Packing for a Road Trip with Kids

We left for our camping and roadtrip through the lake district (central parts of Finland) to the west coast pretty spontaneously in June. We had planned to do it, and in preparation even bought a new tent for the trip (tip: we paid less than half the price when we bought it from UK, that’s including the shipment, but had planned to leave a bit later. Then we had so much fun camping on an island in the Helsinki archipelago on midsummer that we just decided to leave the following morning. So in the spur of the moment we threw a few things in the car and left.

In the car I was wondering what we forgot. Pre-kids we could be pretty spontaneous but with kids not so. However, we were in a country were we know where to get things, we had our credit cards and we were on a road trip so we figured it was easy just to drive to the closest town to get what was missing. And we don’t have a baby anymore.

We really enjoyed the trip, the freedom of hardly any schedules and the family time (Please find more of a summary in pros, cons and cost of the trip), and we want to do more of this kind of travelling (there’s an excellent blog about a Finnish family roadtripping in the beautiful Norway in Swedish here). In case I never get organised again, it will pay to create a packing list now with this experience fresh in mind. When I earlier listed a few things, my first thoughts, we were actually already on the road. I got some great tips then, especially from the fun loving Kate who goes camping every year. What a great list she added to the comments, one that I now have incorporated below for everyone to have! Thank you, Kate! She has a good sense of humour, a fantastic teen aged son and an entertaining blog, so go check it out!

Things to consider when packing:
1. Is this a roadtrip too involving many packing, unpacking and repacking moments or rather a trip where you go to a destination and stay there? If you are like me, in the former you only want what is necessary but nothing more than that, and in the latter a bit more to make things more convenient are welcome.

2. Are you one of those who need to be prepared for all situations or do you live by “what you don’t have you don’t need”?

I’ll assume everybody will pack some clothes, and hope every one will consider the weather and their washing opportunities when doing so. Earlier, when I was backpacking for months, I used to pack so that I’d be good for about a week. Most campsites will have laundry facilities. Even though I on the ast trip didn’t want to have too much stuff, I rather have an extra warm sweater than a freezing night. Also, rain gear, after my last experience also an extra pair of shoes. And if you don’t drive through a town every now and then, food and drinks. If you are on a road trip food that takes a whole and doesn’t make a mess, carrot sticks are great. Oh, and if you are going camping, I assume it goes without saying that you will pack a tent/ tarp, sleeping mats/ madrasses and sleeping bags/ linen and doonas.

What proved to be heaps good:

  • a pocket knife (Clas Ohlson sells basic ones for about 5e)
  • jandals (flipflops) for the showers on campsites
  • tinfoil, handy many times when often cooking on fire. Also good for entertainment.
  • dish washing detergent
  • plates and cutlery
  • cutting board
  • camera
  • potty
  • chilly bin and those freezing blocks what-ever-you-call-them-in-English
  • sun screen
  • towels, swimsuits
  • zip lock bags
  • rubbish bags
  • pillows
  • mosquito repellent
  • hat (sun, mossies)
  • serving tongs/serving spoons/spatulas etc for actually preparing the food (Kate new it, we didn’t, so we went and bought some)
  • toilet paper, paper towels
  • baby wipes
  • toys: we used a few games and books, a ball, a scooter and a balancing bike. As we didn’t really need more but we also went somewhere/ did something every day. But campsites have pretty good playgrounds and they have nature where kids can get inventive. Our kids are 4 and almost 3, in case you want to compare.
  • Some story and music CD’s/Ipods/phones for the drive. We didn’t use many though as we mainly drove when it was nap time, and when kids sleep we rather listened to the radio or our music.
  • Downloaded maps

One thing we forgot was the travel stroller. Turned out we didn’t need one either.

Kate also added camping chairs, fan, lanterns, water shoes, camping stove and a tray on the list, which I would consider if I’d be staying put and I wouldn’t be camping in Finland right after Midsummer (=no need for light and normally no need for extra heat. This year it would have been great with a camping stove!)

Backus Adventures travelled for months through Australia with their family and they have a gathered their tips for such a trip here. It is a good one, not just about packing but also about the attitude.

Please share your experiences and thoughts!


  1. This is a great list! If we end up back in America, Chad and I both really want to do a road trip across the country. We would probably camp along the way. I am definitely pinning this so that I will have your list for when I pack for that. 🙂

    1. Just remember to update at improve it with your experience if you do go on a trip!

  2. You’ve updated!

    Definitely agree that the hassle/benefit of marginal items switches around depending on how many times you have to pack/unpack/repack. The other thing is filing things differently in that case – so if it’s one stop you might pack each person’s stuff in its own pile (e.g. here’s Dad’s stuff, here’s Mum’s stuff, etc) as you might be unpacking people into their own “space”.

    But if you’re moving a lot it makes more sense to pack it day by day (here’s Monday’s stuff, here’s Tuesday’s stuff etc) as then you won’t unpack everything every time.

    But mainly I’m just happy to hear someone use the expression “heaps good”. 🙂

    1. Agree on the packing styles! On top of that we usually have a common “day pack” for items we use on a daily basis and that always will get packed in the car so that those things are easy to pull out at any time.

    2. Oh, “heaps good” is not used everywhere then? See, I’m just happily ignorant about those differences and also nuances in the language 🙂

      1. Haha – it definitely should be used everywhere. But I think it’s mainly New Zealand/Australia.

        1. Yes! You have good sayings down there!

          This reminds me of my early years of using German and getting feedback on being very fluent but sounding a bit funny. I was using a childs vocabulary, since I was mainly taught German by 5 and 6 year old boys 😀

          1. Haha! So you knew a lot of words for “bum” for example? 🙂

            1. Absolutely. And for somebody not quite making it to the toilet 😉

  3. First off – thanks for the mention! That made my day! 🙂 And I kept cracking up at how you have to translate things! But, I’ll admit, I needed it a few times!!

    1. yeah, the translating part is a bit funny and tricky to me too. I am kind of used to people from elsewhere not being so familiar with what is normal to us, not the most known country I live in 😉 So I’m pretty used to questions like “do you have toilet paper” and”how often do you see polar bears?” and then think volunteering some more information may be needed…

  4. Excerpt from a camping list:

    For some reason I don’t seem to have a road trip list. Probably because we don’t own a car 🙂 .

    If you come across a good road trip list let me know and I’ll pin it in case someone else is looking for one! But it sounds like you’ve got a good start there.

    1. Thanks, would have been good to use that list before leaving 🙂 we just decided to leave a bit earlier than planned one morning, threw a few things together and I’ll improve the list when we get home. Based on experience. One thing to take is change if shoes for mum too, never know who pees on them. But then again, one can always shop too, found great new shoes for a bargain in a country town.

      1. Ha! Love those tips where you just know there’s a story. “You never know who pees on them.” 🙂

        Definitely do up your camping packing list and share.

  5. The stress over what to pack for two little ones is probably what turned me off of camping in my late 20’s and 30’s. 🙂

    1. Turns out it wasn’t so bad, we survived and hadn’t even forgotten anything we couldn’t do without (but some things might have made life easier. Oh, and I bought shoes and my husband a sleeping bad 😉 ). We’ll definitively do it again.

  6. Aside from the food and drinks:
    sandwich bags
    paper plates
    plastic forks/knives/spoons
    (or reusable if you want)
    trash bags
    camping chairs
    air mattress
    water shoes
    bug spray
    sun screen
    cutting board
    camping stove
    lights to hang around the picnic table (We use Christmas lights)
    serving tongs/serving spoons/spatulas etc for actually preparing the food
    paper towels
    TP for when the site runs out
    baby wipes just because you never know!

    Okay, that’s all that on my permanent list. I know we take more, but the rest is just always packed up and ready to go!

    1. That is a good list, Kate, thanks! Makes me laugh though: no need for lanterns when the sun doesn’t go down properly, and wonder if we’ll need sun screening considering it’s the coldest June in 30 years (on the other hand: it can only get warmer), a bit of a difference in climates between Texas and Finland?! 😀

      1. Oh yes, a huge climate difference apparently! 🙂

    2. And yes, baby wipes are a must!

  7. I’d leave the kids at home and book myself into a five-star hotel instead…!

    1. Or an apartment with a sex swing 😉

      1. Perfect! Those two love swings and rope ladders…

        1. Sadly, it was probably designed for kids rather than sex play 😉

    2. Haha, there might be some “fun” consequences with free water and bread for me if I left the two of them home alone for days 😉

      1. I thought you had a legally obligated servant, commonly referred to as “husband”…? You’d leave him there, too, obviously. And it’s caviar and champagne for you! Bread and water… what funny ideas you have…

        1. But if he’s home, who will carry my bag?! Ps does someone really like caviar? Can I just stick to champagne?

          1. The bell boy!

            You can have whatever you bloody well like 🙂

            1. Perfect, I’ll take first some family time in a tent though 🙂

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