Road Trip Essentials Packing List

In preparation for our big road trip this summer, I spent a lot of time planning and preparing to make sure we had the necessities for a fun, safe, and enjoyable road trip adventure! Now that summer is nearly upon us, I thought I’d share what I ultimately included on our road trip essentials packing list, for those of you also planning a summer road trip.

Safety

Whether you’re road tripping in your own car, or a rental, be sure to have these items included on your road trip essentials packing list:

  • Vehicle license and registration
  • Car insurance policy
  • AAA or roadside assistance contact info & policy number
  • Car manual
  • Extra set of keys or fob– True story: My keys once fell out of my jeans pocket and into an automatically flushing toilet at a rest stop bathroom. You never know when a back up set of keys will be required. 😟
  • Spare tire and jack
  • Emergency tool kit
  • Flash light, portable lantern, or head lamp (great for changing a flat, or unloading the car at night, so your hands can be free!)
  • First aid kit
  • Road Atlas— depending on where you’re headed, you may not always have a cell signal to rely on for maps. Be prepared with a good, old-fashioned road atlas as your backup.
  • Portable Chargers– we travel with a few! I like a small one to keep in my daypack while I’m out an about, because it’s not too heavy. If I’m using my phone a lot for photos, this ensures I don’t run out of power. My husband has a slightly larger one that can charge a couple of devices at once. Plus, we have a larger emergency charger that we keep in the car, just in case.
  • Bear spray (if you’re headed into National Park territory that may include bear habitat, be sure to have some!)

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Organization

Being organized will make any trip more enjoyable. Add these items to your road trip essentials packing list to help take the stress out of a messy car, and not being able to find anything…

  • Foldable car organizers
  • Seatback storage pouches for kids’ activities and necessities.
  • Car garbage bin or DIY version.
  • Organization travel kit for chargers and cords— this is the perfect way to keep all your charging cords, and accessories in one place, so you’re not digging in every bag trying to find one. It helps prevent them getting left at various hotels along the route too!
  • Hanging toiletry bag— this is so helpful for hotel room or camper organization! It’s a compact, portable bag that unzips and hands on a towel bar or hanger, making it easy to access all your beautfy supplies!
  • Pill organizer— I have this double-sided pill organizer that is intended for am/pm meds. However, we use it so that my husband has a side and I have a side. We pre-load all our weekly vitimins and allergy pills into it (it has one large slot that opens on the back, so we don’t have to open each individual compartment!). This is a great way to take a week’s worth of meds on your road trip without having to tote all the full bottles with you! It’s always a good idea to take a few extras with you though, just in case. You never know when your trip will get extended, or you might drop a pill down the sink. 🙃
  • Portable daypack— getting in and out of the car for gas, food, and bathroom breaks is a necessary part of all road trips. Having a bag that is easy to grab from the car and tote with me makes things easier. To minimize what we bring, I use a bag that can serve as my “purse”, but also a pack for hiking or exploring. The same bag can serve double-duty just by swapping out the contents. I’ve linked up some good options below.
  • A good camera bag– I have this Lowepro Sling bag, and I love it because it fits nicely crossbody, and allows me to easily access lenses or needed equipment right on my hip. Plus, it has an expansion zipper if you need a little extra room. When I’m flying with my camera, I use this as my carry-on bag, and it’s large enough to hold my camera and lenses, plus anything else I need for the flight.

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Comfort & Convenience

  • Cooler–either for ice or an electric version with car adapter.
  • Snacks–Nuts, dried fruits, trail mix, energy bars, granola bars, popcorn, & pretzels are all great choices as they will stay fresh for several days and don’t melt in a hot car.
  • Water flavor enhancers— small powdered or liquid water enhancers are great for road trips. You can stock your cooler with water, or refill your reusable water bottle at the rest stop, and still have variety in your flavorings. This works great when you’re traveling to regions where the local water may not taste like home. Plus, if you’ll be particpating in strenuous activities or be in hot climates, some enhancers contain electrolytes as well. It’s a great way to save money with kids, too, instead of buying drinks and sodas at the gas stations.
  • Travel mug–I love our Contigo mugs–they keep coffee hot for hours, and prevent spills in the car.
  • Large water bottle–keep some filled and in the car, in case of a breakdown, or extended traffic jam.
  • Travel pillow and small blanket— a small travel pillow is great for getting comfy in the car. I like it not only for my neck, but also to tuck behind my back for extra support on long rides. Plus, if you get stuck in a hotel with not enough–or flat–pillows, your travel pillow comes in handy.
  • Sunlgasses– I always bring a couple, so I have a back up. It’s not uncommon for me to lose, or break a pair. 🤪
  • Sunscreen– I love this Neutrogena spray, and also the stick Neutrogena for portability. When traveling, I always use a moisturizer in the morning with sunscreen–even the sun through the car window and sunroof can be damaging after long hours on the road.
  • After sun soothing cream— a long car ride after too much sun is no fun. I like this Sun Bum Aloe Gel. I keep it in the hotel fridge or car cooler, and apply it cold to over-sunned skin. Ahhhh… cool relief.
  • Bug spray— no matter where you’re headed, it’s a good idea to keep some bug spray in the car for picnics, outside dining, a nature hike… Be sure to get one that is up to the task at hand. If you’re really going backwoods, you probably want the strong stuff with DEET. Do your research.
  • Chapstick–bring a few sticks and keep one in the car, one in your daypack, and one in your luggage. Sun, changing climates, higher altitudes, and wind can all be hard on your lips. I like this Neutrogena with sunscreen for outdoor protection, and this overnight therapy for bedtime.
  • Folding chairs and small, portable camping table. These are perfect for a roadside picnic, or for lounging outside your cabin or camper.
  • Picnic tablecloth and clips— if you plan to utilize picnic tables at parks or rest areas, you might want to consider a packable, vinyl tablecloth and clips to keep it from blowing away. No more worries about sketchy tables…

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Cleanliness

  • Clorox Disinfectant Wipes
  • A roll of paper towels– can serve as napkins, be used for cleaning up spills, or to dry off travel mugs or water bottles after washing them.
  • Hand Sanitizer — we keep a large one in the car, and small ones in the daypack.
  • Face masks— different states/regions have differing requirements for usage, so don’t be caught unprepared.
  • Disposable wipes for hands/face— great very a quick clean up after a picnic, or a hike. Keep some in the cooler for a refreshing clean-up on a hot and sweaty day.
  • A roll of toilet paper– don’t get caught empty-handed in a poorly stocked rest stop, or park porta-potty!
  • Travel size dish soap–for washing your travel mugs and reusable water bottles.
  • Travel size laundry detergent — I prefer Woolite for handwashing in the sink. I just transfer some to a travel-sized bottle. These portable detergent packs are also great for washing an item or two in a hotel sink.

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Entertainment

  • Kindle— so much easier than toting heavy books, plus you can adjust the lighting for reading in low light or sunlight. They are even water-proof now, for easy beach/lakeside reading!
  • Gypsy App— like having a personal tour guide give you narration at many of the National Parks.
  • Music and podcast playlists– in addition to your favorite tunes, consider downloading some podcasts to listen to on your long drive. There are so many great ones to choose from! See some of my faves HERE.
  • iPad or small laptop– great for Netflix or movie watching in the car or hotel, reading, news, etc….
  • Camera with a good lens and tripod or monopod
  • Binoculars
  • Games for the car — road trip bingo or license plate hunting games are great ways to entertain the kids on long car rides.

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Worthwhile Extras

  • Insulated picnic backpack with utensils— this is my current favorite purchase! It comes with a place to carry a wine bottle, and includes a wine cork, plastic wine glasses, plates, utensils, a picnic blanket, and even a cheese board! Picnicking is one of my favorite things, and this will be perfect! Great for destination picnics, roadside lunch breaks along the way, or even a visit to an outdoor concert or local winery. Bonus: this would make a great wedding gift!
  • Mini Portable Keurig— many hotels have removed their in-room coffee makers due to COVID, but regardless of that, I sometimes get a little concerned about the cleanliness of those pots anyway. 😖 Solution: Bring my own! This small Keurig is portable, and even has a spot to hold several k-cups! Bonus for roadtrips– you can plug it in to the car if your car has an electrical adaptor, and brew your own fresh cup whenever you stop for a break. No more stale gas station coffee for us. ☕️
  • Cash for parking meters or tolls–many places now have meters and toll booths that accept cards, but not all. Since you’re likely road tripping to an area unfamilar to you, it would be wise to have a small amount of cash/coins in the car just in case.

A Few Last Tips…

I do like to try to travel light-ish. I put a lot of thought into how we can condense, minimize and use things for double-duty when possible to avoid over-stuffing the car when we travel. But, we still like to have a few of our creature-comforts included on our road trip essentials packing list to ensure that the adventure is enjoyable.

  • Pack food for the first day on the road: If you’re going on a multi-day road trip across many miles, it’s inevitable that some less-than-ideal fast food stops or gas station snacks will be necessary. I try to offset that by at least packing some better-quality food in the cooler for the first day. On the day we set out, I plan to stock our cooler with some chicken salad to be eaten on mult-grain crackers, and cut-up fresh veggies and fruit. This way we can either nibble as we go, and get more miles in on the first day, since we don’t need to stop for lunch, or if we need a stretch break, we can enjoy our healthier food in the shade of a park or rest area along the way. Stopping at grocery stores along the way to restock the cooler often provided healthier options than fast food.
  • Iced Coffee/Creamer: Another thing we do to make our road trips more comfortable is to pack a quart of iced or cold brew coffee in our cooler, along with some of my favorite creamer, and a bottle of hazelnut syrup. After hours on the road, sometimes an afternoon coffee break is needed, right? Rather than fussing around trying to find the nearest Starbucks, it’s easier to just make ourselves an iced coffee right out of the trunk when we stop for gas!

Iced Coffee for the Road!

What road trip essentials do you include on your packing list ? I’d love to hear them if you want to drop them in the comments!

Happy Road Tripping,

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6 thoughts on “Road Trip Essentials Packing List

  1. Really great ideas! Instead of a Kindle, I just use the Kindle app on my tablet so it eliminates one device. Also, Amazon Prime members get 2 free Kindle books a month so that’s worth checking out!

    I love that you bring all your own stuff for making coffee. I think that’s easier and definitely more economical!

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