Taking a road trip sometime soon? This packing list includes all the must-have items for any road trip, and a few extras for fun too.
Road tripping is a great way to see more places for less money, plus you get to take as much stuff as will fit in your car rather than be limited by baggage allowances in a flight.
I’ve driven all around the United States with my dog, and have seen true natural wonders.I’ve slept on the beach, I’ve slept in the car, and I’ve slept in just about every dingy motel there is off the side of the highway. But road tripping will always remain one of my favorite ways to explore.
Here’s what I always make sure to take along with me, whether I’m driving across an entire country or just leaving for a week.
- 1 Road Trip Packing List Essentials
- 2 Safety First on a Road Trip
- 3 Items for a Comfortable Road Trip
- 4 Road Trip Electronics
- 5 Items to Keep the Car (and Yourself!) Clean
- 6 Useful Tools to Bring
- 7 Road Trip Packing List: The Fun Kit
- 8 Road Trip Clothing Packing List
- 9 Other Things to Consider If You’re…
- 10 Tips for a Successful Road Trip
Road Trip Packing List Essentials
These items are essential for any successful road trip. Check your gear, and then check it again because you’re not going to want to be caught without these things!
- License and Registration: These are probably the two most important things you can take on a road trip with you. If you happen to get pulled over, the first thing you will be asked for is your license and registration. Make sure you have both of these things easily accessible in your car to get out of a jam quickly.
- Car insurance policy and contact numbers: Another extremely important road trip must-have – you’ll need this on hand in case of emergency or accident.
- Roadside Assistance Card (AAA): Have a flat tire and don’t know how to change it? Need your car towed? Locked out? AAA and other roadside assistance programs are here to help in your time of need. Be sure you have your card or membership number with you so that you can get the help you need, when you need it.
- Spare tire and tools to change it: Don’t know how to change a tire? Preparing for your road trip may be the time to learn! Just make sure you always have a spare tire with you and the necessary tools to change it. You’ll be back on the road before you know it.
- Extra car key, kept separately: Have you ever locked your car keys in your car? I have, and let me tell you, it’s not fun. Especially when you’re stuck at a rest stop on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere. An extra car key is a valuable thing to have with you — as long as it’s not locked in the car too!
- Offline maps application: Apps like maps.me allow you to navigate without cellular data. If you’re driving through an area with little to no cell service, it’s certainly comforting to still know where you’re going.
Safety First on a Road Trip
No matter where you’re going, it’s paramount that you have proper safety supplies in case of personal or car emergency.
This is a great thing to have in your car at all times, not only during a road trip. An emergency kit should have all the things you need in case of… you know… an emergency.
Before taking off, go through the kit and make sure you know how to use each item. You never know when they might end up saving your life!
Roadside emergency kits often come with a set of jumper cables, but I recommend getting a pair of heavy duty, dependable cables just in case your car really needs that extra jolt to get going.
First Aid Kit and Extra Band-aids
When taking a trip, it’s always a good idea to carry a first aid kit with you. Whether it’s a couple scratches that need covering up, or a sprained ankle, be sure your first aid kit is fully stocked and ready for anything.
Items for a Comfortable Road Trip
The worst time to be blinded is behind the wheel. Make sure you can see while you’re driving with the help of a pair of sunglasses.
A brand we can recommend is Sungods (they ship all over the world!). The best part about these sunglasses is that they are fully customizable, allowing you to mix and match colors and styles.
Keep everyone in the car well-fed with a cooler filled with road trip snacks and soda.
It’s easy to keep the foods items inside cold by buying a bag of ice when you stop for gas.
Pro tip: store the cooler behind the driver’s seat for easy access during the drive. If you plan on taking the cooler out on stops, make sure it’s not too cumbersome to carry. It’s also helpful if your cooler is collapsible to save space when it’s not in use.
Cut down on plastic this trip and get a big refillable water bottle to keep you hydrated on the road.
If you’re traveling light, consider taking a collapsible water bottle that doesn’t take up much room.
Pro tip: keep a few gallons or jugs of water in the back of the car to refill bottles along the way.
This is definitely a good thing to have in a car with you. Be sure you’re comfortable and able to rest in the car when you’re not the driver so that you can switch off and be well-rested.
If you don’t feel like taking a pillow with you or have limited space, heavier clothes like sweatshirts and sweatpants can make for a comfy substitute!
If it’s hot outside, you’re sure to have the air conditioning blowing in the car. A blanket may be good for combating the cold and taking a cozy nap.
I really like to take along a blanket with a waterproof side so I can also use it for a picnic or to sit on at the beach. You can’t go wrong with a big blanket, especially one that folds up to save space.
Taking a spontaneous river swim? Stuck in accommodation without a towel? Be sure you have something to dry off with.
While traveling, quick-dry towels are a practical option because they’re lightweight and don’t soak in too much water while getting yourself dry.
Be prepared for any weather situation! Getting caught in a downpour isn’t fun, especially if you have to sit in a car for a long time afterwards.
Lightweight raincoats are the best because they’re typically easy to pack and can fit in small spaces. This way you can bring a raincoat along with you, no matter how little space you have.
You may be out in some remote places and you know what that means… Less people, more room for bugs to roam free! They’re brutal out there, protect yourself.
Lather up, ladies and gentleman. The last thing you want is your seatbelt pressing into your sunburn. Use a high SPF to be protected no matter how strong the sun is. Bonus points for waterproof and long lasting!
Gum / Mints
Did you know that gum actually helps some people concentrate? It also relieves stress and combats motion sickness, not to mention freshens the breath. You can’t go wrong with having some gum in the car!
You don’t want to be stinky for your road trip companion, do you? Be sure you have all of the supplies you need to keep yourself feeling (and smelling) fresh. Bring along shampoo, conditioner, body wash (or soap), face wash, razors, feminine products and whatever else you use on a daily basis.
Road Trip Electronics
You’re definitely going to want to have these items in the car if you’re planning a road trip. Whether you’re gone for a week or a month, these items will come in handy time and time again.
Don’t get stuck wrestling someone for the car charger. Get a car port that allows multiple people to charge at the same time and enough cords for everyone.
It’s always a good idea to have a phone mount in the car whether you’re road tripping or not. A phone mount should be sturdy and allow the driver to navigate hands-free while on the road.
Camera / GoPro & Charger
You’re off to see some beautiful sights so make sure you can document those memories. GoPros are awesome adventure cameras because they’re waterproof, shockproof and take great footage. Don’t forget the chargers!
Kindle or iPad
A Kindle is a practical option if you were planning on reading along the way but don’t want to take up space with books. The Kindle give you thousands of titles right at your fingertips, making it alluring for bookworms.
The alternative to a Kindle (besides physical books) is an iPad. Having an iPad is a good option because in addition to being able to download books to read, you can also play music, watch movies or TV, and surf the web.
It’s especially practical to bring an iPad if you choose to leave your laptop at home.
Items to Keep the Car (and Yourself!) Clean
- Garbage bags: For all of the debris that gets let loose in the car. Tie it onto the back of one of the seats and fill it up instead of tossing trash at your feet or stuffing it into cup holders.
- Ziplock bags (this will forever be on any packing list I put together!): Great for storing food and snacks, organizing odds and ends, and just packing in general. Ziplock bags can be used for literally anything!
- Paper towels: For eating, cleaning up spills, wiping greasy hands, and so much more.
- Wet wipes: When the paper towels just don’t cut it and you need a little extra scrubbing action.
- Hand sanitizer: Rest stop bathrooms don’t always have soap. Try out this organic lavender spray that kills 99.9% of germs and bacteria!
- Toilet paper: Don’t get caught somewhere that doesn’t have toilet paper!
Useful Tools to Bring
Things always tend to go wrong in the dark. Be sure you’re prepared by at least being able to see what’s going on. Headlamps and flashlights can also be used as signaling devices in case of emergency on the road.
I’m more partial to headlamps myself because I like having my hands free instead of occupied holding the light.
Swiss Army knives are one of the best inventions ever. They have a ton of different tools all in one small compact device, making them extremely useful and versatile.
If you’re in need of a tool or a quick fix, it’s rare that a Swiss Army knife will let you down.
Duct tape can solve a lot of problems quickly. It’s mostly waterproof, super strong and comes in handy when you least expect it. Be sure to have a roll or two in the car with you — you’ll thank me later.
Road Trip Packing List: The Fun Kit
Entertainment on long trips is key. There’s nothing worse than being stuck somewhere and having absolutely nothing to do.
Take these items to up the fun factor and enhance your road trip experience!
Whoever invented travel hammocks deserves an award — this is a road trip must for me! Travel hammocks are super compact and easy to fold up again, so they are practical to take traveling and beyond.
There’s nothing like tying your hammock up and relaxing for a while. Sometimes I even sleep in mine! If you do decide to get one of these, I also recommend getting tree straps to make set-up a breeze.
Cards are the ultimate travel game because they’re small, light and universal. Try your hand at card games, magic tricks, and more. The possibilities are endless when you have a deck on hand!
These games are an awesome way to pass a day outside, and are light enough to be transported and set up as needed. Enhance any road trip picnic, beach stop or lazy afternoon by bringing some beach games along.
Notebook or Journal
I always keep a Moleskin notebook with me while road tripping (and traveling in general) so I can jot down quick thoughts or feelings, document a place or time, or look back and remember where I’ve been and what I’ve done.
Don’t forget the writing materials!
Road Trip Clothing Packing List
The clothes you pack completely depend on the kind of road trip you’re taking.
Planning on hiking, camping and roughing it a little? Bring athletic and quick-dry clothes.
More in it for the sightseeing and eating out? Bring more casual but versatile clothes that can be worn in different settings.
No matter what clothing you bring, it should be able to be worn a few times before it needs a wash, and be easily mixed and matched with different items.
If you’ll be traveling during the summer or in a generally warm location, be sure to bring a bathing suit. You never know when there will be a swimming opportunity!
Use packing cubes to separate clothing and other essentials to avoid having to dig around in your bag to find what you’re looking for.
Packing in cubes is also super handy when it comes to a quick overnight stop. You can simply grab the cube that you need instead of moving all of your luggage from the car into your accommodation.
Alternatively, you can keep a daypack stored and packed with everything you may need for an overnight stay. I’m talking a change of clothes, toiletries, the works, so when the time comes, all you need is the daypack from the car.
If you’re looking for the perfect road trip backpack, be sure to check out our article on best travel backpacks to pick one that’s right for you.
Other Things to Consider If You’re…
If you plan on camping, be sure you bring all of the right equipment with you. Don’t forget the tent, stakes, rain fly, sleeping bags, camp stove and more. Check out our camping packing list to make sure you have the necessities!
Traveling with a Pet
There’s nothing more fun than having a furry friend as a copilot on a road trip. But it’s important you have everything they may need for a safe, healthy and enjoyable adventure.
Be sure you bring more food than they’ll need, a food and water bowl, a bed for comfort, leash, toys, treats, extra poop bags, and a collapsible water bowl.
Road tripping during winter is beautiful because you often get views of snow-covered trees and white-capped mountains.
However, driving in the cold and snow poses significant dangers, especially if you aren’t prepared or experienced driving in these conditions. Don’t forget to bring along a shovel, ice scraper, tire chains, and warm driving gloves.
Tips for a Successful Road Trip
- Drive safely! In the United States, if you have an out-of-state license plate, you may get more attention than people with a local license plate. Follow the laws of the road, be careful and abide by the speed limit to get to where you’re going without any bumps. And always remember to wear a seatbelt.
- Do a car audit before you leave. Make sure your vehicle is ready for the adventure ahead by checking essentials such as the oil and water levels, brakes, and tire pressure.
- Need some car entertainment? Try playing games like I Spy, 20 Questions or License Plates to help time pass a little faster.
- Set the mood by creating your own personalized road trip playlist! Cue up everyone’s favorite tunes to keep the mood high during long stretches on the road.
- Get into the habit of checking yourself and whoever you may be traveling with for ticks, especially if you’re camping or venturing off the beaten path. If you’re traveling with a dog, be sure to check them out too!
- Enjoy yourself! Be spontaneous, make new stops, meet cool people, and soak in all that our marvelous world has to offer.
Don’t struggle when it comes to getting yourself ready for a road trip. Follow this packing list and you’re sure to have an unbelievable adventure, wherever you’re driving.
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