It sounds amazing – loading up the car, pulling out of your driveway (kids laughing in the backseat), and turning down the road to adventure. Likely you will only make it a mile down the road before the first doubts start to set in – Did I pack the stove? Did the cooler ever make it in the car? Why are all the bags falling over?
You pull over to the side of the road to check, and next thing you know you’ve pulled out half your gear looking for something. Sound familiar?
Perfect road trips take lots of planning and organization and the more you do it, the easier it gets! This post is here to help you organize all your road trip gear with a complete road trip packing list for families. The exact road trip supplies you will need of courses depends on where you’re going, what you’re driving, and what you’ll be doing on your trip, so you will want to pick and choose from the road trip packing lists below.
Each packing list for road trips section below includes a general list, a printable road trip packing list pdf, and links to purchase some of the items. You can see noted which of these items are truly car road trip essentials. Scroll all the way to the bottom to get a complete printable road trip packing list with all the lists on one pdf.
We’ve been road tripping since well before kids and started with several long trips across and around the US. Since having kids, we’ve done road trips in Iceland, Europe, the US, Mexico, Panama and more. In this guide we’ll help break down what you need for success.
If you are looking for complete information on planning a perfect road trip, check out: 12 Steps to Create the Perfect Plan for Road Trip Success (A Complete Guide)
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Road Trip Packing List for Families: How to Decide What to Pack
Each road trip list section below contains a list, printable packing pdf and links to purchase some of the items. You will find the following sections below:
- Essential Road Trip Items
- Personal Items Road Trip List
- Personal Items for a Day Pack
- Car Camping Road Trip Essentials
- Adventure Gear Suggestions for Road Trips
You will want to pick and choose which list applies to your situation. If you aren’t car camping, skip that list. If you plan to do a road trip but aren’t doing any adventure activities, skip that list.
The last section below shares some tips and tricks for packing it all into a car. I truly believe that you need the essentials and the rest just gets in the way. We did a 5-week road trip recently and packed all out bikes, camping gear, adventure gear, and more into our mini-van. It was tight even though we left things out like camp chairs.
We packed all our gear into bags and bins and tried to avoid too many loose items. We also road trip with a roof rack on top of our car. This is the newest model of the rack we have (and have used for over 20 years).
Must-haves for Road Trips
The items in this list are essential items for any road trip. This includes some safety items, some practical items for the car, and items to make eating in the car more practical. Click on the links to find the items.
Road Trip Packing Gear
Links for the Exact Essential Road Trip Items we Use
Packing List for Road Trip: Personal Items
We typically each pack at least 2 personal item bags. Most of our items are packed in a duffel bag, and the other items are in a backpack or something smaller that can be kept next to our seat. In addition, each person has another bag that can be used for whatever activity you will be doing that day. On our first family road trip, we made the mistake of not bringing an extra bag and had to empty our daypack every day to go for a hike. You can see our favorite daypacks here.
Personal Items (we pack these in backpacks or duffel bags)
- Long-sleeved tops
- Raincoat and pants
- Fleece or puffy coat
- Bathing Suit
- Sandals, sneakers and/or boots
- Head Lamp
- Toiletries and Personal Items
- Winter Gear (if traveling in winter)
- Small Pillow
Packing List Road Trip Personal Items for a Day Bag
Road Trip Personal Items for Daypack
Road Trip Camping Essentials
Car Camping Gear Packing List
- Sleeping Bags
- Sleeping Pads
- Stove and fuel
- Pots and Pans
- Table Cloth
- Cutting board
- Bin, soap and sponge for dishes
- Bottle opener, can opener corkscrew
- Trash bags
- Clothes Line
- Camp Chair
- Repair Kit and/or Duct Tape
Packing List for a Road Trip: Adventure Gear
This list will change a lot based on what you are doing. Below are some ideas (excluding car camping gear which is in the list above. There is no printable for this since it is so varied. I do recommend that you think carefully about the activities you might do and decide whether it’s worth packing the items or renting.
We traveled across the country 2 years ago with bikes, knowing we would use them on an almost daily basis. If we were only using them for a day or two, we would have rented instead.
Last summer, we did a road trip, starting in the Pacific Northwest and flew with our essential gear and rented a car. This limited what we could bring.
- Bikes on a Bike Rack and helmet, soccer ball, etc
- Backpacking Gear
- Climbing Gear
- Hiking Gear
- Paddle Boarding Gear
- Skis and Snowboard
Packing for a Road Trip: How to Get it all in the Car
Once you have all your gear packed, it’s time to put it all into the car! There is something immensely satisfying about a well-packed car for a road trip. Here are a few tips and tricks for a well-packed car:
- Pack the items that you don’t need to access all the time at the bottom. For us, this includes adventure gear we aren’t using, most kitchen gear that won’t need until the end of the day, and items like camp chairs
- If you have a roof rack, consider packing all the car camping gear you can in the roof rack. This made it easy to pull into a campsite, and easily get access to the tent, sleeping bags, and sleeping pad.
- Each day we pack a day pack that we can keep next to our seat. This includes everything we need for the day (snacks, activities, clothing layers, water bottles, books, etc). Every morning we repack these bags. This lets us pack our other personal items in the back of the car where you don’t need to access them during the day. When we got out of the car, everyone’s daypacks go on the seat so they aren’t trampled on the floor.
- Keep the cooler in a place where you can access it relatively easily and you can pull it out of the car to drain off melted ice. We kept the cooler with 2 collapsible bins of food on top so it was easy to access for snacks or to add food and ice if we stopped.
- Keep a trash bag going at all times. Toss your trash whenever you stop.
- When we road trip as a family, we like to give kids different roles to help keep us organized. My son likes to sit in the back of the van, which makes him in the perfect place to be in charge of the cooler and food. My youngest daughter likes to organize the trash (and so on).
- Always keep safety in mind when you pack the car and prioritize being able to see out the back and minimize things sliding around. Loose items tend to break or cause problems.
Complete Road Trip Packing List for Families
Looking for more road trip resources?
Are you road tripping with a family? See our suggestions for Road tripping with Kids or some of most popular posts about family road trips: