The Complete Checklist for Car Journeys with Kids

By Jennifer at Jenography

Being from Texas, I have a particular love for road trips; the journey is part of the experience, with the open road, good music on the car stereo, chat, everything you need packed inside. Once you have kids, that list definitely expands and changes, as it does as children grow up.

Here, our list, honed over thousands of miles and hours spent in tailbacks.

1. Water

Better than sugary drinks or juice, whose taste can encourage kids to neck it…then immediately need a loo break.

2. Healthy, non-crumbly snacks

Crisps end up all over the footwell, raisins get ground into the upholstery. We opt for easy-to-hold snacks that you can pop into your mouth in one go or don’t leave reminders: dried apricots, nuts, ham sandwiches, fresh fruit like apples.

3. Pillows

What wonderful memories I have of taking long family trips lounging in the back of our station wagon surrounded by pillows, back before seat belt laws. Yet even now our tween and teen love taking a fluffy pillow to use as a table, sleeping cushion and, when it comes to it, divider between enemy territories.

4. Blanket

Travelling with kids frequently means setting off very early or late at night, to minimise traffic hold-ups. A fuzzy blanket turns the back seat into cosy den. A cuddly toy also helps.

5. A mental list of conversation starters, songs and games

There are loads of games you can buy for car journeys; just as good are family games from I Spy for younger kids to license-plate spotting to singalongs. We like Mad, Sad, Glad, where everyone goes around and tells what made them mad, sad and glad in the past week, month, etc. A great way to catch up with laconic teens. Looking for ideas? Check out The Lost Art of Having Fun.

6. Adapter to charge devices from the car

We’re living in a digital world. Of course you’ll set off with fully charged phones and tablets, but if you hit traffic they’ll drain faster than you can say, “Boooooring!” We use adapters into which you plug in a USB as well as a regular 3-pronged UK plug — good for my laptop. During heavy travel times — bank holiday weekends, last Sunday before school term — a charged battery pack doesn’t go amiss either.

7. Stick-on sunshades

Even with tinted windows, light streaming in can make riders hot and cranky. We like the suction-cup versions because they can be transferred to granny’s car, rentals on holiday, etc.

8. A downloaded Spotify playlist

We used to set out with a huge stack of CDs. These days, I curate a playlist with my daughter, featuring songs all of us like…or at least the grown-ups can countenance.

9. Extra earphones

Inevitably the teen and tween want to listen to different music or play games with beeps and buzzes. Inevitably, someone has misplaced their earphones. Keep an extra set or two to hand, just in case.

10. Playing cards

Good old-fashioned cards are great for impromptu back-seat games like Go Fish or family Spades game at rest stops or your destination. Top Trumps always endure. We keep a pack in the glove box at all times.

11. Wipes/paper towels

Spills, sticky fingers, messy mouths. You know they will happen. Be prepared.

12. Spare plastic bags

Grab a handful of regular shopping bags from the kitchen and a larger black bin bag to serve as everything from emergency carsickness containers to laundry bags in the event that clothes get wet or soiled.

13. Spare set of clothes

Bring a full set for younger kids and tops for parents if you have a toddler or baby, in the event of nappy leak or spit up.

14. Clean dustpan brush

Great for brushing off seats, shoes after walks or feet sandy from the beach.

15. Emergency equipment

As parents we first think of bringing items to make the ride more comfortable and fun, but we can’t forget safety essentials. An RAC European Family Driving Kit is a good idea to have to hand. We also carry jumper cables and an extra bottle of water. We always ensure at least one phone is charged and available for emergency calls.