In our road trip packing list, we share all of our road trip essentials for the perfect trip. So, grab your keys and load up the car for your next road trip. Let’s break down the road trip essentials we’re always sure to carry in our vehicle. We’ve listed some of our favorite products along with stuff we love to carry in our car for the right occasion.
Now, we’ve done our fair share of road trips. We drove a truck across Africa, road-tripped around the hills of Ireland, drove through the Canadian Rockies, the Italian countryside, and jungles of Costa Rica. In fact, we almost always use a rental car or our own truck in our travels these days.
Road Trip Essentials
Car Care Essentials
License and Registration
This is an obvious one as it’s required by law pretty much everywhere in the world. We actually like to travel with paper copies of our driver’s license and important documents. Always have available and ready when you’re driving packed away in your luggage does no good.
Another 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 have a third party insurance plan to drive or rent a car.
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. There are a variety of documents that could be a necessity for your road trip packing list, but it all depends on where you’re driving. We needed certified permission to drive a vehicle over borders when we were driving a vehicle, not in our name.
Then you have a Carnet De Passage or CDP. This is a document required in parts of Africa and South America to cross borders and operates as a passport for your vehicle as a way 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 for it is country-specific.
It never hurts to have your car manual on you should a problem arise. Most of us keep these stowed away in our glove box anyways. It’s not a necessity 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, we wouldn’t dare go anywhere semi-rural without cash on hand. When possible pick up the local currency from ATM’s, but we would recommend always having USD or Euro on hand. Without a doubt a road trip essential!
You never know if you may not be able to fill your tank up because the gas station may not accept credit card. What if the network goes down? For more check out our travel banking post. There is also plenty of toll roads and other surprise expenses that can pop up on a road trip.
Who could go anywhere without this stuff? Duct Tape
A spare tire is essential for any road trip and should be an item in every car on 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 many places triangle reflectors or a vest. 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 overland gear.
We always bring some form of navigation whether that’s a paper map, GPS, or smartphone. Most days we rely on our smartphone and use the apps Google Maps and Maps.Me. It’s also important to make sure you have a way to charge your phone in case 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.
This is not necessary for every car, but if you have an older vehicle it’s helpful to have spare fluids like oil, coolant, or wiper fluid.
First Aid Kit
We traveled with a first aid kit during both our 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.
We just completed a road trip around Alberta and British Columbia in the winter. It didn’t take us long to be thankful for a few snow specific car tools. First off, an ice scraper is priority as well as ashovel, rock salt, seatbelt cutter, and window breaker. I know those last few seem extreme, but they are a very small price to pay that could potentially save your life.
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 doing 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 good handy this past summer when we struck on a deer on dark country roads. A few zip-ties later and 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, fan belts, or cleaning the carb. Mixed Tool Set
Road Trip Accessories
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 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 for when 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.
A phone serves as our communication device and navigation tool nearly every day of our lives. Unless you’re going completely off the grid and using paper maps a phone charger is a must. Depending on how long and where your road trip is you may even want to pack a few extras. (iPhone cables were hard to come by in rural Africa).
If there are a few of you in the car get a multi-way charger so you don’t have to battle over charging your phone.
If you’re using your phone for navigation you’ll need a car mount. Don’t rely on the passenger to hold the phone and give you turn by turn navigation.
Trust me – save a headache and potential wrong turns and just 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.
If you plan on talking on the phone during your road trip then invest in a Bluetooth headset so you can drive with your hands-free. They are very easy to set up and the ease and safety of having both hands available while driving is invaluable.
Of course, these days plenty of automobiles come equipped with handsfree Bluetooth so it’s a good idea to set it up before you hit the road. When we’re in a rental car we always make sure to connect our phone if it’s an option before we drive out of the parking lot.
Small Trash Can
To keep the car from becoming a complete mess get a small travel trash can. These can actually be made out of old cereal boxes!
We traveled with our own French Press all around Namibia and it saved our mornings. If you’re a coffee or tea fanatic consider picking up a travel french press so that you can make your own hot drinks instead of paying for takeaway coffee day after day.
Don’t forget your favorite brew! It can also make for a great roadside break without having to spend money on takeaway coffee. We’re coffee snobs and have tried a bunch of presses, but returned all of them expect the name brand Bodrum.
Gotta have somewhere to keep the hot drinks.Coffee Thermos or a travel mug is perfect for cold mornings. We always have one sitting in our cup holder.
Snacks are essential for any road trip 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 along like carrots, nuts, or fruit. Eating potato chips high in sodium can lead to bloating and make you feel crumby.
You never know when you could need a lighter, and they are an inexpensive investment. If you are doing any camping this is a necessity. Plus how can you make s’ mores without a fire?
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 who’s main concern is weight and space. So, it makes for an exceptional blanket during road trips. It’s warm, soft, comfy, and takes less room up in your bag so you’ll feel right at home. If we’re spending 12 hours on a flight we have no problems pulling a blanket out.
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.
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 natural 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 nicetravel sized umbrellas like thisbecause I am a travel blogger and travel quite a bit. Hence being able to pack these up is the idea.
When we road tripped around Iceland we stopped about every ten minutes to grab photos. Chances are your road-tripping somewhere absolutely beautiful so don’t skimp on a good travel camera.
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
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 time will greatly reduce your plastic consumption.
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 a pain 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 plastic silverware is made with BPA, a chemical that is absolutely terrible for your health (scientists have found links to cancer). The first step towards more sustainable lifestyles and travel is with reusable utensils. That’s why we were so excited when we found the To-Go Ware RePEaT Reusable Bamboo Utensil. If you’re going to eat in the car you’ll want these for ease.
Solar Powered Light
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.
Instead of always getting take food in styrofoam or plastic container opt for some Prepworks Tupperware containers. 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 major pain in the ass. I recommend purchasing this power bank because it’s a great value with solid reviews.
Bag of Rice
Do you know what saves electronics from humidity? Cheap, good old fashion rice! When we are traveling in humid areas we fill small bags with rice and store them next to our cameras, phones, drones, laptops. 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 if you are traveling in humid areas you will definitely thank me. That’s because humidity kills electronics (we may or may not have lost a Canon 5D due to humid air).
Road Trip Essentials For Parents
An 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 backpack is great as it travels very well.
This one 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.
Clothes For A Road Trip
Depending on how long the road trip is you may even want to pack anextra 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 do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses; however, we love ours and will never buy cheap ones again. Of course, there are always more affordable options!
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.
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 prAana’s Vaha Pants. Comfort over style any day while on a long road trip. The women’s version of the mantra is also a great capri pant that’s comfortable and stylish.
Packable Down Jacket
If you’re traveling during any time besides summer I would 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 in the world you are. If you are traveling during the summer I would recommend a fleece or sweatshirtto keep 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.
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
Never a bad thing to have!
Whether you’re a kid or adult there’s no denying that coloring books are great. Definitely 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!
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