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10 “beyond the basics” things to pack for a family road trip

As someone who tries to cram anywhere from two to five days of clothing in a single carry-on at least once or twice a month, packing for a road trip is a total luxury. I can load up a lot of “just in case” items that could come in handy, but that I would never bring on a trip involving air travel.

Here are some things we bring along that might come in handy on your next road trip:

  • Laundry detergent – I would much rather pack a few outfits and wash once or twice on the trip than have to pack a bunch of suitcases. But my allergies prevent me from using a certain, extremely popular brand that is sold in the majority of those laundry-room vending machines. So, I like to bring some along. I especially love the Purex 3-in-1 laundry sheets for travel. They are the ultimate portable laundry product – no liquids or powders to measure or spill. (In fact, I often stick one or two in my carry-on during business trips so that I can do laundry on the fly if I need to.)
  • Ziploc bags – I like to throw in a handful of these in both quart and gallon sizes. They can be useful for saving half-eaten snacks for later, and they can also become storage containers for shell, rock or leaf collections started on a nature hike.
  • Paper plates and plastic utensils – Carrying these items with you makes it easier to stop by a store for an impromptu picnic, order pizza or other takeout, or heat up leftovers in your hotel room’s microwave.
  • Roll-up picnic blanket – It’s another one of those items I like to have just in case. We don’t always use it on trips, but it’s great to have in case of impromptu picnics, free outdoor concerts or even a stop to take a nap at a park.
  • Small, soft-sided cooler – A small cooler that you can carry often comes in handy on a hike or at a picnic.
  • Extra quarters and other change – As much as I would love to see an electronic toll-paying system that covers the whole country, it’s probably not happening anytime soon, so anticipate that you may need cash for tolls. The change also comes in handy at rest-stop vending machines, and you never know when you’re going to find an old Frogger or Qbert machine that you just have to play.
  • Fleece throws or other (non-precious) blankets – Great for piling on in a cold car or hotel room, or for spreading out for some cloud- or star-gazing.
  • Backpack – While you might not use a backpack for packing on your trip, it can be helpful to have an empty one in the car for use as a daypack on hikes or anytime you’re going to be away from the car for an extended time.
  • Coffee – Let’s face it, a lot of hotel coffee sucks. If you have the space to bring some of your favorite brand along, it will make your mornings more pleasant. (And while you’re at it, you might want to bring instant oatmeal and/or cup-a-soup packets that you can also use the hotel coffeemaker to prepare).
  • Paper towels – If you’re traveling with the family, I don’t even have to tell you the myriad reasons you’re gonna need ’em.

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  1. Some great ideas, We road trip often & there were somethings I hadnt thought of (like paper towels) will be keeping this list handy for our Disney trip in December.

  2. Like the laundry sheets you mention, a lot ofthese things fit easily into carry-ons. When my son & I travel, we always take along oatmeal & raisins to make breakfast in the room as well as either mac& cheese or boil in the bag rice and a small can of beans. Exactly when and why we want a simple meal in the room vary, but we have never taken it and not needed it. The plates and cutlery we take are sturdy plastic/cheap metal, both for the feel of eating real meals and the environmentally-friendly aspects of them. Besides the toys we plan to use at our destination, we pack a few ok-to-loose toys in an easily accessible place for pauses en route. As a single mom, I always take along a few doses (in pill form) of childrens fever reducer, decongestant, etc. Having a sick kid away from home is bad enough without needing to figure out where the drugstore is and where to put him while you go buy whatever be needs.
    Bon voyage!

  3. Great tips. Ziplocs are absolutely key for any travel, imo. I always make sure I have them whether it’s a road trip, flying somewhere for a weekend, or a year long trip around the world. I remember when we ran out on our long trip and ended up finding some in Argentina. We were so excited to find them.

  4. This is great! I’m not road-tripping with a family nor staying at any hotels but I will definitely bring along these 10 items. Thanks for easing my “what the hell should I pack” worries 🙂

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