You’re planning to hit the road and need a complete road trip packing list with all the travel-tested road trip essentials for a successful trip. Well, you’re in the right place!
We all know the main reason most people love a road trip, flexibility and being in control of the journey. But, the next biggest reason is getting to pack whatever and however much we want.
Vacation without bag fees or having to throw away oversized toiletries. Amen to that!
The good news is I’ve driven across the country multiple times, to all 48 continental states, and across Canada. (This doesn’t include road tripping internationally, either.)
And, along the way, I’ve made more road trip mistakes than I can count. But, I’ve also learned A LOT, too, and I’ve put it all together in this mega guide about what to pack for a road trip.
You can fill your car with whatever and however much you want, but if don’t have the road trip supplies you need for a successful trip, things can go south quickly.
Plan to Rent a Car for Your Road Trip?
I always search rental car costs on a site like Kayak because it compares prices from multiple sites all at once. It’s quick and I can easily see the best deals for my dates and pick-up location.
Travel-Tested Road Trip Packing List Essentials:
Your Complete Guide
Road Trip Essentials for Your Car
When planning a road trip, there are road trip necessities for both you and your car. Let’s start with the car. After all, it doesn’t matter how comfortable you are if there are car troubles, right?
First and foremost, whether you’re driving your car or a rental, don’t leave without having these road trip car essentials.
- Driver’s License
- Car Registration and Insurance Information
- Car Manual
- Extra Car Key…not on the same key ring
- AAA Membership and/or Phone Number(s) for Roadside Assistance
- Spare Tire…with a tire jack and tools to change a flat
- Water Resistant Flashlight…coincidental that car trouble always happens at night, in the rain??
No one wants to break down and certainly many road-trippers have fun, incident-free adventures. But, it still pays to be prepared. Don’t leave home without a roadside emergency kit.
Even though you may have some of these items at home, like an air compressor or materials to repair a tire, I like having a complete kit. Not only is it convenient, it likely includes things you didn’t think of and is expertly packed to save space.
If you’re driving in remote areas, like driving in Utah where there are long stretches without gas stations, you may also want to have these supplies.
- Quart of Oil
- Jug of Coolant or Water
- Wiper Fluid
- Portable Gas Container…great peace of mind when the next gas station isn’t for a long time!
A winter road trip packing list should also include things to keep you safe from snow and ice.
- Ice Scraper…not fun doing this by hand!
- Tire Chains
What to Bring on a Road Trip: Basic Must-Haves
Before getting into a list of must-have road trip items, there are 2 that deserve a special call-out.
First, every successful road trip includes a paper map like this.
Smartphone apps like Google Maps and Maps.me are great, but when you lose service in remote spots, like in places along an Oregon Coast road trip, and your maps aren’t downloaded, the ability to get step-by-step directions disappears, too. Absolutely use the apps, but have a paper map, too.
Get a map with roads, landmarks, and information for an entire region instead of just 1 area. It’s perfect for those spontaneous whims along the way!
Second, it’s important to bring a First Aid Kit. Obvious, I know. But, not having what you need for an injury can ruin an entire day of your trip.
Besides these road trip basics and whether your trip is long or short, solo or as a family, you’ll want to also have these things in the car.
- Car Phone Charger…works with your USB cord if your car doesn’t have one already…or even if it does and you just want more USB ports to keep everyone smiling.
- Power Inverter…with AC outlets and USB ports
- Hands-Free Phone Mount…safety + easy-to-see Google Maps for navigation = WIN!
- Portable Charger…when there are more devices in the car than charging ports or you’re on the go outside of the car
- Garbage Bag…or a car garbage bin that doesn’t just collect trash but also protects against leaks
- Roll of Toilet Paper…not all rest stops are created equal
- Hand Sanitizer
- Body/Baby Wipes
- Bug Spray…nothing worse than getting bit while out of the car stretching your legs
- Paper Money and Coins…for parking meters, air pump at gas stations, tolls, broken ATMs, laundromats, etc.
- Gas, Dining, and Travel Rewards Credit Card(s)…Whether you earn cash back, miles, or points, make sure the money you spend on this trip is helping you earn for the next one.
- Electronic Toll Pass…if applicable where you’re driving
Let’s switch gears (couldn’t help myself!) away from the car and think about you and the other people on this road trip. These next sections are broken up into road trip necessities lists that cover being comfortable in the car, entertainment, personal items, and food.
Things to Bring on a Road Trip to Keep Everyone Feeling Cozy
Keeping everyone in the car happy and relaxed is so important! Snacks, entertainment, and interesting sights won’t be of much help if you’re not comfortable. So, be sure to stock the car with these things you need for a road trip.
- Extra Layer of Clothing…I always keep one of these fleeces handy. They’re perfect for hiking, temperature changes, and when someone blasts the AC.
- Blanket or Sleeping Bag…versatility (think picnic blanket) and a (possible) rolled-up space-saver
- Travel Pillow…here’s my favorite.
- Eye Mask
- UV Window Shades
- Sunglasses…can’t drive without mine. Plus, I love these for their functionality whether I’m heading to the mountains or the beach.
- Travel Cup…coffee to-go, a must!
- Reusable Water Bottle…like these bestsellers
- Water…in bulk with a spout to avoid spills
- Pain Killer…headache, body ache, etc.
- Hand Lotion
- Towel(s)…sudden rainstorm, someone actually jumps in a lake, etc.
- Mints and/or Gum
Road Trip Essentials List – Entertainment to Keep Everyone Smiling
From iSpy to the License Plate game to high-tech gear and gadgets, take your road trip entertainment as seriously as things to pack for a road trip! It can be an all-out sanity saver, especially for families with kids.
Of course, recording and capturing the journey is half the fun. In addition to a smartphone camera, I always have one of my favorite travel cameras.
When I travel with my nieces and nephews, they love to bring this instant camera! If your road trip is packed with action-packed adventure, you may also want to bring along an action camera as I do.
Unless you have satellite radio, you can almost bet you’ll lose a clear radio signal at least once on your drive. What’s more, you’re likely to go through stretches where only a couple of stations come through and the chances of them playing all your favorite songs are slim to forget about it.
This means it’s all about playlists! You’ll want to make sure there’s a variety of music that’ll keep the whole car happy.
Amazon Music and Spotify give you access to millions of songs that can be grouped into playlists and downloaded onto your device so you can listen without an internet connection and/or save data from the road. Plus, both offer free trials, free plans, and even super cheap promotions for premium so you can test them out before your trip.
Similarly, subscribe to some podcasts through your device’s Podcast app. Be sure to download the episodes before you leave home or from wifi so you can listen to them with streaming data. My favorite road trip podcast is Radiolab!
If you’d prefer longer in-depth stories, Audible and Audiobooks.com have huge libraries, also with free books as part of a free trial. Download books for hours of any time listening!
Don’t want to bother the whole car with whatever you’re listening to?
Bring headphones and a splitter to share your music, podcast, or audiobook with only those who want it. And, no matter what you’re listening to take it with you on a picnic outside the car with one of these portable speakers
And, whether you want to read in the car, around the campfire, or in your hotel room, save space in the car with a Kindle or download the Kindle App to any device. You can purchase a few books or try Kindle Unlimited free.
Of course, road trip must-haves aren’t all electronic. Non-electronic options are great for all-important laughs, memories, and bonding, not to mention how relaxing it can be to disconnect for a while!
Consider these group and family activities to make the time on those long stretches of road fly!
- Loaded Questions…for family, friends, and smart pets
- Scavenger Hunt
- Mad Libs…always a classic!
- Map Games…a bestseller!
- Travel Journals and Coloring
Road Trip Clothing and Personal Item Tips
How to pack for a road trip is not like packing for other trips. To start, you need clothes that’ll be comfortable to wear in the car for a long-distance and clothes for wherever you’re going.
I like to wear my leggings and flip-flops in the car, but I have hiking pants and hiking boots for outdoor adventures.
Second, you may or may not want to store your clothes and personal items in a traditional suitcase. Here are a few road trip packing tips.
- Duffel Bags and backpacks hold as much as a suitcase but can be squished into smaller places in the car.
- If you’re planning to make multiple short (1-2 night) stops, pack a daypack with just the things you need for an overnight stay. It’ll also come in handy for day hikes or day trips.
- Think out of the
suitcasebox for clothing storage. It could end up being more convenient and save space.
- Use packing cubes to organize clothes and just grab the cubes you need from the car.
- Similarly, use drawers to pack and then just pull the drawer you need instead of lugging all your things from the car.
- For campground, rest stop, and even hotel bathrooms, a hanging toiletry tote bag can help keep your items organized and away from less-than-sparkling sinks and toilets.
As for the specifics of what to take on a road trip, pack clothes with you to match your destination, the activities you want to do, and the weather.
Heading to the beach? Going to a National Park to hike? Roadtripping in winter or fall and need warmer layers?
Clothes should feel good to wear, have multi-purposes, and be worn a few times. I never pack a shirt if I can only wear it once. Packing wisely also might mean going with a specific color palette. It’ll be easier to mix and match pieces and make different outfits with fewer pieces of clothing.
If you plan to hike, here are some ideas about what to wear on a hike and a few hiking essentials you might want to consider.
And just as your car will need a few important things if you are road-tripping in the winter, you will need to know what to wear on a winter hike to stay safe and warm.
Aside from what to wear on a road trip, your road trip list should include these personal items as well.
- Sunscreen…if you have highly sun-sensitive skin like me, this is my SPF go-to.
- Mosquito Repellent…this is my go-to bug spray whether I’m road-tripping in Colorado or camping in Africa.
- Rain Coat
- Scarf…I take one on every trip because they’re so versatile.
- Flip Flops…camping out + late night bathroom break = Happy to have slip-on shoes
- Laundry Bag
- Tide To-Go Pen
- Hairbrush and Hair ties
- Hat…baseball, sun, hiking, they all do the job of giving some shade
Road Trip Food List and Eating Accessories
Is driving on an empty stomach agony for you, too? It’s as if every hunger pang is multiplied by 100. Neither is it fun or practical to have to search for food every time someone in the car needs some grub.
If you’re road tripping in Arizona, for example, you could be searching for a rest stop with snacks for quite some time in the more remote corners of the state!
Have a plan for your road trip food strategy.
- Do you plan to mostly eat out in your destinations and just need snacks for the ride? Then, a cooler bag that is easy to carry and stuffs away when not in use makes the most sense.
- Do you need more food storage for meals, camping, or a more budget-friendly road trip? Consider a larger cooler you can refill with food and ice at local grocery stores. Or perhaps skip the hassle of ice and go with an iceless cooler powered by a charge from your car.
- If you want to be completely self-sufficient, preparing your own meals from the road, this portable grill is the perfect set-up along with a few of these road trip ready chairs.
You’ll also need some basic food storage and eating items.
- Zippered Plastic Baggies
- Food Storage Containers…different sizes and stackable
- Toothpicks…great for grabbing small bites of food
- Can Opener
- Reusable Shopping Bag…all-purpose, really, but good for groceries
The food to pack for a road trip doesn’t have to be unhealthy snack packs like you’d find in a rest-stop gas station. Here’s a list of road trip snacks that are delicious, satisfying, and (mostly) nutritious.
- Granola Bars
- Protein/Energy Bars
- Dried Fruit
- Cheese Sticks
- Fresh Fruit & Veggies…things that don’t need to be cut like grapes, oranges, blueberries, apples, baby carrots, grape tomatoes, etc.
- Drink Packets & Tea Bags…easy to mix with water.
- Canned Tuna…with an easy-open can
- Hard-Boiled Eggs
- Sliced Meat
- Jarred Vegetables….marinated or pickled
- Sliced Bread
- Peanut/Almond/Sunflower Butter
- Juice Boxes
You’ll notice this list doesn’t include bottles of water. It’s cheaper (and not to mention less plastic waste) to buy larger gallons and jugs of water to refill your reusable water bottle.
Miscellaneous Things to Take on a Road Trip
Finally, these last road trip supplies to consider for those unexpected jams, when you need to make the most of your space, and whether or not you’re camping out.
- Duct Tape…seriously can fix almost anything at least temporarily
- Swiss Army Knife…tools for many situations
- Trunk Organizer
- Rooftop Cargo
- Tent…only necessary if you’ll be camping. (I also always bring a sleeping pad camping, too.)
If you’re planning to camp and spend a lot of time outdoors, check out this outdoor lovers gear guide and this road trip gift guide for more ideas.
Your road trip list of things to bring is the key to a successful trip. Being prepared means being able to handle any number of situations without them getting in the way of your road trip travel plans.
What’s on your road trip packing checklist?
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38 thoughts on “Travel-Tested Road Trip Packing List Essentials: Your Complete Guide”
Hi, I work for a magazine called momaha magazine in Omaha. It’s part of The Omaha World-Herald. We would love to mention some of your must haves in an article we are doing on traveling. Would that be OK if we credit you?
Thanks for reading, Marjie. I appreciate you asking and have no problem the mention and credit. 🙂 Thanks so much for asking!
While starting off a road trip it would be much better to select a luxury car which is capable of handling bumps and rigorous roads , moreover renting a car will not only be more affordable but it will also save your time. Here are some road trip essentials that you must consider before going on the journey:
Car Registration and insurance information
Thanks for the tips, Sheena. I’ve never rented a luxury vehicle and have had many successful road trips. I do always recommend renting the right type of vehicle for where you’ll be driving. Thanks so much for reading!
These are get tips! Very thorough! I’m taking a smaller road trip, just though most of Florida here and there to the keys. These tips will still help a great deal
Thanks for reading, Sean! A road trip through the Florida Keys sounds fantastic. Enjoy!
Great article with good advice. I love road trips and have traveled the length and breath of South Africa and neighboring countries. I live in Johannesburg, South Africa and more recently take regular trips to the coast (550km away). Our experience over the past 35 years has been that the way we drive and stops changed depending on the children’s ages, the route, destination and type of vehicle we used. Most importantly it is attitude. Since they were young we created excitement by pretending to be lost, especially if it was dusk or dark. Stories of wild animals worked well.
Breakdowns can also be adventures, provided you are prepared. Unfortunately, If I am not prepared I get irritable and aggressive but my wife knows how to deal with me.
Lastly, on our last trip over the Easter weekend, the roads were closed several times along the way due to accidents. What should have been a 5 and half hour trip took us 13 hours. Longest being a 5 hour stop on a National Route that had to be closed at the toll gates for the accidents ahead to be cleared. Glad that we had bought food and drinks before leaving Durban (additional food for the children’s supper and school lunch the next day).
Main Roads in SA are well maintained, most routes are serviced with garages and food outlets. Very scenic options. But try to stay off the roads at night as a safety measure. [PERSONAL INFORMATION EDITED OUT]
Thanks for reading, Mohamed, and for the tips on road tripping in South Africa.
I’m going on a road trip from Bozeman, MT, to Portland, OR (via Seattle) with my sister in June and was glad to find your article. It’s good to have all that information in one place. Thanks!
Thanks for reading! 🙂 Hope you have a great road trip. I love that part of the country.
Where is that hilly road? We want to try it out for ourselves!!
Thanks for reading, Aurora. It’s Highway 212 in Lithonia. 🙂
This is great, thank you! Off to the South of France on Thursday in my little mini convertible 🙂
Amazing!! Enjoy and thanks for reading, Jenna. 🙂
WARNING about the portable coolers that charge through your car charger: I’m a medical courier & have been stuck on the road with a dead battery many times & I’ve burned through several new batteries in a short period of time because of such coolers that will charge like your phone, through the car. Using that equipment was incredibly straining to the car’s battery even while driving. And if you happen to forget & leave the cooler plugged in to the charger overnight, then it’s guaranteed you’re gonna need a jump the next morning,
Thanks for reading and sharing, GP. Definitely have to unplug the cooler when the car is not running because it will drain the battery otherwise.
Audio books are free through your local library, there is an app for that. Wanted to print this out, to use it. But at 30 pages, nevermind. Oh well. Thanks for the nice read though!
Thanks for reading, Julie. Yes, you can get Audiobooks through many local libraries. Thanks for the reminder!
Thank you so much for the tips Jackie! I am going to be heading to the beach soon and the road trip will be about 8-9 hours. I am excited! We will be there over my younger brothers birthday. He loves the beach. Usually we go mini golfing but it’s closed right now.
Keep doing what your doing, Cameryn
Enjoy your road trip, Cameryn! Thanks for reading. 🙂
Great tips! I’ll be heading down the Pacific coast highway then up route 66 at this point or up to Bryce Canyon.
Thanks for reading, John. I’ve done those drives and both are amazing! Enjoy!
My family and I are going on a long road trip, and since we all know that car breakdown is inevitable, we’re thinking of looking for a roadside assistance service; so we may contact someone just in case of an emergency. I’m glad you shared these tips; we’ll make sure to bring the car manual, an extra key, and a spare tire as well. We’d also keep in mind to equipped our vehicle with a quart of oil and a potable gas container.
Thanks for reading, Rachel. Sounds like you’ll be prepared! Hope you have a great road trip. 🙂
Wow! Great list! There were several items I needed to add to my road trip list, including a first aid kit. Thanks so much!
Thanks so much for reading, Mairsie. Glad the list was helpful!
Thank you for this it really helped me with my road trip!!
Thanks for reading, Morgan. Glad to hear it!
Loved the Article – was able to make a comprehensive list of items needed for next weeks trip.
One thing that should be stressed. Before taking ANY road trip with your personal vehicle (not all of us can afford rental rates even with a AAA discount.
Ensure that your vehicle has had a through inspection and have them check the tires top off any fluids and catch any needed repairs. It will cut down on the chances of you having to be towed due to travel damage.
I did that and found out there was a recall notice on my vehicle and was able to get it fixed in time
Also make sure your tags are current! Police/hwy patrol really do not like a car that isnt current
Thanks for reading, Tiffany. I’m glad to hear the list was helpful and so appreciate the tips! I’m sure they will be helpful to others who read. Have a great road trip!
A simple must-have item if your road trip has you staying in hotels at night: an extension cord. Hotel outlets never seem to be close enough to a chair to allow me to charge my tablet and work on it at the same time. One inexpensive extension cord has become priceless to me.
Thank you for reading, Sandyb. I couldn’t agree more! I have a portable power strip with 2 outlets on each side. The cord folds in on itself and snaps into place making it super compact. Thanks for the reminder about putting this in the article!
I never see anyone suggest that you bring a second set of car keys? My wife and I do this with each one having their own set fro the car we are traveling in when together. Just have someone charge you to get the door open because your keys are on the car seat.
Thanks for reading, Robert. My husband and I do the same. However, it’s definitely worth an ask, especially if renting a car from a smaller car rental company. Happy Road-Tripping!
#1) I wouldn’t recommend open toed footwear ( ie flip-flops) around campsites as they lend themselves to toe injuries due to stubbing on stones, curbs, or pieces of wood. Something like clogs (Crocs) or slip on boating shoes
#2). You should learn how to take care of your vehicle yourself rather than having someone else do it for you. There won’t always be someone around to check your vehicle when it is needed the most. Checking tire air pressure, coolant levels, oil levels is not difficult or mysterious. You should be doing this at home also. Your owners manual can show how to do it.
Thanks for reading and sharing your tips, Lynn! 🙂
Getting ready for a road trip from Montana to New Jersey and back in 2 days and thought I must be forgetting some things. I am a very well-seasoned traveler, but it is always easy to forget little things. You have done a superior job on this article. Thank you, I found a few things I was over-looking. I recently retired and bought a 5th wheel trailer. It seems there are still things I forget to add at the last minute.
Thanks for reading, Beth. Glad the article was helpful and hope you enjoy your road trip!!