We share all of our road trip essentials for the perfect trip in this road trip packing list. So, grab your keys and load up the car for your next journey. Traveling via the open road is easily the best way to explore a new destination. You could say we’re addicted to a good road trip. It’s how a few weeks in Africa turned into us purchasing a Land Cruiser and traversing the continent for over a year.
However, you don’t want to go without any car necessities. These are the items you should always be sure to carry in your vehicle. We’ve listed some of our favorite products along with stuff you’ll love to carry in our car for the right occasion.
Road Trip Essentials to Have
A smartphone has brought about a lot of negatives these days, and we should all tune out social media. That being said, smartphones are a great lifeline and can call emergency services or look up important information.
With a smartphone, we can also have access to our finances. Like when we were driving around the Yucatan and had our credit card stolen. Hours after the theft, we canceled the card and had a new one in the mail before we got home.
If you have a cell phone with a local SIM contract, you’ll be able to access the data network, which means you can use smartphone navigation apps such as Google Maps.
If you’re wondering what to bring on a road trip, include a phone charger on your car necessities checklist. A phone serves as our communication device and navigation tool nearly every day of our lives. A phone charger is a must unless you’re going completely off the grid and using paper maps. For
It depends on how long and where your road trip is. You may even want to pack a few extras, like a spare USB cable. If a few of you are in the car, get a multi-port charger, so you don’t have to battle over who charges their phone.
A phone stand is one of the best things to bring on a road trip. You’ll need a car mount if you’re using your phone for navigation. Don’t rely on the passenger to hold the phone and give you turn-by-turn navigation.
Trust me – save your relationship or friendship and grab a car mount. Even when we travel internationally, we’ll bring a stand for our rental car—a great addition to any road trip packing list.
A great travel accessory is a mobile phone case that makes life easier. There are a lot of great cases that can protect your phone, but the Peak Design Mobile Case is the first to enhance your phone. Its innovative design works with wireless charging and has a suite of extraordinarily useful accessories. It utilizes magnets and a locking ring to connect to a mobile wallet, car mount, desk charging station, or tripod mount. We highly suggest getting their case and car mount for ease.
Peak Design Mobile Case
Small Trash Can
One of those important road trip essentials is a small trash can. To prevent the car from turning into a pig stye, get a small travel trash can, we love ones that attach to the back of the seat! The cheap and easy option is to carry some small trash bags.
Another road trip must-have for coffee fanatics is a coffee press. You can make your own hot drinks instead of paying for takeaway coffee daily. I love my Aeropress Go. Aeropress is the same concept as a traditional French press, but it is lighter, brews better coffee, is easier to clean, and ultimately easier to travel in every way.
They make American-style coffee or espresso shots that you can use in a cappuccino or latte. As someone who loves coffee and making my own around the world, this invention is a lifesaver.
Of course, if you travel with a coffee press, you must travel with a thermos! Gotta have somewhere to keep the hot drinks. A coffee thermos or a travel mug is perfect for cold mornings. We always have one sitting in our cup holder.
Snacks are, of course, one of those things to bring on a long car ride. Especially if you’re going into rural areas for a while. We are pretty picky eaters and don’t like fast food or gas station food, so instead, we always have our car stocked with protein bars, almonds, apples, and other healthy options.
Our favorite energy bars are Clif Nut Butter Bars, and we always have a box floating around. Of course, everyone’s favorite snack is different. It’s also a good idea to bring some healthy snacks like carrots, nuts, or fruit. Eating potato chips high in sodium can lead to bloating and make you feel crumby.
A water bottle is one of those important things to bring on a road trip. There is no reason for unnecessary plastic waste and paying for bottled water. A good travel water bottle can keep you hydrated and reduce waste. Our favorite is the Stanley Ice Flow because it keeps drinks cold for hours! Please don’t forget this on your road trip packing list.
Another one of those things to take on a road trip is a lighter! You never know when you could need a lighter, and they are an inexpensive investment. If you are camping, this is a necessity. Plus, how can you make s’ mores without a fire?
If you’re wondering what to take on a road trip with kids, consider a blanket. Blankets are great if you’re going on a trip with kids and want to get them comfortable. Even if you’re not with kids, a few blankets are great for the unknown. God forbid you to have to spend the night in your car due to unforeseen circumstances.
A down quilt is made for hiking backpackers where the main concern is weight and space. So, it makes for an exceptional blanket during road trips. It’s warm, soft, and comfy, and takes less room up in your bag, so you’ll feel right at home. If we spend 12 hours on a flight, we have no problems pulling a blanket out.
Eco-friendly Wet Wipes
Another great road trip must-have is eco-friendly wet wipes. Wet wipes are great for just about any kind of clean-up, even for making a pee break on the side of the road in rural areas. The problem with regular wet wipes is that most contain plastic fibers that are not biodegradable. Consider switching to eco-friendly wet wipes and using those when needed. (See more of our favorite eco-friendly products here).
Tissues are always handy to have in the car as they can save a runny nose, double as a napkin, or wipe the sweat off your brow. Or worst case scenario a roadside bathroom stop with no toilet paper. They are at the top of my road trip necessities list!
Now that we’re a little older we always carry some sunscreen with us on any trip, well almost any trip. That being said there are definitely destinations that don’t require sunscreen. We like to use a mineral sunscreen for a number of reasons, despite a higher price tag. It’s also one of our favorite eco-friendly products.
In case it rains you won’t regret having an umbrella. I like cute travel-sized umbrellas because they take up less space. Hence being able to pack these up is the idea.
Still, wondering what to take on a road trip? When we road-tripped around Iceland we stopped about every ten minutes to grab photos. Chances are you are road-tripping somewhere absolutely beautiful so don’t skimp on a good travel camera.
So what else can you take on a long car ride? Don’t forget a pillow. If you are planning on sleeping in your car you will most definitely want a pillow. A travel pillow is great for those in the passenger seat that doesn’t get to lay down flat but still want to get some shut-eye while on the road.
If you’re planning on doing a camping road trip check out our camping packing list which goes more in-depth about sleeping bags, tents, and things like that. We use our Therm-A-Rest hiking pillow on road trips as it packs up nicely and is very comfortable.
Reusable Shopping Bags
These are important road trip essentials for adults. Some great road trip accessories are reusable shopping bags. In today’s day and age, I feel like this is kind of a duh product to have in the car. If you could help reduce waste on the planet by simply bringing your own bag to the grocery store would you? Of course! These bags are cute, reusable, and pack up nicely! Just leaving these in your car at all times will significantly reduce your plastic consumption.
We use our day bags for just about anything, they are one of the most important road trip essentials. From walking around a city to snowboarding to hiking, or just putting a few snacks in a travel day bag is never a bad thing to have. If you want to learn more you can read about the best daypacks for travel.
This is definitely a road trip essential as you’re going to want some cold drinks. After we load up the car, we throw in our favorite drinks and some ice. Traditional coolers are heavy and eat up a lot of room in the car, so we opt for a portable travel cooler. We like soft-side coolers as they’re easy to stick in the trunk of a car or SUV. It’s tough to beat our Yeti Hopper Cooler that more or less lives in the back of our truck.
Plastic utensils are not only terrible for the environment, but they are terrible for you too! Did you know that only 6% of all plastic can be recycled in the US? That’s a terrible number, and I feel that if more people knew that, they would cut back on their plastic consumption and strive to become more eco-friendly.
On top of that, most disposable silverware contains BPA, a chemical that is terrible for your health (scientists have found links to cancer). The first step towards more sustainable lifestyles and travel is reusable utensils. That’s why we were so excited when we saw the HumanGear GoBites Trio. If you’re going to eat in the car, these are among our favorite road trip essentials.
Solar Powered Light
The Little Sun is a solar-powered lamp that has been part of The World Pursuit family for years. It can be used on a table, hung around your neck, or attached to a bicycle. Five hours of sunlight will yield five hours of bright illumination.
Washing your clothes while traveling is never fun. That’s why we were super pumped to get the Scrubba. A tiny and lightweight mobile laundry machine. Just put your dirty clothes in the bag, add water and soap, seal, and scrub away. Now you can literally wash your clothes anywhere there is water. If you’re on a long road trip and need to do your laundry at some point, consider putting the Scrubba on your road trip packing list.
Another great thing to pack for a road trip is collapsible Tupperware. Instead of always getting to take food in styrofoam or plastic container opt for Tupperware. These things pack up nice and small and really come in handy for long travel days when you don’t have easy access to food. These collapsible food storage containers are BPA-free, lead, and phthalates-free as well.
I love traveling with a power bank to make sure my phone never dies. The majority of the time I don’t need to use it on long flights as some of the nicer airlines provide entertainment systems with USB ports!
We also make sure to find a charging point during layovers, but getting to a new city without your hotel reservations and map can be a significant pain in the ass. I recommend purchasing this power bank because it’s a great value with reliable reviews.
Bag of Rice
Do you know what saves electronics from humidity? Cheap, good old-fashioned rice! When we travel in humid areas, we fill small bags with rice and store them next to our cameras, phones, drones, and laptops. It works like a charm! They also sell some awesome packs that offer better control and you place where you like.
This is a weird road trip essential, but you will definitely thank me if you are traveling in humid areas. That’s because humidity kills electronics.
Car Care Road Trip Essentials
License and Registration
This is an obvious one to have on your road trip checklist as it’s required by law pretty much everywhere in the world. In foreign countries, travel with paper copies of your driver’s license and important documents for emergencies. It’s best to have documents available and not packed in the luggage.
Maps / GPS / Navigation
Always bring some form of navigation, whether that’s a paper map, GPS, or smartphone. Most days, we can rely on our smartphones to use apps like Google Maps and Maps.Me. It’s also essential to make sure you have a way to charge your phone if it dies. Otherwise, you could end up lost with no directions. In more remote destinations, it’s best to have a paper map as an alternative.
Another road trip essential that is required in many parts of the world is car insurance. This all requires a bit of research and your own assessment of risk tolerance. For example, some countries have third-party liability insurance built into fuel prices. While others require you to have third-party insurance if you plan to drive or rent a car. This is important to note if you rent a car in countries like Mexico or Costa Rica. Rental car companies love to offer low daily rates online but exorbitant required insurance charges when you arrive in person.
Additional Paper Documents
If you have plans to drive over borders with your car, it’s a good idea to have the deed or certificate of ownership. Various documents could be necessary for your road trip packing list, but it all depends on where you’re driving. You may need certified permission to drive a vehicle over borders if in a rental or car not registered in your name.
Another important document for international travel is the Carnet De Passage or CDP. This document is required in parts of Africa, and South America to cross borders and operates as a passport for your vehicle to prevent illegal imports. Another popular option to bring vehicles across a border is a TIP or temporary import permit, similar to a CDP except that it is country-specific.
It never hurts to have your car manual on you should a problem arise on your road trip. Most of us keep these stowed away in our glove box anyway. It’s not necessary, and if you’re handy, you likely don’t need a manual.
In Europe, Australia, and North America, we rely on our credit cards for everything. However, it’s recommended not to go anywhere semi-rural without cash on hand. When possible, pick up the local currency from ATMs but always have USD or Euro on hand. Without a doubt, a road trip is essential!
You never know if you may not be able to fill your tank up because the gas station may not accept credit cards. What if the network or power is out? For more, check out our travel banking post. There are also plenty of toll roads and other surprise expenses that can pop up on a road trip.
If you’re wondering what to pack for a road trip consider duct tape. Who could go anywhere without this stuff? Never a bad idea to have in a pinch. It can save you from a costly tow truck call after striking a deer later at night. Duct tape has held many bumpers up after a mishap.
A spare tire is essential for any road trip and should be an item in every car on the road. The best option is to have a full-sized spare, granted that’s not always possible with some vehicles. It’s a good idea to check your spare tire before you begin a long road trip. Along with a spare tire, it’s important to make sure you have a tire iron and jack as well.
Road Side Emergency Kit
This varies from state to state, province to province, and by country, but in many places triangle reflectors or a vest is one of those important road trip essentials to have. Then, of course, it never hurts to be prepared with things like a fix a flat, extra oil, zip ties, coolant, tools, air compressor, or new wiper blades.
Of course, it all depends on where and what you’re driving. It’s probably safe to leave the tools at home in a brand-new vehicle driving around major cities. To get a good sense of how to be prepared for tackling the world, read our post on how to overland gear.
Fluids are not necessary for every car, but if you have an older vehicle, it’s helpful to have extra fluids like oil, coolant, or wiper fluid. If you’re driving in the winter months, always carry excess wiper fluid in the car. On that note, it never hurts to top up fluids before a trip.
First Aid Kit
We traveled with a first aid kit on our road trips in South Africa road trip and Iceland Ring Road trip. Thankfully, we never had to use it, but it was comforting knowing we had a few essentials should we need to treat a burn, band-aids, gloves, or disinfectant.
Here’s a well-kitted one on Amazon. If you’re really going off the grid as we did in Africa it’s good to have sutures, blood clotting solution, fluid, and antibiotics. Surprisingly the sutures came in handy, luckily not on ourselves.
If your destination has a chance of winter driving conditions there are a number of items worth their weight in gold. It’s important to have a scraper/snowbrush, shovel, additional warm clothes, and wiper fluid. Chains can be helpful or required by law depending on the vehicle and tires.
Jumper cables are cheap to purchase and can get you out of a bind should your battery die. These are good to have in your car not just for a special road trip, but also for day-to-day driving. If you plan on tackling a more adventurous road trip check out an overland equipment post.
A jerry can probably isn’t necessary unless you are driving into the bush or remote areas. We had two jerry cans on top of our Land Cruiser while road-tripping around Africa, and they were lifesaving more than a few times. However, if you’re making just a short road trip around developed nations, you won’t need these.
Good to have in every car – road trip or not. It came in useful handy this past summer when we struck a deer on dark country roads. A few zip-ties later, we were able to drive the car back home. Still feel awful about the deer, but happy we had a flashlight.
You never know when you could need a good knife. Just make sure to keep it in your checked luggage if you’re going through an airport. We like to keep a Morakniv knife on us for hikes and it rides it’s always in the back of our truck. It’s great if you need to cut something or use it as a tool if needed.
If you have an older vehicle or truck it never hurts to have a tool bag. With a little TLC, you’ll be able to get back on the road. A proper toolkit will give the ability to replace fuses, tubes, basic wiring, and fan belts.
Road Trip Essentials For Parents
A road trip is essential for safety. Make sure to have the car seat installed before you hit the road. And it’s a good idea to bring your own for the rental car or reserve in advance.
We don’t need a whole list of all your baby items, but you likely already have this packed. Just make sure to throw it in the car before you leave, or you may be turning around.
This is one of those road trip essentials for all the mommies out there. A travel baby bottle warmer that fits perfectly in the cupholder. Just plug the car adaptor in and within minutes milk or formula will be warm.
Road Trip Essentials: Clothing
Depending on how long the road trip is you may even want to pack an extra pair of sunglasses in case a pair breaks or you inevitably lose a pair. Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun since you’ll likely spend a lot of time outside. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
Cameron loves to wear a hat so he always has one in the car. It’s great for sun protection and to remain comfortable on a long drive. This is an easy road trip essential to throw in the car at any time!
If you were to ask me what the most comfortable thing to travel in is it would be leggings, while Cameron loves spending days in the car with prAna’s Vaha Pants. Comfort over style any day while on a long road trip. The Women’s Summit pant is the women’s version of the Vaha and is incredibly comfy.
Packable Down Jacket
If you’re traveling during any time besides summer, I recommend a packable down jacket. Down jackets pack up light and small and are ideal for fall and spring temperatures. They can even be great for winter, depending on where you are. If you are traveling during the summer, I recommend a fleece or sweatshirt to stay warm at night.
We don’t travel without a rain jacket and it’s an essential road trip. They are so easy and light to pack up there is no reason to not have one in your day bag. You should always be prepared for a chance of rain when you are hiking. Getting wet and rained on while on a mountain sucks, and it can also be extremely dangerous in cold temperatures.
The Arc’teryx is waterproof, windproof, and breathable and made with Goretex Pro. It’s not just good for traveling and rainstorms but is a protective shell against all levels of weather. I can even wear it in the winter as a waterproof shell over my down jacket.
I’ve raved about travel towels all over this website. Travel towels are quick-drying, pack up light, and Anti-microbial. They are great to have on a road trip or any time you find yourself at the beach, swimming pool, or camping. We both have Youphoria towels, and they have lasted years.
Fun Road Trip Essentials
Road Trip Playlist
We have a premium Spotify membership and have a good selection of travel playlist downloaded. You can also invest in Apple Music or Amazon Music instead of Spotify. Pretty much everyone knows that music is essential to a successful road trip.
Book or Kindle
Personally, I can’t read in a moving car. However, if you don’t get motion sickness like me then definitely pick up a few books for the road trip. A Kindle is a great way to access books easily and save on space and weight.
Playing Cards and Games
Whether you’re a kid or an adult, there’s no denying that coloring books are great. Get some colored pencils and coloring books for the kids.
If you’re an adult, check out a few of these adult coloring books. Coloring books have been proven to reduce stress and increase brain activity!
Plan Your Trip
- Protect Your Trip: We don’t travel without travel insurance, nor should you. You never know what can happen while traveling, so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
- Travel Credit Card: If you’re a responsible credit card user, I highly recommend looking at these travel rewards credit cards and earning points and miles for your purchases
- Travel Backpack: We like the Nomatic Travel Backpack for our travels. Check the price here.
- Rent a Car: We use Discover Cars to find the best deals on car rentals. See our rental car tips here.
- Travel Adapter – Make sure you find a good adapter to keep your personal electronics charged. Otherwise, you may be paying for a cheap one once you land. Purchase one here.
- Travel Shoes – Allbirds are the ultimate travel shoe. They are sustainable and last forever while looking good. Read our full Allbirds review.