Road Trip Essentials You Shouldn’t Leave Behind

My family went on a lot of road trips growing up. If we needed to travel anywhere it was usually by car. My grandparents and extended family were all in the San Francisco Bay Area and it didn't matter if we were stationed on the East Coast or West, we were driving!

I've thousands of road trip miles under my belt! And I am sharing my road trip essentials with you.

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Being a military family organization and preparation was part of our DNA which is perfect for road trips. You need to make sure that you do your prep to ensure that the trip will go as smoothly as possible – because you are going to have to deal with the “unplanned” portions that always happen!

A big part of that comes down to what you pack.

road trip planner on ipad

Road Trip Planning

Never underestimate the value of having a good plan. Sure, you can take the opportunity to go off the beaten track and to explore as your heart sees fit, but you’re likely to run into a lot fewer issues if you have a good idea of where you’re going, what you’re doing, and what kind of stops are available on the way.

A good planner

A good road trip planner is something that you can sit down with before you hit the road, outlining all of your plans along the way, and then keep with you, updating as you do. Good planners even come with things like travel games that you can play in the car if you have the kids with you.


My sister and I didn't exactly get along, so it was vitally important for my parents to keep us occupied so that we didn't fight with each other. In the 70s and 80s that meant lots of books. That was the era before devices, unless, of course, you count listening to the naughty conversations on the CB radio, and before games were really portable.

3 kids sitting on the road with backpacks

Thank goodness the times have changed! And while I can appreciate the endless entertainment options that come from a device, I also think road trips are a great time to digitally unplug…except the GPS of course! Although sometimes it's fun to get lost from time to time!

TableTopics Card Pack

TableTopics Card Pack

The fine folks at TABLETOPICS have many great conversation starter card kits for anything from a gathering of family members to Girls' Night Out,  and they have just released 2 new portable and on-the-go conversation starter card sets: the Road Trip and Travel editions. I don't know about you but I can talk about travel 24/7 and love the idea of question prompts to explore my love of travel.

Given the past year and the release, all of us travelers need, this set of cards is a great way to get the travel engines and imagination kick-started! The Travel deck is ideal for human beings ages 12+. The Road Trip card set has trip-specific questions and is perfect for humans ages 6+. 

Available from Amazon, the MSRP is $9 and includes 40 question cards in a travel-friendly case.

Of course, you do not have to travel to use these cards! My team at work participates in a Question of the Day (QOTD) which I help coordinate and these questions are going to totally come in handy when I run through the original set of questions my co-worker and I came up with! Consider the Table Topics cards great for team calls and get-togethers at work as well (no politics, no religion, these cards are a safe topic!).

Pocket-Size Math Flash Cards

Pocket-Size Math Flash Cards

Road trips are the perfect time to get your kids to build math skills – they are a captive audience! And if you have these Pocket-Size Math Flash Cards from Think Tank Scholar the kiddos won't even realize that it's work. Math is fun with this set. Flashcards are a proven learning tool and this set not only has 600 of them but also 20 math games. Your kids will be math geniuses before they even reach your destination!

Buy them on Amazon.

Road Trip Activities and Travel Journal for Kids

Road Trip Activities and Travel Journal for Kids

Even as an incurable bookworm, reading can get monotonous during a road trip. Particularly if you are driving 8-10 hours a day (wait, what? That's only MY Dad?) I remember my sister and I also geeked out on Mad Libs. It was a different activity from reading and forced us to be creative. That combination of activities is what you have in the Road Trip Activities and Travel Journal for Kids from freelance travel and lifestyle journalist, Kristy Alpert. 

This book has the perfect balance of activities including car games, puzzles, writing prompts, questionnaires, interview ideas, scavenger hunts, brainteasers, and more! There is something for every type of kid and allows children to stretch different parts of the brain. There are more than 50 activities. Plenty to keep the kiddos entertained. They might even regret arriving 😉

The Road Trip Survival Guide

2 books by Rob Taylor

If you want to survive a family road trip there is one rule…PREPARE! One-half of the travel blogging duo 2 Travel Dads, Rob Taylor has all you need in his new book, The Road Trip Survival Guide. Also, check out Rob's first book The Ultimate Travel Journal For Kids which came out in 2019!

I suggest you get both Kristy and Rob's books because when it comes to road-tripping with kids, you can NEVER have too many activities!

Kids Travel Bundle

Get the Kids Travel Journal with Prompts (45 pages) and Kids Road Trip Activity Pack (20 pages) together!

A tablet mount

Access to constant digital entertainment is a marvel of the modern age and one that can make road trips go a lot easier. It is true that, in part, you want to make sure that you and the family get time away from the screens to better spend with one another, so you might want to ensure that there are some rules in place for when you stop, for instance.

However, when you’re on the road for miles, having a tablet mount can make it a lot easier for you to put on a movie or a show for the kids while you’re driving, keeping them distracted, engaged, and content so that you can keep your focus on the road.

Access to the net

In keeping with the theme of making digital entertainment more accessible on your trip, nowadays, it seems like 80% of the stuff we do is connected to the online world in one way or another. This can even go for your car’s infotainment system. As such, one accessory that many would consider a vital addition to any road trip is a WiFi hotspot.

This makes it a lot easier to stay connected on the road, no matter where you are, and can be vital if your SIM card doesn’t cover where you’re going. Of course, don’t forget to bring a charging bank with you, as well, so that you can keep your hotspot and digital devices charged and ready to go.

Keeping Things Clean + Organized

family cleaning car

A car vacuum 

While you might be finding places to camp or hotel beds to sleep on during your nights, you’re going to be spending a lot of your time living in your car during a road trip. If you’re packing snacks and lunches to bring with you, then you should anticipate that things are going to get messy pretty soon.

Not to mention the leaves and dust you and your fellow travelers will track back in with you. As such, you should make sure that you have a good car vacuum with you. A quick lap over the interior every time you stop for the evening should help you keep the car from getting too dirty to tolerate.

PlaneAire Hands

PlaneAire Hands Sanitizers

Unless your road trip is just a trip across town, there will be inevitable stops along the way. That means public restrooms, possibly some restaurants or coffee stops (unless you pack your own), and these days that means carrying extra items to clean and sanitize your surfaces and your hands. I don't know about you, but with the amount of sanitizer, I am using these days, smell matters! I do want natural ingredients and I do want it to smell nice.

And if I can I want it to be made in the USA. I get all that with PlaneAir Hands Hand Sanitizer. Yes, I know the name says “plane” but we all know that you need to use these everywhere, not just while in the air. The most “plane” specific thing about this product is that it is 2 fluid ounces so you can absolutely have it in your carry-on!

These hand sanitizers come in a variety of fragrances, but I tried Tangerine Coriander and Sandalwood. I love anything orange so wasn't surprised that I liked this one, but the sandalwood took me by surprise.

It is usually a scent I like a lot, Mr. Misadventures, and I recently tried a sandalwood deodorant that we hate, but this one I actually like! PlaneAir Hands uses ingredients like green tea extract, and aloe vera, along with essential oils in combinations created by this small woman-owned business based in New Jersey.

You can buy these PlaneAire Hands hand sanitizers as well as gel and lotion sanitizers on Amazon.

Interior Storage for the Car

Packing everything you need in a big suitcase might seem like the most convenient answer and, if you were spending all of your time in a hotel room, it might work out just fine. However, you’re in a car, instead, which means that opening a suitcase isn’t always going to be the most practical answer.

Take the time to find the right storage accessories for your car, like this seat back organizer, which makes your stuff much more accessible across a range of different pockets and holders, so that whoever is in the backseat can get whatever they need without much hassle.

Tip: make sure that whatever storage accessories you get, fit the dimensions of the car and can be used without too much discomfort.

Eating + Drinking

I have written an article with recommendations for road trip snacks. The snacks you bring will vary based on your taste, but gear-wise, these are essential.

The Right Drinking Gear

Two things are vital for drivers staying on the road for long periods: hydration and staying awake. You should make sure that you pack a reusable water bottle with you. It makes it easier to stay hydrated and creates less waste than buying plastic water bottles along the way.

Make your friend-or-family road trip special with custom travel tumblers that you can customize with a design of your own.

It will hold plenty of coffee to make sure that you’re sharp and alert as you go. Of course, a travel coffee maker can ensure that you’re able to top up at any stop, too, no matter where you might go.

Don’t sacrifice comfort for the journey

Don't underestimate just how rough a day in the car can be on you physically. Getting out and stretching your legs and taking the opportunity to stand straight once in a while is vital, but you can make sure that those long hours of sitting aren’t doing too much damage to your back by, for instance, getting a seat cushion to slip underneath you.

A lumbar support that you can strap to your chair can do a lot of good in making sure that you have a posture that isn’t putting all the pressure on the small of your back, too.

Also, I never do a road trip without my Bombas compression socks!

How about you? What would you add to the road trip essential list? Do share!

Don't forget to pin this for later!

3 kids sitting on road with backpacks

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  1. I really enjoyed reading this post. These are all great suggestions.

  2. Tara Pittman says:

    The hand sanitizer sounds awesome. I love the ingredients in it.

  3. Amber Myers says:

    This is a great list. I’ll keep it in mind if we can do a road trip. We haven’t done one in a while.

  4. Everyone should read this before setting out on their road trip. YOu have to cover all your bases!

  5. Jenn @ EngineerMommy says:

    We take a lot of road trips. These are great tips on what to pack. I need to check out those cards.

  6. Eileen M Loya says:

    I like the Tabletop Topics. It would be a great way to keep the kids entertained, and having a lively conversation with your children is nice. The hand sanitizers is essential to have ready to use anytime.

  7. Sara LaFountain says:

    We have the table topics dinner questions and they are awesome. I had no idea that there was a travel version!

  8. Briana Baker says:

    Such fun ideas to make road trips more fun for the family! Now I want to attempt one with our kiddos!

  9. These are all such fun road trip ideas! I’m going to have to buy the Table Topics cards, I love that idea!!

  10. Nikki Wayne says:

    Table topics sounds fun. Even just for small gatherings. Thanks for sharing these ideas.

  11. This sounds great. I bet my family would love having this. Keeps you busy too.


    The tabletopics cards sound good for us. They’d help keep us busy whilst travelling.

  13. It is good to be as prepared as possible for when traveling with kids. These are definitely some useful ways to make things go more smoothly.

  14. These are really useful things we need to take while travelling with kids. Yes I always carry lot of snacks and books as they get bored very easily.

  15. Road trip activities are so important. Kids need always to have an activity!