Summer Road Trip Picks

summer road trip picks

Our kids aren’t even out of school yet, but we’re already mapping out the summer schedule. And the topic of road trips keeps coming up. Do you have any road trips on your summer calendar? I know I’ve mentioned it before, but we find road trips more relaxed and easier to manage than plane trips.

The whole idea of being able to jump in the car and go feels so romantic and adventurous. And even if I do a crummy job of packing, on a road trip, I know I can stop for forgotten essentials on the way. In fact, we’re already talking about what sorts of road trips we might make after we move back to the U.S.!

For those of you hitting the road this summer, when I imagine my idealized family road trip, this is what I would pack:

1) Binoculars.
The thing about binoculars is, if you have them with you, and they’re easily accessible, you’ll use them! You’ll explore your surroundings as you drive, and you’ll give in to the temptation to stop at every scenic lookout on the way. Which will end up meaning a better trip! Plus, they double as entertainment for the kids. This cheery yellow pair floats.

2) A weekend travel bag.
We love our luggage, but for a spontaneous road trip I like the idea of a stylish soft-side bag — something that’s not too big, so that you don’t overpack. This one by Rail & Wharf caught my eye.

3) A summery blanket.
Your kids will use it when they’re napping in the car. And it will be just the thing for an impromptu picnic on the roadside or at your destination. This turkish towel folds down simply without a lot of bulk, perfect for keeping in the car all summer without taking up lots of space.

4) A sun hat.
Yes, it will protect you from the sun. And yes, when your hair looks awful after a day jumping in-and-out of the pool, this will hide the mess. Wear a chic sunhat and a pair of shades, and you’ll be set for pretty much every summer situation. I love this stripe-y one.

5) A cooler or basket for snacks.
One of our favorite things about road trips is having easy access to food right there in the car, so we don’t have to depend on a drive thru. We like to keep a cooler stocked with goodies where the kids can reach it. This red one looks vintage and will make you feel nostalgic.

6) A Go Pro camera.
Do you know the Go Pro? It’s made specifically to film things like skiing, skateboarding, mountain biking, skydiving, etc. It can be strapped to your forehead like a headlamp so you can film what you’re seeing while you adventure. Ralph has one and loves it! Like the binoculars, if you have one, you’ll look for excuses to use it. You’ll sign up for wind-surfing, or go zip-lining at the ropes course, just so you can film it. And hey, whatever it takes to get you out there and adventuring is a winner in my book!

7) An activity book.
Yes, kids get bored on car rides. So we like to bring along entertainment. We’re big fans of activity/sketch books. They work for a variety of ages, so the kids can share them. The younger ones might treat them like a coloring book, and they older ones might follow the challenges and activities. We like this option from illustrator and children’s poet, Calef Brown.

8) A deck of cards.
A deck of cards simply comes in handy on a road trip. The kids might use the deck to entertain themselves — with a card game, or by practicing their cards tricks. And when you get to your destination, the grownups will use it for late night card games as well. They take up so little space, that we like to keep a deck in the glove box all the time. This deck by Helveticards calls to the designer in me.

9) A hoodie.
Summer trips mean you can get way with packing light. Swimsuit, t-shirt, beach-y skirt, flip flops. Done. But I also like to include a hoodie for everyone in the family. They just come in handy, don’t they? For changes in the weather, or for a cooler, late night adventure at the sand dunes. It’s nice to have an extra layer at the ready. This one has polka dots with smiley faces. Cute!

10) A beach towel.
Lastly, don’t forget to pack your beach towels. They’re sure to end up multi-tasking along the way, and they’re made to get beat up and hide the dirt, so you can use them hard all summer long. A stack of cheery beach towels sitting in the trunk of the car is a sign of good things ahead.

Now your turn: Tell me what I missed. What is your essential-can’t-leave-home-without-it road trip item? And where will you be driving this summer? I’d love to hear!

P.S. — Numbers 1, 2, 5, 6 and 8 would make great Father’s Day gifts!

21 thoughts on “Summer Road Trip Picks”

  1. The Usbourne “sticker dressing” books are good. Especially because there are some for boys too. With Explorers, Knights and Soldiers, as well as Princesses, I have found them great. Oh, and Mad Libs Junior. And some good audiobooks are essential. “Kids” ones read well are really perfect for all ages. We loved 101 Dalmations and the Mr Gum stories.

  2. We also bring audio books that the whole family enjoys listening to like Astrid Lindgren books or other classics. I know some families that bring books to read aloud while motoring.

    1. Audiobooks are such a life saver! I love the idea of reading aloud, but our van is kind of cavernous and I practically have to shout to be heard on all rows, so audiobook totally solve that. And we can discuss as we go.

      So glad you mentioned them!

  3. Perfect timing on this post! We leave on our epic road trip on Saturday! Husband and I are putting the bikes on the back of the car and moving from Florida to California – all by roadtrip! All in all, we’re going to take about 3 weeks to cross the country and we have a lot of fun stuff planned – things to do, foods to try, friends to visit! We can’t wait! Feel free to follow along on my blog. :)

  4. Don’t forget fun activities for the kids! We never leave home without art supplies tucked into our favorite Artotes! Keeps them occupied in the car and when we have to stop to eat.

  5. Just reading this list gets me excited for a summer road trip. The only thing I would add to your list is a good audio book- something that fits the trip if possible. I gravitate towards a good classic. On a recent Oregon Coast trip we listened to a few Jack London books (Call of the Wild and Sea Wolf) and on another, a great version of Treasure Island (thoughI’d say my husband and I enjoyed this one more than the kids).

  6. When our family of 8 drove coast to coast one thing I brought along was sparkly pipe cleaners–simple and silly–my children made all sorts of things along the way–my 15 year old son down to my 2 year old daughter. Also, I bought a couple road atlases at Target for $1 each. These were the biggest hit of all for the whole trip. Had I known how popular they were going to be I would have bought one for each of the kids. They are still in our car two years later and get pulled out whenever we go anywhere.

  7. Our 3-year old, somewhat interestingly and through no pushing of our own, loves classical, so we need to have classical CDs with us, especially with violins. Other essentials — Cheerios, Goldfish crackers, raisins, and “blankie”! They’ve prevented many a potential meltdown. And I love the atlas idea; will have to try that too!

  8. This is a great list! We just got back from Vietnam and my Turkish Towels went everywhere with us. I used them on the plane as blankets, at the beach as towels, and even as a skirt for additional coverage to visit temples (it was just too hot to wear pants but shorts are not appropriate to visit some of the more conservative temples).

    Here are a few more Turkish Towel options for all you intrepid summer road trippers:

  9. My husband and I love the Go Pro camera! He’s been able to get so many unique shots by attaching it to a repurposed extending decorator’s pole- off the side of bridges, atop fire towers, and great crows shots at festivals. It’s become part of our mantra as we leave the house- “wallet, keys, phone, shades, Go Pro?” :)

  10. You convinced me! I totally just bought a sun hat, but the solid black one from the J.Crew factory website, because it was only around $15. Can’t wait to wear it this summer!

  11. Love this list! I can’t wait until we’re on our summer travels, only a couple of more weeks and then Loire Valley bound for the rest of the summer with mini jaunts to Brittany and Arcachon. Will take this list as inspiration!

    xoxo PARIS BEE kids blog

  12. No road trip for us this summer – but an epic flight. Would love to see a post about great activity books – ones that encourage writing especially, but drawing also. My son loved working through the Mo Willems Pigeon activity book, but he is not an enthusiatsic doodler.

  13. Audiobooks – Harry potter was a big hit on the last road trip. Road maps – the kids loved looking at what route we were taking. Similar to the spare hoodie (which we always have too), we also make sure that we have spare socks for all – as they are soo handy if feet get wet or feet get cold!

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