When you’re carefree and young, a road trip is something you can plan at a moment’s notice. You don’t need much more than a couple changes of clothes, some snacks and a toothbrush to make things work.

Hitting the road with a whole family in tow, however, takes a bit of planning. Whether you’re planning to visit relatives or a spring break trip just for fun, you definitely need to put a little effort into your packing.

Let’s make it easy. You probably don’t need someone to tell you that you need to pack enough weather-appropriate clothes, coats, shoes and hats for the duration of your trip, and you know you need things like toothbrushes and shampoo for overnight trips, so we’ll skip that part.

Here are all the other essential items you need not just to survive a road trip with the family but actually enjoy it!

First Aid and Medicinal Items

If it’s been a while since you’ve checked the first aid kit in your car, get it out and make sure that it’s complete and nothing is expired. Then grab a small duffle bag and add the following items:

  • Medical cold spray and instant cold packs (just in case of scrapes or burns)
  • Sunscreen (a broad-spectrum UVA/UVB blocker that’s water-resistant and SPF 30 or higher is best)
  • Pain relief (a combination of ibuprofen and acetaminophen, in both adult and child strengths)
  • Extra band-aids and Coban self-adherent wraps (just in case there’s not enough in the kit)
  • Anti-nausea medication (like Dramamine) for anybody who is car sick, plus Pepto Bismol for anybody whose stomach gets a little upset by the travel or food
  • Bug spray (in the warmer months, especially if you plan on being outdoors)

Food and Drinks for the Road

Even if you have rest stops and restaurant visits planned out for your trip, you do not want to be stuck in the car with a kid that’s getting cranky because they’re just hungry. The best things to keep on hand include:

  • Crackers
  • Granola bars
  • Fruit roll-ups
  • Muffins
  • Single-serving chips or pretzels
  • Bottled water
  • Carrot sticks

It may not be a feast, but it will tide everyone over if you’re stuck in a traffic jam at dinner time. If you have space for a small cooler in the car, use it. You can even add in things like hard-boiled eggs, string cheese and other, miscellaneous treats that could save the day.

Electronics, Entertainment and Games

Grab a special bag that you can fit in the backseat with the kids or get a car seat organizer to hold the entertainment for the trip. Even if you hope to go totally “unplugged” at your destination, it’s wise to have the following in the car:

  • Portable chargers and a couple of extra power packs for every cellphone you bring
  • A tablet or portable DVD player, with several kid-friendly movies ready to go
  • Headphones and a splitter (so more than one kid can listen to the movie at a time)
  • A coloring book or two (one for each kid) and plenty of crayons
  • An e-reader or books that the kids will enjoy
  • Magnetic games, puzzle books designed for kids or anything else you think they’ll enjoy
  • Notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers and drawing paper

The odds are high that at least one of your kids can’t go anywhere without a favorite stuffie or blanket, and that’s okay. Just make it a rule that their most precious item has to stay in the car while you’re at rest stops or restaurants and do a quick check to make sure it’s always there before you drive away from any location.

Miscellaneous (but Essential) Items

These probably sound like they’re just “extras” that are nice to have, but they’re honestly not optional if you want to be prepared for just about anything. Make sure you have:

  • Small trash bags (to collect food wrappers and bottles as you go and just in case someone gets sick)
  • A car seat mirror (if any of your kids are still in rear-facing seats so that you can see what’s happening without stopping the car)
  • A small porta-potty (if any of your kids are still in the potty-training stage because they may not be able to wait until they get to the next stop)
  • Zip-lock baggies (to collect whatever the kids find on the trip, whether it’s shells, rocks or some interesting leaves)
  • Sunglasses (one pair for everyone in the family, in case the sun’s glare won’t let up)
  • Towels or old rags (because spills are bound to happen)
  • A couple of rolls of toilet paper (which may come in handy at a rest stop that isn’t well-stocked or that porta-potty gets used)
  • Umbrellas or rain jackets (depending on your preference)
  • Wet wipes (even if you don’t have small children, these things can be a godsend when someone spills something or while cleaning your hands)
  • Small neck pillows and comfy blankets (so that your young passengers can sleep easily on the way home)
  • One lightweight backpack (size appropriate) for each person, so that the kids have someplace to store their treasures – whether that’s souvenirs from a gift shop or just some cool leaves they found on the ground

Finally, remember: To paraphrase Bilbo Baggins, “You’re going on an adventure!” Let yourself get excited and caught up in the magic of the moment whenever possible. You’re bound to forget a few things, and there may be a couple of missteps and mishaps along the way, but if you start out reasonably well-prepared, you’ll handle the occasional hiccup in your plans with ease.

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