Traveling​ with Kids: Road Trip Essentials

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My mom says I’m fearless when it comes to traveling with my kids, and I guess it’s true because I’ve always been that way as an individual. I remember plenty of occasions (pre-mom life) when I would buy the cheapest plane ticket to an unknown destination for the weekend. It was on those whims that I made some great memories and broadened my understanding of the world.. okay, maybe not the world, more like the US, cause like I said those were some cheap plane tickets.

Having a mom that’s always up for an adventure probably isn’t the worse thing ever that could have happened to my kids, right? The fact that we live in a huge state like California, where top destinations are just a car ride away, is the cherry on top! Whether it’s a trip up the coast, northeast for some winter activities, or down south for theme parks, the possibilities are endless for a quick weekend trip. Over the years I have “perfected” and simplified our packing list because if I’ve learned anything it’s that when you forgot something on a weekend trip 1) you can live two days without it and 2) there’s probably a Target nearby.


Hopefully, you won’t have to spend vacation funds on things you forgot to pack though. The following is my list of “must bring” items for a trip that departs Friday night and returns Sunday evening. Of course, if you have a baby your packing list is going to look slightly different, but for those out of diapers, this is a good starting point!

Clothing

  • Pajamas (one pair) – before we leave the kids bathe & get into their PJs for the car ride to our destination and its the same pair they’ll wear Saturday night. They wear socks, shoes, and a jacket for any bathroom stops and for the trek through the hotel.
  • Outfits (two) – check the weather and take into consideration the activities you’ll be doing each day. Never underestimate the power of layering clothing to avoid packing multiple outfits. While an extra outfit in case of emergencies might be needed for a messy toddler, shut down the accessories that your tweens insist that they can’t live without (newsflash.. they’ll survive).
  • Jacket & Shoes (one) – must match all outfits!
  • Undergarments (one)
  • Socks (two)

Tips – Bring an empty garbage bag for laundry! Also, obviously when you have activities planned (hiking, skiing, swimming) you’re going to need additional items.. but see how simple it can be?

Toiletries

Bath

  • Shampoo/Conditioner – 2 in 1 combo products are awesome
  • Body Wash
  • Razor

Tips – Forget the bath sponge and use the hotel’s hand towels

Daily Necessities

  • Toothbrush/Toothpaste/Floss/Mouthwash
  • Lotion
  • Comb/Brush
  • Hair products/Hair ties
  • QTips
  • Lotion
  • Straightener OR Curling iron
  • Deodorant

Tips – Travel size EVERYTHING. I love having a travel set tucked away underneath my sink, already in its bag. I pull it out for each trip, take inventory, and it’s ready to go! Don’t buy travel items, just travel containers to fill with products you already have. Find inexpensive containers at your local dollar store.

Food

We travel after dinner and in pajamas so that, hopefully, the kids sleep most of the time, we reduce stops for food, and minimize the bathroom breaks. I pack food because I’m not fond of paying $2 at a gas station for a bottle of water and to save our snack money for more exciting foodie adventures.

  • a case of bottled water
  • boxed juice or milk
  • dried fruits or nuts
  • fruit – berries, apples, grapes, mandarins
  • beef jerky
  • popcorn/chips
  • graham crackers
  • fruit snacks
  • individually packed nut butter
  • sweets – because sometimes we all need a sugar kick
  • Starbucks VIA packets – coffee on the go, need I say more?

Tips – Don’t forget a pack of baby wipes, because no matter how old your kids are, sticky fingers happen. Ziploc bags are also a great tool for passing food back several seat rows with minimal spillage. Don’t forget a plastic bag or two to keep trash from piling up in the car.

Etcetera

  • phone charger
  • back up chargers

Note – I think it’s important to say that I don’t “really” pack entertainment for the car ride. I say “really” because we do bring an iPad, and if the kids have behaved, they take turns in 30 min increments. We sleep, play road trip games, and TALK during the car ride. My goal is for all of us to disconnect, enjoy our time together, and take in the sights as a family.


Honestly, I dread packing for a vacation because in my mind it seems like a lot. When you write down what items are actually necessary it is not as intimidating! Like most tasks, once you get over the mental hurdle, the rest is smooth sailing. The difference between traveling with kids vs adults is that it takes a little more time, patience, coffee, and wine, but the experiences you’re gifting your child? Priceless. Get packing parents!

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