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Holiday Road Trip Packing List

By Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, mom of three and cookbook author who works with Clif Bar & Company.

The ideas and suggestions written below are provided for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice or care. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider before beginning any physical fitness or health- and nutrition-related activity.

The holidays often mean coming together with friends and family to celebrate the magic of the season. While you may have flown across the country for visits in the past, this year may look a little different in order to keep your family safe and healthy. Whether you’re staying closer to home or piling everyone in the minivan to reach your holiday destination, here are a few tips for a safe, fun, and well-fueled road trip for the whole family.

Kids with map on road trip

Rules of the Road

It’s important to set expectations before you head out on the road. Ensure that no one is disappointed when you don’t stop at the roadside ice cream shop or a cool-looking playground by clearly communicating answers to the following questions before you leave:

  • How many stops will you make along the way?
  • When and where will you eat?
  • What time will you arrive?
  • What are key things to note (e.g., good manners, appropriate behavior, etc.) for when you reach your destination? Grandma may not feel comfortable hugging this year and certain family members may not be able to make it to holiday gatherings.

Clothing to Pack: Keep it Comfy

Everyone wants to be comfortable when traveling for a long ride in the car so dress accordingly.

  • Loose-fitting Clothes with Pockets: Sweatpants and PJs are welcome on a road trip – elastic waistbands provide extra comfort and pockets are a must for holding keys, phones and wallets during quick pit stops.
  • Layers & Outerwear: Layers are great for changing temperatures in the car or if you’re traveling from a warmer climate to a colder one (or vice versa). And keep your outerwear (winter coats, hats and gloves) within reach for pit stops.
  • Footwear: Make it easy for the whole family to make pit stops by wearing shoes that can be slipped on and off quickly. Pack cozy socks and slippers for the car too.
  • Small Blanket or Pillow: Naps are bound to happen on a long car ride so snuggle up with a small blanket or pillow.

Entertainment to Pack: Fun & Games

To minimize whines of “Are we there yet?” and “How many more hours?” bring a variety of entertainment options.

  • Toys: Small toys, books, crayons and coloring books fit nicely in the seat-back pocket for easy access.
  • Family-Friendly Games: Engage the family in a game of road trip bingo to pass the time – identifying things out the window and adding a holiday twist like looking for wrapped presents in the back seat, trees on cars and holiday decorations. Or take turns asking fun “would you rather” questions, such as “Would you rather be stuck on an iceberg without a coat or in a desert with no shoes?”
  • Electronics: Download story-based podcasts for kids, holiday music playlists, and family-friendly audiobooks before you leave and play them over the car speakers for the whole family. Ensure tablets are charged and filled with apps, movies and e-books for everyone.

Food to Pack: Stay Fed & Fueled

Nothing is worse than a hangry passenger (or driver!) during a road trip. Consider which meals you’ll need to eat on the road and don’t forget to pack snacks and reusable water bottles to keep everyone satisfied.

  • Meals: Aim to have at least 3 food groups in each road trip meal – protein, carbohydrate and a fruit or vegetable - to ensure balanced nutrition.
    • Breakfast—Prepare overnight oats in plastic lidded containers that can be stored in your cooler. The night before your trip, combine oats with water or milk, a scoop of nut or seed butter, chopped fruit (bananas, berries and apples work great) and cinnamon.
    • Lunch— A classic PB&J on whole wheat bread checks all the boxes. Pair it with a piece of fruit and you’re good to go!
    • Dinner— Wraps make easy and portable dinners and can be customized for the whole family. Try a Greek-inspired option with hummus, romaine lettuce, chopped tomatoes, cubed feta cheese and kalamata olives wrapped in a whole grain tortilla.
  • Snacks: Help bridge the gap between meals with nutritious snacks. Consider building custom snack packs (personalized bags with a variety of tasty snacks) for each family member to keep near their seat for when hunger strikes.
    • Prep Ahead Ideas:
      • Veggies & Dip: Baby carrots, cucumber slices and cherry tomatoes are all great finger-food options for the car. Dip them into single-serve cups of hummus or guacamole to minimize the mess.
      • Peanut Butter & Banana Trail Mix: Combine peanut butter filled pretzels, banana chips, peanuts, and peanut butter cereal puffs for a crunchy and delicious snack. For an allergy-friendly option, use regular pretzels, sunflower or pumpkin seeds and any favorite cereal.
      • Savory Popcorn Mix: Toss popped popcorn with cheese crackers, crunchy dehydrated garbanzo or edamame beans and rice cereal squares.
  • Pre-Packaged Options:
    • Fruit & Veggies: In addition to fresh fruit and veggies, applesauce pouches, seaweed snacks, and veggie chips make great portable, family-friendly options.
  • Bars: Snack bars also make convenient options for the road and Clif Bar & Company has options for the whole family:
    • CLIF Kid Zbar® Protein: With tasty flavors like Mint Chocolate, Zbar Protein provides 5g of hunger-helping protein (from dairy and pea protein) for kids’ growing bodies and rumbling tummies.
    • CLIF® Whey Protein: Adults can enjoy 14g of protein with only 5g of sugar to help keep you going during the long drive.
    • CLIF® Nut Butter Bar: Made from delicious, creamy nut butters and rolled oats, this bar provides a balanced mix of satisfying nutrients including 5-7g (8-10% DV) of plant protein.
    • LUNA® bar: And when you’re craving something sweet between pit stops, LUNA Bar offers the perfect reason to ditch the cookies. In festive flavors like Peppermint Stick, LUNA Bar combines wholesome ingredients with mouthwatering flavor in a better-for-you treat.

Other Supplies to Pack: Keep it Safe

Lastly, any seasoned parent will tell you that keeping the car clean and mess free during a road trip is a must. Below are a few other things you may want to add to your packing list:

  • Wet Wipes & Hand Sanitizer: Wet wipes and hand sanitizer are great for cleaning up food messes and staying safe during pit stops.
  • Trash Bags: Ensure a trash bag is ready and easily accessible for food scraps and miscellaneous garbage that may accumulate throughout the trip. Place one garbage bag up front with the grownups and one in the back for the kids.
  • Masks & Gloves: During the pandemic, you may also want to bring reusable masks that the whole family can wear at public rest stops and disposable gloves for use at gas stations.

Have fun, stay safe and enjoy the journey!