The Complete Family Road Trip Packing List and Tips

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From food to entertainment and everything in between, those long car trips can be hard on the entire family. Make sure you have what you need to keep everyone fed, entertained, dry and most importantly, happy with this family road trip packing list.

Some families are made of true road trip warriors – the car is always packed and ready to go, paper road maps that are stuffed into the side pockets are worn and lovingly torn at the creases.

My family, well, let’s just say our frequent flier accounts are brimming. Tight schedules, short vacation day banks and hankerings for tropical islands usually has us flying to wherever we need to be.

The summer of 2017 took us in a different direction. The Lowe Family was going to take to the road, instead of the skies.

With the mission of towing a 1952 Chevy truck back home to Los Angeles from Seattle with our 2016 Kia Sorento, we quickly discovered that long days spent in a car together can easily wear on a family.

Honestly, in the beginning, my husband and I were more concerned about the technicality of the trip. Things like if the Sorento had enough umph to actually be able to handle the task we were throwing at her.

I mean, she’s been absolutely solid for all of our day-to-day adventures like soccer games, skiing or paddle boarding, but a five-day road trip down the Pacific coast towing at almost max capacity in the middle of a grueling hot summer?

Let’s be honest, we had our doubts.

The nay-sayers had their doubts.

“You’re going to tow what with that?!?”

2016 Kia Sorento Tow Capacity

And we did have some hiccups in the beginning.

We had to figure out how to get a non-running vehicle with no brakes up onto a trailer.

We had to figure out how we would share the task of driving. Turns out, I couldn’t be trusted to do any driving at all.

We had to convince ourselves that the rodents who had obviously made 40-year-old homes in the cracks and crevices of the old truck had properly been evicted. Even the dead ones. Especially the dead ones.

We had to figure out why the chains and hitch were riding nervously low to the ground. Turns out, the standard hitch wasn’t going to work with our trailer and load.

It was an easy enough fix though, and after purchasing a hitch extender, we were well on our way to a summer adventure we wouldn’t soon forget – a family road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway (complete guide coming soon).

Once we got on our way, it was obvious that our trusty Kia Sorento was going to handle the trip like a champ.

family road trip packing tips

As a matter of fact, the hardest part about the trip was finding a parking spot when we stopped for activities, food or rest.

Well, that and figuring out what in the world to do with ourselves for 8-10 hours a day inside the cab of a vehicle.

Interesting fact: the people you love the most in your life also happen to be the people who annoy you the most.

So, after surviving 5 full days on the open road, here is our family road trip packing list of the basic essentials you’ll need to survive any length family road trip.

Our Family Road Trip Packing List and Tips

Be Prepared for Anything

  • Garbage Bags – From garbage to dirty clothes or wet bathing suits, it is always handy to have garbage bags on hand to help contain inevitable messes. (We like to re-use grocery store plastic bags – they are a perfect size)
  • Duct Tape and Zip Ties – These are two of the handiest all-purpose items ever invented. Don’t leave home without them.
  • Tool Box – Bring a small toolbox with the usual household tools in it like screwdrivers, hammer, wrenches, etc. This actually ended up saving us as there was a crucial piece missing to our car jack. Without it, we couldn’t actually extend the jack, but we were able to make it work with a screwdriver that we had brought (phew!). We actually ended up purchasing this awesome auto emergency kit when we got back. It has EVERYTHING you could possibly need for any road trip hiccups. 
  • Scissors – These are a great item to carry to trim annoying tags, open packaging or even cutting a piece of duct tape. Store a small pair in the car just in case.
  • Ziploc bags – Great for unfinished snacks or all those seashells little ones have collected.
  • Umbrella – Just in case.
  • Cash and coins – Bring money for those pesky cash-only costs that often pop up.
  • Pen and paper – Just in case you need to jot dot phone numbers or directions from a local after you get lost and lose your GPS signal. Speaking of, ALWAYS carry a paper map too!
  • Gas Can – Always a good idea on the off chance you won’t make it to the next gas station in time.
family road trip packing tips
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Don’t Go Hungry

  • Cooler – Keep food and water with you at all times to curb those whines of “I’m starving!”
  • Snacks – Make sure to have snacks that don’t need to be in the cooler so you can hand them out as needed.
  • Ready Made Meals – When you stop for bathroom breaks or to stretch, keep meals in the cooler that are ready made so you don’t have to spend tons of money on fast food. Our go-to was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Get Comfortable

  • Pillows and Blankets – Make sure everyone has what they need to get cozy and take a nap.
  • Slip on Shoes – To help prevent bathroom breaks from taking forever while everyone find shoes and socks and ties them, make sure flip flops or slip-on shoes are handy to grab and go.
  • Change of Clothes – You never know when there will be a spill or an accident. Always have a change of clothes.
  • Open the Sunroof – This must sound weird, but believe me it does wonders. Think about it. On long road trips, your car is normally filled to the brim with stuff. So much so, that you probably can’t see out your rear view mirror, right? With the rear window covered, it can feel like you’re trapped in a cave some times. For this reason I absolutely love our panoramic sun roof in the Kia Sorento. Opening it not only brought in light and made the space feel bigger, but also provided excellent viewing when we drove through the Avenue of the Giants. Seeing the massive trees towering over us just by looking up was a completely better experience than trying to crane our necks out the side windows!

Stay Entertained

  • Audiobooks – We actually banned electronic devices for our trip! Since it was a first road trip for us, we wanted to take the time to interact with each other. We spent most of the time listening to audiobooks which was surprisingly enjoyable for everyone. Check out our list of 17 of the best audiobooks for family road trips if you need some ideas.
  • Books/Magazines/Coloring Books – At one of the gas stations/country stores we stopped at, I found a great US road trip activity book called The Ultimate Backseat Book. I highly recommend it to anyone traveling with kids! It has specific activities for each state along with fun information about popular road trip destinations.
  • Devices – As much as we would like to avoid it at home and at the dinner table, sometimes devices can be just the miracle you need on a road trip. Don’t feel bad if this is a route you need to take – it’s perfectly ok and can be helpful for getting in some “me” time when everyone just can’t seem to get along. 
  • Cords for everyone/Batteries – Bring enough cords for everyone to charge up and any needed batteries. If you have a large family, a USB car charging hub may come in handy so no one needs to fight over the charger. Luckily, we don’t have this issue as there are enough USB outlets for everyone in the front and rear of our Kia Sorento, and even a regular 115v outlet if you need to charge anything that isn’t USB!
  • Games – When everyone grows bored of their digital devices try a game everybody can play like this road trip scavenger hunt.
  • Headphones – Make sure everyone has headphones and that you have extra pairs just in case.
  • Goodie Bag – When all else fails and the kids start whining, I like to stash a goodie bag for emergencies. I usually fill it with some of my son’s favorite things from a new toy car to his favorite snack, it helps buy some time until the next stop.
  • Activity for Breaks – When you stop for a break, bring out a football, bouncy ball or even a jump rope to help the kids expend a little energy before getting back in the car.
family road trip packing list

Everyday Necessities

  • Hand Sanitizer/Wipes/Paper Towels – There will be messes. Be prepared.
  • First Aid Kit – Someone always needs a band-aid. This one is compact and filled to the brim with supplies.
  • Medications – Bring everything you might need from Benadryl to stomach medicine and something for that headache you will definitely get.
  • Camera – Take tons of pictures even if some of the moments don’t seem significant. You will love looking at those memories years from now.
  • Sunglasses and Sunscreen – For those sunny days and roadside excursions. Make sure you everyone in the family has a pair of quality sunglasses.

Of course, most importantly, don’t forget to have fun while you are out there!

Disclaimer: As ya’ll know, Kia provides the cars and I share the experience. All opinions are mine, all mine.

11 thoughts on “The Complete Family Road Trip Packing List and Tips”

  1. Well, for me, safety and comfort are very important. When going on a road trip, I first make sure that the kids are dressed appropriately, with comfortable, but easy-to-wear clothes and shoes. I make sure I have a pair of slippers, but also a pair of running shoes with a sturdy sole. And of course, I truly believe you should have snacks. I love them, my family loves them and they’re always useful in a difficult situation. Kids get bored quickly.
    This is indeed a useful list, covering all the necessaries. But always put comfort first, always. :)


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