Updated on October 8, 2020 by Asher Fergusson
To help you get out there, here is our list of the 17 most important things to pack for your road trip along with what NOT to bring and other important FAQs.
Don’t forget to go with the flow and enjoy the journey while bonding with your fellow passengers!
What to Pack for Road Trip – 17 Essentials
It’s a great idea to keep a cooler within arms reach from the driver’s seat. Everyone who’s done a road trip knows that your food options are limited mainly to fast food. With a supply of your own snacks, you’ll have easy access to cheaper and healthier options. This cooler is perfect for keeping your snacks and drinks cool during the ride.
No matter where you’re headed or for how long, you’ll want to keep your clothing organized and accessible. Do this by using packing cubes, which will make your trip infinitely easier! This set comes in a variety of fun colors and even includes cases for your laundry and shoes.
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Staying hydrated is always very important while traveling. With a reusable water bottle, you can get refills at gas stations and restaurants for free and save yourself some money. This bottle is my road trip go-to since it has a removable splash guard that makes it easy to fill, easy to drink from, and easy to clean!
There are few handier items to bring with you on any type of trip than a lipstick-sized portable charger. Whether you’re on the road or have stopped to explore, this small charger will act as a backup battery if your phone or camera runs out at an inconvenient time.
Weather can be unpredictable and you never know when you’re going to get caught in a rain or snow storm. You’ll be glad you brought along this windproof travel umbrella, which packs down small and can easily be tossed in your purse or stored in the trunk of your car.
If you plan to drive across the border into a foreign country on your road trip, you will definitely benefit from using a VPN. If you need to connect to WiFi on your laptop or phone in a public place like in hotels or cafes, turning on your VPN will prevent potential hackers from accessing your sensitive information. It’ll also allow you to access websites that may be blocked or censored in the host country.
Trash can build up quickly when you’re on the road, and soon you won’t know where to put your empty snack containers, receipts, and complimentary park maps. This travel trash can is the perfect solution. It’s collapsible so it takes up relatively no space when not in use.
Keep your car and yourself organized on your drive by using a trunk organizer. This one clips in with bungee cords, and has heavy duty compartments. It’s perfect for organizing your toiletries, clothes, shoes, and anything else you need to bring along with you.
9. Neck Wallet
You’ll want to keep cash and other essentials on you during a road trip. You never know when you’re going to run into tolls or have to pay for street parking. Keep your cash and other valuables, like credit cards, passport, and ID in this handy neck wallet to keep your belongings organized and secure during your road trip.
10. Air Mattress
If you’re planning on camping or staying over with friends, you’ll be glad you brought along a reliable air mattress like this one. This way you’re guaranteed a comfortable place to sleep, even if you haven’t quite worked out your accommodations yet while on the road.
11. First Aid Kit
Make sure you keep a supply of any and all first aid items you could potentially need while on the road. This will be perfect for any aches and pains you may encounter during your trip. Keep this one in your car all the time.
If your road trip is taking you more than 100 miles away from home, you should definitely make sure you’ve got good travel insurance. We love using World Nomads because they cover a wide range of activities and offer a variety of affordable coverage plans.
You should never take any long drive without a car emergency kit. You never know what can happen on the road, and things like jumper cables and an emergency hammer can really save you some trouble or even save your life if it comes down to it!
A quick dry travel towel is another convenient road trip item you’ll be glad you brought with you. Much better than bringing along a bulky bath towel that takes forever to dry, this microfiber option is lightweight, compact, and dries incredibly fast.
You can never go wrong bringing a daypack on any type of trip, large or small. This one is perfect for a day trip or excursion and it can hold all the essentials while you’re out and about. Throw in some snacks, your neck wallet, portable charger, sunscreen, and quick dry towel and you’ll be good to go!
16. Dry Shampoo
Dry shampoo is perfect for a multi-day road trip. Especially if you’re camping or don’t feel like stopping for the night, you’ll definitely benefit from using dry shampoo as a quick way to freshen up so you’ll look and feel cleaner while on the road.
If you’re not the one driving, you’ll be glad you packed a travel neck pillow for the ride! Spending hours in the car can be uncomfortable and a neck pillow will keep you feeling relaxed and supported while you doze off in the passenger seat.
Other road trip packing list items not to forget
What to wear on a road trip
Comfort is key on a long road trip. Sweatpants, leggings, tee shirts and sweatshirts are all good ideas – make sure you dress in layers so you can add or remove clothing as necessary to keep comfy. There’s always that one person who likes it a different temperature than everyone else, so layers will help you adjust accordingly. Make sure to bring sunglasses as well!
What NOT to take on a road trip
2) Imported fruit – This one is weird, but if you bring bananas from Ecuador, for example, they’ll definitely get taken when crossing state lines or at checkpoints.
3) Snacks that need to be cut, cooked or prepared – Bring simple, easy-to-eat snacks like cheese sticks, granola bars and apple slices.
5) Nice clothes or jewelry – No need to dress to impress on a road trip, so leave the nice clothes at home, unless they’re packed in your luggage, of course.
6) Bulky luggage – It’s easier to pack your clothing and toiletries in a trunk organizer or laundry basket, rather than hauling out a suitcase every time you need to swap clothes.
FAQs about packing for a road trip
1) What should I drive?
Almost any car can work for a road trip, as long as you get it checked out first! There are a few things to consider when choosing a car or deciding if the one you already own will work.
2) Where can I sleep?
Obviously, you can book a hotel or Airbnb pretty last minute, but if you are looking to save money on accommodation, you have a few free options: Rest stops, truck stops, and casinos. You can also park inside national forests and camp for free (as long as you camp at least 300 feet away from paved roads and waterways). You can also check out the Bureau of Land Management website and find out where you can camp almost anywhere for free. Surprisingly enough, you can even park at most Walmarts overnight.
3) How do I decide my destinations?
If you truly have no idea where you’d like to go, use websites like Roadtrippers to build your perfect trip starting in your hometown.
4) What do you eat?
Bring road snacks that are convenient and healthy. I like to bring along a lot of nuts, dried fruit, granola bars and apples, along with a cooler full of yogurt, salami, cheese and other easy foods! One nice thing about road tripping is that you can stop in at grocery stores frequently so you don’t have to stock up on anything.
5) How do you shower?
You can shower at hotels or B&Bs that you stay at, find a clean stream or river to wade in, or (worst case scenario) keep a stash of wet wipes ready!
6) How do you get internet?
Invest in a solid data plan (unlimited is obviously best) so that you can use your phone without wifi. Almost all cafes, hotels and even some gas stations have free wifi these days if you’re in a pinch.
7) How much does a road trip cost?
It obviously depends on the length of your trip and where you are going, but websites like Google Maps can look at the prices of gas in areas you’re passing through and calculate the estimated amount of money you’ll have to spend on gas. Add that number to your budget for nightly accommodation and food, and you’ll get a ballpark estimate of what you’re going to be spending.
8) Why take a road trip instead of fly?
Getting there is half the fun. If you’re traveling with a companion, you’ll get to know your copilot in a new way with all of the long on-the-road conversations, and bonding over new sights. If you’re traveling solo, you’ll likely learn a lot about yourself. At any rate, you’ll see areas and hidden gems of the country that you would never see through a plane window.
9) What’s the best time to take a road trip?
Obviously it’ll depend mostly on the destination and your starting point, but there are some things to think about regardless. Variables like seasons and weather will be entirely geographically determined, but other factors like things you want to see along the way, availability of campsites, cost of gas and food, and how much gear you’ll have to bring may fluctuate based on time of year. Be sure to check seasons and weather, and plan your route accordingly.
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