There’s nothing quite like having the breeze in your hair, your favorite tunes blaring through the speakers, and the open road welcoming you to a day of adventure…
Road trips are so badass.
They are possibly my favorite way to get around anywhere in the world. There’s something about taking a road trip that’s just so liberating and classic.
Nothing spells freedom like a road trip, you’re in total control of your time, pace, and destinations. This epic adventure is totally up to you, so strap in and ride into the sunset…
But… A road trip can go totally south if you’re not prepared. From things you need for yourself to must-bring items for the car, don’t forget anything on your road trip packing list or it could turn into a disaster.
Good thing pretty much every single thing you could need is right here, and if not, in just a few clicks you can purchase it and have it at your door just in time for your trip!
Here’s what to pack for a road trip to make sure you have the best and the safest time.
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Road Trip Packing List — Car Care
It’s a road trip. You’re gonna want to make sure you have all the handy dandy stuff you need to keep your car in top running shape. Some of these things are obvious but still need to be listed, others are not so obvious, but essential nonetheless. You can thank me later.
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1. Spare Tire + Know How
Not only do you want need to make sure your road trip packing list includes a spare tire, in good working condition (double check!), but you also want to make sure you know how to change a flat tire.
AAA is not available in every single remote location across the globe. Oh, make sure you’ve got the jack and tire iron you’ll need to change your tire too. You may want to save this video on how to change a tire just in case!
2. Emergency Car Kit
This should have things like flares, jumper cables, gloves, rope, you name it. You can grab this cool kit that contains all the road trip essentials you need.
3. License, Registration, and Insurance
Wherever you are, definitely don’t drive until you check these three things off your road trip checklist.
4. Owner’s Manual
You’ve probably never even opened this bad boy back home, but the owner’s manual to your car can save you hours of frustration when you’re wondering what a specific indicator light means or how to access your fuse box. if you’re renting a car, make sure this is available! You’ve never used this car, you just may need it!
5. Roadside Assistance
This one is a necessity if you’re in an area that offers it, like the US. But if you’re driving a rented car across Africa or South America, maybe not so much. What’s their equivalent? At the least, make sure you ask for all the helpful phone numbers from the rental shop before taking off.
Yea, it’s not just you that needs to stay hydrated. Keep a gallon of water for your car (in case it overheats) extra transmission fluid, wiper washer fluid, and brake fluid, and yes, oil.
7. Empty Gas Can
For the one fluid you won’t carry with you, a small gas can is a road trip essential in case you need to hoof it that last mile to the gas station.
8. Car Air-Freshener
Because a car traveling across the country, or even a state, in cold weather with the windows rolled up can start to smell like feet and flatulence quick. Be prepared. This is a must for your road trip packing list… Unless you enjoy smelling like a boiled egg sandwich.
9. Tire Chains
Speaking of cold weather, have some chains if there’s a chance you’ll be driving through snow. You do not want to have to turn around and head back home because you can’t make it over the snowy mountains.
10. Portable Car Garbage Can
Lots of travel sites will tell you what to pack for a road trip, things like extra plastic bags for garbage, and you should totally have them.
But it’s nice to have a little car garbage can, so you don’t just have a random bag of trash floating around your car. I like this one because it will stay fixed in place.
11. Snow Kit
If you do hit those snowy mountains and head into a diner for a bit, you may come out and find a frozen-over car. A scraper and scrub brush are road trip essentials if you’re getting an early start on a frosty morning.
Every time you get out of your car to check out the scenery, take a dip in the river, or venture out for a day hike, you are potentially leaving your car to sit and bake in the sun.
Keep a sunshade handy so you can keep it a bit cooler and at the very least keep your seat from burning your legs when you get back in the car. if you’re camping out in the car they also double as privacy shades!
Road Trip Packing List—Self Care
Now you’ve taken care of your car, you must take care of yourself. We are living in the time of self-care so don’t skimp on yourself. Your road trip packing list will be worth so much more to you if you feel clean, comfortable, and a little spoiled.
13. Baby Wipes
Is it weird that this is first on the list? I don’t care. You need baby wipes in your life. They can wipe hands, faces, even leave you feeling like you got a quick shower in. Bonus: you can use them as toilet paper and tissues if you run out.
14. Toilet Paper and Tissues
That’s right. It had to be next. The worst thing would be to stop at a roadside gas station that’s out of TP. Even worse? Having to go behind a tree with no TP. And tissues are just super handy to have for runny noses and sweaty brows. (Don’t throw them away in nature! Bring that plastic bag with you!)
RELATED: Speaking of coasts, where are you road tripping? Check out this badass West Coast road trip for some adventures and waterfalls!
15. Hand Sanitizer
For the same reason, you need toilet paper. If your gas station stop runs out of soap, you want to be able to clean your hands after you go—a clear road trip essential. There will be countless other times you’ll need to use it too.
I don’t care who you are, young or old, no melanin in your skin or a lot, you need to take care of your skin, especially on the road with all that exposure. Dermatologists recommend an SPF over 30. Trust them.
17. Flip Flops
If you’re from Florida, like me, or another sunny state on a coast, you may not need to be reminded of this. Flip flops are a road trip essential.
You can rest your feet, shower in public showers, and just look cute in a sundress. I ALWAYS wear Rainbow flip flops. They are the sturdiest and won’t bust on you.
Yes, you’ll definitely want to put your own personal towel on your road trip packing list. Getting stuck in a hostel with no towel or having to air dry after a dip in the river is a huge pain. If you have limited space, just grab your sarong instead (#23).
This is air freshener for your body. Again, care for the car, care for yourself. And your travel companions. BO while stuck in a car is all bad. Keep a baby travel one in the console for emergency use.
20. Feminine Hygiene
You’d be astonished how many women get surprised by that time of the month in the middle of a road trip. This is an absolute in the world of what to pack for a road trip. Be kind of earth and try switching to the cup and trying Thinx.
Gum? Yes. Gum, especially if you’re traveling up into high mountain ranges. The higher you go, the more likely your ears will get plugged up, and sometimes gum is the only thing that will unpop them. It’s also nice to have when you can’t brush your teeth right away. You’re welcome.
22. Day Bag
In the event you want to take a day hike or overnight camp somewhere, you don’t want to have to haul your suitcase everywhere you go. A day bag or pack is great for throwing in a change of clothes and a few essentials. Oh, also, it’s great for rainy days and for keeping things dry, as the name suggests.
Road Trip Packing List — Seasonal Care
Whether the weather is super sunny or super snowy, you’re gonna want to be prepared. For those of you who are from a sunny state like Florida, you may not be aware of the road trip checklist for snow. And likewise for those of you who hail from white winters and are traveling somewhere hot. I’ve got you covered, literally.
23. Cover Up / Sarong
I already reminded you of your towel needs. A sarong is a summer road trip essential. It’s handy to have for a day on the boardwalk or a trip down to a river.
Just throw on your bathing suit, flip flops, a towel, and a cover up and you’re good for a day in the water. A bit chilly? It can be used as a blanket or a scarf too. Sarongs take up almost zero space.
24. Hat or Beanie
You could go with a big floppy hat or a classic baseball cap, or anything in between. Pick your style and cover your head and face if you’re headed into the sun. Your skin will thank you. Cold out? Don’t forget that beanie.
It’s not just your skin that needs protection; it’s your eyes too. And the visibility on the road, even in bright white snow, will be much better with some UVA/UVB sunglasses.
26. Mosquito Spray/Balm
Yeah, you found a nice little spot by a lake or river, the place even has a free campsite for the night, so you can chill. And then you get attacked by mosquitos at sundown. Not cool. Put this one at the top of your road trip packing list.
27. Parka or Sweater
Do not underestimate how freaking cold it can get in the snow. Heck, do not underestimate how cold it can get on a summer night. You may think it’s no big deal if you’ve never been, and you may not need a snowsuit, but at least have a big ass jacket, or light sweater, depending on where you’re headed.
28. Raincoat, Galoshes or Poncho
Essentially any and all rain gear you may need. You never know when it’s going to downpour and you may not want to soak your only boots or have to change a tire in the rain.
TIP: This is my favorite jacket EVER. It’s a warm down jacket and rain jacket in one. They can be layered (and attach) together or they can be worn separately. It’s going to last you years and it’s the best jacket I’ve owned, you don’t need another jacket if you have this 3-in-1 jacket.
29. Warm Gloves
Even if you only plan on getting out of your car for gas, have some warm gloves just in case. And if you need to install snow chains or change a tire, in the middle of the snow, you’ll definitely want these.
30. Warm Blanket or Sleeping Bag
I always recommend this for anyone on a road trip. Bag or blanket, it is a road trip essential to have your own bag or blanket, but I especially urge it for anyone headed towards snow. The more layers the better.
Road Trip Packing List — Tech
Welcome to the new age. Even when we have no WiFi, our phones still serve a million essential purposes, or so it would seem. So it only makes sense that for a road trip checklist, your smartphone is going to have its own section.
31. Phone Charger with USB Cable
Many smartphones and many cars are now capable of utilizing a single charger/USB cable, but many aren’t. If yours is not, make sure you have both. You want to charge your battery and listen to your playlist through your car speakers.
Yeah, you probably knew this was coming next. Sure, you could make a playlist and download it onto a FlashDrive or (gasp) an actual compact disc. Or you could step into the twenty-first century and just make a playlist on Spotify or some other music app.
33. Music App
Now you need to make sure you have a music app. iHeart Radio, Spotify, Tidal. Pick your pleasure(s) and make your playlists when you have access to WiFi.
34. Maps App
While it is crucial to have a paper map, another road trip essential is to be sure you have a map app that fits in your handheld device that will function while you’re offline. Maps.me is the classic go to for most travelers, yours truly included.
35. Traffic App
Download an app for your drive like Waze that will help you avoid car accidents and road construction, so you don’t get stuck behind a bunch of other drivers waiting for the road to clear when you could be cruising around up and down the backroads or alternate highways.
36. Camping App
Looking to camp along Route 66? Hoping to sleep out under the stars instead of inside a hotel room? Download the recreation.gov app before you head out. You can search for camping sites for everything from RVs to tent only, from walk-up sites to drive-up sites across the US.
37. Hotel App
On the other hand, maybe you’d rather die than sleep on the ground. In that case, download your own hotel finder app, Hotel Tonight. You’ll get all the details you need for hotels in your area, price, rating, amenities, and more.
38. Gas App
Download Gas Buddy and find the cheapest gas in your region to save some dough. Gaspy is another great app. Double-check the app works in your area before heading out.
39. Portable Battery Charger
When and if you do head away from your car for the day or even overnight, you’ll want to have a backup battery charger fully charged for when your phone dies.
Simply snapping pictures all day will drain your battery quick. Also, this is my fav portable charger because there’s a built-in flashlight AND it can solar charge!
40. Bluetooth Headphones
You’ll want these if and when you want to rock out to something your driver does not want to hear and when and if you want to make a phone call and your phone call won’t play through your car speakers.
41. Hands-Free Phone Mount
For when you take a call in the car or when you want to check something on your map.me, it is far easier to do if your phone is simply mounted on your dash and ready for your fingers.
42. Mini Speaker
If you’re camping overnight or want to rock out in your hotel or hostel room a bit, it is crucial to have one of these mini speakers, so you can jam to your playlist a little bit louder than your phone’s highest volume.
43. Lifeproof Phone Case
Some people can’t help but drop their phone over and over again, never learning (me!). If this is you even a little bit, get yourself a strong, sturdy, durable phone case.
Road Trip Packing List — Others
These are some extra items that will make sure you have that extra care you need on the road. They are not necessarily specific to your car or your personal use, but you want to have them nonetheless.
44. Swiss Army Knife
In the event you do take a day hike or an overnight trip away from your car, a Swiss Army Knife is a handy tool to have in your bag that can get you out of pretty much any small jam. (Also, beer and wine may require the use of this at the least…)
45. Ice Box
Because snacks. Do I really need to say more? Who doesn’t love snacks? And some snacks need to be kept cool, like cheese sticks and sparkling water. Yes, you can enjoy a nice sparkling water on your road trip. It makes all the difference. (or a cold beer after your drive is done for that matter!)
46. Travel Pillow
You may want a nap in the car, or you may need a pillow for your hostel. It’s just nice to have your own personal pillow on hand. Value your sleep and put this on your road trip checklist.
47. Travel Mug
Because you don’t want your mini car garbage can filling up with paper coffee cups. Be kind to the earth, get a travel mug!
48. Water Bottle
You don’t want to be stuck on a mountain or a long stretch of beautiful desert road with a migraine. Have a small bottle of this road trip essential in the glove box.
Even worse than a headache? An allergic reaction. You don’t want to be in the middle of nowhere the first time you get stung by a bee, unaware that you are allergic. It happens.
51. First Aid Kit
I don’t have to explain this one right? No road trip packing list would be complete without it. There are some great kits that have everything you could possibly think of in a super small pack.
52. Flashlight or Headlamp
Changing a tire in the middle of the night? You’re gonna need some light. Copping a squat behind a tree after midnight? That flashlight will come in handy. Grab a flashlight or a head torch or both. Just in case.
53. Rental Car/Travel Insurance
You NEED travel insurance—this is an actual road trip essential. Especially when renting a car, you don’t want to get caught without. Any damage to the vehicle could cost you a fortune.
Your car rental could be covered by your credit card but keep in mind there’s always some crazy fine print, so read it! Credit cards rarely include RVs or campervans and are usually only for regular cars.
The vehicle rental company likely offers insurance but it doesn’t hurt to shop around to see if your travel insurance or credit card offers you the same coverage for less.
***BOTH of these also have options to add rental car coverage! Grab a quick quote now and see how much it is to cover you and your rental vehicle…
Road Trip Essentials: Food Tips
When packing food for a road trip, the normal eating rules seem to take a little bit of a backseat. As tempting as it may be just to back a bag of chips and a chocolate bar to see you through until your next stop, you’ll definitely regret that decision when you start to run low on energy (and gain a few pounds before you make it back home).
By packing some healthy alternatives, not only will you feel better about yourself, but you’ll also feel full of fuel for your next adventure.
- Hard-boiled eggs– This one may take a little bit of prep, but they are very easy and quick to boil, plus the shell means they are easy to store. A boiled egg is simply packed with protein which can help give you energy on the road. I always boil a dozen at a time and then you don’t need to worry about it for another few days.
- Protein bars– You can buy protein bars anywhere, from a local gas station to a huge convenience store. They are a quick grab and go snack that, if made correctly, will give your body a lot of nutrients. Just be aware that some protein bars are full of sugar, so always read the ingredients. (RXBAR is a good bet, ingredients are clean, no added sugars.)
- Fruit and veg– Not all fruit and veg will be suitable for a road trip, but there are plenty that are. Carrots, celery, and cucumber are a great option because they can be cut up before the trip and munched on as you drive, without making a mess. They also go great with dips such as hummus. Grapes, apples, and bananas are great options for things to eat when you are bored and on the road, just make sure you don’t go overboard as the fruit contains a lot of natural sugars.
- Nuts and trail mix– Nuts such as almonds and walnuts make a great road trip snack as when eaten in moderation, they are full of natural unsaturated fats and fiber. They are also pretty tasty and easy to store, plus they last forever! Trail mix is made for being eaten when on the road, and there are plenty of options that you can pick up locally in-store, although you could always try to make your own.
- Sandwiches– Good for a lunch option, sandwiches are easy to prepare and are good for travel, as they can simply be wrapped up and then eaten on the road without making a mess. Stuff your bread with whatever you love in a sandwich, and then store it in a cooler until you are ready to eat it.
These are all my go-to snacks and lunches on the road. Obviously, food is a road trip essential and it’s important to take the right food. Not just to be decently healthy, but to road trip more efficiently.
Stopping often, spending time ordering and waiting for food, etc is time-consuming – particularly for lunch! I also want a quick and easy lunch so I can get back to adventuring. Breakfast is easy and cheap to make yourself, so if you must eat out, keep it to dinners only.
Packing Food for a Road Trip
Thermos – A thermos is invaluable when it comes to a road trip, as you can fill it with so much more than tea or coffee. A great one is heating up some soup before you set off and storing it in a thermos where it will stay warm until you want to eat it.
With a good thermos, it will stay hot for up to 12 hours, so you could even have it for lunch or dinner with a nice crusty roll. Other options include baked beans or even instant noodles.
Cooler – A cooler comes in all shapes and sizes, so picking the right one can be a tricky business. There are a few things you should be looking out for, such as having a bottom drain to release water from melted ice and a strong latch to keep the cooler tightly sealed.
Try to keep it in a dark place like the trunk of your car so it is not in direct sunlight. Perishable foods like dairy and meat need to be stored on top of the ice, with ice also packed on top of the goods.
Ziplock bags/Tupperware – When it comes to travel, ziplock bags are pretty good. They will do a great job of keeping your snacks dry and separated, plus things can be packed away tightly to save space.
If you have space, glass jars or containers are a lot more eco-friendly, as they will not only help preserve your food better, but it will stop unwanted visitors raiding your food supplies, plus they can be reused time and time again. If you use ziplock – always wash and reuse until they are beyond use.
Finding Food on the Road
Stop for water whenever you can – Take advantage of every free water source that you can, as you never know where the next one will be. You should be able to find free drinking water in places such as state parks, rest stops, and visitor centers.
Water runs out fast on a road trip, and you don’t want to have to keep buying it. This is especially important when camping as not all campsites have water facilities available. You can buy a large water jug vessel very easily, save on plastic, and have tons of water always on hand.
Don’t just go for what you see – Every time you stop off at a roadside drive-through for ease, you are missing out on a ton of great eateries that are just a little hidden off the highway. It might be worth pulling off every now and again to see what gems you can find.
Avoid the tourist traps – Tour buses are a great giveaway when it comes to finding the tourist traps. These are usually a lot more pricy than local joints, and often the food isn’t as good. Avoid it if you can. If possible, find places that are full of locals, as then at least you know the food is good and probably reasonably priced too.
Road Trip Essentials—Accommodation
You never know where a road trip might lead you, events may occur that will lead you to stay longer in one place than you originally planned, or else you might find a cool detour for a few days that you were not expecting.
For these reasons, it’s sometimes a good idea to not plan too much in advance, and find the hotels that you want to stay in while on the road, once you have decided on your final route and dates. There are plenty of sites and apps out there that can help you to find a hotel when you are on the road, you just have to know where to look.
- Roadtrippers– As the name suggests, this app really is built for travelers. As soon as you open the app you’ll be able to find a range of diners, attractions, and places to stay that Google Maps may have missed.
- Hotel Tonight– This app really does specialize in last-minute deals. We have all been in the position where we need to find a place to stay quickly and for a price that won’t break the bank. The app makes it possible to book a room with just a few taps.
- Google Maps– (Duh) Google maps is your friend when you are on the road. You can quickly search for hotels that are along your route and call them to make a booking.
Of course, if you’re campervanning, you have it a bit easier. Just find a place to park! You can park for free at many Walmarts in the US, and New Zealand and Australia have amazing apps to use (Campermate and WikiCamps). Just do a bit of homework, there’s probably an app or something you can use to find campervan accommodation.
If you’re in a car and don’t mind doing a little planning before you travel, you could find a few hotels in the towns you are interested in staying in and write down their contact information, so you are ready to give them a call when you are on the road.
Make use of last-minute deals, as this can be one of the best ways to bag savings. Hotels don’t want to go a night with empty rooms, so very often they reduce the rate of a room to encourage people to book last minute. Hunt around for any last-minute deals hotels are offering, and you have a very good chance of getting a room on the cheap.
Which Vehicle to Take on a Road Trip?
Your vehicle is the most important road trip essential, revolutionary info! Right? But seriously, there are some things to think about so you don’t make the wrong decision on the type of vehicle and other matters when choosing what’s right for your road trip.
This is totally dependant on you and your trip, so here are some things to think about…
A campervan is my favorite choice but isn’t always an option and I totally get those who are not OK with sleeping in a vehicle. Some countries aren’t campervan-friendly yet either and it simply may not be a choice.
So far Holiday Autos has won 90% of the time for finding the best deals. It is always worth it to check the length of time and what type of deals you can get. If you’re renting for a week or more, or better yet, a month or more, you can get pretty hefty discounts!
I LOVE traveling by campervan as it offers so much more freedom. Who cares where you end your day? Your bed is always with you. Don’t feel like backtracking back to a hotel? No need to, you have a hotel on wheels.
Trying to save cash? While renting a campervan will be more money, you do need to consider that it’s your transportation AND accommodation. And more often than not, those two things separately cost more than the rental of the van.
Not to mention all the time you’ll save by not backtracking to a hotel each night or the flexibility of being able to sleep almost literally anywhere.
Campervanning is by far my favorite choice for road tripping.
Road Trip Essentials if You’re Campervanning
If you are planning on spending life on the road in a campervan for a while, you may be wondering how you are going to possibly fit all the possessions you need in. Although there are lots of things you’ll want to take with you, there are a few road trip essentials that will make your life on the road so much easier.
After living in a van a few times but most recently in New Zealand for nearly five months I’ve come up with some nice solutions I hope help you.
Earplugs and eye mask – You never know what sort of environment you are going to be staying in, and sometimes campgrounds can be pretty noisy. Taking earplugs and an eye mask as a precaution is likely to be a good idea and will help you get a good sleep so you’re ready for your next adventure.
Safety feature – Deterring is the best thing you can do. We bought a $7 used steering wheel lock at a thrift store to make our campervan look less appealing to thieves. It’s a simple and cheap road trip essential – deter theft!
Hanging toiletry bag – Space is pretty tight in a camper van, so any space you can make will be much appreciated. Getting ready for bed or going about your morning routine in a public bathroom can be a little tricky at times, and you don’t want to be putting anything on the floor, so anything that you can hang can only be a good thing. Just make sure it is large enough to hold the basics.
Powerboard– If you are renting a campervan, chances are there will only be a few, or even one power outlet, so using a powerboard will let you use multiple electrical items at once. A necessity if you are traveling as a family or a group.
Camping Stove– A collapsable camping stove is easy to store, and will allow you to cook food outside when you are not at a campsite that has its own fire pit or grill. Just remember to also bring some spare propane.
Clothesline– Many RV sites have a place where you can wash your clothes, but when it comes to drying them, your options are a little more limited. That’s where a portable clothesline comes in handy. If you wash your clothes on a warm day, they should dry on the clothesline in just a few hours, and before you know it they will be ready to wear again.
Insulated cooler– Getting a good, insulated cooler will definitely be an investment. A good cooler will be able to keep your food fresher for longer, allowing you to shop for a day or two in advance, so you don’t have to keep stopping to stock up on supplies.
Hanging storage– Another item that is a great storage solution is a hanging storage “closet,” as they will allow you to keep a relatively small space nice and tidy, and organized.
RELATED: Here are two posts about campervanning in New Zealand. Regardless of where you’re going, you can use my design tips for your campervan and meal and packing tips too – it applies to anywhere!
Random Last-Minute Road Trip Essential Tips
- Be green! Grab yourself reusable utensils so you’re not using one-use plastic ones.
- Get a large water jug to save on water and fill up at drinkable water stations. Also, less plastic!
- Chat with your friendly convenience store attendants. They may have a fun tip, offer some advice on the road, or at the least confirm you’re going in the right direction.
- Grab a few rolls of change for any tolls that could pop up and for laundry needs.
- Check your tire tread before heading on the road and make it a habit to check the tire pressure every few days.
- Before heading out, make sure to download all apps and music while you’re on wifi.
- A week or two before your trip, give your car a tune-up and an overall check to make sure it’s tip-top for an epic trip.
- What’s up with your cell service? If you have a chance of being internet-less and you’d prefer not to be, try a mobile hotspot like Skyroam. You can use Nina77 for a 10% discount too.
Phew, OK, that was a lot of stuff for your road trip packing list but ya know what? You’re totally ready for a badass time now. And I’m super stoked for you because road trips are the BEST.
Did I miss something? Is there anything else you think should be on this road trip essentials list? Where are you headed? Let me know in the comments!
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Nina Ragusa is an adventurer, messy bun master, breakfast fan, and full-time travel blogger. She’s been abroad since 2011 and blogging on Where in the World is Nina? for nearly as long. Nina helps people like you move around the world while making money. She loves talking about how to work abroad and online to travel longer!