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Hitting the road for a family road trip? How exciting! I love the feeling of getting ready for an adventure.

Since the pandemic hit, our family has been doing a lot more road trips and we’ve got our packing down to a science. Our first few cross country road trips were not very smooth. We forgot some road trip essentials which meant we had to buy a few things along the way. But, we learned from our mistakes. Our multiple road trips across the country have made us more aware of how to save money on a road trip — planning and preparation are key! Keep reading for an overview of our road trip packing list and everything you need to make your road trip a success. 

[SEE MORE: How to Prepare for a Road Trip With Kids]

Food to Pack on a Family Road Trip 

The No. 1 most important thing to bring on your road trip….food! In my opinion, nothing can make or break a road trip more than food. Not only do I enjoy a good road trip snack but me and my boys get seriously hangry if we don’t eat regularly. If you’re wondering how you can save money on a road trip, preparing and packing your food is a great way instead of stopping at expensive restaurants. 

When preparing for a family road trip I start with a list of road trip food ideas. Then, I try to prepare as much as I possibly can before leaving. I create a meal plan full of healthy road trip snacks and meals to ensure we stay well fed and energized on our journey. While I love to munch on chips and candy as much as the next person, I know that this is not going to leave me feeling great after hours in the car. The same goes for kids. A high sugar treat might go over well but you know a sugar crash is coming, and that’s never fun. 

One of the easiest and most nutritious things you can bring is fresh fruit that requires no cutting or prep. Things like apples, oranges, and bananas. They give you a nice natural boost of sugar and require no effort to prepare. All you need is a plastic bag or someplace to get rid of the peels and apple core. 

Some of our favorite road trip snacks include: 

  • Homemade granola bars
  • Prepackaged yogurts
  • Veggies and hummus 
  • Naan bread and hummus
  • Crackers and cheese
  • Apple and almond butter 
  • Homemade muffins
  • Hard-boiled eggs 
  • Dried fruit
  • Trail mix

Some of our favorite road trip food includes: 

  • Homemade wraps
  • Peanut butter and jam sandwiches
  • Quesadillas 
  • Pre-made breakfast sandwiches 
  • Cold homemade pizza 

Clothing to Pack for a Family Road Trip 

When deciding what clothes to pack there are a number of factors to consider. First, where are you going? Are you headed to a warm beach or are you road-tripping to the mountains for a ski vacation? Obviously, your destination will dictate the type of clothing you are going to pack. A summer road trip requires a sun hat, sandals, and sunglasses while a winter road trip requires snow pants, mittens, and a warm hat. Always consider what you will need to withstand the elements should you break down or get a flat tire.

Next question, what are you going to do? This question applies for what you plan to do on your road trip as well as once you hit your destination. Are you planning to camp or stay in a hotel along the way. A camping road trip definitely warrants more casual attire than you might wear if you are staying and dining in a nice hotel. Do you plan to stop and hike along the way, swim, layout on the beach, or perhaps you are going to hit up an amusement park. 

Final question, how long is your road trip? Will you only be driving a few hours in the car for a day or two? Or, will this be a long road trip where you are spending seven or eight hours per day in the car for a full week? The answer to these questions will determine the amount of clothing you should bring on your trip. 

I dress for a road trip the same way I dress for long-haul flights and it’s all about comfort. For sitting in the car you want to wear comfortable car attire. This includes sweatpants or yoga pants and comfortable tee-shirts and sweaters. Layering in the car is key. If you get too hot, you want a zip-up sweater or something easy to remove. If the AC is blasting and you get too cold, you can easily throw it back on. Footwear should be comfy and easy to slip on and off. Your favorite slip-ons or running shoes are a good choice. 

family road trips start with knowing what to pack

Family Toiletries Packing List 

Forgetting a toiletry on a road trip is not the end of the world. You will inevitably drive past a drug store or a grocery store where you can grab a hairbrush or toothpaste. However, if you’re thinking about how to save money on a road trip, you don’t want to have to purchase extras along the way. So, to avoid forgetting any toiletries, make a list. A day or two ahead of time make note of all of the items you use when you get up in the morning or when you’re getting ready for bed. Or, leave these items out on your bathroom counter after you have used them as a visual reminder of what you need to bring. 

When packing your toiletries for a road trip, be conservative. If you’re going to be camping and hiking, that hair dryer or straightening iron probably doesn’t need to come. Of course, it depends on what you will be doing when you get to your destination but as a rule of thumb, only pack the car essentials. You also want to opt for travel-sized toiletries when you can. Leave your gigantic shampoo and conditioner bottles at home, there is no room for those in the car! You can pack everything into a toiletry bag to keep your stuff organized.  

Road trip necessities include: 

  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Hairbrush
  • Face cloth/face wash/face cream  
  • Contacts/solution 
  • Shampoo/conditioner (kids’ too)
  • Soap
  • Razor
  • Deodorant
  • Sunscreen 
  • Necessary medications
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Lip balm 

Other Road Trip Essentials

There are a few other categories of items that you don’t want to forget when you go on your road trip. 

Emergency equipment 

First, a roadside emergency kit. Do you have a spare tire in case you get a flat, do you have a first aid kit, an extra blanket, an umbrella, and a flashlight? What about a phone charger? You might even want to pack a paper map in case you have no reception and you need to navigate the old-fashioned way. It’s not fun to think about all of the things that could go wrong as you’re driving to your destination, but it’s necessary if you want to be prepared. 

Entertainment 

Looking out your window and taking in the sights is a great way to spend some of your road trip. But, it’s also important to pack road trip activities. This is especially critical if you have kids in tow. We promised ourselves we wouldn’t let our kids watch the iPad in the car…that is until we took our first cross-country road trip. Now we pack it as an essential road trip item. We also bring reading books and activity books for the kids. Paper and crayons or markers (they make a mess in the car but they provide a few minutes of entertainment). You can pack games and bring lots of music and podcasts. We also pack things to do when we are stopped for a break like soccer balls and frisbees for the kids. 

Enjoy the ride 

Every road trip is different and so are the specific items you will need to pack. When you’re preparing for your trip, be sure to pack according to the weather, where you plan to stay (camping vs. hotel), and what you plan to do at your destination and along the way. If you pack everything that we’ve covered in this article, you will be in pretty good shape!


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