The Ultimate Family Road Trip Prep Guide

Packing and prepping for a road trip with kids can feel like gearing up for a tour around the world rather than a visit to the beach or grandma’s house. It’s important to make sure you’ve brought everything from home you may need to keep everyone happy and healthy, but it’s equally important to make sure your car is up-to-date on safety checks and features before hitting the road. The truth is, it can be a lot to remember, especially since life doesn’t pause when planning vacations. That’s why we’ve compiled the ultimate road trip guide to help you keep track of everything you’ll need to ensure your next road trip is the most stress-free yet.

Check Out Your Car

Before you start thinking about what you’ll need to pack, let’s lay the foundation for a smooth road trip by ensuring your vehicle is safe and functioning properly. The last thing you want is to find yourself broken down in the middle of nowhere because you burst a tire or your engine overheated. Chances are you’re not an auto mechanic, but you don’t need to be to run your own basic inspection the day of your trip. However, we recommend doing a pre-check about a week or so before your departure date—this gives you plenty of time to fix anything big far enough in advance. For the pre-check, we recommend:

  • If your state safety inspection is coming up soon, we suggest you get the car inspected before your trip. Most of the time it’s a very brief process and the inspection itself is inexpensive. The mechanic will be able to spot issues you yourself probably won’t, and if there are any serious issues, like worn-out brake pads or blown out light bulbs, they can easily help you fix them in time.
  • If the prospect of getting to your local garage with your kids in tow is too much, or if you’re struggling to find a time to get there, give YourMechanic a try. With YourMechanic, a repairman comes to you at your home or place of work, so you can more easily fit the visit into your schedule.

On the day of your trip, or the day before, you’ll want to double check a few key features of your vehicle before hitting the road, such as:

  • Make sure you have enough oil in the engine.
  • Make sure you have plenty of coolant in the coolant reservoir.
  • Check that your windshield washer fluid is full.
  • Ensure your wiper blades are working effectively.
  • Check your dash for any error or warning lights.
  • Inspect your tires for any holes, damage, or bubbles.
  • Check the air pressure in your tires and inflate or deflate them as necessary to match their recommended PSI.
  • Make sure you have a spare tire in the car.
  • Adjust all mirrors to be at appropriate angles.
  • Ensure all your lights are working, including your brake lights and turn signals.
  • Make sure your handbrake is working. Anything more than four “clicks” before holding the car in place is not a good sign.
  • Check for any leaks
  • Ensure the drive belt is not worn out or damaged. If anything happens to it, you will have total engine shut down and most likely be stranded.

Once you’re satisfied that everything is good to go, it’s time to focus on making sure you’ve brought all the supplies you’ll need:

Season-Appropriate Emergency Kit

Depending on where you’re traveling and the time of year, some things in your road trip emergency kit may need adjustments. For instance, winter trips may require the addition of things like a bag of cat litter, de-icer, and solar blankets, whereas summer road trips will require additions like sunscreen and brimmed hats. When it comes to year-round provisions, your emergency kit should contain: baby wipes, bottled water, non-perishable snacks, road flares or reflective triangles, blankets, jumper cables, a small first aid kit, a flashlight (with extra batteries), and a can of tire sealant (with compressed air or a portable inflator) to repair a punctured tire long enough to drive to safety. Lastly, be sure to include a physical, paper map in your kit. If all goes well, you’ll never have to use it, but it’s a fool-proof back up to getting un-lost. We recommend a full map of the country as well as state or local maps of areas you plan to pass through. Be sure you have the latest version of your maps, as communities and roads are constantly changing.

Many department stores sell pre-assembled car emergency kits for $40 or less, so be sure to check those out if you need to buy multiple items. Lastly, remember to pack any general medications you’re likely to need like pain relievers or anti-nausea medicine, and of course, any prescriptions anyone in the family is currently taking.

Smart Roadside Assistance

Despite our best preparations and efforts, sometimes life has other plans for us. That’s why having a smart roadside assistance plan is the best back up tool for a road trip. Smart plans allow you to call for help no matter where you are, at any time of day or night. Best of all, tracking features mean you’ll be able to see exactly where help is and when it’ll arrive, as well as safety features like the name and type of service vehicle to expect. You can even share your service-tracking link with others, so they don’t have to worry. At Apparent, we offer roadside assistance with Agero, an easy-to-use app that removes the question of “What do we do now?” from the equation, allowing you to focus on your little passengers.

Portable Chargers and Backup Charging Cables

Make sure you have these for all your devices, so in case of emergency you can call for help. They’re also useful for preventing World War III from breaking out if more than one of your kids needs to charge their device, so there’s really no such thing as too many of these for your family road trip. One thing you may try, if you are fortunate enough to have at least one DC power connector per person, is to pack one cord, one USB adapter, and one portable charger in a Ziploc bag with each child’s name on it. We recommend color-coordinating to avoid confusion and disagreements!

Road Snacks

If you want to save yourself a ton of money and extra stops, bring your own snacks along. Try to avoid things that are likely to melt (sorry, no chocolate or soft candy) or easily be crushed to prevent messes. Trail mix, believe it or not, is a great choice (opt for no chocolate chips), as are Goldfish, gummy snacks, and pretzels. If worse comes to worst, they’re all easily vacuumed up at the end of the trip.

While it may be healthy, fruit and veggies should only be an option if you can be certain that no pieces will be left behind in your vehicle once the trip is over. It won’t be a pretty sight (or smell) if they’re discovered weeks or even months later.

It’s usually best to bring drinks along that have lids and caps, like bottled water (we prefer reusable water bottles), juices, and teas. Cans tend to be total disasters, so you might want to avoid them completely for on-the-road drinks.

Entertainment for Your Little Ones

Movies, music, and video games are easy entertainment in the car, but even these can become boring to kids on a long enough journey. Try packing things like word searches, books, puzzles, stickers, washable markers (no crayons!) and coloring books, and maybe a few favorite toys. Don’t forget any important stuffed animal sleeping buddies, or no one will be sleeping on this trip or at your destination.


These family road trip essentials will have you and your family avoid or be prepared for any little emergencies that may crop up along the way during your trip. And even if things do get hairy, these tips and tools will ensure that you can focus on reaching your destination, and on making cherished memories with your family. To find out more about how Apparent keeps you prepared for all of life’s journeys, visit us at