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Ultimate Packing List for a Family Road Trip

It’s that time of the year, schools will be out soon, and families will pack into their minivans and SUVs, and head out for their summer vacation. Whether you are heading to the beach, mountains, a national park, or to a lake, we have everything you need to make sure you have the best vacation ever. 

The Ultimate Family Road Trip Packing List

Basic Gear

Food & Drink

Entertainment & Tech Gear

Baby Gear

Clothes

Toiletries

Download Our Editable Family Road Trip Packing List

Make sure you have everything you need next time you hit the road.

Basic Gear 

From babies to adults, the gear you need varies. Here is what you need no matter where you are in life. 

For All Families

Father high-fiving daughter in car on family road trip
Rawpixel.com

Rain Gear

As much as you hope it doesn’t rain on your vacation, you do need to be prepared for those times that it does. Make sure you have umbrellas and raincoats or ponchos packed for those occasions. Waterproof shoes, rain boots, and galoshes should also be considered, especially if the extended forecast is calling for more than one rainy day. 

Cooler

While you can always stop at a grocery store, it can be a pain to find the time or figure out where the nearest one is to where you are staying. To avoid having to go shopping, pack a cooler so your perishable items will stay cold. Be sure to have plenty of ice packs on hand. 

Bike Rack/Bikes

If you are an active family, or you are going somewhere with a lot of bike trails, you’ll want to bring your bikes, so a bike rack will be key. We love the Camber Bike Rack from Thule, it can hold up to four bikes, and easily bends down for easy access to your trunk/hatch back. 

Roof Cargo Carrier

Not all cargo space is created equal, and unless you have a van or a large SUV, chances are you will need some extra space when you pack for vacation. A roof cargo carrier will give you that extra space you need. Make sure your car has the correct roof rack rails to hitch a carrier properly and securely. We love the Thule Motion XT Rooftop Cargo Carrier, there is plenty of space for extra gear, and it is durable through the elements. 

Folding Blanket 

This might be the one travel item you never knew you needed until you have one. Folding picnic blankets can easily be stored in the back of your car to be used no matter what occasion arises- a trip to the beach, a stop at the park- you name it, you’ll be prepared. Ones like this fold up into themselves and have an integrated handle for easy carrying. 

Food and Drink

Water Bottles 

Rather than rely on bottled water (and to help the environment), you should invest in water bottles for the whole family. Ones with an integrated straw or a flip top of some sort are best for car rides, so you don’t have to worry about water spilling out. This one from Yeti will keep your water cold and spill-free! 

Snacks

One of the most important parts of a road trip is the snacks. While many families may have their traditional snacks for the road (ours was always Cheez-Its), you don’t want to forget some basic staples. Nuts, fruit, and protein bars are great to have on the road to curb hunger between stops. 

Baggies 

Baggies are imperative to a road trip- it is much cheaper to buy a bigger bag of something and divvy it up for everyone in the car using sandwich bags. Reusable ones like these from Smelly Proof are perfect because you can rinse them out and use them again, no need to pack an entire box of baggies!

Entertainment/Tech Gear

Two children in the backseat of a car as seen through the car window, one listening to music on headphones and the other on a tablet device
Halfpoint | Adobe Stock

Tablets

I often wonder how my parents did road trips with five kids and no tablets when I was a kid. When my son was two and a half, we made the mistake of not allowing the tablet. In a desperate measure, I gave it to him with a few hours left of our twelve-hour trip. It was a miracle. We have not made that mistake again, and always bring it on any road trips we take. We love the Amazon Kindle for Kids. If it breaks, they will replace it for 2 years, plus it has time limits you can set, as well as total control of the content. 

Streaming Devices

While most hotels and rentals have smart tv’s you can use to log into your streaming accounts, they may not have every app you are looking for, and you may not want to log into a shared device. Avoid this by bringing along your Apple TV, Amazon Fire Stick, Roku, or whatever your streaming device of choice is. 

Car Surprises

Because tablets didn’t exist when I was a kid, my mom had a different solution: a bag full of “surprises” she would dole out at designated spots along the way (breakfast, lunch, etc..) It wasn’t anything major- things like woolly willy, mad libs, card games, and books. It gave us something to do between each stop and gave a little excitement to being in the car for an entire day. 

Chargers 

Don’t forget all of the chargers you will need while away, including charges for: phones, watches, tablets, and laptops. It’s always smart to bring a portable charger as well for when you are out for the day.

For Families with Babies

Parents playing with baby while sitting in open car trunk on a family road trip
Serhii | Adobe Stock

Strollers

Wagon Stroller 

A wagon stroller is going to be one of the best purchases you make for your trip (and beyond). Not only will your sitting babies be able to sit in it, but your toddlers will be able to as well. We love the Adventure Bundle From Gladly Family. It has an insanely smooth ride, heavy-duty wheels, a cooler bag, cup holders, double canopies and more.  

Umbrella Stroller

Umbrella strollers are super convenient to keep in your car once you’ve arrived at your destination. They are lightweight, and, as the name suggests, fold up easily like an umbrella. Perfect for toddlers and sitting babies. We love the Summer 3D umbrella stroller for a more robust feel, and for a lighter weight, more basic one, we love this one by Cosco

Rain Cover for Stroller

You don’t want the threat of rain to ruin your plans for the day, so always be prepared with a rain cover. It will easily store underneath your stroller, or in one of its pockets. Quickly open it up and drape it over your stroller to keep your baby dry. 

Mosquito Net for Stroller

You should avoid using bug spray on babies, so a net like this will protect them from mosquitoes and other pesky bugs. 

Sleep

Pack ‘N Play

Pack n’ plays are synonymous with traveling with a baby. They are convenient and can be put up in no time once you put it up once or twice. You can always go with the classic Pack ‘N Play or the Bugaboo Stardust Playard

Monitor

If you have a Wi-Fi baby monitor at home, you may want to invest in a closed-circuit one for vacation. The Hello Baby monitor has a long range, so you can easily sit on your deck and enjoy the evening after the baby is in bed. 

Noise Machine

A noise machine has almost become standard in every baby’s nursery, and when you are on the road it is even more important to have one to help your baby sleep. Outside noises, noisy neighbors, or simply unfamiliar noises can cause sleep issues when on the road. A noise machine will help filter out those noises. Try the Color Noise Sound Machine, which is compact, and also has a built-in night light with ten colors to choose from, as well as twenty-five sounds to choose from. 

Waterproof Mattress Pad

One thing you don’t want to have to do while on the road is let the Airbnb owner or hotel management know that your child wet the bed. Bring along as many waterproof mattress pads as you have kids in diapers/toddlers, and don’t take any chances. The SureGuard mattress protector will keep the mattress dry no matter what may happen. 

Bottles/Bottle Warmer

You don’t want to forget your baby’s bottles. Sure, these days you can order almost anything online or find a store along the way, but stay on top of things and make sure you pack your bottles. A portable bottle warmer is key when you are on the road as well. This portable bottle warmer will become your best friend when you are out and about. Charge it before you leave, and it will heat the bottle up in just three minutes. Don’t forget your formula and portable dispenser. These microwavable bottle sterilizers will be your best friend when on the road. No need to boil or lug around a big sterilizer system. Just pop them in the bag with a little water, put them in the microwave, and you are good to go! 

Wearable Breast Pump and Accessories

If you are breastfeeding, the best thing you can do for yourself while traveling is invest in a wearable breast pump. They make pumping in the car more manageable than a regular breast pump, not to mention when you are out and about while vacationing. You can pop them on at the beach, amusement park, museum- wherever the day takes you- without having to stop everything to pump or breastfeed. We love these from Momcozy. They are as efficient as a regular pump, and don’t leak.

If you don’t want to get wearable pumps, get a power inverter for easy plugging in while on the road so you don’t have to worry about keeping your pump charged or having batteries on hand. And, of course, don’t forget your breast pump! Don’t forget bags to store your breast milk, and a cooler to keep it cool while on the road. We love the on-the-go thermos/cooler system from Ceres Chill. It easily keeps your breastmilk cold while not at home in a compact, simple way- without needing a cooler. Take this with you during the day, and transfer the milk into bags when you get back to your hotel or rental. 

Portable high chair/booster seat

Having a spot to contain your baby or toddler is key while out and about. While boosters that attach to seats like these are popular, an even better option is a camp chair high chair like this one from Ciao Baby. The youngest members of your family will be able to sit and enjoy meals at the same level as you, and they fold up like regular camp chairs, so won’t take up too much space. 

Play Time

If your baby loves their swing or bouncy chair, getting a collapsable rocker like this one for your family vacation is probably for the best. You can lay it flat and pack things on top of it.  A fold-up play mat is also key for families with infants, as you don’t want to lose out on all of that tummy time while you are away! You also don’t want to forget any of your baby’s favorite rattles, books, teething toys, or stuffies

Baby Basics

Close up of toddler walking next to father on wide sidewalk
Anastasia Gapeeva | Adobe Stock

Babies tend to need a lot of gear while on the road. And while some things may seem obvious, there are everyday basics you probably already have in your diaper bag, but you really don’t want to forget: 

Bibs
Wipes
Burpy Cloths
Diapers 
Overnight Diapers
Butt Cream
Tylenol
Changing Pad 
Blankets
Swim Diaper
Clothes

Clothes

While it may seem obvious that you need to pack clothes, sometimes you may be on vacation and kicking yourself that you forgot that one thing that you desperately need. While you never want to overpack (trust me, you don’t need that pair of jeans you have never worn), you do want to make sure you are prepared. While you likely won’t forget the essentials like underwear, pants, and shirts, the less obvious things like sweatshirts, cover-ups, bathing suits, and hats may get lost in the shuffle.

For the actual trip in the car, these leggings from lululemon paired with a loose fitting top like this one, shorts and a t-shirt for men, for kids we love the gym short paired with the Classic Tee from Primary. If you have a baby, opt for a onesie that has a zipper for those panicked times you have to pull over on the side of the road for a quick diaper change- you won’t want to have to deal with snaps! 

Toiletries 

While most toiletries you will remember as you stand in your bathroom packing your toiletry bag, there are others that you may keep somewhere else and you don’t want to forget, like sunscreen, insect repellent and medications. The good news about a road trip is that you aren’t as restricted when it comes to luggage, so you can bring full-sized items, and not worry about having to get travel sized ones

All of the products featured in this story were hand-selected by our travel editors. Some of the links featured in this story are affiliate links, and SmarterTravel may collect a commission (at no cost to you) if you shop through them.

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