17 Top Road Trip Packing List Items + What NOT to Bring (2019)

Updated on April 23, 2019 by Asher Fergusson

Road tripping is a fun and adventurous way to not just get from Point A to Point B, but to see the hidden gems of the country. Although it comes with its challenges and inconveniences, taking a road trip is an experience you won’t soon forget. To help you get out there, here is my list of the 17 most important things to pack for your trip.

What to bring on a roadtrip:

1) Phone charger – This is probably the most important thing you can bring on a road trip, because without your phone, you won’t be able to make emergency calls, have your copilot book the AirBnb for the night, listen to music, or navigate your route. This one is highly rated on Amazon.

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2) Comfy driving clothes – You’re going to be spending a lot of time in the car, and nothing is worse than sitting in jeans for too long! Invest in some comfortable and stylish leggings or sweatpants. Here are the perfect road trip leggings.

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3) GPS App – Apps like Google Maps can help you find your way during your drive. The Maps.me app is particularly awesome because you can download maps for certain states/ regions so that if you lose service, it can still guide you using GPS. The Roadtrippers app is also a personal favorite of mine. You enter in your starting and ending locations and it will show you cool stuff along the way!

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4) Snack organizer or cooler – It’s a really great idea to keep a cooler within arms reach from the driver’s seat. Everybody who’s done a road trip knows that your food options are limited to mainly fast food. With a supply of your own snacks, you’ll have easy access to cheaper and healthier options. This cooler is perfect for multi-day trips.

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5) Water bottle and Coffee To-Go Mug – Staying hydrated is always very important while traveling. With a reusable water bottle you can refill at gas stations and restaurants for free and save yourself some money. This bottle is my road-trip favorite since it has a removable splash-guard that makes it easy to fill, easy to drink from, and easy to clean!

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6) Apps for finding places to stay – If you’re like me, you might leave planning till the last minute. This means that you might be on the road without an exact place to stay booked for the night. Apps like airbnb, hipcamp, hostelworld, booking.com will solve that problem. While stopping for gas, whip out your phone, fire up one of these apps, and easily book a hotel, b&b or campsite for the night of.

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7) Trash receptacle – Trash can build up quickly on the road, and soon you won’t know where to put your empty snack containers, receipts, and complimentary park maps. These trash bags are leak-proof, and have a handy tear off strip so you can stick the bag wherever you want in your car.

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8) Trunk organizer – 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. Perfect for organizing your toiletries, clothes, shoes, and anything else you need to bring along with you.

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9) Car mattress – You may want to save money by sleeping in your car (in legal, designates areas) instead of booking a hotel or Airbnb. This mattress is made for your backseat, and is perfect to use when car camping.

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10) Anti-wrinkle spray – Your clothes will definitely get wrinkled in your duffel bag or laundry basket (my personal favorite way to pack for the road). Bring some Downy Wrinkle Releaser to keep your clothes wrinkle-free and smelling like you haven’t been living out of your car for a week.

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11) Change of clothes – This one is self-explanatory. Stash some extra clothes in your duffel or trunk so that you can change later. Remember to bring pajamas, an emergency swimsuit, and extra underwear so that you don’t have to worry about doing laundry on the road.

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12) First aid kit – Make sure you keep a supply of all your daily vitamins, dayquil/ nyquil, melatonin, benadryl, allergy medicine and bandages. When you find yourself having a sneeze attack twenty miles from the nearest gas station, you’ll thank yourself! Keep this one in your car all the time.

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13) Water gallons – You should bring water gallons with you to refill your water bottle on the road, and in case of emergency breakdowns. Throw this one in your trunk for peace of mind – it’s refillable and collapsible when empty!

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14) An awesome driving playlist – Spotify has some great driving playlists. I also like to spend a few minutes the night before a road trip searching through the New Release section, downloading any albums that seem up my alley, then listen along the way. Podcasts are great too!

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15) Sunglasses – Sunglasses are super important during a roadtrip. You’re likely to be driving facing the sun at some point on your trip and even when you’re not, the sun can be bright anyway. Keep your eyes protected from UVA/UVB rays and from light fatigue with a great pair of rockin’ sunglasses.

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16) Cash – Always keep cash on you during a roadtrip. You never know when you’re going to run into some tolls or have to pay for street parking. Keep you cash and other valuables (Passport, ID, etc.) in this handy pouch and keep it in your center console.

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17) Emergency Car Kit – 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!

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Other packing list items for roadtrips:

What to wear on a roadtrip:

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 roadtrip:

1) 🚫 Drugs (No brainer) – Needless to say, don’t bring anything illegal on a roadtrip. Lots of cops are roaming the highways!

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.

4) 🚫 Carbonated beverages – They’ll get shaken up during the drive, and if you go up in altitude, they might burst.

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 roadtrip:

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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