Family road trip essentials: 13 things to pack on a road trip with kids

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We love a family road trip and find it the easiest way to travel with the kids. You can see more, stop when you want to, avoid weighing luggage (and just shove everything in the car!) and it makes it easier to explore. Not only that but it helps us to avoid expensive flight costs and everything else that comes with flying – car hire, transfers, airport parking, luggage charges etc. Having your own set of wheels can definitely help you to travel on a smaller budget when you’re travelling with kids. So, if you’re embarking on a family road trip in the UK or Europe this summer, here are the 13 essentials you’ll want to pack.

We’ve travelled by road to France, Italy, The Netherlands and Switzerland – we always use Eurocamp campsites to help us to travel on a budget with the kids – moving between them as we explore Europe – so check out my Ultimate Eurocamp Holiday Guide for more information and money saving tips. (Plus I’ve got tons of Eurocamp reviews and you can follow my road trip guides for Italy and Switzerland too!) This year we’re adding Luxembourg, Germany and Austria to our travel adventures – so keep your eyes peeled for more road trip details and Eurocamp holiday reviews.


1. Screens and cables

I know screen-time is a controversial one when it comes to kids, but if there’s ever a time to embrace technology then it’s when you’re travelling. We’ve driven to Italy in a day, back from Switzerland in a day, and often spend 6 hours at a time in the car even when we break up our journeys – trust me, screens are a lifesaver. (I don’t know how our parents did it with only I-Spy up their sleeves!) Amazon do kid-proof tablets with a two year guarantee, to lower the risk of the little ones destroying their gadgets too.

Before we go, we make sure that the kids download several movies to keep them busy for a few hours. And, each time we stop for a few days / a week, we get them to download fresh ones for the next journey. They also have games on their tablets, and their own music playlists – just make sure that you have some long cables so that you can plug them in to extend the battery life when you’re in the car.

You can also get adapters which plug into the car’s cigarette lighter, so that you can charge on the move, and in older cars without USB ports that might be your only option. Or get portable battery packs for extra peace of mind.

amazon kids fire tablet, guarantee


2. Headphones

This leads me on to the importance of the kids having headphones! If you don’t want to listen to the Barbie movie or Peppa Pig on repeat then headphones will be your best investment ever. Not only this but it stops the kids competing for the loudest volume – which is just a guaranteed headache for everyone!

My two both love music too, but don’t always agree on what to listen to, so this prevents arguments. And, it means that my husband and I then have control over the car radio! On our first trip abroad with the kids they shared a tablet, which was harder but it was all we had at the time, but using a headphone splitter so that they could both plug in saved us from having to listen to hours of kids movies whilst travelling!

road trip essentials with kids, frugal mum photo children in car


3. A travel potty

If you’re travelling with young children, it might be wise to get a travel potty. Whilst we’ve found the services along the motorways in the UK and Europe are fairly frequent, once you get off of the main routes it can be harder to find toilets along the way.

We’re no strangers to ‘wild wees’ in our family 😂, hiding in the bushes when we need to pee, but travel potties come with disposable bags – so if your little one needs to do something more then you’ll avoid the stress of trying to find a loo, and can dispose of the bag later.

road trip with kids, essentials, travel potty


4. Practical items

Being prepared for everything will help your road trip with kids to run more smoothly, so pack a kit of practical items like: bin bags (both for rubbish and in case of car sickness), wet wipes, tissues, hand sanitiser and a first-aid kit. (You can see what we put in our family holiday first-aid kit here: The Ultimate Family Holiday Packing Guide – with free printable checklist!)

We also keep a stash of sickness tablets in our glove compartment, and take one before any long trip in the car, as the kids and I all suffer with travel sickness. I find the Kwells tablets work the best, and we don’t go anywhere without them! Print my checklist to make packing and getting organised for your holiday stress free!

frugal mum free printable family holiday travel checklist


5. Food and drink

We always pack a car picnic for any kind of travel or day out. Buying food for the whole family along your road trip route will always be more expensive, and if the kids are fussy or have allergies, it can be really hard to find something suitable at petrol stations and the services.

Not only that, but the kids are constantly hungry (and this will surface even more when they’re bored in the car!) so to avoid arguments, and having to waste lots of time stopping frequently, packing a lunch, refillable water bottles and lots of snacks will be a lifesaver!

You’ll also want to make sure that you bring some healthy food options and snacks, we do let our two have a couple of sweets when we’re on the road, but too many and you’ve got sugar-filled children with no-where to burn off their energy! Pack a flask of coffee too for the adults – it can be so expensive on the road and we find that as soon as we hit France the coffees are miniature!

road trip with kids packing guide, thermos flask


6. Blankets and teddies

Our kids always have a pillow, blanket and their teddies on the backseat with them, to make it easier for them to drift off if they want to sleep on the road. Now they’re older, I’m actually more likely to sleep than they are 😂 so I will steal a pillow for a nap! But, when they were younger, Lola would sleep lots when we travelled and if we’re travelling at night then they can still snuggle up in a blanket even if they fight sleep! In case of unexpected delays, or a change of plans, having spare blankets in the car for adults too is definitely wise on a family road trip.

things to pack on a family road trip with kids, essential travel guide, frugal mum tips


7. A cool box

To keep your lunch and snacks cool on the road, and on days out when you reach your destination, invest in a decent cool bag and cool blocks, or you can go one step further and get an electric cool box.

This will help you to save lots money, by avoiding eating out, both on your journey and once you reach your destination. We home-educate our kids so we travel and have days out more frequently than lots of families, and honestly I couldn’t live without a cool bag – packing your own food will always save you a small fortune! (And, you’ll thank me if you’re heading somewhere expensive like Switzerland!)

family travel with kids, road trip packing tips, cool bag rucksack


8. A daytime backpack

Make sure that you have a backpack ready to go with things like rain coats, caps, suncream etc for any stop off adventures on the way, or even just for stretching your legs on a short break from the car. Once the car is loaded up with weeks’ worth of stuff it can be hard to find what you need, so keep those kinds of bits to hand. It’s always worth packing an easily accessible spare set of clothes for young children too, as it’ll save you having to rummage through suitcases in the event of a spillage or toileting accident.

frugal mum family photo, switzerland raod trip, bern


9. Car window shades / sunglasses

Unless your car has tinted windows, you might want to get the kids some sunglasses or fix up some car window shades for younger children – especially if you’re visiting somewhere warm and sunny, and they’re likely to want to nap. Cranky children are not a good combo for a road trip, so planning ahead to make sure the kids are as comfortable as possible will definitely make your life easier.

travelling with kids, road trip packing guide, car window shades


10. Comfortable and suitable car seats

If your kids are car seat age, make sure that their car seats are comfy enough for a long trip – having a headrest can really help with their sleep too (and avoid neck ache!). They’ll be spending long periods of time in them, so a decent padded car seat will definitely be a good investment.

Remember that babies cannot safely spend long periods in car seats, so if you’re travelling with very young children then plan frequent stops along your route and allow plenty of time for reaching ferry slots etc.

The rules are also different in lots of places, so make sure that your car seat complies with European requirements if you’re travelling abroad. Whilst we had switched our children to booster seats for short trips once they were big enough in the UK, we still had to use a full car seat for a few years whenever we drove in Europe. (Plus the big seats are comfier for long drives too!) Check the Which website for the car seat laws for the countries that you’ll be driving in.

frugal mum photo, netherlands road trip, children by canal in amsterdam


11. Children’s activities

You might want to prepare a children’s DIY travel bag with colouring, games, toys and books to keep them occupied when they need a screen break, or when the novelty of watching movies all day runs out!

You can get car backseat organisers, which could be useful for keeping kids activities neat and tidy and easily accessible, and having books or magazines to read is a great way to keep everyone relaxed and busy whilst waiting at ferry ports etc. We take UNO everywhere, as it’s so small and easy to pack, and it’s an easy one to play if you’re having a time out on a picnic bench along the way.

road trip pack essentials, car backseat organiser


12. A document bag

The last thing that you want to deal with is trying to find passports at the port, or your check in details for campsites, after a long drive (by which time both the kids and the parents will likely have had enough!) so pack all of your important bits into a bag or folder to make it easier and reduce stress.

I always pack printed out copies of everything that we might need and a rough itinerary / route map too. Phones are great, and lots of places now only require digital copies or proof of booking through emails, but if your mobile signal is dodgy, your data runs out, or your phone battery dies then having a physical copy can prevent a lot of upset and drama. Don’t forget to give your vehicle registration to any campsites that you’re visiting too, to prevent being stuck outside of the barriers!

eurocamp campsite, frugal mum ultimate packing guide, road trip


13. And… prep your car!

Before you leave make sure that the car has had a recent service (or at least check the oil, water, tyres and coolant etc) to reduce the risk of problems whilst you’re away. You’ll also need a to carry your driver’s license, car registration certificate and insurance papers if you’re driving in Europe. Plus breakdown cover and travel insurance are a must! (We get an annual European policy so that it covers all of our trips in one swoop!).

The rules for driving in Europe also insist that you have mandatory items in / on your car (like reflective jackets, a UK sticker etc) so make sure that you’re properly prepared – you can get a ready-made EU driving kit from Amazon. And, be sure to check to information about tolls, vignettes, emissions stickers, and speed limits etc for every country that you’ll be visiting or driving through before you set off.

eu driving kit amazon, road trip essentials to pack


Travelling on a budget? Check out my articles:

How to road trip on a budget around Europe – the ultimate family guide!

How to road trip on a budget around Europe, the ultimate family guide, frugal mum tips


Budget Family Holiday Tips: How to travel abroad cheaply with kids

How to travel abroad on a budget, frugal mum title page, save money on family holiday tips


How to have a European city break with kids on a budget!

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Getting ready for your family holiday?

Check out my Ultimate Family Holiday Packing Guide – with free printable checklist!

frugal mum free printable family holiday travel checklist


Not sure where to go? Check out my European holiday reviews and road trip guides…

Our Italian Eurocamp Family Road Trip: What we spent, tips & how to explore Italy with kids on a budget!

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Cheap family travel: How to explore Rome on a budget – in just one day – with kids!

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Our Eurocamp Interlaken Family Holiday: What we spent, tips & how to visit Switzerland on a budget from the UK

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Eurocamp Holiday Review: Camping Cisano San Vito, Lake Garda, Italy

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Eurocamp Holiday Review: Camping Village Fabulous, Lazio, Rome, Italy

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Eurocamp Holiday Review: Camping Village Valle Gaia, Tuscany, Italy

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Eurocamp Holiday Review: Camping La Chapelle, Argelès-sur-Mer, Roussillon, South of France

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Eurocamp Holiday Review: Manor Farm Campsite, Interlaken, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland

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Eurocamp Holiday Review: Beekse Bergen Lake Resort, Hilvarenbeek, North Brabant, The Netherlands

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