Road trip essentials when traveling with young kids

in Travel, Travel with Kids - No Comments - 21 min read

Are you planning an epic road trip with your little ones? This ultimate list of road trip essentials can help. Be well prepared for any hiccups that can come your way and ease the stress of preparing for the adventure.

According to AAA, 53% of all 100 million families who traveled in 2019 were expected to embark on a road trip adventure.

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I love road trips with my kids because they make such great memories. Road trips offer us the freedom to set the pace for true enjoyment. You are in total control of your time, and destinations.

Road trips offer unique experiences. With benefits like learning on the go and true bonding experiences for the whole family.

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However, a road trip can be derailed if you aren’t prepared. So let’s get ready for your next epic road trip. Below I will share tips I have used over the years to help prepare you for a family road trip.

PLAN YOUR ROAD TRIP

Roadtrippers.com is a great tool for planning the perfect road trip. You can create more than routes. It’s great for discovering popular places, finding hiking trails, seeing reviews. Plus extra attraction information

Perfect for families to research awesome new places before you head out.

Navigation & Creating your road trip rest stop plan

Most people agree that Google Maps is the go-to for navigation. With it’s up to date traffic and road construction notifications. You can easily navigate alternate routes and foresee increasing travel times.

This can be a lifesaver and help you deal better with the “Are we there yet?” or the potty breaks. Smelly diapers on a road trip are not fun either.

I have found that using Google maps as a parent is one of the best tools to aid in a smoother family road trip.

I love that Google Maps has the ability to “add a stop”. I like to use the feature to search along our route and find restaurants and stops and make a game plan.

You can plan your stops ahead of time or you can search on the go.

Pulling off the side of the road trying to figure out where you are going to go with crazy kids in the back gets frustrating. You are trying to figure out what to do next and the kids are calling you, arguing, whining, etc.

I find that using the “add a stop” feature reduces the stress of all that drama.

When I was a nursing mom I could plan stops based on feedings and you can keep nap schedules as needed.

If you are looking for the top road trip must-have apps such as additional itineraries, planners, accommodations and even podcasts. Check out this list.

Distractions with attractions

Another really neat feature is finding attractions along your route.

When the kids have been in the car awhile and the wiggles begin we need to venture off course to find something engaging. They will need to get the wiggles out and burn off some energy.

It’s a great time for everyone to stretch out, rest and for you to regain sanity.


Things like parks, ice cream shops, museums, Mcdonald’s play places are good options. All fun ideas that don’t take much to grasp kiddos’ attention.

Seek fun ways to add a diversion from the remaining hours ahead.

I love finding attractions and finding neat places that can turn into an educational visit as well. It’s a triple deal (rest, attraction, and educational).

There is a feature on the Google map app and desktop version that allows you to star places for future reference. This can be great when planning out your trip to keep the rest stops/attractions saved so you know how long until the next one while driving.

ROAD TRIP APP FOR OFFLINE MAPS

In the event, you are unable to use your cell service or are in a drop zone. Using Maps.me can help you out. They offer mobile offline maps. A perfect companion in case there is no service.

Maps.me though is more than just maps. You can get tour guides, itineraries, book a hotel, navigation offline with different transportation options. It offers photos and descriptions of places and over 70 million points of interest all around the world.

Some additional offline maps you will want to consider:

Be cautious though while using GPS apps they eat your phone battery. One trick we use is turning our phone screen off while navigation is on. If you know you are on a road for 50 plus miles you don’t need the screen on. It helps to also log out of other apps too.

The AAA mobile app is what I call your rescue app. This app allows you to map a route, find cheap gas, get discounts, make travel arrangments, request roadside help, and even find an auto repair place.

License, registration, and insurance

This may sound simple enough but double checking you have your most updated insurance card is kinda something you may need to do. Verify your registration isn’t going to lapse while traveling.

I like to keep ours in a handy useable see-through pouch. Keeps everything organized and easy to find the things you need.

Owner’s car manual

You probably have never opened the one to your car or maybe it has been a long time. But you will never know when you will need it.

Let me share a story. While on a road trip to Minnesota our rental car got a flat. We made it to Walmart auto repair. Only for them not to know how to remove the spare tire from the SUV. You see the new technology in the car was foreign to them. The car’s manual saved us, I had to read it to tell them how to get the tired repaired.

Packing checklist for road trips

From favorite blankets to must-have stuffed animals the list of “don’t forget the…” can be exhausting before you have even begun the long haul.

You also don’t want to forget anything your kid needs to sleep. We have done that before. Boy, let me tell you it was not fun. We forgot our son’s favorite blanket and it was game over for us.

The following week I bought two more of the same blanket and resorted to having one always in the car no matter what. One in the bed at all times and another who laid around the house.

These were survival tactics 101 for this mom.

We forgot things when we went on a mini road trip to Minnesota. Even though I am a pro at packing the kids I still found that I really do need a packing road trip checklist.

We forgot the reusable swim diapers and eggs. I have no idea how swim diapers or the reusable one slipped my mind considering my kids swim year-round.

Shop best-selling i play. Swim Diapers

Nothing big that we couldn’t get on the road. But a checklist probably would have avoided the stop.

A checklist can also prevent you from overpacking.

Preparing your car

Your car is your home during the long hours of road trips. Having it in tip-top shape and being ready for road emergencies is important when traveling with little ones.

Before we go on a road trip I evaluate the condition of my car and the needs it may have. You can call me paranoid but when I travel with my kids I go beyond to make sure I am prepared.

I was a single mom for many years and I learned about caring for my car and keeping up with it. I also had to make sure my car got me anywhere and everywhere without any break downs.

Before you head out to your road trip clean out your car of all the old receipts or daily junk buildup. You know what I am talking about the empty water bottles, bags, wrappers, etc. You want to have the most room in your car for all the things you need to take with you.

Plus who wants to spend hours in a gross car. At least for the road trip clean it.

How & why to clean your car before you go

Cleaning your car before you go can help create a more comfortable ride. It also gives you the opportunity to double-check what is in your car that either shouldn’t be there or what you may need to put in the car.

I love wiping all the areas down in my car. Sticky kid fingerprint windows obstruct the view. Sure you may have to clean it again during the trip and after but it will be less of a hassle.

While I love to clean my car regularly this study may surprise you if you haven’t cleaned your car in awhile. Did you know that cars were found to have 283 different types of bacteria inside of it in every square centimeter? Yup, if you haven’t cleaned your car now is the time.

How about the fact that your gear shift has more than 356 germs. This study was done by Aston University in Birmingham.

Talk about yuck while driving around and feeding kids in the car. I am a bit of a weirdo when it comes to that stuff. I need clean stuff in my life.

Cheap way to clean your car before your road trip

Cleaning your car your self is the most economical way to clean it. Plus you can control what is used to clean your car. Safeguarding against toxic cleaning chemicals.

First, you will want to wipe down all surfaces with your favorite natural cleaning product. I love using my Norwex Enviro cloth. Just water and I get all the germs away. I also use my Norwex Window cloth for all our windows.

If you don’t have those. A simple solution of vinegar and water can be used to clean your whole car and is great for windows.

You will want to take note of the material of your car’s interior though. You don’t want to clean leather with just anything and risk messing it up.

Finally, you will want to vacuum the entire interior.

Be sure to wipe all door handles, shift gear, and dashboards.

Prepping your car’s health

Before we go on any road trip I like to take my car to get checked out by the dealership. It makes me feel a whole lot better and safer. I just use the express lane in my local Jeep dealership. The funny part is that I have been going there for 5 years and the guys already know me and my kids.

If you don’t know I am a Jeep mom. I love my Jeep and have had Jeep’s in my life for over 30 years.

Here is a list of things you should consider getting your car checked out for and why.

There are certain fluids in your car that needs to be refilled in order for it to perform efficiently.

  • Engine oil
  • Transmission fluids
  • Power steering fluids
  • Brake fluids
  • Coolant
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Check your tire tread!

An easy way to measure your tire tread is by using the penny test. This trick has been around for years and I was taught by my uncle who was a mechanic.

Learn more about the penny trick here and come back to the post to read more.

Spare Tire

Inspect your spare tire – inflate it if you need too. Double-check if your spare is a full size or a true spare.

There is a difference. A true spare tire is only meant to get you to safety. Typically you are not supposed to drive over 50 miles per hour nor long distances.

Purchase a can of Fix a Flat

If you have never heard of this, you are in for a treat.

Fix a flat is a quick way to repair a tire in a pinch. This magic can fills the holes/leaks and inflates your tire all at the same time!

keep it in the trunk (In case of emergency you can repair a flat and inflate it in seconds to get you to safety) Note: you will need to replace the tire/still get is repaired properly.

Let me tell you this saved me and my daughter when I was a single mom.

Car Jack

Typically if your car comes with a spare tire you will have a jack. Otherwise, you can get a pretty affordable one like this one.

How to fix a flat

Jumper Cables & Battery Jumper

Make sure you have jumper cables and or a battery jumper. My family and I use this one. If you have an electric car there is a different way to jump start it. Read more on that here.

I feel more secure having a battery jumper/portal charger along when we go on road trips.  This multifuntional tool is powerful enough it can charge my car, my phone and has an emergency flash light.  I can also re-charge it during our trip so it can be used over and over again.  

Buy an emergency road kit

Emergency road kits are for sure a road trip essential. They take the guesswork out of all the things you will need in case of a breakdown. They come with different tools like snow shovels, flashlights, a reflective warning triangle, advanced Jumper cable (8.2foot), a set of strong tow ropes, a safety hammer, seat belt cutter, adhesive tape, a raincoat, a compass and more.

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It sometimes has survival tools for outdoor activities like camping, hiking, and hunting.

Be knowledgeable about what to do for road emergencies

I hate having a break down because it makes me nervous, but it may happen.

If you are having car trouble you need to pull off the side of the road. But what if your car is acting funny what should you do if you can’t control it?

According to safetyserve.com you need to release your foot off the pedal and let your car coast while working your vehicle towards the side of the road.

road with mountain view

If you have an emergency never take the kids out of the car. It’s safer to keep them inside while you get help or figure out what your plan is.

Pull out some toys, turn on a video, anything to entertain them so you can calmly work on the car issue.

Below you will find a survival video I found. Why would I add this to a post about planning an awesome family road trip? Well, I am the type of person who loves to be informed in case of any situation. Skip it if you want, but it’s interesting to know.

How to survive a sinking car even with kids

Who do you call in case of auto emergencies besides 911

Did you know there are multiple numbers you can call based on the type of assistance you need? It can also vary from state to state. I had no idea until one day I saw a billboard while on a road trip.

Some of the most common numbers to know other than 911 for roadside assistance are *77, *11, *55, #77 but there are many more. For a complete listing by state click here.

You can always call 411 or zero for information. You can also call 511 to get current road conditions, construction, and closures. It’s called the—”America’s Traveler Information Telephone Number”.

Fund your toll pass

If you are road tripping in the USA you will want to make sure that you fund your tollway pass. An easy way to do this is to set it to auto replenish. I like to set it to replenish on a certain thresh hold. You can keep cruising then.

Paying cash in the cash lanes. That is precious time wasted, every minute counts with kids.

Not to mention many states are moving to cashless tolls. You will need to buy a transponder in order to be able to go through the toll lanes. If not a picture of your license plate is taken and pretty much you will be billed.

Photo by Reiseuhu on Unsplash

Here is a fun fact for ya road trippers. Did you know that Florida has over 700 miles of toll roads, more than any other state in the U.S.  It also has a growing number of cashless tolling gantries meaning you’ll either need to purchase a transponder to drive on those toll roads or be prepared to pay the services fees to cover the costs of billing through the mail. According to Tollsmart.com

Join a roadside assistance program

Having a roadside assistance program is another way to keep you and your family safe and worry-free. My personal favorite is AAA.com. I have been with them for years.

But what I love is that not only do I get reliable roadside assistance in an emergency, I can get a free map, tips for my travels, travel discounts and a free trip planner on their site.

Finding family-friendly restrooms

The rest stop bathrooms are not always the best but neither are all the fast food places. It could also be that you require a wheelchair accessible bathroom.

Finding a restroom with reviews could be helpful, wouldn’t it? How about an app that can direct to right to the bathroom.

Here are four helpful apps that can do just that. Making road-tripping and finding family-friendly restrooms a bit easier.

Pack wipes & paper products

With kids in tow and rest stops being frequent. Some valuable road trip essentials to have is toilet paper, wipes, disposable seat covers, soap, hand sanitizer and cleaning cloths can help wipe up messes and make going to the public restrooms easier.

Let’s just stay I have had my fair share of messes in the car. Snack crumbs and carsick kids. I have these things with me at all times. I mean with kids literally anything is possible.

Just take this story for example.


Emergency bathroom hacks while on the road

Bathroom breaks and dirty diapers happen OFTEN. Here is a quick tip. If you need to do a quick diaper change try packing your trunk to leave a little space to be able to lie your child down.

Usually, I will leave an item in the trunk like the cooler in the front so that I can remove that and change my little one on the go.

When it comes to disposing of dirty diapers I love to use these baggies that smell amazing and can keep the car from smelling until you can get rid of the diaper.

I won’t go into detail with these but you will get the picture

  • Keep an empty water bottle for boys
  • Wrap a towel around the little one creating a curtain
  • Pack a portable potty (The picture on the left is the perfect travel one)

Back seat protectors and organizers

Protect your car from all the mess kids can make in the back seat and stay organized.

Snack messes, dirty feet on the back of the seat, toys and sippy cups. All great reasons on why back seat protectors and organizers are a must.

I prefer seat protectors that do double duty. They protect and keep my car clean and can add extra storage.

You may want to consider these. I have some similar to these but are Jeep brand. If you have a Jeep you can check that out here.

Protecting your floor

One of the best investments my husband and I bought when we bought our first brand new car was floor protectors. My top favorite and ultimate must-have for any parent is Weather Tech.

Sure they are expensive but let me just tell you this. No matter if it’s just me cruising around our neighborhood or 9-hour road trips these things are essential.

We have had ours in our Jeep for over 5 years. If I pull them up to clean them the carpet underneath looks new like the day we bought it.

No funky car smells, no stains, it protects from liquid, sand, dust just about everything.

Packing snacks and a cooler

My kids are never hungry (said no Mom ever!). Traveling with a cooler that keeps things cold for longer periods of time is a road trip essential.

This cooler is something to consider. It can keep food warm and cold. It plugs into your car or into a regular outlet. It has a large storage capacity too.

When packing snacks for the whole family you may want to consider containers for the little ones to hold their snacks and can help with spills. I also reusable snack baggies.

I came across this awesome idea called the tackle box snack box. Pretty much snacks are neatly organized in each compartment of the tackle box. Making it easier to pack.

  • No wrappers
  • No handing food back and forth
  • Fits in your bag
  • No more crumbed food

A genius hack I say, not sure what mom thought of it first but hats off to her!

We also will travel with a cooler bag to take along when we leave the car. My favorite one I use is from Aldi. It was cheap and works great.

Plus bringing your own snacks helps to save money while on the road as eating out can eat up your travel money very quickly.

Checking restaurants for free eating deals and specials while on the road

I LOVE ALL THINGS FREE!! Drive thru’s can get expensive and even sit down restaurants. One of the best ways to save money is to find places where kids can eat free or for a discount.

My two favorite restaurants we have gone to on our most recent road trips have been Pizza Ranch and Perkins. They have these kinda specials and my kids will eat many items on their menu’s

Some restaurants have deals such as kids eat free with paid adult. Some do specials depending on the days of the week.

SAVE ME FOR LATER !! PIN IT!!

Check out this site called mykidseatfree.com all you do is search for by state and you get a listing.

Free apps to find information and locations where kids eat free are kids eat free and Eat kid friendly.

You will also want to check Facebook pages for restaurants, check their websites and lastly Groupon.

Finally, this post here is great! This blogger/father listed out all where kids eat free, arranged by day of the Week

Preload entertainment

Another must-have road trip essential is entertainment. It’s best to preload movies on a device so that kids can watch them even without being connected to WIFI. Make sure you tap into your Amazon Prime account or Netflix.

Photo by Patricia Prudente on Unsplash

If you don’t have Amazon Prime you can try it for free here. There are tons of cool things like movies and kid shows that your little ones will love.

Downloading a couple of apps for kids can help too.

Comfortable naps in the car

There will be interrupted nap times. Try planning your road trip so that more driving hours are during nap time. Allowing awake hours to be more active for rest stops etc.

For example, on a 9-hour road trip, we chose to leave by 5 am so we could arrive around 3 pm or so. Leaving the kids in comfortable clothes we transferred them to the car.

Normal wake time for them is around 7 am. So hoping they stay asleep or fall back asleep we could drive 2 hours while they napped. Then make a stop during breakfast time.

After breakfast drive again and then take a rest/lunch stop around noon. After lunch, our kids usually nap 2-3 hrs so we would do another bulk of driving. So in other words 4 of the 9 hours they would “hopefully nap”. Or something close to it.

Cause ya know with kids nothing can always go as planned.

Just adjust to how you see it fit for your family, making the car ride better for everyone is the ultimate goal.

It’s not always perfect. But it helps.

Some other things you may want to consider and helping to make nap time more ideal in the car.

We bring blankets, pillows and other items to aid in that. Here is what I have found for my kids I have purchased those neck travel pillows. They don’t use them long nor properly. So I found them to be a waste of money.

Sad cause I really had hopes for those.

Keep the back seat cool

Sitting and having the sun constantly on you can make you hot. This is especially uncomfortable for little ones who are strapped in.

According to Noggle, over 85% of cars don’t have rear vents and kids can overheat in their car seats. Car seats can heat up to 165 degrees when in the car with kids in them.

In order to help with this, you can use the Noggle to help divert cool air from front vents. This neat tool can help keep your child safe and cool.

Another way to help keep temperatures cooler in the backseat is to block more of the sunrays. Mesh window shades are the safest to use. They can block UV rays while in the car.

Help keep air circulating in the car for your little ones by redirecting your vents or consider adding portable fans in the car.

Hot car seats

If you have ever left your car and returned hours later its no surprise that car seats can become very hot. Before placing your kids in the car open all the car doors to help the interior of the car cool down.

If possible turn on your car’s air conditioning so that it can start to cool. Then strap the kids in as the cool air is blowing. This is what I do.

To help protect a car seat from becoming too hot you may also want to consider a cover.

A car seat cover works much like the sunshade on windows. It will reduce the temperature of the car seat. It will prevent seat belt buckles from burning the kids. Helping to keep the overall car seat cooler and more comfortable for your kids.

Keeping the car seats & back seat clean

Kids eat I feel like every 45 mins. My 19-month-old learned the word snack after hearing her 4-year-old brother saying it so often.

So naturally, there will be eating in the car. To be honest I am the mom who actually is a bit protective over her car. But within reason.

Car seat slipcovers work great. They help preserve the car seat from stains and food crumbs. They are so easy to pull off and wash.

Niko Easy Wash Children's Car Seat Cover & Liner - Cotton Jersey
Picture from Nikocarseatcover.com

Just be sure they don’t have extra padding and don’t add too much warmth.

Cup holders

My toddler loves to put everything and anything in her cup holders. In a matter of minutes, they can get pretty gross.

Some quick ways to reduce the yuck. Use silicone cupcake holders. Easy to remove and clean right out.

Saving space and packing your trunk on road trips

Alright now when it comes to packing our trunk my husband loves to play real-life Tetris. He prides himself on fitting everything neatly and organized.

I pride myself self on packing things with saving as much space as possible. I do the same when we fly too.

I obsessed with using these space saver bags. They make packing so much more compact.

Another tip is to use soft-sided bags. Duffel bags, book bags, etc. They can all be loaded and really made to be compact in a trunk.

A easy idea is to limit everyone to one book bag for clothes. That way you can save space and older kids can carry their own stuff. It also makes it really easy to pull out a book bag for a quick change of clothing instead of a suitcase.

If you are worried about dirty clothes on the road. I got you covered. I use the Ecoegg to wash all my clothes at home. But this bad boy can travel with you. No spills, no mess, all-natural, compact and saves you money.

Eco Egg

If need be you can wash anything by hand and hang dry it. Check-out my post for more information on it. I promise you will love it.

Staying comfortable on long road trips

Road trips are no fun when you start to get achy. Your legs start to feel cramp and for tall people like my husband, his back hurts.

Here are some tips for staying comfortable.

Fill up your gas tank at the cheapest gas stations

Every penny counts right? Save money by finding the cheapest gas station while on the road.

There are a few apps out there but the best one is Gasbuddy. This app lets you look up real-time gas prices inside the U.S. and Canada.

A few other ways to save money on gas.

  • Use cruise control
  • Don’t let your car idle or warm-up for too long.
  • Don’t take off fast and slow down fast and repeating this causes the car to use more gas. Not to mention it’s bad for the car
  • Highway miles are a lot better and you use less gas this way

Take a first-aid travel kit

When hitting the road you want to have a few medicine cabinet things on hand for the just in case scenario. You especially want a few band-aids along for those boo boo’s that are bound to happen.

You can buy the premade kits but I love to make my own from the dollar store. Everything at the Dollar Tree is in a smaller size container which makes it easy to DIY a first aid kit.

So there you have it! Whew, that was a lot of information. But I hope this helps you on your road trip.

If you enjoyed this post please like, share and pin it. I would truly appreciate that.

What road trip hacks do you use let me know in the comments below?

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