The Ultimate Packing Checklist For Your Next Family Road Trip

JoAdventures, Travel

Road trip

This year has not been the year for multiple holidays, and as we face lockdown the second it feels as though those much needed breaks are even more elusive. When things are relaxed again though, and especially around the festive season, it might be time to pack a bag or two and go on a road trip instead.

According to a 2015 study, UK families took about 34 million holidays that year. Oh to be back in those pre-pandemic days! Road trips are a fantastic holiday idea for families looking to have some fun and a change of scene. They can be just as exciting as hopping on an aeroplane, and they give an opportunity to see the sights and landscapes before you arrive. Packing, however, can be tricky. It’s tempting to use every nook and cranny in the car and fill it up with ‘stuff’, but careful planning (and multiple lists if you’re anything like me!) can go a long way to making it a successful break.

Here are ten points to consider:

  1. Comfort items

brown teddy bear on brown wooden bench outside
Photo by Pixabay on

Road trips can become uncomfortable due to the long hours spent sitting and doing nothing. The inactivity could quickly dampen the mood of all of you, so it will help if you pack a few “comfort items” to make the trip more bearable. Many parents recommend using booster seats to keep your kids comfortable even if they legally no longer need them. Pack your child’s favourite stuffed animals to keep them occupied and snuggle with. Include blankets and pillows as well, and consider travel neck pillows for adults not driving. Other comfort items to pack include reusable mugs, extra jumpers, cosy socks or slippers, towels, and in the warmer months handheld fans. Planning for your family’s comfort may just save you from multiple stops and “are we there yet?”s too, so can help you to start off on the right foot for your family trip.

  1. Kids’ entertainment

Keeping the children engaged and entertained while on the road is crucial for everyone’s peace of mind. There are a wide variety of ways to keep those little minds and hands busy. You can try turning your backseat into a cinema to keep them engaged with their favourite cartoons. Or you could use any available screen for video games to help keep them distracted. A 2017 Jardine Motors’ survey revealed that about 50% of parents said video games successfully engage children on road trips. Audiobooks of their favourite stories are an excellent option for a quiet, peaceful ride. You can also include a creativity kit to keep them busy with drawing and other easy to craft bits and bobs (top tip – make sure it doesn’t include glitter. Yes that point does come from a bad glitter-in-the-car experience!). There are many innovative ways to engage your kids on the trip. You can even throw different options into a bag that you can have to hand when you need a new distraction.

  1. Clothing

The length of your trip and the activities you will be engaging in will guide you when picking the appropriate clothes for your break. Minimalism is key when packing clothes for your trip to prevent overpacking and extra weight. Substitute large suitcases with handy duffel bags, packing cubes, and backpacks. We also tend to pack away a tub of washing powder so that we can wash clothes whilst on holiday which also reduces the overall amount we take. Do not pack heavy clothes like denim for your kids since spills can be frequent, and denim takes a long while to dry. Include everyone’s most comfortable, casual, breezy clothing in the bags since comfort is a top road trip priority. Looking and feeling good can give you an extra boost of mental energy too, so you might like to take a look at the chic eyeglasses on this website for yourself.

  1. Mini cooler

Driving for an extended time means people will be hungry frequently, so having a snack stash to pick from certainly comes in handy. A mini cooler containing snacks and drinks can be a game changer for a road trip. The cooler also allows you to shop on the road for items that require refrigeration. You will need to stock your cooler based on the length of your trip and the type of food you will be taking along. Make sure that you load up on ice and pack tight. Also, consider packing some healthy snacks like granola bars and fruit which might keep you feeling full for longer.

  1. Toiletries

Packing a personal toiletry bag is stressful enough, and making sure everyone else is good to go can create even more brain ache. However, you can make a general checklist of items to pack for the family, like toothpaste and shower gels that everyone can share to make your load lighter. Then, pack personal items for people who will need them, for example, we have medicated eczema creams for one of our sons. For general packing, frequent travellers recommend using reusable plastic zip-top bags to hold items like shampoo, lotions, and other products that are likely to spill. Also, try to pack travel-size bottles for most of the bathroom essentials to save space. 

  1. First aid kit

person holding first aid kit
Photo by Roger Brown on

First aid kits are essential travel must-haves for any trip, and even more important when travelling with kids. First-aid kits may not look vital initially, but many families say you may have to rely on their contents more often than you would think. It is better to be prepared for whatever may happen, and you can create a first aid kit yourself or get one from a local pharmacy or supermarket. You should include necessary supplies like antiseptic, sterile wipes, antihistamine tablets or creams, plasters, gauze, tweezers and pain medication. Add sunscreen and insect repellent depending on the time of year too. Remember to pack all these items with your family’s safety and wellbeing in mind, but keep them well out of reach of younger members of the family.

  1. Emergency items

There are many worst-case scenarios that your family can encounter on the road, and so you must include essential emergency items just in case. For example, check that you have an inflated spare tyre and accompanying tyre-changing tools to change tyres mid-trip if necessary, or if your car doesn’t have space for one, some form of tyre repair kit. A small shovel will also be useful, especially during winter, to help dig out your car if it gets stuck in the snow. We have one that has a folding handle so it can fit in an even smaller space. Also include some extra bottles of water, in case you somehow get stranded. Many experts think you should have an emergency reflector triangle, spare headlight bulbs, a fire extinguisher, extra cash, a backup phone with emergency contacts and a flashlight with spare batteries. We carry hi-vis jackets for each member of the family too, with a couple spare, and always have a thick blanket in the car as well.

  1. Tech gear

It may sound obvious, but it can be easy to overlook vital technology when you’re rushing out of the door. Make sure that you have your mobile phone, headphones, tablet, laptop, and all chargers to ensure that you stay connected on your trip. Battery packs are great for charging electronic devices, just remember to fully charge them before you leave. Multiple road trip guides suggest buying a GPS despite having Google Maps to make navigation easy in places where Google Maps does not work well. Camera gear is also an important addition to have as part of your tech gear. If you have them, pack some wireless remote controls for your camera, and tripods to allow you to take good family pictures.

  1. Camping and outdoor equipment

Depending on your family and your preferences, your road trip may involve camping at some point. If so, make space for that all important camping gear to ensure you have a great outdoor experience. From sleeping bags and extra blankets, to inflatable pillows and portable cooking gear like a travel-size gas stove. Don’t forget to include a dishwashing kit and bin bags to make cleaning up easier. Fold-out tables and chairs, hammocks, tarps, firewood, and a box of matches should also feature in your packed items.

  1. Car cleaning items

black vehicle interior
Photo by Mike on

Keeping your car clean might seem a little pointless, especially when you have children climbing in and out and, in our case, dogs too. It is your mode of transport though and is quite nice not to rack up the miles surrounded by layers of mud! Pop a few items together that will maintain a basic level of cleanliness such as some wet wipes or kitchen towel, and a bag for rubbish. Carpet and upholstery wipes will also help you get rid of dirt and mud during driving breaks if you can’t last until you get home again.

I hope that these tips might make packing for your next road trip a little easier. Do let me know what essentials you can’t be without when you go away in the comments below!

N.B. This is a collaborative post. For more information, please see my disclosure policy.