Looking for the top road trip essentials for your next getaway? So, you’re about to set off on the wide-open road, feel the wind in your hair, and aim for the horizon. But, before you put your foot on the accelerator, take a step back and refer to your road trip checklist: a packing list of road trip essentials you should have prepped and ready before you embark on your adventure. Here are the ultimate road trip quotes for your next adventure.
There are so many great road trips like driving to all the best beaches in Florida, driving down the coast of bucket list destinations in California, road tripping through Scottsdale Arizona, or driving and visiting all the top places in Europe. Make sure that you have all of your road trip essentials packed for a safe and worry-free road trip.
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The Ultimate Road Trip Essentials
Table of Contents
This guide to what to take on your road trip covers practical car essentials, standard road trip essentials, COVID-era essentials, as well as fun road essentials because – really – the most essential thing is that you have the best time! Here is everything you need to have with you and need to know for your road trip:
Practical Car Essentials For Road Trips
Let’s start with the most important because you never know what could happen on a road trip and you need to be prepared for every eventuality, so you don’t get stuck in the middle of nowhere. A road trip requires being on the road, so here are some absolute, non-negotiable essentials you need to have with you in your car before you start with the fun elements of your road trip packing list:
License and Registration
Make sure you have your documents up to date and somewhere easy to access in your car, just in case you need to present them. If you’re road-tripping through a foreign country, make sure you also have your passport and any visa documents to hand, especially if you’re crossing land borders on a multi-country trip. Your passengers should also have their ID or passport (if relevant) with them too.
Copy of Car Insurance
If you’re driving your own vehicle, make sure you have a copy of the car insurance policy and any relevant contact numbers in a safe and easy-to-access place. If you are renting a vehicle, then be sure to have all of those documents in a safe place too. Also, keep a digital copy on your phone in the rare case your vehicle is stolen or destroyed. Obviously, these are worst-case scenarios, but it’s best to be prepared for them, just in case.
You never know what little (or big!) thing could go wrong, like when a dashboard light suddenly makes itself known and you’ve no idea what it means. Google won’t be much help if you’re out in the sticks without a signal. Bring along your car manual for the ride and – even better – familiarize yourself with it before you set off.
Check to see if you a) have a spare tire and b) it’s in good condition.
Someone Who Has Changed a Tire Before
Even if you’re the designated driver, you may not have changed a tire before. Perhaps there’s a passenger who has and potentially has some other practical car know-how too, such as changing oil, etc.
These handy “first aid kits for your car” are available to purchase off Amazon and you can even search for one specific to your vehicle or the type of trip you’re taking e.g. winter. Standard contents include battery booster cables, a tire pressure gauge, a window breaker, flashlight, multi-tools, high-vis vests, a roadside warning sign, and much more besides. Of course, if you have some of these already at home, then you can create your own roadside emergency kit.
Road Trip Essentials
Now that you have your car covered for every eventuality, you can now turn to what to pack for your road trip.
In case you’re planning to rely on GPS or Google Maps, pick up a paper map as a backup. Machines can fail, signals can disappear and technology can let you down. Knowing that you have a Plan B means you can relax and navigate with peace of mind.
There may already be one in your roadside emergency kit, but if there isn’t, then make sure you have one supplied with band-aids, bandages, antiseptic, and safety pins, at the very least.
The best practice is to have a reusable water bottle available and to keep it topped up regularly as you stop along your road trip. However, keep a backup supply of bottled water in the car just in case you can’t fill up, you run out, or the car gets stranded, especially somewhere hot. And remember to stay hydrated! My favorite reusable water bottles are S’well water bottles as they are insulated and keep my water cold.
Depends on when and where you’re going, but it’s always essential to have sunscreen around, whether you’re journeying through a shadeless desert or getting glare off of snowy mountains. Similarly, if you’re out in the countryside then chances are you’ll run into some creepy crawlies at some point or another. Have some bug spray handy to keep the pesky critters at bay and prevent itchy bites.
Glare and brightness can be big distractions while driving and uncomfortable for passengers too, so make sure you all have a pair of sunnies (and maybe a spare), as well as perhaps a UV window shade to deflect the sun’s powerful rays.
Likewise, if you’re traveling in the winter or to a colder destination, you may need these two in your car (they may already be part of your roadside emergency kit).
Weather can be unpredictable and we’ve all seen the movies where a car runs into trouble during a storm – it never ends well. Have an umbrella something small and compact like this one and a poncho or two in the car, like these, just in case you need to get out and fix a problem in a downpour or make a dash to a nearby building.
Hey, let’s be real – sometimes the toilets available at rest stops and gas stations are not the most sanitary, so keep a roll of toilet paper in the car in case it’s needed. You may find you need the odd tissue for a spill or sneeze anyway.
Bluetooth or Wireless Hands-Free Kit
In many countries, it’s illegal to drive while on your phone, so set up a hands-free method to prevent any phone-related distractions while you’re driving – and remember, it’s not always possible to stop your car to check your phone for directions or to answer a call, so have an alternative in place.
Most modern vehicles come with USB ports these days, so you can plug your phone in to charge. Be mindful that it could drain your battery, but keep a cable just in case your battery power starts to dwindle, especially if you’re relying on your phone for directions and contact numbers.
Save some small change, save the planet and save yourself lugging things about with a few reusable bags. These are ideal if you’re stocking up on snacks and supplies if you want to grab a few things to bring into your accommodation for the evening or to head out on a picnic one lunchtime. However, you may need a few little garbage bags handy to easily dispose of any rubbish you have in the car.
If you’re taking shifts driving or you’re driving for long stretches, you may need a nap at some point, or even to sleep overnight in the car (or your passengers may be getting a little sleepy). Have a travel pillow and a cozy blanket or two ready to make sure you’re getting the best rest possible. After all, a cold car plus a bumpy road doesn’t make for the best night’s sleep, so you want to make sure you’re as comfortable as possible.
Covid-Era Road Trip Essentials
Times have changed, staycations (and therefore road trips) are all the rage during the era of limited international travel, therefore there may be a few extra things you need to pack that you may not have considered before:
Ideally, a reusable mask that can be washed and worn over and over again, but make sure you have washing supplies with you to be able to that in a sanitary way. Otherwise, disposable masks (although not great for the environment) might be the best way to go.
Keep those digits clean, especially if you’re using public restrooms – wash hands frequently, then dose up with an extra squirt of sanitizer to ensure all germs are gone.
Similar to above, keep hands and surfaces clean with some sanitizing wipes. If you’ve been traveling for long stretches without a chance to shower, you may also be grateful for a little “wet wipe shower” too.
If you’re traveling overseas, it’s good to have copies of your travel insurance on hand, just in case something happens. Even more so in the time of Corona, you want to make sure you’re covered if you get ill or have to pay a visit to a hospital.
Essentials For Road Trips
Now that all the actual road trip essentials are out of the way, we come to the main essential: having fun! If movies have taught me anything, it’s that road trips with your friends and family make for a thrilling adventure, so here are some things to have with you to keep everything merry:
Every good road trip needs a top-notch selection of snacks! Chips, cookies, chocolate, etc. are great, but you may find yourself pining for some healthy alternatives after a while. Buy a range of options, including healthier choices such as dried fruits and nuts, cereal bars, etc. Junk food is a great road trip companion, but you’ll want a little diversity after a while.
Road Trip Playlist
What is a road trip without some banging tunes? Radio can fade in and out (and – let’s face it – the same five songs are played on repeat between all the ads anyway), so have some songs ready on your phone (downloaded rather than streaming, as you could run out of data or signal), or even some analog options like CDs and cassettes if your vehicle has the right amenities. There’s nothing more fun – or cringey – than fishing out your old mixed tapes and CDs, then playing them on a road trip to discover what forgotten songs and hidden gems they hold!
Have everyone in the car think of a couple of games that can be played on a drive, so you never get bored or stuck for things to do. Some family-friendly options include I Spy, Would You Rather, 21 Questions, and Road Sign Bingo (may require props). There are lots of road trip activity lists, conversation starters, and games available via Pinterest and family blogs.
You may also want some simple games for stops too and a pack of cards is always good to have to hand, as there can be any number of cards that can be played with them.
One of the best things about a road trip is making memories, taking photos, and looking back on them in years to come, remembering the trip you took together. Polaroid cameras are even better for this because they’re old-school, they produce physical keepsakes and it’s completely lucky how they come out. The camera I personally use is the Sony a7iii with a 24-70mm lens. The Sony a7iii lenses are a must; they take the sharpest photos.
Obviously not for when you’re behind the wheel, or even when you’re a passenger if you get car sick easily, but for the quiet moments between drives, you may appreciate a travel companion in the form of a good book. If everyone brings one then when you finish, you can swap and discuss.
Other Road Trip Essentials
Depending on where you’re heading, what time of year, what the weather’s like, who you’re traveling with, and how you’re traveling (are you staying in motels, mountain lodges, or even camping in the great outdoors?), your road trip essentials may need to be tweaked to suit your vacation.
However, we hope this guide to what to pack for your road trip has covered the basics for most journeys. If you have anything to suggest in addition to what’s listed above or if you found this road trip essentials guide helpful, let us know in the comments below.