Ultimate Road Trip Essentials for Families

Road trips are one of the best ways to travel! Whether you pack up your car, RV, motorhome, caravan or campervan they are the best option for exploring at your own pace, but it can sometimes feel like packing everything including the kitchen sink! So how do travel with the right essentials? I have created the ultimate road trip essentials for families, including some of our best purchases.

Van Parked Beside the Road Near Handrail and Ocean
Photo by gya den from Pexels

Attempting to Pack Light

As a family, packing light isn’t something that comes easy to us! I am the Mum who considers all possibilities that we MAY need something and my teenage daughter will insist on having her medium size suitcase! We have attempted to get better this year, rather than packing five different bags I insisted that we take two this worked in theory until it came to packing the car. Suddenly I was greeted with five additional items of luggage of all different shapes and sizes, plus a wheelchair and a stroller and a hoover (yes, my husband insists). So you can start to understand what I am dealing with especially when you are having to pack road trip essentials.

What do you actually need on your road trip?

The age-old question of need vs want! Now travelling in the UK is slightly different from Europe and the rest of the world. Some countries require you to carry specific equipment, documents, or pay for toll roads so it will help to consider whether your trip will need any of these. Another easily forgotten consideration is how long the journey is? We travel to Cornwall which takes us 5-6 hours with traffic (ignore the sat nav when it says 4 hours, it lies) and we do need to consider what our road trip essentials are.

How often do you plan to stop?

A driver should take a break every two hours, due to tiredness! We aim for this sometimes having to stop after just an hour and a half or not finding somewhere suitable to stop! On our last trip, due to travel restrictions, it took us nearly three hours before we found an open Starbucks!

Usually, I have this all planned out both directions, but due to closed restaurants, traffic diverting our route and the SAT NAV not finding any places to stop that weren’t McDonald’s it was hard to plan. I will be more prepared for our next trip.

I would bear in mind the type of stops available, I was expecting during our trip to Cornwall that we would have plenty of places but if you need the toilet or to change your baby or toddler it was a struggle. You want to be careful that you don’t make mistakes that ruin your road trip from the get-go.

Preparation is everything!

Girl with braids looking at map with anywhere written across it
Source: Image by 11417994 from Pixabay

Top 20 Road Trip Essentials for Families

First Aid Kit – I learnt when I became a first-time mum that having a First Aid Kit was a must-have for the car, my handbag and/or my changing bag. Now for the car, I would suggest a full fit but your handbag or changing bag can either be a mini first aid kit or a DIY first aid kit, which I made myself. I also throw in a couple of sachets of Calpol!

Snacks/Treats/Nibbles – I am officially Pinterest obsessed with travel snacks, how to store them, what to take, and over the years, I have experimented with various versions of storage. Stopping for snacks can add a severe dent to those travel savings, so I do suggest shopping around in pound stores, supermarkets for excellent deals.

Water bottle – Over the years, we have tried different water bottles, and last year I returned to my faithful thermos (who remembers the lunch box ones?) I wanted a thermos flask that could keep my drinks cold for hours and wouldn’t leak, during those car journies and theme park days but also that could do hot so on our recent trip to Disneyland Paris we could give our son a porridge travel snack on the train, due to the early departure. It was amazing! It was still hot 10 hours later, and it didn’t leak! It was worth the price tag! I was very impressed with their selection of flasks for the kids.

In-Car Electric Cool Box – If you travel by car often you will understand the need to keep things cool whether it be snacks or drinks. We had a cool box that took ice packs, but after a 5-6 hour drive it would be warm, and if we stayed in a hotel there would be no way of freezing the ice packs so we opted to buy an electric cool box and it was the best thing we ever bought! It would be my number one, couldn’t travel without it! It works off the car cigarette lighter and also off the mains, so if we stay at a hotel we can plug it inside the room, and it’s cold enough for milk. The only downside is that if the car is off, so is the box but we always throw in a couple of ice packs for that extra chill.

Technology/Gadgets/Smartphones – If you have kids, you know that for a peaceful journey sometimes i-spy or similar games just won’t cut it on a long car journey, so we are prepared with ipads, smartphones and our son’s Fire Kids Tablet, which was the best present we ever bought him. Due to his special needs, an iPad is too complicated, but the Kids Tablets gives both of us control, and he loves sitting in the car with Netflix or Disney+ keeping him entertained. It doesn’t need wifi either if you download in advance so win-win!

Camera – With smartphones at our fingertips, we sometimes forget to record those memories along the way. I used to love getting my digital camera out and snapping everything from the journey to arriving in the accommodation. Believe me, phones get full!

Hand sanitiser – With the world becoming a little bit more aware of viruses, bugs and germs in general. Don’t forget to pack that all-important hand sanitiser. It’s now a given that we should be using it. It should never replace hand washing but when you can’t, it’s the next best thing.

Portable Powerpack – It’s the most inconvenient thing when your phone starts flashing battery and you are nowhere near your car. It happened to me so many times. So I insisted we all get one portable power pack. It changed my daughter’s life! They usually can do two-three full charges before they need a recharge. This is one of our more road trip essentials when there are only two car charging points!

Road with sky and sea
Source: Photo by Jess Vide 

Travel journal – It was something I wished I’d done earlier in my life, I wrote diaries as a teenager but felt I never travelled enough for a journal, but I have learned that you forget more than you realise at the time. So I highly recommend a travel journal or a journal of some kind.

GPS/Sat Nav – We used to own a TomTom, we had the first generation TomTom and upgraded a few years later to a newer one with a larger screen, but our recent cars have come with Sat Nav built-in. I find we often use both our phone and the car because the car can’t locate traffic like google maps do but using a phone will drain your battery, so can highly recommend a GPS.

Music – As a family we love music and over the years I have created what we call the ROAD TRIP playlist on both Apple Music and Spotify. I have always made sure we have pre-loaded music for those times when you just fancy a shuffle to mix things up.

Sun lotion – I must have about 10 different versions of sun lotion for both myself, my husband and the kids. Even moisturiser with SPF as you can never be too careful with your skin. My go-to brand is Boots Soltan and Nivea kids, I just love the smell of Nivea and I always prefer paying for the obvious brands over cheap ones.

Gadget/Cable Organiser – We are that family who throw their leads into one bag, arrive at the other end to find them tangled and then spend two hours (I kid you not) trying to split them. Then I discovered that there were products like cable organisers which organised not only our cables but also sd cards, chargers, power packs, camera batteries, earphones, you name it. It was my best buy of 2019!

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Washbag/Hygiene Essentials – Generally, we don’t camp, and we are still saving for our motorhome (home on wheels), but I like to keep a bag handy for those hygiene emergencies or in case of queues. I usually pack mini bottles, like if you travelled by plane, as you get more in the bags that way.

Torch/Flashlight – We mostly travel first thing in the morning, but if you like to get up before dawn or you arrive late, it’s worth having a torch that you can grab from inside the car in an emergency.

Emergency Car Kit – The AA and RAC have encouraged us, drivers, for years to take precautions and pack an emergency car kit. In case the inevitable happens. I’m not ashamed to admit that it’s only something we’ve purchased recently. If you are venturing outside the UK and entering France and the rest of Europe different rules apply. You must carry a Euro travel car kit with you, and you are required to carry a high vis vest for all travellers inside the vehicle, and you must have access to these from inside. I have also heard rumours of the police waiting near ports and the euro tunnel to pounce on UK arrivals to check they are following the rules. It is a hefty on the spot fine if you don’t and you really can’t afford to have it not part of your road trip essentials.

Man, woman and child sitting on rocks
Source: Photo by Elina Sazonova from Pexels

Wet Weather Gear – Unfortunately, living in the UK usually means rain. So it is best to pack a waterproof coat, and if travelling in autumn, winter or spring, it may come in handy to have waterproof walking shoes/trainers or wellies. You never know when you might need them!

Universal Multi-way Power Strip – You know, what it’s like you get to your hotel or accommodation and find there are one or two sockets and you have ten different gadgets to charge. I wasn’t sure when we visited Disneyland Paris if there would be any British plugs, so I packed a universal multi-way power strip that someone recommended. I went for the flat one over a tower for ease of packing and even works with my electric toothbrush. It does have a British plug so you will need to take an adapter to use it in Europe or internationally.

Comfortable Travel Clothes – You want to choose clothes for comfort, I often travel in leggings, a baggy t-shirt and an oversized hoodie. Pretty similar to if I was on a plane. I usually dress my kids in lightweight clothes, that I don’t need to worry about if they get dirty. These days, joggers and a t-shirt or hoody, when they were babies and toddlers, they often travelled in sleepsuits and pyjamas wrapped up with blankets.

Strollers/Buggies – If you have little ones, sometimes they just need a stroller for those long walks. The demi grow is perfect for growing families as it has the ability to expand to a double or even a twin. It is also easy to fold, store and switch between modes.

Leaving Home Essentials – I like to call these the items you really can’t afford to leave at home which include cash, keys, bank cards, medications, ID, holiday book details. You know the things you use daily.

These are just my top 20 road trip essentials; I could probably find 50 or even 60 if I wanted to bore you all. Remember, it pays to be prepared! Especially if you will be miles from home or leaving the country. The last thing you want to do is get to your destination and find you’ve left your child’s favourite toy, the one they can’t sleep without!

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  1. This is a comprehensive list of all the thing to bring along for a more comfortable road trip. The only thing I would add is audiobooks the whole family can enjoy listening to. It really makes the time fly!

    1. alittlebitsocial2 says:

      Thank you Kathy, I didn’t even think about audiobooks as we are very much a family who have our own devices inside the car but great idea. We used to listen to audiobooks when they were little and I do miss that shared journey time. Excellent advice. 🙂

  2. Great advice! There’s only one thing that I would add to the list for road trips in an unfamiliar area (and this comes from experience). Regardless of how many phones or GPS devices you have available, ALWAYS pack a paper map in the glove box just in case. There are many things that can go wrong where electronics are concerned and being stranded with no way to check things can be frustrating. We had a GPS die on us on a recent trip and it happened to be in an area where there was NO reliable cell phone signal in order to pull the data necessary on our phones. We drove around for 30 minutes trying to find a signal only to find that we had been heading in a completely wrong direction in our attempt to do so. If we had a paper map available, we could have pulled that out and stayed on track until we got a signal and got back into the routine again. They take next to no space and you don’t have to look at them at all unless it’s completely necessary.

    1. alittlebitsocial2 says:

      Thank you Britt, I haven’t used a normal map in so long I didn’t even consider that! Thank you for the advice!

  3. Great tips! I would definitely also pack in pills in case I get a tummy bug. Those kinds of things tend to happen at the most inconvenient times.

    All the best, Michelle (michellesclutterbox.com)

    1. alittlebitsocial2 says:

      They really do, don’t they? Thank you Michelle 🙂

  4. I love a road trip! These are some brilliant tips for famillies and myself that may be travelling that way. I love preparing and keeping organised xx


  5. I travel very little, but I think I would do what you do if I were to be on the road most often or for longer trips. I know it’s easy to pack an ebook with a smart device, but I’d still love to pack a paper book to read while traveling. I’m that obsessed when it comes to books LOL

    1. alittlebitsocial2 says:

      I am saving for a more accessible mode of travel so we can travel more frequently. I love my books too! I’ve only recently moved to ebooks and its still all new to me, I do prefer the touch of a proper page! I just don’t have the room anymore 🙁

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