We take lots of family road trips every year- often traveling for more than 12 hours at a stretch to get to our destination in one day (sometimes up to 18 hours at a time!). So we have become experts at getting our car set up for a long road trip. As my husband Steve always says, “It's about having the right tools for the job!”, and in this case, these road trip tools are items that make the trip pleasurable for the kids as well as the parents. Here is our list of 8 must-have road trip essentials!
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Road Trip Essentials #1: DVD Player
When we purchased our big family vehicle, we specifically did not want to have DVD players permanently installed in the car, because we didn't want our kids to expect to watch a movie every time we drove just across town. But a long road trip is an entirely different matter!
Over the years we've gone through a lot of different DVD players- from having the kids share one screen between two of them, to having a two-screen model where both screens played the same film, to this dual-screen DVD player model we have now which gives us the option of either playing the same movie on two screens (a cord connects the two screens) or playing two separate movies each on its own screen.
The DVD players came with straps that allow you to mount them onto the back of the headrest of the seat in front of you, or more often, my kids just like to hold them in their laps while they watch a movie.
#2: Power Inverter
If your road trips are all under 2 hours, you probably don't need a power inverter for your car. Or, if you are lucky enough that your newer model vehicle comes with power ports next to every seat- then you're all set! But for those of us who need to get power to each family member so that DVD players can run or other electronic devices can be recharged while in transit- then you might want to consider investing in a power inverter.
This box plugs into a standard car outlet and makes the power supplied by your car's battery available to regular plug-in devices. We snake extension cords under the passenger seats so that everyone has access to an outlet to plug in a device (one per person!) as we travel.
#3: Car Organizer
You need a way to corral all of the items the kids bring into the car, so they aren't all over the floor when you make a rest stop! If your kids sit in a bench style row of seats and there is an open seat between them, then you will love this large car seat organizer (that we use!) with plenty of space for books, DVDs, iPads, snacks, as well as two cup holders to keep drinks upright. And this bin comes with a top that can be flipped over and used as a food tray- which we find to be quite handy!
If you need a back-of-the-seat organizer, I love this car organizer that contains plenty of room for devices, snacks, and a book or two, as well as two side cup holders. It hangs low enough beneath the headrest that it shouldn't get in the way of a DVD player mounted onto the headrest.
#4: Soft Cooler
For our big road trips, we take this Polar Bear soft-sided cooler. It keeps food cold for 1 to 2 days, and it has enough room inside for breakfast on the road or a picnic lunch. Instead of filling it with ice which melts and turns into puddles of water, we instead freeze water bottles (we drain the first inch or two of water out of the water bottle and then freeze it) to use as giant ice cubes. We also purchased re-freezable ice sheets– they are very lightweight, and they wrap around bottles and other things we are trying to keep cold, so we can fit them in between items in the cooler, and we keep everything nice and cold.
#5: Contigo Water Bottles
One of the easiest ways to make a mess in the car on a road trip is to spill a drink- so we like to have all of our kids sip their beverages from these Contigo soft spout water bottles. We'll refill them at a rest stop with bottled water or a sports drink that we buy at a grocery store (avoiding the higher gas station prices on drinks if possible!).
Especially when we take road trips in the colder months, my kids love having a lightweight fleece blanket to wrap around them. And I love that these car blankets are warm and fuzzy, yet roll up into a small size so they can be tucked next to an armrest or under a seat when not in use.
#7: Wet Wipes
Even though my kids are far removed from their diaper phase… I still stock a canister of wet wipes in my car at all times. Perfect for cleaning up a spill, for washing sticky hands, for wiping down (and then drying) a DVD that won't play because of all of the fingerprints on it- we find dozens of uses for wet wipes on every single car trip!
#8: Next Exit Book
I love, love, love this book called The Next Exit that contains a listing of fast food places, restaurants, gas stations, and hotels at upcoming exits on all of the interstates across the United States. When the kids start getting hungry in the car, we can just look up what’s available up ahead at the next 3 or 4 exits and decide which place we would like to stop at.
Packing for a road trip?
You might want to check out these other posts that offer tips and advice on planning and packing for road trips:
- How to Plan a Great American Road Trip
- Packing for a Road Trip: How to Pack the Inside of Your Car
- The Best Car Coolers for a Family Road Trip
- 8 Must-Have Road Trip Essentials!
- Are We There Yet? Tracking the Family Road Trip
And if you are looking for some cool family road trip destinations:
- 5 Amazing National Parks for Your Summer Bucket List
- Things to Do in Williamsburg with Kids!
- Things to Do in New Smyrna Beach Florida with Kids!
- 5 Reasons to Visit Mammoth Caves with Kids
- 5 Awesome Spring Break Ideas for Families
What road trip essentials can you not leave behind when you head out on a family road trip?