottle or two per person is a sustainable choice.
- Collapsible metal straws (affiliate link)
- Large water jugs (to refill your individual bottles) or cases of individual water bottles
- Canned coffee drinks (like Starbucks Double Shot) in case you don’t have easy access to coffee when you need a caffeine fix
- Bag clips
- Wine opener
- Can opener
- Wet wipes (to wipe hands and faces after snacking)
- Plastic or other reusable utensils
- Fun snacks (your favorite chips, crackers, and non-meltable cookies. We are fans of Chex Mix, Goldfish, Skinny Pop, Handi-Snacks, Pringles, and chicharrones when road tripping)
- Granola bars
- Trail mix
- Beef jerky and/or beef sticks (like Slim Jim)
- Bread, peanut butter, and jelly (to make quick and easy lunches without stopping)
- Breakfast pastries/donuts (packs by Little Debbie or Entenmann’s keep well and can save money for breakfast on the road)
- Non-perishable fruits (apples, etc.)
- Your preferred coffee sweetener (optional)
- To stretch your road trip budget, pack some easy-to-prepare, non-perishable foods to heat in hotel microwaves. Some examples are packets of instant oatmeal, Cup o’ Noodles, individual macaroni and cheese cups, canned hearty foods like chili and chicken a la king, etc.
Road trip packing list: Activities for the kids
Keeping kids comfortable, happy, and occupied during a road trip makes for a much more enjoyable experience for everyone. We have tried-and-true methods for keeping our kids entertained, and make sure to include them on our road trip packing list every time. Click the links below for more specific details (and even some printables) for these kids road trip activities.
- Road trip activities folder for kids (with printable games, coloring pages, and more)
- Various travel-sized games and activities (we have a fun tradition of making “do not open until” bags with surprises and games from the dollar store – read more in this post)
- Drawing paper and/or coloring books
- Crayons and/or colored pencils (with sharpeners)
- Toys (that can’t get lost easily in between seats). We find that packing toys they don’t use a lot (or haven’t used in a long time) are great for our road trip bag.
- Tablet or other hand-held electronic device (for games and/or watching movies or shows). If the devices are wi-fi only, you will want to make sure that you have movies downloaded to them in advance and plenty of games that don’t require cellular data.
- Dollar store cookie sheets (see more in this post, but these are great eating and activity surfaces for each kid)
- Pillow and blanket (we like to have one of each in the car for each kid to stay comfortable and cozy on the drive)
- Stuffed animals
- Device chargers
Road trip packing list: For the car
These are the things to bring on a road trip to keep your car organized, clean, and running smoothly in case of small automotive issues.
- Plastic grocery bags (we brings several and use them for trash bags)
- Paper towels
- Phone charging cords
- Tool kit
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Paper and pens
- Jumper cables (you can find these along with some of the other roadside safety items on the list as part of a ready-made kit – affiliate link)
- Tire inflator/sealant (affiliate link)
- Flares or reflector cones
- Ice scraper
- An extra quart of motor oil
- An extra gallon of coolant
- Windex or extra washer fluid
Things to bring on a road trip: Hygiene and safety
Our family’s road trip packing list has a few new items for safety precautions to minimize the spread of (and contact with) germs. While it’s easier to control your own environment on a road trip (your family within your vehicle), we have less control in the places that we stop for food, bathroom breaks, sight-seeing, and lodging. Use your best judgement and make sure you are paying attention to national and local guidelines at the time of your trip.
- First aid kit for the car
- Face masks for each family member
- For required stops (like food, gas, and bathroom breaks), pack individual safety bags with the following items for each family member:
- Napkins/paper towels (for handling public restroom or service station doors)
- Individual hand sanitizer
- Individual packs of antibacterial wipes (for gas station nozzles and pin pads, for example)
- Individual hand soap (to avoid touching communal soaps in public restrooms)
More family road trip tips:
- Tips for having the best, low-stress family road trip (including lots of car activities for toddlers and young kids)
- DIY road trip activities folder for toddlers and young kids
- Super Easy DIY Hanging Organizer for Your Next Family Road Trip
Family road trip route ideas:
- California 1 Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip: Big Sur Coastal Drive Stops
- Family Route 66 Road Trip
- Road Trip from Austin to New Orleans
- Family Road Trip from Texas to California
- Southern USA Family Road Trip Route and Recommendations
- Route and Recommendations for a Road Trip Through the U.S. Southwest
- Itinerary and Recommendations for a Family Road Trip from Texas to Washington, DC
- Route and recommendations for planning the ultimate Midwest baseball road trip