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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.
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 places 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, at the very least, 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 a USB cord if your car doesn’t have one already
- 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) versus a 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.
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 a wifi so you can listen to them with streaming data. My favorite road trip podcast is Radiolab!
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
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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! The same holds true when you’re road tripping in the Rocky Mountains!
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.)
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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