If you’re traveling with young children, you don’t want to miss this list of road trip must-haves for families.
Traveling with children requires time, patience, and a lot of forethought. I’m a homebody through and through but every once in a while, we take an occasional day trip or family vacation. When we do have something planned, I like to be prepared. Let me rephrase that, I NEED to be prepared.
I start by making a list of all the items each person in the house will need. Then I plan out what foods we will need for the trip including what can be packed away in the cooler and what will need to be in the vehicle with us. After the lists are all organized, I start checking off each item as I compile everything together and am usually 70% packed a week before a big trip.
Some call me crazy. I like to think of it as expertly organized and prepared. I’m an over-packer, but I would rather pack too much versus too little. I don’t want to need something and not have it, especially when we are far from home.
Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out what we will and won’t need for long car rides. This list of road trip must-haves for famlies is what we have been packing for our children over the past four years. It’s a good fit for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. The needs and interests of each child are different, so use this list as a guide and tailor it to fit your child.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to products I love and recommend. It costs you nothing extra if you purchase through my link, but I may get a small commission.
Road Trip Must-Haves for Families with Young Children
1. Spacious & Comfortable Car Seat
In the past five years, we have had five different car seats. I prefer an infant seat for children until at least a year. Once I felt comfortable enough, I transferred them to convertible car seats. There are so many on the market but these Diono ones have been our favorite.
The girls seem to be more comfortable and have more room than they do in our other convertible ones. The seat can serve as rear-facing from 5-45 lbs and up to 44 inches. My four-year-old fits comfortably in the rear-facing position without any complaints.
The seats are really heavy and tall compared to some convertible seats but they are thinner and allow a three-across set-up. This is especially nice since I sit in-between the girls when we travel so that I can help with snacks, bathroom breaks, and activities.
2. Travel Tray
We recently purchased this kid’s travel tray and I’m so glad we did. It fits a lot of stuff and provides a flat surface for your little ones to color and draw. The quality is great and the company’s customer service has been phenomenal! I highly recommend this kid’s travel tray.
3. Car Bag/ Basket with Activities
We keep a bin in our vehicles similar to this one that always has books and a few other activities in it. When we go on longer trips, I like to pack additional items that only get pulled out for special occasions. I usually purchase a few new items as well. I recommend bringing some smaller toys that your child has been really interested in. This year, we will be bringing some Daniel Tiger figurines for my toddler and a couple of Polly Pockets for my preschooler. Below, you will find some of our favorite activities for the car. Last year, we brought along our bathtub basketball hoop. It suctions onto windows and kid’s travel mirrors and was a great way to occupy them during the final stretch of our trip. These silicone links are perfect for hooking toys onto car seats. They are made of 100% silicone so there’s no need to worry about your baby chewing on chemicals and plastic.
*Mom Tip- Fill the O Ball with ribbon and string that are various colors, sizes, and textures. It’s a great fine-motor sensory activity for infants and toddlers.
Babies & Toddlers
Toddlers & Preschoolers
4. Light for Night-Time
When my oldest was an infant, we traveled a lot at night. She hated her car seat, especially at night when she couldn’t see any of her books or toys that would keep her occupied. While strolling through Menards one day, I came across touch lights that turn on when you push them. They are perfect for the car. They are easy to turn on and provide just enough light for children to see their books, but not too much that they are a distraction to the driver. If you’re traveling at night with kids, these are a must.
RoShamBo makes THE BEST sunglasses for kids! Seriously, these have been an amazing investment since I purchased them four years ago. They are basically indestructible, line-made in Italy and assembled in the USA, and are prescription friendly. Did I mention they were virtually unbreakable?! These shades are flexible, durable, toxin-free, ultra-light, and chewable for little mouths. The company has truly thought of it all. They even give back by providing a portion of all sales to an autism charity.
6. Potty Seat with Supplies
If you have toddlers and young children, traveling with a potty seat in your vehicle is an absolute must. It has been a lifesaver on so many occasions, especially during the pandemic when restrooms were closed and we didn’t want to risk going into any stores. Along with the potty seat, we also keep a basket with toilet paper, a small bucket for waste, pull-ups/diapers, wipes, thieves spray, paper towels, and hand sanitizer.
*Mom Tip- Put these plastic bags or reuse a grocery bag under the seat for easier cleanup.
7. Covered Container
Another thing that most people don’t think about until it’s too late is a puke bucket. At some point in your life, your child is going to get sick in the car and the last thing you want to be doing is scrambling for something to use. Put a Ziploc or plastic bag in the container and keep it in your car. Someday you will be very thankful that you did.
8. Tablet or DVD Player
There are so many different tablets to choose from. It can definitely be a little overwhelming. In our house, we have iPads that the girls can use on long car rides. I’ve heard so many positive remarks about the Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition. It comes with an array of kid’s apps to choose from, as well as a kid-proof case. We have homemade hanging cases that we purchased from Etsy that we use to hook it to the headrests. We download their favorite shows like Daniel Tiger, Bubble Guppies, Little Einsteins, and songs from CoCoMelon. My preschooler has recently become interested in playing apps. Some of our favorite educational apps are the Bible for Kids, PBS Kids Games, and Fisher-Price Learning apps.
Portable DVD Players are also great options to have if you do not have a tablet. Our kids don’t use headphones yet, but I’m sure as they get older, they will want them so that they don’t have to listen to their dad’s talk radio. These ones have great reviews.
We recently discovered a love for audiobooks. Hoopla is a free app that you can download through your local library. You are allowed a set number of books, videos, and music each month. There are thousands of books to choose from. We usually try to download a couple of books that we have the physical book for so that they can follow along with the reader.
When the kids are sleeping or occupied with a show, I like to grab my earbuds and listen to a podcast or my latest audiobook. Right now it’s a book about homeschooling that has been motivational and inspiring.
Music is good for my soul and our kids agree. They love when their favorite songs come on and they sing and hum along with them. My husband on the other hand, probably wishes he had his own set of headphones. ;P
Snacks are a must for long car rides. You can read about our favorite snacks to make and buy for car rides here. I keep everything in these cooler bags with ice packs. These cooler bags have been my favorite because they are wider and I don’t have to dig to find what everyone needs.
12. Snack Containers
Normally, we try to stay away from plastic, especially when it comes to products for our food. However, these snack cups are great to use in the car. Our kids have tipped them over and dropped them on the floor and the majority of food stays inside of them, instead of spilling all over the car seat and floor.
We also love our Rover PlanetBoxes. You can add several different snacks all in one container. This is especially helpful for kids who are constantly changing their minds about what they want to eat. I especially love that they are eco-friendly and free of toxins as they are made of stainless steel. The kids love the various magnets that you can choose from to decorate your box. In the past, we’ve used these Bentgo boxes and liked them. They are made of plastic but they are a more budget-friendly option. They also come in various colors for girls and boys.
This stainless steel Nuby thermos is perfect for keeping foods warm or cold for several hours at a time. It comes with a spoon and the lid doubles as a bowl.
In order to reduce the amount of plastic we use, we have tried several reusable food storage bags and stasher is by far our favorite. They come in a variety of colors and sizes, open and close with ease, and are easy to clean. You can put them in the microwave, dishwasher, freezer, boiling water, and even the oven. They are perfect for keeping our food fresh on long car rides.
13. Water Bottles
Everyone in our family LOVES water. Our water bottles are with us everywhere we go, especially on car rides. These water bottles have been our favorites. My husband and I use the EcoVessel water bottles and love that they keep our water cold all day long. For the kids, we love Thermos Funtainer and Snug Flask brands. They come in various sizes, colors, and designs and are easy to clean. All of these water bottles are made of stainless steel, which is important to us, as we try to avoid plastic as much as possible.
14. Wide Sun Hat
Okay, so this one isn’t a must for every family, but it is for ours. My oldest has never been crazy about her car seat since she was a baby. One of the problems that we’ve had is the sun being too bright. Even with sunglasses and window shade, the sun was often bothersome to her. That’s when I came up with the idea to keep an overly large brimmed hat in the car. Now, whenever the sun is bothering her, all she has to do is grab her hat and put it on. Problem solved! It has been such a sanity saver!
15. Blanket – Favorite Stuffed Animal – Pillows
Sitting in a car for hours at a time can get extremely uncomfortable, not to mention cold, if you’re significant other keeps the air conditioning on full blast. Having everyone’s favorite blanket and stuffed animal in the car not only keeps everyone warm but helps comfort them as well. Since the girls are still in rear-facing car seats, they don’t need a pillow, but it has been a life-saver for me.
16. Comfy Clothes & Shoes
Comfortable clothes and shoes that can easily be put on and taken off are an absolute must-have for long car rides. We usually take our shoes off when we get in the car and no one wants to be tieing multiple pairs of shoes during a rest stop. Crocs, sandals, Robeez, and Stride Rite are a few of our favorites.
Well, there you have it.
Our list of road trip must-haves for families who are traveling with toddlers and preschoolers.
Would you add anything to the list? Contact me and let me know. I’m always up for new ways to entertain our family as we navigate this crazy journey called life.
Wishing you and yours, safe and happy travels!
Love & Blessings,