Road trip essentials and packing list – 40+ must-haves for an epic road trip

Yellow van - road trip essentials

Last Updated on May 8, 2024

Dreaming of freedom, endless landscapes, and adventures? A road trip gives you the freedom to go where you want, when you want, and to stay there as long as you want. That’s what I love about road trips, especially right now that we need to social distance. I’ve put together this road trip packing list to help you plan your trip, listing all the road trip essentials and must-haves you shouldn’t forget to pack.

If you are still looking for inspiration for your next road trip, check out this epic list I’ve put together of the best USA road trips.

You probably won’t need everything listed below and should adapt this list whether you’re planning a long road trip or a quick weekend road trip, whether you’re traveling with kids or not, and if you’re starting from home or flying then renting a car.

If you are planning a road trip abroad, make sure you get travel insurance and check if the country you’re traveling to accepts your driver’s license or if you need an international one.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on any links and make a purchase, I’ll get a small commission, at no cost to you.

Tech gadget and entertainment – Road trip packing list

With hours spent in the car, you’ll need to figure out things to do so you don’t get bored, especially if you travel with kids. Here are a couple of road trip essentials you definitely should pack:

  • First things first, make sure to pack a battery pack to charge all your electronic devices, it is a life savior and you won’t have to worry about your phone or tablet dying on you;
  • Smartphone, tablets, and chargers;
  • If traveling with kids, MP3 player, something to watch movies on, maybe a game console too, whatever keeps them busy. For a screen-free alternative, you can try out to download a couple of audiobooks before the trip. You can sign up for Audible, you get a 30-day free trial, and you get access to thousands of audiobooks and podcasts. (and don’t forget the chargers for each device);
  • Your favorite playlist, make sure you have music to listen to, and don’t rely on 4G as you might not get it everywhere;
  • Games, games, games… There are plenty of road trip games you can play while in the car, for families as well as for adults. It will help kill time, have fun, and start conversations – make sure you also plan a couple of road trip activities to keep kids busy.
  • GPS or an off-line map, I use Maps.Me, I found it to be easier to download maps on there than on Google Maps, but both usually work well, just make sure to download the map beforehand;
  • Camera and a GoPro, you’ll want to take photos of all of your adventures so make sure to pack a good camera (I highly recommend the Sony RX100 VII, it’s the one I use, and you won’t find a better compact camera for this price and level of quality). Having a GoPro can be a good idea too, it makes amazing videos, and they are waterproof, so you can take tons of shots you couldn’t with a regular camera. Don’t forget to pack extra batteries and memory cards. You could also pack a tripod and wireless remote control for your camera.
  • Headphones – if you are traveling with kids, as a group, or don’t listen to the same type of music as the people on the trip, bring headphones, if you really want peace and quiet, consider getting noise-canceling ones. I have the Sony WH-1000XM4, and let me tell you, it’s a game-changer.

Car essentials to make your road trip more comfortable

  • Foldable Car Wastebasket – if you’re like me and you like things to stay clean and organized, you’ll need a trash can in the car, especially if you are going to eat snacks and meals inside the car.
  • Cooler – it’s always nice to enjoy a fresh drink or to be able to pack things such as fruits, yogurts, or sandwiches knowing they’ll stay fresh the whole ride. If you already have a regular cooler make sure to bring it with you or you could get the Wagan 12V Cooler/Warmer especially for car use. It fits well on the back seat or on the floor, and when plugged in it will keep everything fresh, or warm (there are two temperature settings to choose from).
  • Car Headrest Pillow and Car Seat – when you are going to be in the car for hours the first thing you want is to feel comfortable, don’t hesitate to take a pillow or buy one made for cars, and if your car seats are not extra comfy get something to help you with that, like this one, made of memory foam that can also be used on a regular chair. You can also pack a couple of blankets, especially for a winter road trip.
  • Portable Car Vacuum and Car Air Purifier – for the cleaning freak, make sure to pack these two items to keep your car clean and smelling fresh at all times, they are good things to have on long road trips or when traveling with kids.
  • If you are planning to spend a night or two in your car, check out the air mattresses for cars, they’ll fit most models and will turn your back seats into a comfy bed.

Road trip essentials you should always have in your car

Make sure to pack the items listed below, and most of all keep them within reach, you’ll probably need them during the ride and there’s nothing worse than having to stop and go through luggage to find what you need. You’ll also be prepared when you make stops along the way and have already everything ready for the excursions.

  • Car emergency kit and a Swiss knife – make sure you have all the safety and emergency essentials for your car if not, you can get a bundle that comes with everything you’ll need. Having a swiss knife is always a good idea and can be a life savior. You can also pack a “survival” kit, especially if you’re often outdoors or are going on a camping trip.
  • Emergency blankets – it’s always a good idea to pack emergency blankets, even if you don’t need them, you can use them for picnics, to put on the ground, or just to keep warm if you’re on a winter road trip.
  • Flashlight
  • Binoculars – if you are planning to explore the wilderness, binoculars will help you see better and spot wildlife.
  • Paper maps and travel guides – paper maps allow you to fin secondary roads and less traveled paths so you can go on a true adventure. Make sure to also pack the travel guide for the destination you’re visiting so you don’t miss anything and find some inspiration.
  • First-aid kit – you never know when you might need it, so make sure to pack at least bandaids, a disinfectant spray, and some sort of pain reliever.
  • Tissues and wet wipes – tissues will always come in handy in a car, road trip or not. Wet wipes will keep you clean and fresh when you don’t have access to a sink. Wet wipes are not eco-friendly so I tend to avoid them, for the car you could get a wet wipe dispenser and reusable wipes, and make your own wet wipes with micellar water (the containers will keep the wipes moist).
  • Raincoats – be prepared for bad weather, more practical than umbrellas, raincoats are a road-trip must-have.
  • Pair of trekking shoes + flip flops – always have those easily accessible so you can change shoes if needed without having to go through all of your stuff.
  • Sunscreen and mosquito repellent – you’ll always need sunscreen, no matter the time of the year, it’s a good idea to keep it within reach so you can reapply it during the day. If you are traveling during spring/summer and are planning an outdoorsy road trip, mosquito repellent is a must, I always choose one with citronella, I found it to work better than the ones with DEET, and it’s a more eco-friendly and healthy option.
  • Sunglasses – even if you are not driving, sunglasses are a road trip essential, it’s always a good idea to have a pair in the car, even in winter.
  • Snacks – choose carefully the type of snack you’re going to take, for example, avoid anything with chocolate or things that might be hard to eat without making a mess. I always pack dried fruits and nuts, it’s healthy, won’t turn bad, and is mess-free.
  • Water – if you don’t already have one, get a refillable water bottle, it takes less space and is more eco-friendly. If you are visiting a country where the tap water is not refillable, you could get a LifeStraw bottle, that will filter out chemicals and bacteria so that any water is safe to drink.

Best bags for road trips

You can pretty much use anything you already have as long as it fits into your trunk. Try to not over-pack and bring only what you’ll really need (read my tips for lightweight packing).

  • Duffel bags – your best option, especially if you know your trunk is going to be full, it makes fitting everything inside the car much easier than with a hard-shell suitcase. They also tend to be smaller so it makes it easier to pack light. You can get duffel bags with wheels so it’s easier to carry them around (but they’ll take more space in the trunk and be less flexible).
  • Day pack and rain cover – if you are planning to trek during your road trip, make sure to pack a comfortable day pack either one that already comes with a rain cover, or you can buy a universal one. For trekking, I recommend the Osprey Daylite Plus Daypack. If you are visiting cities you can bring a nicer backpack or handbag if it’s comfortable for you.

What should I bring on a long road car trip?

For a long road car trip, you need to pack things that will help you be comfortable (blankets, travel pillows, memory foam car seats…). Wear clothes you feel good in and pack a sweater just in case. Don’t forget to pack healthy snacks and plenty of water, having a cooler can be a good option for long road car trips.

What should I pack for a road trip by myself?

For a road trip for yourself make sure to bring things to keep you entertained (playlist, podcast, audiobooks…), snacks and a water bottle you can easily open while driving in case you get angry and thirsty during the ride. Don’t forget to pack an emergency kit as well as first-aid essentials. Make sure you also have a GPS or off-line maps, and a car charger for all your electronics.

What are fun things to take on a road trip?

With many hours spent in the car, you’ll need things to entertain yourselves and fun things to do. There are plenty of games you can play in the car, think of card games or things like Trivias, magnetic board games, blind tests… If you don’t get car sick, you can bring sudokus, crosswords puzzles and such, as well as a couple of books. You can also bring a tablet and watch movies or your favorite TV shows, just make sure to download them beforehand.

Did we miss anything? What about you? What are your road trip essentials / things you can’t travel without?

Pin this Road Trip packing list or print it:

Road trip essentials and packing list - 40+ must-haves for an epic road trip