Essential Family Road Trip Hacks to Travel Safely

Planning a family road trip? These family road trip essentials and road trip hacks will ensure a smooth trip in these uncertain times.

Planning a Family Road Trip During the Pandemic? Here’s How to Travel Safely:

So many families love to travel in the summer, but this has been a year unlike any other. The girls and I were supposed to be on a Girl Scout trip to London and Paris right now. That’s been cancelled, along with the rest of our usual summer family sightseeing trips.

In this strange new pandemic world, our summer travel has been limited to car trips to see the girls’ three living grandparents in other states. And even then, only when the risk is relatively low.

Because of this, we’ve had to develop new family road trip hacks to travel safely. The current global pandemic has also brought us back to many of the road trip basics and family road trip essentials I’ve written about before (e.g., see here, here, and here).

So whether you’re planning one last summer trip to see far-flung relatives, or preparing to move your eldest into a dorm room for the first time, these essential family road trip hacks for our “new normal” will help you navigate how to road trip during a pandemic safely.

Essential Family Road Trip Hacks to Travel Safely

1. Stay on top of travel restrictions

With caseloads, quarantine lists, and interstate travel bans changing daily, it’s hard to stay on top of what is allowed. The last thing you want is to get stopped by state troopers at the border because you have out-of-state plates (as some states in the northeast were doing in the early days of the pandemic).

So while you’re planning your trip, as well as shortly before your departure, do an online search for “current travel restrictions [state],” for

  • the state you’re driving TO,
  • the state you’re departing FROM (since this will affect your life when you return home),
  • and any states you’ll need to drive THROUGH from point A to point B.

That way, you’ll be prepared in case you need to quarantine, and/or submit travel forms online for the states you’re visiting.

2. Plan your stops, and bring your food

DON’T assume that you’ll have full access to regular services while you’re en route. Try to minimize your stops as much as possible, and plan them out ahead of time:

  • The restaurant you usually eat at may be closed for eat-in service;
  • The food court at your favorite interstate rest area may have most of its vendors shuttered,
  • And the food-court restaurants that are still open may have super-long lines.

We’ve seen all three of these during our trips to and from grandparents’ this summer.

A much safer plan is to bring all your meals, drinks, and snacks with you. Plan to stop for picnics on the grass. Keep your food accessible within the car in case, when you stop, it’s too hot or rainy to eat outside.

Essie, eating leftover pizza for an in-car picnic during a recent family road trip.

We packed several extra full-sized trash bags for the girls to use as crumb-catchers across their laps, to minimize stray food crumbs lying around whose smell would drive our pet gerbils crazy while in transit.

TIP: Freeze bottles of water to use as ice packs in your cooler/lunch bag; they’ll keep your picnic food cold, and provide extra drinking water as they thaw.

Planning ahead also includes hotel reservations, if you’ll need to stop for the night on the way to Grandma & Grandpa’s house. You don’t want to assume that the small mom-and-pop motel where you always stay is still operating at full capacity, only to show up and find that they’re closed, or operating at limited occupancy.

3. Pack “safe stop” bags

If your family is like ours, shutdown restrictions mean you haven’t been going out much. So you may not already have a dedicated mask for each child that lives in your car, let alone gloves and extra hand sanitizers. And the last thing you want is to get somewhere that requires masks, and not have any handy.

Recently my husband took the girls out of state to visit his parents for a long weekend. (Read: Mama wasn’t there to take the girls to the ladies’ room.) So each girl packed herself a small “bathroom stop” bag with a face mask, small bottle of hand sanitizer, and pair of washable nitrile-palmed gloves. This way, they could avoid touching surfaces, and use hand sanitizer on the palms of their gloves before carefully peeling them off when they returned to the car.

4. Double-check your car’s road trip essentials

I’ve written elsewhere about the summer road trip essentials that live in our car all season, as well as road trip hacks and road trip must-haves when you’re the only parent in the car and must-haves for travel with kids prone to motion sickness.

RELATED POST: Your Summer Car Essentials Cheat Sheet

RELATED POST: Sanity-Saving Hacks for Roadtripping Solo with Small Children

RELATED POST: Your Carsick Kid Plan-Ahead Survival Guide

But here’s a quick list of things to think about, in addition to your face masks/gloves/sanitizer (see above):

Summer Road Trip Car Essentials Checklist:

To download your own copy of the checklist in the picture, click HERE.
  • A picnic blanket or mat, bug repellent, sunblock, and a plastic bag for trash
  • Car-friendly, nutritious snacks for all, plus napkins and spare plastic utensils
This basket on my passenger front seat keeps snacks, spare utensils, and other must-haves within easy reach

TIP: If you have two grownups, make sure the front seat passenger can easily reach your stash of napkins, snacks, and utensils. If you’re driving solo, consider getting an extra kids’ toy organizer to hang on the passenger seat where your passenger’s back would go, so it’s easy for you to reach things like face masks, sanitizer, etc.

Hanging another seat-back organizer on the FRONT side of my car’s passenger seat has been a huge help in keeping masks, gloves, sanitizer, and other pandemic essentials at my fingertips.



  • Enough diapers, creams, formula, etc. to get you to your destination (plus cover the first few days there), all easily accessible
  • Motion-sickness pills, bands, and vomit bags as warranted
  • A spare change of clothes accessible for smaller kids or those prone to carsickness, along with sufficient diapers and access to your kids’ travel meds kit
  • Hand wipes, paper towel, a small roll of toilet paper, and extra plastic bags
  • Plenty of small amusements for your kiddos (we prefer non-electronic; if you do the electronic route, plan ahead for enough power, data/bandwidth, headphones, and ways to avoid sibling fights)

TIP: Consider bringing several small bags of toys/books for each child. That way, you can rotate them throughout the trip whenever your kiddo gets bored with what they have.

  • Sunglasses and water bottles for all, plus extra water in cooler for refills;
  • Lightweight blankets (we still use muslin swaddles for this!) to shade from the sun or provide relief from AC
  • Charging cords and power adapters for in-car use
  • A first-aid kit, small air compressor, old-fashioned atlas (for when you’re out of signal range), and membership info for AAA/Onstar/your preferred roadside assistance program

Click HERE to download a printable version of this checklist – it’s free!

5. Pack carefully

Chances are good you won’t be going out much when you get to your destination. So you can probably go light on clothing and plan to do laundry. But you might want to bring a few extra amusements for the kids (board games, craft activities, etc.).

Especially if you’re going to visit elderly relatives, who may not have their homes well-stocked with age-appropriate pastimes. Even if the nearby museums and amusement parks you usually frequent while there are open for business, your older family members’ health may mean it’s wiser to stay put while visiting your relatives. 

Given how quickly circumstances can change, it’s also wise to pack a few extra days’ worth of essential medicines. That way, you won’t have to worry about running out if changing state travel restrictions or weather delays disrupt your travel plans.

Have you adapted how you travel this summer? What changes have you made in how and where you take family road trips? Let us know in the comments!

And don’t forget to grab your free printable road trip essentials checklist HERE!

If you enjoyed these essential road trip hacks for safe travel during a pandemic, please pin to share with others!



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31 thoughts on “Essential Family Road Trip Hacks to Travel Safely”

  1. Hello- I’m so glad I saw this because I basically wrote the same article- mine was more on the types of transportation and hotels before you head out.
    I like how yours was more detailed about driving in cars with toddlers and bringing sandwiches in Tupperware, and the potty cup. Lots of good tips here


    1. Oh, so glad you liked it! If our families were more than a day’s drive away (albeit sometimes a looooong day), I def would have thought through the hotel thing more – we’re blessed NOT to have to consider that right now. Will def have to go peek at your post, too! 🙂

  2. This is spot on! I agree with you that we should plan our stops and yes to bring food. Aside from the availability of food establishments, we have to consider sanitation thus, we can’t simply afford to eat anywhere. It is still safer to just bring our own food.

    1. Def made my front seat easier to grab-by-feel while driving, eg the handiest can of wipes or pile of napkins when I heard rumblings from the backseat about a mess that needed attention! 🙂

  3. I love all the tips! A road trip with all that’s going on can be tricky. But with good planning, it can be done. A great guide for a successful car trip.

  4. I never even thought of this! We have run into the problem of not being able to find restrooms that are open so we use the portable potty cup thing. It’s amazing! LOL! I love the safe stop bag idea. Thanks for sharing!

    1. You are so welcome! Those portable potty options were lifesavers when my girls were younger, and (growing up) for my younger brother of the small bladder LOL…

  5. I always get to anxious when traveling with my toddler because I am unsure of how I can make everything efficient. Now this truly helps!! Thanks so much! 🙏❤️

  6. During the pandemic, when so many places are out of the question, road trips are the way not to lose your mind at home! These hacks are really useful!

  7. I can’t wait till Texas is less of a hot zone, we definitely will use precautions for simple trips around the state.

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