Don’t forget any essentials with these expert road trip packing tips and your free road trip packing lists.
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You’re ready for your next road trip. You’ve planned your route, downloaded your audio books, set up your playlist, and have your keys in hand.
But wait! You may think you’re ready to hit the road, but before you get behind the wheel, make sure you’ve got everything you need to truly make this trip one to remember – and I mean that in a good way.
Here’s a comprehensive guide to packing for a road trip, including basic packing tips, important road trip essentials, and some tips on packing your vehicle.
Road Trip Essentials
Basic Packing Tips
Roll, roll, roll. Rolling your clothes helps keep them wrinkle-free-ish. Plus, when they’re rolled, they magically take up less space.
The key to rolling is to put the bulky items on the outside and the lighter, less wrinkle-prone items on the inside. Or you can roll each item individually.
Layers. Pack layers, especially if you’re going someplace with fluctuating temperatures. Layers are also cool because you can get multiple outfits out of a limited number of clothing items.
Coordinate your colors. Pack colors that work together so you can mix and match.
Don’t be afraid to do laundry. Yes, it’s a vacation, but if you’ve got limited space, or you’re taking an epic trip, cleaning your clothes along the way means you won’t have to pack as many.
Related: download Planning Your Perfect Road Trip
Use packing cubes to save space and organize clothing. My mom’s been a fan of packing cubes forever, but I wasn’t sold on them until I started using them. They both compress your clothes into a tiny little package, and you can organize them in a way that makes sense for you.
On shorter trips, I’ll pack them by type of clothing, i.e., shirts, pajamas, etc. On longer trips, I’ll pack a couple of days’ worth of clothes in each cube. That way I don’t have to lug the giant suitcase when we switch accommodations.
Use all available space. Stuff your shoes with your socks or other smaller items.
Pack toiletries in a separate bag. Especially if you’re going on a longer trip, you’ll want to pack your toiletries in their own bag.
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Road Trip Essentials
When you’re putting together your road trip packing list, especially if you’re planning a long road trip, there are a few important things you don’t want to forget. Bringing these items helps ensure you have a happy vacation.
Many of these basic road trip essentials can be stored in your trunk organizer or in your center console so next time you want to take off and go, you can.
It seems like a lot of stuff, but much of it is compact. You decide what’s essential for you.
Car Essentials for a Road Trip
These basics are things you should have in your vehicle, or with you, at all times.
GPS is wonderful, and most of the time you can count on it to get you where you want to go. However, when you’re road tripping you’re probably going to bedriving in remote areasandthat signal can disappear.
This is especially true if you’re visiting National Parks. Plus GPS eats up your smart phone battery like Chicagoans eat Italian beef.
That’s why it’s always good to have paper maps. If you plan ontraveling a lot by car, invest in an atlas. Rand McNally is pretty much the standard.
If you get a AAA membership, they’ll give you paper maps, too.
TLTip: Look for visitors centers and rest stops. They’ll oftenhave free road maps that will have more detail than an atlas. While you’re there you can pick up brochures for local attractions and, if the stop is staffed, get some advice on fun places to go.
I like to have at least one flashlight per person and to keep one in the glove compartment or center console. If you have to get into the trunk to get the flashlight when it’s already dark then you’re, well, in the dark.
Pack a set of back-up batteries for that flashlight.
You’re going to need a place to put all these road trip essentials. Getting a trunk organizer will keep it all together and prevent it from rolling around like a toddler.
One of the nice things about using a trunk organizer is that you can easily move it if you get a rental car for your trip.
Want even more road trip tips? Download Planning Your Perfect Road Trip
Drivers License, Vehicle Registration, and Proof of Insurance
You should have these anyway, but when you’re planning a road trip there’s a lot to keep in mind. Consider this a gentle reminder.
Although it’s usually in your glove box, go ahead and confirm the car manual is there before you leave. It’ll come in handy if you need to replace a turn signal light or a flat tire.
Spare Tire + Car Jack
Speaking of flat tire, make sure you’ve got a spare tire and you know how to change it. Depending on where you’re going, you might not be able to get someone to help. If we’d gotten a flat on Burr Trail Road, we definitely would have had to change it ourselves!
Roadside Emergency Kit
If you have a car, this is a must whether you’re going on a road trip or not! (Say yes, mom.)
There are various roadside emergency kits available, but at the bare minimum you’ll want to have jumper cables, a flashlight, flares or triangle reflectors, extra washer fluid, and some basic tools.
You can create your own emergency roadside kit, or you can purchase one that’s pre-made.
Related: how to take your bikes on a road trip
Trash Receptacle and Trash Bag
Next time youget a plastic bag from the grocery store put it back in the car after it’s been emptied. Better yet, get a trash can that’s specifically designed for a vehicle.
You’re going to accumulate wrappers and papers and JUNK, and now you’ve got a place to put all of it.
Keep a roll handy to clean up any messes. Because there will be messes. Oh yes. There will.
Definitely bring real money with you. There are still places that only take cash. Plus, it’s a good idea to have a backup in case your credit cards are compromised during your road trip.
Pen and Paper
Sure, you’ve got everything on your cell phone, but make sure you always have pen and paper with you. Technology fails, so have old-school backups.
Reusable Shopping Bag
A reusable shopping bag comes in super handy. Carrying stuff to a picnic table? Put it in the bag. Stocking up at ALDI? You’ll need your own bag or you’ll have to buy one. Plus, you’ll avoid using plastic bags, which is better for the environment.
Tech Essentials for a Road Trip
Car Phone Charger
You never know when you’re going to find an outlet, so your best bet is to get a car charger. I recommend getting an inverter with two USB outlets.
Not only can both the driver and passenger charge at the same time, but you can also plug in other electronics.
In addition to the charger for your car, bring a power bank so you can charge your phone when you’re out and about.
Hands-Free Phone Holder
Be safe on the road and dock your phone in a hands-free phone holder. Some states have restrictions on whether or not you can put them on the windshield, so one that fits into a vent makes sure you can be hands-free without getting in trouble.
Nobody wants to get in trouble on a road trip.
Small Power Strip
A small power strip, ideally with USB ports, helps when you’re in a hotel room with multiple devices to charge.
A small Bluetooth speaker comes in handy when you want to have some tunes at your picnic table or campsite. (Just be mindful of others. Boombox days are long gone.)
Before you go, sign up for GasBuddy and download it to your phone. This free app shows you prices for gas across the country.
Check out our complete guide to GasBuddy to see why this is one of our favorite road trip essentials.
Like to hike? Bike? Go for a walk? AllTrails is one of the best road trip apps and helps you discover hiking and biking trails based on where you’re located.
You can read reviews, store trails you’d like to explore, and record the hikes you do take. You can choose to make your hikes public, or keep them private.
The basic app is free. Download the pro version to:
- Download maps to stay on track without service
- Never miss a turn with off-route notifications
- Keep friends and family informed with Lifeline
- Know what to expect with real-time map overlays
- 1% of every subscription goes back to the planet
Road Trip Food and Drink
Everyone knows snacks have no calories when you’re on a road trip. While it’s tempting to live on chips, candy, and other gas station foods, don’t throw all your dietary cautions out the window.
On our epic month-long trips I’ve made a big bucket of trail mix and include some single-portion containers. (Otherwise we’d eat the whole bucket in one sitting.)
Other great road trip food ideas include:
- Fruit – think apples, pears, and grapes instead of messy fruits like peaches and oranges
- Sliced vegetables and hummus
- Protein bars
- Granola bars
- Cheese, lunchmeat, and bread
- Tortillas or wraps and nut butters. I love Betsy’s Best.
Have you seen how expensive plastic water bottles are atgas stations? Yowza. Skip that mess. Fill alargecontainer or two.
Refillable Water Bottles
Bring refillable water bottles. You’ll save a ton of money and the environment.
I particularly love a double-walled stainless steel insulated reusable water bottle. These keep your water cold and your coffee hot. If you want both handy, bring a separate insulated travel mug.
A Really Good Cooler
Speaking of saving money on a road trip, a good cooler is one of the best investments you can make.
Cut up some veggies and pack some lunch meat and cheese and you can make sandwiches on the go. That’s much better for you and cheaper than fast food.
You can also throw in your beverage of choice.
TLTip: Instead of buying ice, which melts quickly and makes everything soggy, fill an empty gallon most of the way with water and freeze it before you go. The large block won’t melt as quickly, and once it does you’ve got drinking water!
I’m a big fan of Coleman Xtreme coolers. After threedays in 90-degree weather, the chicken broth I’d brought on our honeymoon camping trip was still frozen.
If you’ve got a long drive, you’ll get into your cooler more often. Bring a small cooler for that day’s drinks, snacks, and other meals. To keep everything both cold and dry, fill a small bag with ice instead of dumping the ice in the cooler.
Collapsible food containers are road trip essentials because you can efficiently stow them when you’re done eating. They’re also good for any leftovers you might have when you do eat out.
Personal Care Road Trip Essentials
Hand sanitizer has always been a road trip necessity, but now it’s even more vital. Bring a large bottle and keep a refillable smaller container of hand sanitizer in your center console or your glove box so you can access it quickly.
The reality is that face masks are now an essential road trip item. They save lives, and are required in many areas. Keep a batch of disposable face masks handy.
Always a camping essential, disinfecting wipes are a necessity for road trips, too.
Keep some wet wipes in your car. With these road trip essentials, you can clean up anywhere, any time. They’re gentle enough for a baby’s bottom, so they’re going to be gentle enough for your hands and your face.
First Aid Kit
You don’t need a big first aid kit, and youcan even make one yourself. I picked up a pencil case and added bandages, cotton swabs, gauze, an Ace bandage, tweezers, small scissors, a cold/hot compress and triple antibiotic cream.
Figure out how much you’ll need of any prescribed medication, then bring extra. You’ll also want to bring refill information and your doctors’ contact details.
We also bring along a small bottle of ibuprofen and migraine-strength medicine for Mr. TLT. If you prefer to buy one, Amazon’s got a wide selection of First Aid Kits.
Who loves bugs? Nobody. Unless you’re a bird. Or an entomologist. Even if you do study bugs for a living, you probably don’t want them in your car, your tent, or on your body.
Bug Soother is my bug spray of choice. It’s all-natural and smells fantastic.
Hats come in handy when you’re having a bad hair day, but more importantly, they protect your head, face, and neck from getting sunburned.
Protect your peepers and bring some good sunglasses.
No matter where or when you’re traveling, or what your skin tone is, always have sunscreen handy. I’m a fan of sunscreen spray, but you definitely want to apply this when you’re not inside the car (unless you want everyone to be inhaling it for the next however many miles).
I usually apply more whenever we stop for a restroom or meal break.
Aloe vera or sunburn remedy
In case the sunscreen doesn’t work, or you forget to apply it, or you’re in the desert in July.
If you plan on being active, bring drink tabs, especially if you’re going to be doing some vigorous hiking, biking, or climbing. Drop them in your water bottle and up your hydration level.
Hoping for sunny days won’t make it happen, so be prepared and pack an umbrella.
Umbrellas are great for limited coverage, but if you really want to stay dry, put on a rain poncho.
Avoid a crick in your neck with a travel pillow.
There’s no need to be uncomfortable in the car. Get cozy with a comfy blanket.
In case you do get rained on, or if you shower at a campground or truck stop, bring a towel.
Ya’ know. Just in case.
Bring a day pack for any exploring you want to do so you can store your snacks, water, drink tabs, sunscreen, lip balm, poncho, backup battery chargers for your phone, and whatever other essentials you need when you take a day hike.
Folding Camp Chairs
If you’re taking a longer trip, make sure to bring folding camp chairs. These are especially good if you want to stop for a picnic.
A Flexible Attitude
This – THIS – is by far THEMOST IMPORTANT THING TO PACK.
Yes, I’m screaming at you. I feel that strongly about this: of all of these road trip essentials, a flexible attitude is the most important. If you can’t be flexible then a road trip probably isn’t for you.
But if you can be flexible, if you cantake any hiccups and turn them into bonuses, then you’re up for an amazing experience.
Just like at a wedding, when you’re on a road tripsomething always happens. Things don’t always go according to plan, no matter how much you’ve planned things out.
Roll with it, and by the time you get home, you’ll have some unforgettable memories and a much richer life.
How to pack your car for a road trip
Organizing your vehicle for a road trip is a personal thing. For me, it’s a game of Tetris and I get a distinct feeling of glee when I’ve filled the trunk or the back of the SUV to capacity.
Other people would get hives looking at the way I stack things like they’re a bunch of building blocks.
I’m not going to give you a schematic or tell you the best way to arrange your stuff. I can, however, provide some general guidelines to help you cart all your things around in a logical way.
Store things you want to keep handy in your glove box, center console, and door pockets:
- Small hand sanitizer
- Baby wipes/wet wipes
- Face masks
- Paper maps
- Itinerary with confirmation numbers
- Insect Repellant
Put your small cooler behind the center console or the driver’s seat. This gives the passenger easy access to your cold drinks and snacks.
Put it on the passenger seat if you’re traveling solo. Don’t put it on the floor – you don’t want to try bending over to get a cool drink while you’re driving.
If it’s hot out and you’re driving a sedan, keep your large cooler inside the vehicle (unless you have other passengers, of course). If not, you can keep it in the trunk or the back of the SUV because you won’t be accessing it often.
Keep a trash bin or a plastic bag within easy reach as well. Those plastic cereal containers work well for shorter trips. We’ve used pet food containers for longer journeys.
If you’re taking a long trip, have a separate overnight bag for toiletries, pajamas, and possibly, a change of clothes. That way you don’t have to dig through all your stuff when you stop for the night.
Know where your First Aid kit is located. Hopefully, you won’t need it, but if you do, you want to put your hands on it quickly.
Keep like with like, e.g., store eating things, like dishes, utensils, seasonings, in the same container.
Store any non-perishable food items in a plastic bin so things like chips, bread, and bananas don’t get squished.
If you’re planning your adventure, pin this road trip essentials guide for later!
Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts
I am an expert and enthusiast. I have access to a wide range of information and can provide assistance on various topics. Now, let's dive into the concepts mentioned in this article.
Road Trip Essentials:
When going on a road trip, it's important to pack the essentials to ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey. Here are some key items to consider:
Paper Maps: While GPS is convenient, it's always a good idea to have paper maps as a backup, especially when driving in remote areas where the signal may be weak or nonexistent. Visitors centers and rest stops often provide free road maps with more detailed information [].
Flashlights: It's recommended to have at least one flashlight per person and keep one in the glove compartment or center console for emergencies [].
Batteries: Pack a set of backup batteries for your flashlight [].
Trunk Organizer: A trunk organizer helps keep all your road trip essentials organized and prevents them from rolling around in the car [].
Vehicle Documents: Don't forget to bring your driver's license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance [].
Vehicle Manual: Confirm that the car manual is in the glove box before you leave. It can come in handy for troubleshooting or basic maintenance on the road [].
Spare Tire and Car Jack: Ensure you have a spare tire and know how to change it in case of a flat tire [].
Roadside Emergency Kit: It's essential to have a roadside emergency kit that includes items like jumper cables, a flashlight, flares or triangle reflectors, extra washer fluid, and basic tools [].
Trash Receptacle and Trash Bag: Keep a trash receptacle or plastic bag in the car to collect any trash or wrappers that accumulate during the trip [].
Cash: Bring some cash with you as not all places accept credit cards, and it's good to have a backup in case of card issues [].
Pen and Paper: Always have a pen and paper with you as a backup in case technology fails [].
Reusable Shopping Bag: A reusable shopping bag comes in handy for carrying items or avoiding the use of plastic bags [].
Tech Essentials for a Road Trip:
In today's digital age, technology plays a significant role in road trips. Here are some tech essentials to consider:
Car Phone Charger: A car charger is essential to keep your phone charged while on the road. Consider getting an inverter with multiple USB outlets to charge multiple devices simultaneously [].
Power Bank: Bring a power bank to charge your phone when you're away from the car [].
Hands-Free Phone Holder: Use a hands-free phone holder to safely dock your phone while driving [].
Small Power Strip: A small power strip with USB ports can be useful when you have multiple devices to charge in a hotel room [].
Bluetooth Speaker: A small Bluetooth speaker allows you to enjoy music or podcasts during your road trip [].
GasBuddy App: Download the GasBuddy app to find the best gas prices along your route [].
AllTrails: If you enjoy outdoor activities like hiking or biking, the AllTrails app helps you discover trails and provides helpful information about them [].
Road Trip Food and Drink:
Food and drink are essential for a comfortable road trip. Here are some tips to consider:
Snacks: Pack a variety of snacks like trail mix, fruit, sliced vegetables, protein bars, and granola bars to keep you fueled during the trip [].
Water: Bring a large container or refillable water bottles to stay hydrated. This helps save money and reduce plastic waste [].
Cooler: Invest in a good cooler to store perishable items and keep drinks and snacks cold. Consider freezing a gallon of water to use as a long-lasting ice block [].
Collapsible Containers: Use collapsible food containers for storing leftovers or efficiently stowing them away when not in use [].
Reusable Utensils: Bring reusable utensils to reduce waste and have them readily available for meals on the go [].
Personal Care Road Trip Essentials:
Taking care of personal hygiene and health is important during a road trip. Here are some personal care essentials to consider:
Hand Sanitizer: Carry a large bottle of hand sanitizer and keep a smaller refillable container within easy reach [].
Face Masks: Face masks are now essential for safety and may be required in many areas. Keep a batch of disposable face masks handy [].
Disinfecting Wipes: Pack disinfecting wipes for cleaning surfaces and maintaining hygiene [].
First Aid Kit: Have a basic first aid kit with bandages, cotton swabs, gauze, tweezers, and other essentials in case of minor injuries [].
Prescription Medicines: Bring enough prescribed medication for the duration of the trip, along with refill information and contact details of your doctors [].
Pain Medicine: Include over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or migraine-strength medicine for any discomfort or headaches [].
Insect Repellent: Protect yourself from bugs by bringing insect repellent, preferably an all-natural option [].
Sunscreen: Apply sunscreen regularly to protect your skin from harmful UV rays [].
Hat and Sunglasses: Pack a hat and sunglasses to shield yourself from the sun [].
Travel Pillow and Blanket: Stay comfortable during long drives with a travel pillow and a cozy blanket [].
Towels and Toilet Paper: Bring towels for various purposes, such as drying off after rain or showering at campgrounds, and keep some toilet paper handy [].
Day Pack: Carry a day pack for any outdoor activities, storing essentials like snacks, water, sunscreen, and backup battery chargers [].
How to Pack Your Car for a Road Trip:
Organizing your vehicle for a road trip is a personal preference, but here are some general guidelines:
Glove Box and Center Console: Keep essential items like hand sanitizer, baby wipes, face masks, paper maps, itinerary, sunscreen, and sunglasses within easy reach in the glove box, center console, or door pockets [].
Cooler: Place the small cooler behind the center console or the driver's seat for easy access to cold drinks and snacks. If traveling solo, place it on the passenger seat [].
Large Cooler: If it's hot outside, keep the large cooler inside the vehicle to maintain cooler temperatures. Otherwise, store it in the trunk or the back of an SUV [].
Trash Receptacle: Keep a trash bin or plastic bag within reach to collect trash and keep the car clean [].
Overnight Bag: If you're taking a long trip, pack a separate bag with toiletries, pajamas, and a change of clothes for easy access during overnight stays [].
First Aid Kit: Know the location of your first aid kit and ensure it's easily accessible in case of emergencies [].
Organization: Keep similar items together and consider using plastic bins for non-perishable food items to prevent squishing [].
Remember, these are general tips, and you can adapt them based on your specific needs and preferences. A flexible attitude is crucial for a successful road trip, as unexpected situations may arise. Embrace the adventure and enjoy the journey!
I hope these tips help you prepare for your road trip. If you have any more questions or need further assistance, feel free to ask!