I’m starting a new series today about prepping for your road trip. If you’re getting ready to travel over spring break or are planning a longer summer adventure then, like millions of Americans, that means hitting the road. Last year my family drove more than 7000 miles in our minivan as we visited grandparents, went to the mountains and played at the beach. Preparation was key to our success and so I’ll be sharing my favorite things like what to pack on your family road trip, the best foods to eat, great ways to entertain kids, and how to plan fun stops along the way. Whether you’re headed a few hours down the road or across the country, these tips should have you ready for all the miles of your journey!
What to Pack on your Family Road Trip
These are some of my must haves for road trips to make sure you’re safe, organized and comfortable.
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1. Wipes and Paper Towels
Spills (or worse) are going to happen and it’s important to have these close by and not just in the trunk in case you’re flying down the highway at 70 mph. I usually keep a small package of wipes up (check in the dollar bins at Target) and some napkins up front with me and then a larger box of wipes and a roll of paper towels in the trunk. I use the wipes and towels when we stop for passing out snacks and cleaning off dirty hands.
2. Plastic Bags: grocery and Ziploc
Plastic grocery sacks are a must for accidents, dirty shoes, wet clothes from an impromptu water play session or even the dreaded “Mom, my tummy hurts”. I keep them stashed all over the van for emergencies. I love to have Ziploc bags (several different sizes) for storing leftovers, containing a mess or dividing up snacks and always tuck a few in our food basket for any trips.
3. An atlas or paper map
We traveled out west for part of our road travels last year and sometimes we were without a cell signal. I felt better having a paper map just in case we needed to make a detour or hop off the highway for something unexpected. Depending on your route, having a backup to your trusty Google maps might be a really smart idea. Bonus points for keeping a kid entertained as they highlight the path you’re traveling. If you’re a AAA member you can get maps for each state along your route and most state Welcome Centers have free ones you can pick up.
4. Emergency Road Kit
Something like this or this is really helpful to have tucked away in your trunk. Sure, we have roadside assistance we can call but if you’re far from a city, it can be quite a wait and the peace of mind of knowing you can solve some basic problems like a flat tire or dead battery is very reassuring. It would also be easy to assemble your own kit and store in a small plastic tub. Here’s an article that gives you some ideas of what to include. Always double check your supplies before you start a new trip to see if anything needs to be replaced or updated for a different climate.
5. Extra Water
I tend to pick up a case of water at the grocery store before travel. I don’t love the idea of throw away water bottles but for a road trip, I think they’re very handy and we seem to go through them. Some go in the cooler to stay cold and the rest are stored under luggage for emergencies. If you’d rather, you could put in a couple of gallons of water too. This is for both your car (in case it overheats) or if you’re stranded for a while and need to keep hydrated.
I keep a small fleece blanket in our car at all times and it has served as a sunshade, a picnic blanket, a nap pillow, and a towel and everything else in between. It rolls up tightly and drys fairly quickly and is a must for anytime we travel. Ours is similar to this one.
7. Charging cable and back-up battery
Our van has several 12V plugs so we can have multiple things charging but you can also get a splitter if you want room to plug in more than one device. Make sure you have all your cords for charging and any adapters to make them fit. We’ve also started traveling with a quick charge battery pack for our phones just in case we couldn’t charge them in the car. It also goes with us as we explore on our vacation so we always have power for our phones and don’t have to hunt for an outlet.
8. First Aid Kit
I have a little travel one I’ve put together than can be tossed in my purse but you can be as elaborate or simple as you want. Make sure you’ve got extras of your essential medication, some bandaids and antibiotic ointment, and maybe some of your favorite pain relief and stomach medicine. You know what your family needs the most and what you’re comfortable traveling with. The most important part is to gather what you need before you travel and have it in an easily accessible and well marked place so that you can grab it when you really need it. If you don’t want to assemble your own, you can order one like this.
9. Boxes or Bins to Organize
I can’t stand it when the car gets messy and then we can’t find things so I try to make sure things are organized, at least at the beginning. Use what you have around your house but getting things sorted by when and how you’ll used them is really helpful. I like plastic tubs with lids for things that can go on the bottom of the trunk (like car repair items) and I use our reusable cloth grocery bags for light but bulky items like coats and extra shoes. I have a fabric cube box that fits nicely between the seats to hold some activities for the kids and this collapsable basket is my favorite for all my “I need to reach this while we’re driving” stuff. Spend a few minutes in your car trying various containers in different places to see what fits where so you can make the most use of your space.
10. A “just in case” bag
This is my catch-all MacGyver bag that functions as my junk drawer on wheels. I usually house it in a gallon ziplock bag and it includes things like scissors, duct tape, painters tape, screwdriver, super glue, binder clips, some push pins, and anything else that jumps out at me. Have I had to use all of it? No, but I have been glad to have several of the items to make quick repairs or makeshift solutions. The painters tape is perfect for tacking up a cord or sheet of paper and the scissors get used all the time. I love the binder clips for hanging a blanket to block the sun that’s shining right on the baby’s face and they double as clips for those pesky hotel curtains that never seem to close completely. This probably isn’t a necessity but it makes me feel better to have it and it doesn’t take up much space.
So there you have it! 10 things to pack for your next road trip. Hopefully it keeps you safe and makes the trip as smooth as possible. Whether you’re headed to grandma’s house or exploring a new section of the country, road trips are an affordable and easy way to travel, especially if you know what stuff to take with you. Stay tuned for Part Two in a few weeks – it’s all about planning great roadside stops along with way!
I’d love to hear what’s in your MacGyver bag. Am I the only one that packs for weird emergencies? What is your must have for a successful road trip? Leave me a comment below!