7 Essentials for a Family Road Trip

posted: 04/25/16
by: Blythe Copeland
Family with three children in car on road trip

Whether you're hitting the road with your kids for an older sibling's college graduation, a family wedding, or your first cross-country vacation, the right gear can help pave the way for a relaxing, fun, and memorable trip. Add these seven must-haves to your packing list for a smooth and happy voyage.

1. Insulated Tote Bag

Keep drinks, fruit, cheese, yogurt smoothies, and sliced vegetables fresh and ready with an insulated tote bag, like this one from L.L. Bean. Using a soft-sided bag instead of a hard cooler means you can squeeze in extra goodies and ice packs -- or compress the sides of the bag to fit into tight spots behind the front seats. And once you arrive at your vacation spot and transfer your food into the refrigerator, you can enlist the tote for carrying drinks and lunch on day trips to the lake or beach. Add a monogram to make sure your brother-in-law doesn't try to claim the last soda as his own. (L.L. Bean, $50)

2. Snack containers/Contigo

Give kids their own individual containers for snacks and drinks to minimize arguments over who ate more than his share of chips -- and to keep the backseat of your car just a little bit cleaner. Bentgo lunch boxes are made up of five compartments sized to fit everything from sandwiches to to nuts, with a removable tray for quick cleanup. Load them up with your kids' favorite foods for a no-fuss picnic lunch at the rest stop or to give the kids easy access to snacks when you're busy watching the road. And don't forget a spill-proof water bottle, like the Autospout Striker from Contigo, to keep kids hydrated without risking a soaked car seat. (Bentgo, $28; Contigo, $11)

3. A Backpack for Each Kid

Whether you throw the school bags in the car or get new packs for each kid, finding a way to keep toys, games, and other car activities separate will help you achieve the sibling peace you'll need on a road trip. Teacher's Pet backpacks from the Land of Nod come in eight different animal versions from unicorn to whale, and are just the right size for car ride essentials: Paper and crayons, a tablet and headphones, some favorite books, mini figures, and whatever else your kids can't leave home without. (Land of Nod, $29)

4. Free Travel Games

When you're filling those bags, don't forget to include free printable travel games. Look for travel bingo, license plate checklists, I Spy templates, maps, mazes, word searches, crosswords, and more; no matter where you're traveling or how old your passengers are, you can find a travel game that will keep them occupied on even the most boring stretches of highway.

5. Audiobooks

Downloading or buying a few audiobooks can be a brilliant way to keep kids (and adults) entertained in the car: Little kids will find the varied voices engrossing, new readers can follow along with a chapter book, and adults can rediscover favorite childhood classics. The Harry Potter series is a must-have for older kids, but Audible also offers the "Narnia Chronicles," "A Wrinkle in Time," and "The Giver;" for toddlers and preschoolers, download "Where the Wild Things Are," "The Cat in the Hat," or "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" (just to name a few).

6. Novelty Toys

True road warrior parents know that no matter how many beloved toys you pack for the kids, nothing will compare to a new one -- even if it's cheap. Visit the dollar store before you leave and stock up on enough small goodies that you can hand a new one to every kid every hour to help the time go a little bit faster. Look for items like pinwheels, peg games, books, small action figures, mini puzzles, coloring pads, or, if you'll be traveling at night, glow sticks or glow-in-the-dark toys.

7. First Aid and Safety Gear

We're not just talking about a roadside assistance kit -- though you should have jumper cables or a jump starter, spare fluids for your car, a spare tire, flares, and a flashlight. Other must-haves for a smooth trip aren't as glamorous, but you'll be glad you have them: Include bandages and antibacterial ointment; small plastic bags for trash; a roll of paper towels; medicine for anyone prone to motion sickness; and plenty of wipes for cleaning up spilled milkshakes or rogue ketchup splatters.