Who doesn’t love the feeling of hitting the road and hopping on a great adventure? For a weekend, a week, a month, or who knows how long! It’s always exciting. But remembering to bring all the road trip essentials can be quite the opposite. This is why I decided to put together this complete road trip packing list and make the (not so fun) planning part of it much easier for you.
There’s just no denying road trips are great! You decide the pace you want to travel to, where, and when you want to go.
For these exact reasons, road trips are one of my favorite ways of traveling. Be it with my adorable dog, Ayla, or my dearest friends. I just love the freedom it gives me. No stressing about missing flights, trains, or buses and no rushed stops.
I have done my fair share of road trips and I can say this with confidence: It doesn’t matter how much time you spend packing, you will forget something essential. I guess this could also be said about packing in general. But there are so many little details that it’s almost impossible to remember all the things to bring on a road trip without a list.
So I’ve separated this list into sections with all the must-haves for road trips. In this complete guide, you’ll find all the essentials you need for a successful road trip checklist.
So let’s get to it and list all the road trip essentials!
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Table of Contents
Road trip packing list
I’ve put together this road trip packing list according to my personal experience and lots of research.
Of course, you might not need 100% of those items for every road trip, what to pack will depend on where you are going, for how long, and what you will be doing. But it’s an amazing guide to have as a road trip checklist and make sure you’re not forgetting something super important.
So let’s start with your one and only way of transport.
Need a rental car? Make sure you fix that right here and now!
Car essentials for a road trip
When on a road trip, having car issues can quickly become a nightmare. This is why you need to start with making sure you have a vehicle in good shape and are not forgetting any car essentials for a road trip.
- Driver’s License
- Registration and Insurance Information
- Air Freshener
- Extra car key
- Phone number for road assistance
- Electronic Toll Pass
- Spare tire + jack and tools – also make sure you watch a couple of youtube videos on how to do it if you don’t already know. It’s a super useful skill to have!
- Water-resistant flashlights – for some mystic reason, it’s very likely that you’ll run into car trouble not only at night time, but it will also be raining. Been there more than once! Check out my flashlight choice here.
- Sunshade – nothing worse than coming back to a boiling hot car. Check out the price on sunshades here.
- Hands-free phone mount – It makes it much easier and comfortable to follow your GPS app. Check price here.
- Car phone charger – Most cars already have USB entries for phone charging. But if you need extra ones or a quicker charger it is good to have one of these in hand.
It’s also a good practice to run a check-up on the car before departure to make sure everything is in order. It also won’t hurt to check the tire pressure every few days when on the road.
In remote areas
If you will be taking some back roads or traveling away from cities it’s also important to add the items below to your road trip checklist.
- Wiper Fluid
- Portable gas container
You don’t want to run out of them somewhere deserted, with no signal, and far from civilization.
If you’re traveling in winter and in snowy regions, make sure you have these items in the trunk:
- Ice scraper – clearing snow with your own hands is not fun! An ice scarper doesn’t take much space (just put it under the seat) and it’s super useful when it’s snowing. Check the price on Amazon here.
- Shovel – getting stuck in or out of your car -also not fun. Having a compact and portable kit like this one can be a lifesaver if you ever get stuck in the snow.
- Tire Chains – you don’t want to get to the foot of the mountain road only to find out you cannot go further without it. Make sure you bring tire chains whenever traveling to snowy areas.
Personal items: must haves for road trips
If you go camping, you need to remember to bring a tent. You can read my complete list of the best pop up tents for car camping here.
Now let’s dive into your personal road trip essentials!
Well, even though traveling by car means no size/ weight restrictions on your luggage I still prefer backpacks to suitcases. They take up less space in the trunk and are just more practical to carry around.
Osprey Fairview 40 Women’s Backpack
Osprey Farpoint 55 Men’s Backpack
My personal choice is Osprey as they are a sustainable company and make great quality products. But if you’d like to check out other options, I have an entire post on eco friendly backpacks here.
And if you prefer a travel bag instead of backpack for your road trip, I really recommend this Patagonia option of recycled plastic bottles.
Patagonia Black Hole Duffel Bag
Day packs are an absolute must if you’re going on hiking trips. But they are also useful in pretty much any trip you take. Just make sure you choose a comfortable pack and one that has lots of compartments. Outside pockets are also a good feature to look for as it makes it easier to access items you might need on the way.
This way you can keep your items organized and you’ll save lots of time when you need to find something.
Trust me, messing up your whole backpack trying to find one small item that is in the bottom will drive you crazy eventually.
Make sure you use packing cubes to stay organized and try to create a system that works for you. For example, you can separate your summer clothes and winter clothes into different packing cubes. Or keep your bottoms and tops in separately. The system you go for doesn’t really matter, as long as it makes sense to you.
Sarongs are pretty versatile, you can use them as a beach wrap-up so you don’t get your clothes wet after a swim. They are also a great dress for laid-back events at the beach. Or a towel for sunbathing.
I also find them super useful for hikes or picnics on the grass, it’s great to have something to sit on when taking a break. They take very little space and are super beautiful.
Extremely essential, especially on summer trips. Forgetting sunscreen can really ruin your trip. I’ve seen cases of badly sunburned people and it does not look fun.
But not only for summer time, you can also get burned in winter. Especially in a combination of high mountains and sunny days. So keep it in your checklist at all times. My choice of zero waste sunscreen is from Raw Elements.
Hanging toiletry bag
Much easier to access your things in small spaces, like camper vans. Plus keep things organized as well. It’s also useful if you are camping, staying in hostels, or places with no bathroom in the room. This way you can just pick up the bag and go. No need to come back to the room because you forgot something.
This may seem like a dispensable item, but I really recommend it if you have a lot of products with you. It just makes life much easier and I’m all for organization systems when packing.
There are a lot of options nowadays for eco-friendly toiletries. You not only reduce plastic space but also make sure it is not harmful to marine life when going down the drains.
These are my favorite options for shampoo/ conditioner and soap. After switching to bar toiletries I’ve never looked back. I find them to be not only much more practical but also of better quality and longer-lasting.
Vegan bar soap
Razors are something people often forget. I know I do! And it’s always annoying as you’ll probably realize you don’t have it when you actually need to use it.
As plastic razors are not recyclable, I really recommend switching to metal ones. They last pretty much forever, and the only thing you need to change every now and then is the blade. So you’ll also save lots of money here.
For an eco-friendly alternative, consider buying bamboo toothbrushes. They are not expensive and are so much better for the environment.
Plastic is one of the biggest environmental issues we face, so I love how we can find alternatives for most things nowadays.
I know this can sound a bit weird, I was skeptical at first too. But try out some toothpaste tablets and I promise you won’t regret it.
They save so much space, no plastic, and they’re super handy to just chip in your mouth and start chewing on the way to the toilet even on campsites.
Another one you don’t want to forget! And it’s incredible how we sometimes leave out the most obvious items when packing.
Most deodorants come in plastic and there are not many ways around it at the moment. But I like this option as it’s zero waste and made from all-natural ingredients.
Menstrual Cup – Ladies only!
You don’t want to be caught unprepared in the middle of nowhere, so I recommend always having it with you.
They are not only 100 times more comfortable, but also save us from creating a lot of waste every year with tampons and pads.
If you’re going to the beach, flip-flops are a must. Also useful for showers in campsites and hostels. I personally use them anywhere when the weather is nice enough.
Super easy and comfortable, though not very eco friendly. In my personal experience Havaianas last a long time and are really worth it, so when you first buy a piece of plastic to put your feet in, make sure it’s a long-lasting piece of plastic.
Microfiber towels are always the best option for traveling. They might not have the softest and nicest material, but they dry super fast and are compact.
And that’s why they’re the most popular ones with backpackers. You might not need towels if you’re staying in hotels or apartments. But hostels and campsites will charge for rental, so it’s good to have your own. And of course for any excursion that involves getting wet!
This is an easy one to forget, but it’s really annoying when your dirty clothes get mixed up with the clean ones. It’s also easier to keep the organization throughout your trip if you have a bag for laundry.
I love this eco friendly laundry bag. It has a good travel size, can be washed and will keep your laundry separated.
Other Personal Items
Some other things you need for a road trip:
- Hair ties
- Wallet and documents
Road trip packing list
First Aid Kit
Always handy to have some simple items to patch up when needed. I always carry one in my daypack if I go hiking or if I know I’ll be a bit far from any city. They can be real lifesavers if you get hurt in remote areas.
But they’re also super useful for small injuries that don’t really need medical attention. Think of it as your little medicine cabinet away from home.
Washable garbage can
Great eco-friendly item to have in your car. Not only handy to have a garbage can whenever you need it, but this washable option will also reduce plastic bag waste.
I’m sure all the trash laying around in your car will start to annoy you at some point. And trust me, you will accumulate quite a bit of it on road trips.
It’s a fact that you won’t always have access to soap and water. This is why I advise you to have hand sanitizer both in the car and in your bag.
I love this option as it’s made of natural ingredients, cruelty-free, and keeps your hands moisturized as well. This is great as alcohol is not exactly the most gentle thing on the skin.
I always try to keep my waste track as small as possible. But wipes are useful in some situations where you might not have a shower available. Especially if you’re wild camping or sleeping in the car, they can save you from an uncomfortable sleep.
I was really happy to find eco, vegan and biodegradable options available for emergencies.
This is an item I also always have in my car. Just good to have one for unpredicted rain. I can’t even count the times it’s come in handy!
Plus, have you ever needed to buy an emergency umbrella in the middle of a storm? Most times you’ll end up with a terrible one that breaks within the first 5 minutes. So better to be prepared!
I always go for compact and automatic options, like this one.
There’s nothing worse than getting eaten up by mosquitos when you’re on a road trip. Usually, these liquids are packed with toxic stuff that you don’t really want in your body.
That’s why I love this option from Murphy’s that’s zero waste and 100% natural. And it actually works!
And if you want to be extra prepared, they also have a soothing balm to calm down the itching. Not a bad idea if you’re like me and forget to put on mosquito repellent before they’ve actually started their feast.
If you’re staying in hostels, this is a must. It’s a good idea to leave it in a pocket in your backpack so that you always have it with you.
I tend to forget it and have a whole lot of them sitting at home while I head out on my trips. It’s quite annoying having to buy new ones all the time, when you have many at home.
A must for light sleepers. And I feel like the older I get, the more noise bothers me. So annoying as I would love to go back to the days when I could sleep anywhere, anytime.
But earplugs are a good solution for that! Especially when you’re in shared dorms, good sleep can be a challenge (think 10 people snoring at once). This eco friendly option can be washed and reused multiple times.
If taking turns driving or sleeping in campervans, eye masks are great to get a nicer sleep. Even when staying in hostels where others might turn on the light at unreasonable hours these can be a life saver.
They need to be comfortable though, otherwise it will do more harm than good. Look for soft fabrics and make sure it’s the correct size for you.
Waterproof dry bag
This is one of my favorite inventions. Specially for beach or boat trips, they’re really amazing. Great for adventures in the water or even when camping, it will keep your items safe and dry.
They can also be great to go swimming, they’ll also serve you as a water float. Just make sure you check how deep it can go and that you have the right specs for your need.
Solar chargers are a great option for a clean and natural source of battery. You just need to remember to leave it out in the sun every time you can.
If you go for a day hike, just make sure you keep it outside your backpack so it gets lots of sunlight. Or if you’re camping, just leave it outside the tent whenever you’re around.
But if you won’t be around enough sun to use this, it’s best to have a power bank in hand for emergencies. You can always charge your phone in the car, but it’s good to have it as a backup option. This one can be charged both through a solar panel or via an outlet – I love this!
Blanket or Sleeping Bag
Always good to have one of these in hand for overnight rides or if you plan to sleep in the car at some point. And a must if you go camping as nights can get pretty chilly. Even in Summer!
You can just keep it in the car so you don’t need to carry it around.
They can make traveling much more comfortable at night. Nothing worse than waking up with terrible neck pain from sleeping weirdly in the back of the car.
I love memory foam as it will adapt its shape to you. This option even has straps, so you can tie it to the seat and it’ll keep it from falling or moving around too much.
If you just want to disconnect for a bit. Or maybe listen to that playlist you know will not be popular among your friends. Earphones are a must anywhere I go!
I also like it when they are noise-canceling, so they can also work as earplugs when you just need some quiet time. Wireless is also a feature I love in headphones, as I always manage to tangle the wires everywhere.
UV Window Shades
Especially useful if you intend to sleep in the car or are traveling with a camper van. For anyone sitting in the back it’s crucial for not getting blinded through the side window with low sun.
It’s really easy to find car sets for all windows, so really recommend getting one before your trip.
Super useful, I love this Stojo collapsible cup. You can carry it anywhere and it is super easy to wash. Perfect for coffee on the go and who doesn’t enjoy a cup on a morning drive?
I see more and more places charging extra for to-go cups. I think it’s great as it gives people incentive to bring their own and help the planet.
Reusable Water Bottle
This one will go with me wherever I go. Saves so much plastic and this insulated option will keep your water cold for two days. Especially on hot days, it’s good to know that this bottle can be left in the car without resulting in boiling hot water too.
If you are travelling in Europe, a lot of countries have fountains around the cities. So have your own water bottle and you can get free quality fresh water most of the time.
I don’t know about you, but I absolutely hate it when it is cold and my lips get super dry. Not only on trips, but I always have lip balm on me. It’s also something I’d keep in both the car and my bag, for easy access anytime.
Eco lips have a range of different ones, all made organically and cruelty free.
Same as above, I must have it at all times in my purse. Especially in cold weather, my hands can get really dry really fast. Ever experienced strong wind when you don’t have gloves? Super annoying!
EOS is also a great, sustainable brand and with amazing quality products.
You should also add this items to your road trip packing list:
- Pain killers
- Benadryl for allergic reactions
- Paper maps – Go old school and make sure you have an alternative option in case you run out of battery.
- Cash and Coins – Useful for laundry, tolls and paying parking fees.
- Rewards Credit Cards – Why not take the chance to win some points that can contribute to your next trip. Check with your credit card company the options and make sure you make the best out of your expenses.
- Travel and Car insurance – Very easy to forget on road trips, but travel insurance is important even when traveling locally. My go-to insurance choice is World Nomads. You can find more information about their plans here. Check your car insurance as well to make sure you are covered for your road trip.
- Toilet Paper – Needless to say, a must have for road trips and all kinds of situations.
One of those things you don’t know why you would need it until you do. Then you will be happy to have one in hand!
This is one thing I’d also just keep in the truck just in case. It doesn’t take much space and can be really useful for quick emergency patches.
Swiss Army Knife
Multi-use, these Victorinox army knives can be a lifesaver in all kinds of situations. I love how versatile they are and you can find use for them in all kinds of situations.
For cooking, you can use it to cut food. If you ever need to fix a screw or open a bottle, they are there for you.
It may seem a bit unnecessary, but the mess can get out of hand pretty quickly back there. If you have a lot of luggage and like to keep things organized I really recommend getting one.
You might have noticed by now that I am a big organization fan. I’ve just found that you can save a lot of time and stress by knowing where everything is when traveling.
Not necessary for solo travelers, but useful for groups and families. Using a rooftop cargo will give you much more space inside the car.
If your car will be your bed during the trip, I’d also recommend getting one. This way you will sleep more comfortably by not having to share space with all your bags and gears.
Make sure you pack comfy clothes that fit different purposes and are adequate to the activities you will be doing. I have separated this in two sections. You can add the items to your road trip packing list according to the weather conditions.
- Socks (make sure you pack enough and some warm ones for the night)
- Inner layer, synthetic or wool for day and night
- Fleece jacket
- Warm and/or waterproof pants
- Pair of Jeans
- Warm Jacket and/or Rain Coat
- Warm shoes (and waterproof depending on where you are going)
- T-shirts/ Tank tops
- Sports bra
- Light long pants
- Sweater for chilly nights
- Light windproof jacket
Food Storage and utensils
If you will be camping or making picnics, it is useful to take a cooler to keep your food and drinks cold. You can decide the size by considering how much cooking you’ll be doing. If you’ll only use it for drinks and snacks, a small one might serve you perfectly. But if you travel in groups, or cook all your food then you might consider getting a bigger one.
It is hard to find eco options, so I opted for a hard plastic one. They are more resistant and will last for a long time. Make sure you bring ice blocks!
Reusable plastic bags
Great to pack on the go snacks and sandwiches. Plus, also a great way to store your food for the trip and make more space. Anything that comes in a can, glass, or box can be transferred to one of these bags.
It will make it much more compact and save you a lot of space and weight.
Great to store leftovers or fresh ingredients. I find it really useful if I want to cook for more than one meal. If you are sharing a kitchen, store it in a pan is not really a thoughtful option. So it’s great to have a couple of these to save it for later, or even take it with you if you are moving to another location.
These containers are great as glass is a more durable and resistant material. And when traveling in a car, weight is not much of an issue.
Cutlery sets are great for those on-the-go take-outs or camping trips. Most campsites don’t have kitchenware, so you need to have your own. And if you buy take-out food, you can prevent waste by carrying these with you.
I recommend this option as it also comes with straws, chopsticks and a little packing bag.
Great to have, especially for winter trips. You can take some coffee for later when on the road. Or make some tea to keep you warm at night.
They can be useful in different situations, like if you want to leave early morning, you can take your coffee with you and save you a few more minutes of sleep. Or if you are going hiking in cold weather, you will love the feeling of having something warm to drink in your breaks.
Great for groceries! These Chico Bags become so small you can pretty much carry it on you all the time. You can pretty much fit it in your pocket when they are in the compact bag.
They are pretty durable, but what I also love about them is their commitment to the environment. You can send them back to be recycled when you think they came to the end of their lives. And get a discount on the purchase of the next one! Win-win.
An important part of any fun trip, make sure you some have entertainment for the road. Also for some relaxing time in the evenings or any days you feel like resting.
For the road, don’t forget to download playlists, audio books or podcasts. You might run out of signal in a few places, so good to have some offline options.
Travel Camera or Action Camera
As a photography lover, I always have my camera with me and take any opportunity I get for amazing shots. And on the road, the opportunities for amazing landscapes are endless. So my camera is always on my road trip packing list (and probably on all the others too).
Another option for travelers and adventure lovers is an action camera. Check out the GoPro HERO 9 for quality videos and photos!
If you’re like me and love photography, I really recommend getting a Canon camera. They last forever and you can invest in different lenses as you improve your skills. If you’re into landscape photography, I’ve fallen in love with the reasonably priced EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM wide-angle lens.
Super useful when traveling in groups. It is also a great way to make friends and share some good times with others. It’s great to have one of these in hand for a fun night or just some nice background music when you are cooking or packing.
Just be aware of the rules wherever you are, and make sure you are not disturbing others.
Reading is one of my favorite hobbies. And as much as I love the feel and smell of a paper book I have to admit that e-book readers are a traveler’s best friend. You can carry as many books as you’d like with no extra weight.
Amazon’s Kindle is hard to beat. Super easy to download, good battery life and this edition is also waterproof.
However, if you prefer reading actual books, I recommend checking out my post on my favorite travel books here.
Playing cards and board games
You will never get bored on a trip with friends if you have playing cards in hand. It is amazing how many different games you can play with these decks. Check out the price here.
Board games are also a good one to have when traveling with family or friends. It can be super fun for a quiet night in.
Snacks for the road
Let’s not forget that hours on the road can lead to hungry stomachs. Keep your belly happy by adding snacks to your road trip packing list.
- Granola Bars
- Chips or Popcorn
- Energy Bars
- Dried Fruits and Nuts
- Fresh Fruit and Veggies – easy to eat and don’t need cutting, like grapes, blueberries, apples, cherry tomatoes or baby carrots
- Tea bags
- Packed sandwiches
Essential Apps: add them to your road trip list
So here are some useful apps to download before your trip.
- Maps app – Not only make sure you have the app downloaded, but also download offline maps of the region you are going. Google maps is great, but for offline downloads I really like Maps.me.
- Traffic app – Waze is a great one to avoid accidents and road constructions that can lead to hours stuck in traffic. You can also get and offer rides through the app (available only in some regions), but a great way to safely make new friends and help save the planet by carsharing.
- Camping app – Great to find campsites in the US is the app Recreation.gov. Another app that I really like for camping and parking is Park4Night. They are available in a lot of countries, but have a lot of information particularly in Europe.
- Hotel app – Great to book last minute, I recommend downloading Booking.com and Hotel Tonight for last minute deals.
- Gas app – Download Gas Buddy to find the best prices around you and get a rewards program.
- Planner app – Roadtrippers app is also a great one to plan your route and find hidden gems on the way.
What to pack for a road trip: Free printable checklist!
This road trip packing list is available in PDF for download too.
Last tips for your road trip adventure
Phew! As you can see there are quite a lot of things to bring on a road trip. I hope this checklist will help you remember them all.
I absolutely love road trips and in current times they are our best shot of traveling safely (always respecting local restrictions). If you want some inspiration, check out my road trip posts below:
- New England – Amazing scenic drives in this beautiful northwestern region of the US.
- Algarve – Portugal has one of the most beautiful coasts I’ve seen and it’s a perfect place for a road trip. Cute little towns on the way and loads of activities to do.
- Mallorca – The island has so much to offer! And the views from the mountain roads are unbeatable.
Lastly, I will leave you with some useful tips that can be handy on your journey:
- Fill your water whenever you have the chance – use all bathroom breaks to fill up your water. In some remote areas, you might go a long way without an opportunity to do so.
- Avoid tourist traps – some research goes a long way to avoid going to overpriced below average restaurants. Or purchasing an excursion that is not interesting at all and packed with tourists.
- Check Hotel Tonight for last minute deals if you are going on a spontaneous trip and don’t have your accommodation sorted.
- You can park for free in many Walmarts when in Campervans (US, NZ and AUS).
If you will be camping, check out this post on sustainable camping and all things you can’t forget here.
Hope this essentials for a road trip list was helpful and you can enjoy your adventure without forgetting anything!
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