Top 7 Road Trip Essentials- what to know before you go

The Ultimate Guide of Road Trip Essentials for families. Learn everything you need to know before you plan your next big road trip.

This road trip essentials list is sponsored by Kelley Blue Book, however, all thoughts and opinions are 100% my own.

We love a good road trip, in fact, road tripping is one of our favorite ways to travel. We love being able to see the world go by through the car windows, it saves us quite a bit of cash when compared to air travel, plus, something silly is bound to happen that will definitely become a lifelong memory!

Now that we have several big road trips under our belt I feel like we’ve learned a thing or two that may just help you out when it comes to planning your next family road trip. Which is why I am excited to share our Top 7 Road Trip Essentials with you today. In this post, you will find all of our best tips for planning a road trip with kids.

Top 7 Road Trip Essentials- what to know before you go

The Ultimate Guide of Road Trip Essentials for families. Learn everything you need to know before you plan your next big road trip.

1 The Right Vehicle Can Make All the Difference

One of the biggest road trip essentials by far is making sure you have a vehicle that suits your family’s needs. Of course, you need enough seats and seat belts to ensure everyone can travel safely in your vehicle. You will also need plenty of cargo space for all of your luggage, not to mention the little things that make road tripping more convenient like a good amount of cup holders and plenty of USB ports to plug in all of your family’s devices.

The Ultimate Guide of Road Trip Essentials for families. Learn everything you need to know before you plan your next big road trip.

Other top considerations include making sure that you have a vehicle that is packed with all of the latest safety technology like blind spot monitoring, adaptive headlights, rear-traffic cross alert, smart cruise control, and automatic emergency braking. These features make road tripping safer and more enjoyable for everyone.

With so many vehicles on the market, it’s hard for families to know which one suits them best, and it takes hours and hours to research all of the different vehicle models out there. Thankfully, Kelley Blue Book does the work for us with their list of the 12 Best Family Cars.

Available on Kelley Blue Book’s, the list of 12 Best Family Cars is the perfect place to find the vehicle that best suits your needs. This list not only helps with purchasing the best vehicle for your family but it also comes in handy when you are road tripping with extended family and you need to rent a vehicle that fits everyone too.

In order to make it on the 12 Best Family Cars list Kelley Blue Book staff researched a variety of things on each vehicle including safety features, vehicle value, they check to make sure the vehicle drives well, they check the comfortability and conveniences offered, and of course, they check out the technology too. You can find out which vehicles made their list, and why, at!

I love that this year Kelley Blue Book focused on two and three-row SUV’s as well as minivans this year. It seems like that is what most families lean towards anyway. We actually referenced this list when we purchased our new Chrysler Pacifica a few months ago and we are so happy with our purchase. It’s got tons of room for all 7 of us, lots of cup holders, places to plug in devices, and it even has a built-in vacuum!!! You can check out KBB’s rundown on my minivan here.

The Ultimate Guide of Road Trip Essentials for families. Learn everything you need to know before you plan your next big road trip.

Finding a vehicle that fits all of your kids AND all of their stuff definitely falls under road trip essentials for me.

2 Snacks are Key

Packing enough snacks is another road trip essential. The last thing you want on a road trip is for anyone to be hangry (hungry + angry). The best way to ward of those hangry vibes is to pack a variety of snacks that cover all of the different cravings. Here are a few road trip snack staples we love.

Road Trip Essentials- Snack Edition

  • Crunchy- Carrot and Celery Sticks, Veggie Straws, Pretzels, Goldfish Crackers, Granola Bars, Nuts, Chex Mix, Apples.
  • Salty- Popcorn, Deli Meat, String Cheese, Nuts, Chips, Pretzels, Trail Mix.
  • Sweet- Fresh Fruit (oranges and apples do well), Yogurt and Apple Sauce Pouches, Fruit Leathers, Granola Bars, Flavored Nut Butter Pouches, Yogurt Covered Raisins, and Some Candy are usually packed in our car.

Packing extra snacks will help keep your kids happy during the unavoidable delays that come with holiday travel

Beyond the packed snacks

While we do our best to pack a bunch of snacks before we leave I also think some other road trip essentials include where to stop for food along the way and where to find a restroom too. We have found that grocery stores are one of the healthiest places you can stop because of the variety of fresh foods available including fruit and pre-sliced vegetable sticks, premade salads, and often freshly made sandwiches and soups too. Plus, grocery stores always have a restroom.

There are usually plenty of fast food joints to stop at along the way too unless you are traveling somewhere remote. We have noticed that when we limit the junk food the kids seem to stay in better moods so we try to keep fast food stops to a minimum on our road trips. But, it is a quick and easy turnaround to stop at a fast food restaurant and they too have restrooms available. And, fun stops like a donut shop definitely have their place and time.

Stopping for treats is one of the kids favorite parts of a road trip. Check out our tips to maximize the fun on your next road trip.

We have found that sit-down restaurants are a great way for everyone to get a chance to stretch out, eat a good meal, and use the bathroom before loading back into the car. We usually search for restaurants on apps like Yelp. I narrow the search to the most reviewed and filter it so that it is family-friendly and good for groups.

You might be surprised at the variety of snacks available at the gas station. While most foods here are prepackaged there are some decent options like granola bars, pretzels, trail mix, and protein bars. Some of the nicer gas stations tend to have whole fruit like bananas, apples, and oranges too.

Lastly, I would say that Starbucks is a surprisingly great place to stop for a quick bite. Mom and dad will be happy to grab a coffee to help them stay alert and there are actually quite a few great snacks and meals available too. My kids also love their breakfast sandwiches and those are available all day long! And, Starbucks has some of the cleaner bathrooms in our experience too.

3 Plan Your Stops Ahead of Time

The key to traveling with kids is preparation and planning and this is definitely the case when it comes to road trips. Making sure to plan breaks at least every few hours when traveling with kids is essential.

Kids don’t have the attention span to sit too long and they tend to use all that built up energy on annoying their siblings. So, it really helps when you add in a few stops for them to run around and get all of their energy out.

Plus, we have also found that the stops along the way are what make road trips so much fun!

Not sure where to stop? We always look for the major roadside attractions like giant signs, historical monuments, and quirky museums, but beyond that, we also enjoy stopping at local parks for a picnic or to let the kids burn some energy on the playground.

Playground at Epcot's International Flower and Garden Festival

To find the best places to stop we typically search places like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and by asking friends for recommendations on social media. You would be amazed by all the awesome places we have found off asking our friends on Facebook. It seems like there is always someone you know that either lived where you are traveling to or visited where you are traveling to or that knows someone else that has. Give it a try!

4 Apps for All (both for planning & entertainment)

Another road trip essential that you want to do ahead of time is making sure you have all the right apps downloaded before you go. There are apps that help you build your itinerary, find cheap gas, last minute hotel deals, help you get around in a new area and help keep the kids entertained. 

Here is a list of apps we have found to be road trip essentials.

For the parents-

  • Waze- we LOVE the Waze app it gets updated with real traffic reports by other Wazer’s and it helps you calculate the quickest way to get to your destination. 
  • Yelp- in order to find the best local restaurants we search on Yelp. You can filter it to find exactly the type of food and atmosphere you are wanting.
  • Maybe the drive is getting to long and you need a place to sleep for the night. This app helps you find a great deal on a last minute booking.
  • Amazon Music- We are big fans of Amazon music. There are tons of amazing stations and playlists available for you to listen to. Or you can also create your own playlist. Definitely, comes in handy for some round of car karaoke.
  • Audible- I’ve been addicted to Audible lately because I can get through so many books. Plus, you don’t get car sick because you aren’t staring at a book. This would be a great option for younger book lovers as well.
  • Rome2Rio- this app will help you calculate the best means of transportation and estimate the cost of each. This is great for once you are in your destination.

For the kids-

  • GoNoodle- trusted by hundreds of school teachers GoNoodle is a great app to help keep little ones entertained. You can check out our post about it here.
  • Toca Boca- This app has been a staple in our family for both my girls (ages 5 & 11) for several years now. They have a bunch of different versions of Toca Boca available, I believe we purchased a variety pack. I like it because it is just imaginative play almost like playing with dolls but on an app. It’s really neat. It allows offline play which is HUGE when you are traveling.
  • Crossy Road- This is another favorite in our family. It is similar to the arcade game Frogger I played as a kid.
  • Alien Buddies- Another mom introduced me to Alien Buddies when Olivia was really young. It is perfect for preschoolers who are learning their letters, shapes, and letter sounds. It also allows them to color and put puzzled together too.
  • ABC Mouse- If you have access to ABC Mouse online than you will love the ABC Mouse app. It mirrors the same activities that you do online and is a great distraction for young kids.

5 Fight Boredom the Old Fashioned Way

With so much technology these days it is hard to remember what road tripping was like when we were younger. It turns out there are a few activities that we used to do, that kids today still find very entertaining.

For example, tray tables like the one below help younger kids entertain themselves. Liv loves to color, play with building blocks, stickers and play with small toys like cars on hers. 

Summer Road Trip Tips

Older kids will enjoy taking some time away from their screens for classic road trip games like the following. 

  • “I Spy”- To play this game you need at least two players. One player starts by saying, “I spy with my little eyes and they give a clue as to what item they have on their mind. The other player(s) shout out things they think that it might be until someone guesses the right object or the player(s) give up. The game repeats taking turns for each player to get a chance to be the one that spies the object.
  • Car Bingo- You can make little bingo sheets at home before you go (there is a free printable available here) or you can purchase reusable ones as we did on Amazon here. In order to win a player needs to find all of the things in a single row vertically, horizontally, or diagonally.
  • State License Plate Game- This is great for older kids and if you are traveling cross country. The kids just try to find as many different state license plates as they can.
  • Alphabet Game- my kids love playing different versions of this game. Basically, players try to see how quickly they can list items that start with different letters in the alphabet. If you pause too long or say something that doesn’t make sense you are out. So, the first player starts with A and might say apple. The second player now needs to state something that starts with B and so on. You can move beyond the alphabet and do all one letter, or a subject like colors or animals too.

I guess not all road trip essentials have to be new. These oldies seem to still be a great hit!

6 Take Preventative Measure Against Car Sickness

We have a few kids that are prone to getting car sick which is no fun for anyone on a road trip. So, we have tried all sorts of things to help ease the chance that they will get sick. Here are a few tried & trusted things that we have found to be helpful.

  1. Get some fresh air by rolling down the windows and/ or turning up the air conditioning.
  2. Encourage the child to look outside versus read a book or play on their electronics. 
  3. Avoid spicy and greasy foods which tend to aggravate motion sickness.
  4. Talk to your pediatrician before you go. They may recommend an over the counter motion sickness medication.
  5. Plan your drive and when possible avoid windy roads.
  6. Pack these necessities to ensure you can clean up any messes- sanitary motion sickness bags (these are hospital grade and the only type of containment we have found to really actually work), disinfectant wipes, and paper towels.

7 Pack a Roadside Emergency Kit

We always like to have our cars tuned up before we go on a big road trip just to make sure that the tires are inflated properly, the spare tire is checked and all of the fluids are topped off. But, even with that type of precaution, we understand that anything can happen on the road which is why we always pack a roadside emergency kit.

Summer Road Trip Safety Tips

Road Trip Essentials- DIY Roadside Emergency Kit

  • Your car probably has a spare tire, car jack, and lug wrench but you should double check and make sure they are all there and in good condition.
  • Jumper Cables
  • Coolant
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Small Tool Kit
  • Rags
  • HELP sign (at least 8″)
  • Bottled Water
  • Tire Pressure Gauge
  • Duct Tape
  • Nylon Rope (at least 12 feet)
  • First Aid Kit

If you are going somewhere cold you may also want to pack a shovel and an ice scraper too.

Don’t feel like putting together your own roadside emergency kit? You can also find plenty of curated roadside emergency kits on Amazon here.

Share your best road trip essentials in the comments below.

And, don’t forget to check out Kelley Blue Book’s 12 Best Family Cars of 2019 here.


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