Road trips are the best way to travel to new places while seeing all the sites in between. We have driven some of the very best USA road trips over several years so we know a little bit about road trip packing and the essentials you will need.
There is nothing like feeling the warm breeze in your hair and hearing your favorite tunes blast through the speakers during a long beautiful scenic drive. However, the day can take quite a turn if you haven’t prepared properly.
We hope you have meticulously researched the best way to plan a road trip and crafted the perfect travel itinerary. But now that it is almost time to leave, what do you plan to pack for your road trip?
This ultimate road trip packing list will prepare you for all scenarios. We will cover:
- 10 road trip packing list essentials
- Road trip checklist for your car
- Best road trip apps
- Travel backpack or suitcase
- Clothes to pack and road trip outfit ideas
- Road trip gadgets
- Camping essentials
- Road trip food list
- Items to bring for comfort
This road trip packing list is available as a free PDF download so you can individually check off each essential item as you pack them one by one. Just keep scrolling…
Let us show you the best things to bring on a road trip!
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Pre-Road Trip Packing and Planning
Road trips are one of the most adventurous ways to travel. Not only will you experience all of point A and point B, but you will also get to experience the hidden gems in between. We want to make sure you have all the road trip essentials before you leave.
Here are a few basic questions to get you started thinking about your road trip:
- Itinerary – What region do you want to travel?
- Timeframe – How long will the road trip be?
- Weather – What climates will you experience?
- Budget – How much do you have to spend?
- Vehicle – How are you going to get around? Car, SUV or Campervan?
- Camping / Sleeping Options – Where do you plan to sleep? Hotels, campsites or maybe in your car?
- Food – Will you cook your own food or eat at local restaurants?
- Must-See Experiences – Is there an attraction or site you really want to see?
It is okay if you do not know the answers to all of these road trip questions yet. We can help! A road trip should be planned thoroughly for the best possible outcome and it takes time.
The good news is this essential road trip packing list has been tried and tested many times. This checklist includes the items we personally bring on a road trip ourselves.
Top 10 Road Trip Packing List Essentials
Before hitting the road, we recommend you begin packing for your road trip by making sure you have all of the correct paperwork for emergencies.
Below is a list of the basic yet important road trip essentials you never want to leave home without. Whether you are renting a car or driving your own vehicle, these 10 road trip packing list essentials will be your lifeline.
We hope you have a great road trip, but if something happens, at least you will have all of your ducks in a row.
You don’t want to be half way through your trip only to realize you can’t find your car insurance information when you get pulled over in Utah. Or you can’t find the correct phone number to call when you lock your keys in your car in New York.
Oops. The easiest way to ruin a road trip is to be unprepared.
So without further ado, here are 10 ultimate road trip packing essentials broken down by paperwork and emergency gear:
1). Passport – If you are traveling internationally, do not forget your passport. You can skip this one if you are traveling domestically.
2). Driver’s License – You will need a valid Driver’s License to operate a vehicle on the road in most countries. It is considered illegal to drive without it in your possession so put it somewhere safe!
3). Vehicle Insurance Information – It is also illegal to drive in most countries without vehicle insurance. And if you are renting a car, you will need to show proof of insurance. Be sure to review your policy before your road trip.
4). Vehicle Registration – If you are driving your own car, don’t forget your vehicle registration. If you are renting a car, the vehicle registration should already be in the vehicle but always double check.
5). Travel Insurance – Travel insurance will cover you for problems pertaining to healthcare, theft and trip cancellation. We always use and highly recommend World Nomads for the most comprehensive policy.
6). Car Manual – A car manual can really come in handy should your vehicle break down. If you do not have cell phone service, this will be a great tool to help you find the problem. Store it in the glove compartment for safe keeping.
7). First Aid Kit – This is pretty explanatory but having some basic knowledge of first aid can go a long way. A first aid kit can also be a lifesaver. We will cover first aid essentials later in this post.
8). Roadside Emergency Kit – Would you know what to do if your car breaks down? An roadside emergency kit will be your lifeline should you breakdown in the middle of nowhere. We will cover this in depth later in the post too.
9). Credit Cards / Debit Cards / Cash – Road trips are often long drives through remote rural areas. Basic amenities are not always available so having multiple ways to pay like different credit cards and extra cash are a great idea.
10). A Light Source – Breakdowns always seem to happen at the worst times like the middle of the night. But having a flashlight, headlamp or a camping lantern will help you to successfully navigate in the dark.
Road Trip Checklist For Your Car
The vehicle is the most important aspect of a road trip because without it, you won’t be getting very far. This is why it is important to pack some essentials in your car for emergencies to prepare for those long drives.
Start with a basic emergency road kit with all the essentials and then add a few additional items so you are prepared for a long road trip.
Check your emergency roadside kit for any of the items you still might need to bring on your road trip. You might even have some of these items lying around so you can DIY your own car emergency repair kit.
Road Trip Emergency Kit Requirements
- Jumper Cables
- Emergency Roadside Flares
- Duct Tape
- Electrical Tape
- Spare Tire
- Tire Pressure Gauge
- Bungee Cords
- Tow Strap
- Wiper Fluid
- Portable Gas Container
- Manual Car Jack
- Ratchet Straps
- Seat Belt Cutter
- Window Breaker
- Reflective Vest
- Work Gloves
- Emergency Rain Poncho
- Warning Triangle
- Basic tools (lug or torque wrench, screwdrivers, mallet, cutting pliers)
- Extra Car Key (store somewhere safe)
Since we drove our personal vehicle through the higher elevations of Mount Rainier and the red rocks of Zion National Park, there are a few items that can really make a difference when it comes to organization and protection.
Protective floor mats are literally a Godsend. After sand, rocks, snow and even water, the floor of our SUV still looks like new. Be sure to buy the all weather mats which will fit most standard vehicles.
After spending hours in a vehicle, it is bound to get messy. A trunk organizer is exactly what you need. This model can be resized to fit all trunks and has multiple compartments to hold those smaller items you will always need.
Last but not least consider a car garbage can. A trash can in your car will make a huge difference when it comes to being clean and organized. This model can be attached to either the front or back headrest.
Roadside Assistance For Road Trips
If you are planning a road trip in the United States, AAA is the best option for roadside assistance. However, with this policy, you will also have access to club offices in Canada as well as numerous other foreign countries.
AAA Roadside assistance has 3 tiered plans (basic, plus and premier) but the basic plan covers you for:
- 4 roadside service calls per year
- A battery jumpstart and replacement
- Free fuel delivery service
- Replacement of flat tire with spare at no charge
- A lock out service up to $50
- Winching service
Other AAA benefits include bicycle assistance, help finding a repair shop and even rental discounts. Plans vary in price by the basic plan begins at $60/year. We never road trip without AAA roadside assistance.
If you plan to rent a car for your road trip, compare prices with Rental Cars for best value and most options.
Winter Road Trip Essentials
If you are planning a road trip during the winter months, there are a few winter road trip essentials you must bring. This is also important if you will be road tripping at higher elevations where snow and ice are possible.
It is smart to prepare for the worst when traveling in winter conditions. Your winter essentials should include items for spending an unplanned night in your car or vehicle.
Your winter road trip packing list should include:
- Ice Scraper
- De-Icer Windshield Fluid
- Snow Shovel
- Hand Warmers
- Extra Warm Blankets
- Tire Chains and/or Snow Tires
- Small Bag of Sand or Kitty Litter (for traction)
- Extra Food
- Long Underwear
- Warm Coat or Jacket
- Snow Pants or Ski Pants
- Warm Hat and/or Buff
- Gloves or Mittens
- Extra Pairs of Socks
- Snow Boots or Hiking Boots
Best Road Trip Apps
You can’t get where you are going unless you know how to get there. While most smartphones have great GPS systems, what happens if you do not have cell signal or Wifi?
Most people use their smartphones or cell phone to navigate during a road trip these days. But it is important to have a basic understanding of where you will be driving.
This is where it pays to plan ahead. If you lose signal on your phone, you can use an offline maps feature which is available on several popular road trip apps.
Once you have downloaded an offline map, you will then have access to turn by turn directions without cell service or wifi.
- Google Maps – This is your basic navigation app which uses satellite imagery, aerial photography and street maps. We like to add important points of interest into our google map so we never miss an important stop on our road trip itinerary.
- Waze – This app is a subsidiary of Google that provides real-time driving directions based on live traffic updates. We love it for the construction, traffic and police updates which help us avoid problems.
- Maps.me – Many people swear by maps.me and we have to agree. This app provides offline maps of the whole world. We use this app when road tripping internationally.
- Gas buddy – This is a great app which not only helps you find the cheapest gas nearby but gives you discounts at select gas stations.
- Booking – We use this app to book hotels on the go. We love the app because it is easy to find hotels near our exact location and we can book directly within a matter of minutes. You can also find special mobile price discounts.
- The Dyrt – This is our favorite app to find campsites with or without cell service. With over 1 million campsites in their database, you can read reviews and tips from local campers to help find the best site for you.
- Gaia GPS– If you plan to do a lot of hiking during your road trip, be sure to download Gaia GPS. This app offers a simplified free version with very accurate downloadable offline maps of hiking trails with the premium version.
While smartphones and apps are great, they do not replace the dependability of a paper map. Feel free to use the apps but always have a paper map as a backup just in case.
No matter how you choose to navigate during your road trip, here are a few more essentials to help with road trip navigation:
- Car Phone Charger
- Hands-Free Phone Mount
- Paper Maps
- Journal and Pens
You could even consider an additional navigation system like a Garmin DriveSmart. This system will plug directly into your car for charge and will allow you to navigate without have to worry about your phone signal.
Packing For A Road Trip – Travel Backpack Or Suitcase
Having road tripped with both travel backpacks and suitcases, we can tell you from experience it was much more comfortable using a suitcase compared to a large travel backpack during a road trip.
The ideal combination is a suitcase for your clothes and personal items and a day backpack for any excursions if you are traveling in an SUV or Campervan with room to spare.
However, if you are road tripping in a compact sized rental car, a small duffel or weekender bag might be a great option because this bag be squashed into a small size.
But if you have the room, go for the suitcase. You can also use packing cubes to organize your suitcase and just grab the packing cubes as you need them instead of lugging your suitcase all over the place.
Best Suitcase For A Road Trip
When it comes to suitcases, we would recommend the Samsonite Spinner. These models are great for traveling because the 360-degree wheels allow for easy transport. The hard outer shell is also a great protective barrier.
Best Road Trip Bag
If you want something smaller than a suitcase, you should consider a duffel or a weekend bag. Here are some great options:
- Osprey Farpoint / Fairview – best small travel backpack
- Monarc Settra Duffel – made from recycled plastic bottles
- Weekend Canvas Duffel – perfect for a quick trip
- Patagonia Black Hole Duffel – very durable, water resistant, many colors and sizes
Best Travel Backpack For A Road Trip
The best travel backpack is not a one size fits all option. The best bag for you will depend on what you plan to do during your road trip.
- Hiking: Osprey Skimmer – perfect for day hikes
- Photographer: Peak Design Everyday Backpack – best camera backpack
- Day Bag: Osprey Daylite – best small day bag for everyday use
- Classic Backpack: Fjallraven Kanken – cute bag for everyday use
Clothes To Pack For A Road Trip
The key to packing clothes for a road trip is to pack minimally. Depending on where you are traveling you may need to pack for both warm and cold weather.
The following items are the basis of a summer road trip. But then add some or all of the winter essentials we listed early on in this guide to complete your essential road trip packing list.
- Tank Tops / T-Shirts
- Dressy Shirt
- Shorts / Pants
- Lightweight Dresses
- Hat or Beanie
- Rain Jacket
- Flip Flops
- Flats / Dressy Shoes
These are just a few basic essentials to consider when packing for a road trip. But if you are headed on a longer trip, don’t miss our long term travel packing list
Clothes For Hikers And Outdoor Adventurers
If you plan to do some hiking during your road trip, you may need to consider a few specialized items.
- Upper Base Layers
- Lower Base Layers
- Sports Bras
- Hiking Boots
- Hiking Socks
What you put on your feet during a hike is extremely important. You should be wearing hiking shoes or boots that support both your feet and ankles as well as offer durability.
This is what we recommend:
Want to spoil the hiker in your life? Don’t miss our popular post Best Gifts For Hikers!
Road Trip Outfits
Dressing for comfort when driving long distances is the only way to survive a road trip. But how can you stay cute yet comfortable?
If you mix and match these next few items, you will not only be comfy but you will be ready for those road trip photos at any time.
- Tank and Leggings – best for hiking
- Long Sleeve Shirt and Capris – best for cool weather
- Graphic Tee and Jean Shorts – best for hot weather
- Sweater and Jeans – best for relaxing days
- Wrinkle Free Midi or Maxi Dress – best for dressy days
- Comfy Jumpsuit – best for casual days
- Denim Jacket – best to pair with all the above
Road Trip First-Aid Essentials and Toiletries
A standard first aid kit comes with many items to prepare you for a potential emergency. We purchased this first aid kit and added some more items to cover us for a variety of injuries.
Check your first aid kit and add anything else you might need for your road trip.
First Aid Items
- Bandages / Gauze
- Bug Spray
- Reef Safe Sunscreen
- Antibiotic Ointment
- Hand Sanitizer
- Tick Remover
- Toilet Paper
- Paper Towels
- Alcohol Wipes
- Gloves / PPE
- Biodegradable Body Wipes
- Emergency Blanket
- CPR Mask
Medications To Consider
Pick and choose from the medications listed below for your specific needs. This is a great way to prepare for any sickness that might occur during your road trip so everyone can have a good time.
- Ibuprofen (anti-inflammatory)
- Acetaminophen (headaches)
- Calamine Lotion
- Aloe Vera Gel
- Couth and cold medications
- Any prescriptions
Toiletries For Her
We both use a toiletries bag when we travel, especially for a long car ride. This way there will be enough room for all of your favorite things to keep you nice and comfortable.
You could also consider a hanging toiletries bag so all of your toiletries are within easy reach. These are a great addition in a bathroom or hotel room when space is limited.
- Toiletry Bag
- Electric Toothbrush
- Dental Floss
- Lip Balm
- Face Wash
- Body Lotion
- Nail File
- Feminine Products
- Hair Ties / Bobby Pins
- Contacts / Glasses
Toiletries For Him
Don’t forget about packing basic road trip essentials for him.
Mark prefers this Carhartt toiletries bag when traveling. It is big enough to fit his beard and hair trimmer with all of his other essential items.
- Beard and Hair Trimmer
- Hair Styling Clay
- Electric Toothbrush
- Dental Floss
- Contacts / Glasses
Where Do You Poop Outside?
Since we are talking about toiletries, we figured it was a good time to discuss doing your business outside.
It is important to leave no trace when you poop outside in the wilderness. There are a few essentials you may need to pick up and pack if you plan to spend a lot of time in the outdoors during your road trip.
This is how you poop outside responsibly.
- Find a spot at least 200 feet from any water source, camp site and trail.
- Dig a small hole with a shovel like the Deuce.
- Do your business.
But you are not finished.
Cover up everything in your cathole.
If you use toilet paper or a wipe after your business is complete, you must carry this waste back out with you in a resealable plastic bag.
Plan to hike during your road trip? Don’t miss our popular guide 10 important things to bring on a day hike!
Road Trip Gadgets
If you are anything like us, you travel with a lot of gadgets. But there are some essentials that will make your road trip a whole lot easier.
This is our essential list of gadgets to pack for a road trip:
- Portable Speaker
- Portable Charger
- Car Charger (USB Cord)
- Instant Camera
- Portable Wifi
- Fitness Watch
- Wireless Headphones
- Headphone Splitter
- iPad / Kindle
- Camera and Lens
Bring extra chargers for all of your electronic and technology needs. This way if one breaks, you have an extra to charge exactly what you need.
We recommend a few electronic organizers to help you always find exactly what you need during your trip.
This electronics organizer is great for storing an iPad or tablet and many additional charging cords.
And this double layer organizer is great for bulky items such as a tablet, mouse and apple charging batteries.
Another popular road trip gadget is a dash cam. This small video is mounted to the windshield on the inside of the car. It will capture footage of vehicle accidents and can be an invaluable asset during a road trip.
How To Keep Entertained On A Road Trip
When you are driving those long distances, you will need something to keep your mind occupied. Try to find road trip games that include the other passengers so everyone has something to do.
- An Epic Road Trip Playlist – We love Spotify
- Audio Books
- Paperback Books
- Road Trip games like mad libs and the license plate game
Road Trip Camping Essentials Packing Checklist
If you are a long trip, it is much cheaper to make your own food rather than eat out at a restaurant every time. But making your own food can also be time consuming.
We find the best way to approach the food situation during a road trip is to make some of your own food while also trying new local restaurants. This way we have wonderful food recommendations to give you.
So if we have booked hotels, we pack a small cooler, especially when we have planned a long hike, to keep us going for the day. Then we celebrate by trying something local in the area.
But if we have booked a campsite, we make all of our own food. Both ways are great and it just comes down to personal preference with pros and cons to each.
This is our complete road trip camping checklist broken down by camping and kitchen items.
- Camping Tent (small or large depending on your group size)
- Tent Seam Sealer
- Sleeping Bag
- Portable Camping Chair
- Sleeping Pad or Smart Cot
- Camp Table
- Swiss Army Knife
Kitchen Items For Camping
- Camp Stove
- Lighters and Matches
- Camp Dining Set
- Biodegradable Soap
- Coffee Press or Tea Kettle
- Cast Iron Skillet
- Pots and Pans
- Collapsible Mixing Bowl
- Paring Knife
- Cutting Board
- Silicone Utensils
- Veggie Peeler
- Collapsible Washing Tub
- Microfiber Towel
- Zippered Plastic Bags
- Reusable dishes and utensils
If you plan on shopping for your supplies at a grocery store, consider using reusable shopping bags. We love these reusable grocery bags because are very durable and hold heavy items like milk and canned goods.
Road Trip Food List
Always have snacks in the car. A road trip sucks when the entire car is hangry.
Here are a few snacks to get you started:
- Fresh Fruit and Veggies (no cutting involved)
- Apples and Bananas
- Granola / Protein / Energy Bars
- Gum / Mints
- Sunflower Seeds
- Hard-Boiled Eggs
- Canned Tuna
- Cheese Sticks
- Sliced Meat
- Jam/Peanut Butter
- Pretzels / Popcorn / Chips
- Gatorade / Sports Drinks
Last but not least, do not forget water. It is always a good idea to carry plenty of water in case of an emergency and you are stuck somewhere.
We always travel with a few large gallons of water then fill up our reusable water bottle as needed.
The wide mouth 16 oz Nalgene is our go to reusable water bottle because it holds one liter of water. We also like to measure how much water we have drank throughout the day so we can stay properly hydrated.
Helpful Items and Things To Bring For Comfort
Last but not there are a few essentials on this road trip packing list which can transform your home away from home into a cozy oasis.
We have broken this section up into helpful and comfortable items so you can enjoy your road trip thoroughly.
Helpful Things For A Road Trip
- Microfiber Towel
- Packing Cubes
- Travel Pillow
- UV Window Shade
- Laundry Bags
- Travel Clothesline
Since you are going on a road trip, chances are you will be spending a lot of time in your vehicle. But few home comforts can really make it feel like home.
- Solar Powered Fairy Lights
- Yoga Mat
- Citronella Candle
- Table Cloth
- Car Air Freshener
- Reusable Shopping Bags
Frequently Asked Questions About Road Trip Packing
We hope we have covered all of your questions regarding the essentials you need to pack for your next road trip. But here are a few popular questions and answers to summarise what we may have missed.
What Not To Bring On A Road Trip?
Less is always more when road tripping. If you are second guessing whether you should bring an item, leave it home.
Have you ever heard about the KISS method?
Keep It Simple Stupid.
Heavy items or items with large dimensions won’t be worth the space they take up. If you have something huge in the car and you’re debating whether or not it will get used, take it out.
What Should You Not Forget When Packing For A Road Trip?
Do not forget the 10 road trip essentials when packing for a road trip.
The 10 road trip essentials include a passport, driver’s license, vehicle insurance information, vehicle registration, travel insurance, car manual, first aid kit, roadside emergency kit, extra credit cards or cash and a light source.
When Should You Start Packing For A Road Trip?
You should start packing for a road trip about two weeks from your departure date.
However, after you read through our essential road trip packing list, there may be a few items you need to pick up or order online. If this is the case, be sure to order these items a few weeks ahead of time.
But you should start planning for your road trip months in advance.
You may need to take your car in for service or book rental cars well in advance so it pays to starting planning ahead. Especially if you are planning for a road trip during a peak season like summer.
How Should You Pack Your Car For A Road Trip?
You want to keep the items you will need the most very accessible when packing for a road trip. This is key because it sucks having to unpack everything when you need something at the bottom of the pile.
Try to figure out which items you will need the most and keep these essentials within reach.
You will also have to use every nook and cranny when packing for a road trip. Squash what you can into smaller spaces and keep the bigger bulkier items on the bottom.
How Do I Make My Car Cozy For A Road Trip?
To make your car cozy for your road trip, you want to keep the car at a comfortable temperature. You also want to stay hydrated and eat healthy snacks.
A great playlist will help to ease the mood during a road trip and pack items like car air fresheners to keep your car smelling nice throughout your entire trip.
Read More US Road Trips
- Utah: The Ultimate Utah Mighty 5 National Parks Road Trip Planner
- Wyoming: Epic 7 Day Road Trip Salt Lake City to Grand Teton and Yellowstone
- California: 23 Amazing Stops Along Pacific Coast Highway 1
- South Dakota: 4 Awesome Days in the Stunning Black Hills of South Dakota
- Mount Rushmore/Yellowstone: Mount Rushmore To Yellowstone Road Trip: Amazing 10 Days Itinerary
- New England: New England Fall Road Trip Itinerary: 10 Stunning Stops
- Zion/Bryce: The Perfect 3 Day Road Trip From Zion To Bryce Canyon
We hope this essential road trip packing checklist helps you pack perfectly for your adventure on the open road!
Be sure to let us know if there was anything you found helpful on our essential road trip packing list or if you have any road trip packing questions.
We hope you have an epic road trip!
Happy Road Trip Packing,
Mark and Kristen
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