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18 Road Trip Essentials for Family Travel: A Complete Guide

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Are you planning a road trip soon? If you’ll be spending hours traveling in your car, you’ll want to plan for a safe and comfortable trip! From car organizers to emergency kits, I’m sharing all the road trip essentials you’ll need to have to make your next road trip an enjoyable one.

Road trip essentials

Road Trips

Road trips are a fantastic way to explore as a family and see new areas, but before you hit the road, there are a few items you’ll want to have to make your trip a little bit smoother and more enjoyable, and I’m calling them “road trip essentials.”

For the past two years, I’ve driven my four kids back and forth for 7+ hours one way between New Jersey and West Virginia to visit family. We’ve also made many multi-day trips. During these trips, I’ve learned a thing or two about what can make those “miserable long drives” a more enjoyable experience.

I’m sharing my road trip essentials list with you to help you prepare for your next road trip. Whether you’re headed three hours down the road or maybe on a cross-country trip, these items will be helpful on your next journey.

Road Trip Essentials

When it comes to road trips, I like to organize the “road trip essentials” into three main categories: emergency prep, organizers, and basics.

Emergency prep are items that you may not think about or even want to include but should be included because it’s better to be prepared and not needing it than needing it and not having it.

Organizers are things that are going to help keep your car organized and make the space feel more comfortable along the way.

The basics are items that I just like to have in the car all the time for any type of outing.

Road Trip Emergency Prep

In my opinion, every car should have items in this category, not just for safety reasons for long-distance travel but also for everyday travel. These items are highly recommended for road trips.

1. GPS Navigation

When it comes to road trip essentials, a reliable GPS system is a must! I have fallen into the trap of depending on my iPhone navigation, only to be left stranded.

Last summer, I was driving between New Jersey and West Virginia with the kids. We were somewhere in Maryland, and I went to plug in my external battery charger, but it wouldn’t work. I didn’t think too much of it and reached for my charger that plugs into my USB adapter for my van; much to my disbelief, my USB charger wasn’t working either. My phone was down to 20% battery life, and I wasn’t even close to a spot in our trip where I confidently knew the directions. I began brainstorming ideas, like finding a hotel to stay at to charge my phone for the night, grabbing dinner, and praying they had a spot to charge my phone. Thankfully, I found a two-prong adapter in the back of my van that worked. I pulled off at a gas station and bought an extra-long cord that stretched the length of the van so I could use my phone’s GPS.

I counted it as a “lesson learned” and bought a Garmin GPS to prevent this situation from happening again. I have the Garmin 76 linked above, but there are a variety of navigation systems to choose from.

2. First Aid Kit

No matter what type of trip you’re taking, you need to have a first aid kit in your vehicle.

This kit is a 400-piece kit, so it has a little bit of everything.

This is the first aid kit that I keep in my purse at all times. I actually have a few of these. I switch between a few different purses depending on what I’m doing, and I keep a kit in each purse so I don’t have to worry about switching them back and forth.

3. Emergency Car Kit

An emergency car kit should come pre-installed in every vehicle, in my opinion, but they don’t! I highly suggest everyone have an emergency kit in their vehicle because you never know when you’ll find yourself in a situation where you’ll need one.

This emergency car kit includes various car essentials: jumper cables, a window break, a toolkit, a shovel, gloves, a first aid kit, a reflective vest, and more!

4. Emergency Jumpstart Portable Car Battery

I also highly recommend a portable car jump starter. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve used this over the years. If you ever find yourself stuck with a dead car battery, you don’t need another vehicle; you can just hook up this jump starter to your vehicle and get back on the road.

This one also serves as an air compressor if you should run into a flat tire.

5. Emergency Car Escape Tool: Window Breaker/Seatbelt Cutter

If you buy the emergency kit above, you won’t need to purchase this separately, as one is already included, but if you decide not to buy the kit, then I recommend having a window breaker in your car for emergencies.

6. Flashlight

A flashlight is another item I recommend having in your emergency supply kit.

I keep one in my middle console and actually had to pull it out on our last trip when my alternator quit working and left us on the side of the road in the middle of the night.

Most of our phones have a flashlight, but when you’re working on a car, you’ll want a real flashlight, not the one from your phone.

7. Phone Chargers/Battery Pack

I’ve had a variety of battery packs for my phone, and this one has been my favorite. Most of the battery packs I’ve found don’t show a percentage of the battery charged but rather bars, which isn’t helpful.

I like that this battery pack shows me exactly how much charge it has for my next trip so I’m never caught with a zero charge again.

It also includes a variety of adapters to fit multiple devices.

Road Trip Organizers

A key to enjoying a road trip is staying organized and comfortable along the way. Over the past few years, we’ve done so much traveling that I’ve had the opportunity to test a variety of products. Some were fantastic, and others—well, I’d suggest just skipping them (like the kids’ lap tray). I’ll be sharing the items we’ve found most valuable on our road trips with you below.

8. Car Trash Can

Yes, I said it: you need a car trash can for those long road trips, especially if you have kids who will be snacking the entire trip.

On our first few trips, I tried putting a small plastic bag on the headrest, but it tore while the kids were getting in and out of the van, and it was rather pointless.

Then I finally decided to splurge and buy a car trash can, and it’s been one of the best purchases for our road trips. It helps keep the back of the van so much cleaner.

9. Car Seat Organizer (cooler)

I bought this organizer to put in the backseat of the van for my kids. It holds their coloring books, sticker books, tablets, crayons, pencils, and drinks. It’s a nice spot for them to have all their activities without them falling on the floor.

Before, we had their activities in a backpack, but there were times when the backpack fell to the floor, and they couldn’t reach it. This organizer solved that problem and also has a spot for their water bottles.

It’s labeled as having a cooler compartment, but we haven’t tested how well it works since we use it just for their activity books.

10. Car Seat Organizer

I placed this organizer on top of our middle console and secured it with zip ties. This console is stocked with napkins, paper plates, utensils, ziplock bags, hand sanitizer, and lots of snacks.

The difference between the one above and this one is that if you’re planning to stock it with activity books, you’d want the “cooler compartment” organizer, as it’s wider and fits the books. This organizer is nice for holding bags of snacks, but it wasn’t wide enough for their books.

11. Backseat Organizers

These backseat organizers are a great way to provide extra storage. I have them on the back of the driver and passenger seat stocked with kids’ activities for my younger two.

This allows them to see all the activities they have along with snacks and grab them on the trip as they’d like.

12. Trunk Organizer

Remember all those Emergency kits I talked about? This trunk organizer is the perfect place to store all your supplies in one space for quick finding. You don’t want those emergency supplies floating around, unable to be found when you need them. Keep them organized with this easy setup.

13. Paper Towel Holder

This paper towel holder is perfect for road trips. It keeps them up off the ground and in an easy-to-locate spot. I recommend hanging these on the back of the passenger headrest for easy access.

14. Dual-Sided Sanitizer & Chapstick Holder

When we’re traveling, we always end up with complaints from the kids of chapped lips; it could be the snacks or the new weather, but regardless, these cute little holders make life a lot easier. I’m able to store both chapstick and sanitizer for everyone. I usually keep one in the front organizer and one in my purse.

I like always having sanitizer, too, because you never know when those public restrooms are going to be out of soap.

Road Trip Basics

15. Cooler

A cooler is a must when going on road trips. You want something you can keep your drinks in and a few snacks in. I love this cooler because it has a shelf to divide your drinks and food easily. You won’t have to dig through the ice trying to find which is which.

16. Sunscreen

We love stopping for picnics, hikes, and playgrounds on our road trips for the kids. I try always to be prepared with sunscreen for those sunny days. I love the Banana Boat Sports sunscreen because it’s tear and sting-free.

If you have sensitive kids like a few of mine, you may want to consider this BOB kids brush on sunscreen for their face. Sometimes, even my “tear-free, sting-free” sunscreen causes problems, and this is an easier way to get the job done on those tough days.

17. Blanket

If your family plans to stop for a picnic, this machine-washable blanket is ideal. You can spread it across a tabletop or lay it on the ground to enjoy a meal on the go!

18. Bottled Water

I always pick up bottled water at my local grocery store to keep in the back of my van, “just in case.” However, if you are planning a hike or camping in a rugged area, you may want to check out this LifeStraw.

My mother-in-law gave us our first LifeStraw, and now I like to have them in my emergency kits.

Before you go…

So, what do you think? Is there anything I missed that I need to add to the road trip essentials list? Anything you’ve found over the years to be super helpful? Let me know below in the comments!

Also, if you’ve tried any of these, let me know your thoughts!

Don’t forget to pin & save the image above to help ensure you have everything on my road trip essentials list for your next road trip.

If you’re looking for inspiration for your next road trip, consider looking over my list of The Best Family-Friendly Hiking Trails in the U.S.

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