Ever wondered what to pack for a road trip? Me too! After embarking on several East Coast road trips during the second half of 2020, I finally got my packing list down. Read on for all the road trip essentials you can’t leave home without. (Looking for road trip gift ideas? I’ve got that right here!)
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It’s no secret that road trips will continue to be the trip of choice in 2021. The stats all point to more and more people hitting the road this year, choosing to explore outdoor destinations close to home over getting on an airplane.
Once you realize that road-tripping domestically can be just as exciting as flying abroad, you’ll soon come to love the freedom of traveling by car. It can be as spontaneous as dropping a pin anywhere on the map — and way more affordable, too.
Love for the open road has been secretly spreading for quite some time: In 2019, a study found that more Americans were road-tripping than ever before. And that was before the air travel industry was grounded to a halt.
If you’re here, it means you’ve now joined the rest of us on the road. Welcome!
But, perhaps, you’re just getting started, and you really need to know what the heck to pack.
After road tripping up and down the East Coast last year, I’ve come up with a solid list of road trip essentials for trips of all lengths.
The following road trip packing list is separated into six categories, including road trip must-haves you simply can’t leave home without, clothing, luggage, self-care, entertainment, and, of course, snacks.
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Road Trip Essentials: 22 Things You Can’t Leave Home Without
From car chargers to instant coffee and everything in between, here are 22 must-have road trip essentials for trips of all lengths.
No matter the length of your road trip, a two-port car charger is a road trip essential you can’t forget to pack! You’ll likely be using the GPS on your phone quite often during your trip, and that can quickly eat up your phone battery. Make sure to pack this road trip must-have to keep your phone charged and your navigation maps up and running.
Good Navigation Maps
A good navigation map is probably the No. 1 road trip essential. I personally like to use Google Maps on all my road trips. If I know I’m going to lose my internet or cell signal, I download the map beforehand to my phone. Didn’t know you could do that? Learn how here! The Maps.me app is another great offline navigation solution.
Reusable Water bottle
I never travel without a reusable water bottle. Take it from someone who’s experienced dehydration while traveling: It’s so important to stay hydrated while road tripping to avoid feeling ill! Bringing your own water bottle can help you cut back on plastic waste, too, since you won’t need to be purchase those small plastic bottles. This Avana water bottle is my absolute favorite _ it’s sturdy, holds 32 ounces of water and everyone who sees it wants to buy one!
It’s a good idea to bring along a pack of disinfectant wipes so you can clean up any road trip spills. If you’re renting a car, make sure to wipe down high-touch areas like door handles and center console to ensure your car is germ free.
I’ll admit it: I’m the worst co-pilot. I always fall asleep! Something about a moving vehicle rocks me to bed. If you’re anything like me, you’ll appreciate having a comfortable, neck-supporting pillow for those naps on the road.
For anyone who needs to get work done on the road, these noise-canceling headphones are a game-changer. They’re also great for drowning out surrounding sounds, if you want to listen to your own music in the car. Headphones can also come in handy if you want to go on a run to stretch your legs after all that driving.
In-Car Bluetooth trasmitter
Losing radio signal is almost a given during road trips, especially if you’re driving through national parks or the mountains. This bluetooth device connects to your car and allows you to play your own music from your phone on the car speakers. Download your favorite playlists to your phone, and you’re good to go.
Keep your coffee warm for 24 hours (!!!) in this top-quality thermos. You can fill it up at gas stations or convenience stores when you need that extra caffeine boost for a full day on the road. It also keeps liquids cold for 24 hours. Plus, the lid doubles as a serving cup.
Emergency Car Kit
This AAA emergency car kit comes with jumper cables, a flashlight, a first aid kit and a slew of other items that could help in an emergency. An emergency kit is a rod trip must-have, especially for long road trips.
Bag Hooks For Your Car
Keep your bags and purses out of the way with these useful bag hooks, which you can strap onto the back seat of the car.
If you plan on visiting parks during your road trip, a hammock is a great thing to bring! Travel hammocks are super lightweight and take up little to no space at all once folded up. It’s a great way to relax after a long day on the road.
A quick-drying travel towel is especially useful for coastal road trips. It’s the easiest way to dry up after a spontaneous swim. A towel can super versatile, really, and I never leave on a road trip without one!
Car Trash Can
Keep the car tidy with a portable car trash can. This one has a waterproof interior to protect the car from spills. No one wants to road trip in a dirty car!
Wind-Proof Travel Umbrella
There’s nothing worse than getting caught in the rain at a rest stop — and having to run into the car soaking wet! This travel umbrella is lightweight, wind-proof and super compact (and it has over 13,000 reviews on Amazon!)
You can never be too prepared. A flashlight is an essential tool to bring on any kind of road trip, even if you’re not camping or spending time outdoors. You’ll be happy you have one if you run into any car troubles after dark!
Find a nice viewpoint or sunset spot? Bring some chairs out to truly enjoy the scenery!
Is this really a road trip necessity? Well, duct tape can fix almost anything. You can thank me later!
Car Trash Can
Keep the car tidy with a portable car trash can. This one has a waterproof interior to protect the car from spills. No one wants to road trip in a dirty car.
Road Trip Essentials: Clothing
Travel shoes, a rain jacket and comfortable car clothes: Road trip essentials to pack in your suitcase.
Hiking boots are the best kind of travel shoe: They’re durable, waterproof and ready for adventure. I personally recommend Columbia hiking boots; I have two that I absolutely love.
You’re better safe than sorry. I never leave on a road trip without packing my Columbia rain jacket. It’s come in handy plenty of times, especially on rainy hikes!
Keep your eyes protected on a sunny day with UV-protected sunglasses. I often get headaches when there’s too much sunlight, so sunglasses are one of my top road trip essentials.
Stylish yet useful: A good hat protects your face from the sun while also being a fun accessory to your road trip outfit.
Pair of Sandals
Outdoor-friendly sandals are always a good thing to pack for a road trip. Teva sandals are comfortable to wear in the car, and they’re also perfect for water sports. They can double as your shower sandals, too.
COmfortable Car Clothes
Make sure to pack some comfortable car clothes to make long road trips less annoying. Loungewear sets or a pair of sweatpants are ideal.
Road Trip Essentials: Luggage
The best kind of road trip bag and organizers, check them out below.
My all-time favorite road trip bag is this duffel bag from Pakt. I’m able to fit everything I need in it, including shoes. I like that I can separate my shoes from the rest of my clothes in different compartments within the bag. I also love my Pakt travel backpack; read a full review of it here.
A day pack is an essential part of any hiking trip. You can store your water bottle, snacks and everything else you need for a full day of adventure.
Road Trip Essentials: Personal Care Checklist
All the personal care items to ensure your road trip as comfortable as possible. These are the personal care road trip essentials I don’t leave home without.
First aid kit
It’s always good to have a first aid kit around: This one from Amazon comes with bandages and bandaids of all sizes, alcohol wipes, CPR face mask, tourniquet and more.
Emergen-C Vitamin C
Traveling can take a toll on your immune system. One of my personal travel hacks to stave off colds is Emergen-C vitamin C packets; I bring them on all my trips. Gotta keep that immune system healthy while on the road!
Keep your lips protected from the sun with a good SPF lip balm. (I personally love this lip balm from Nivea.)
Here’s something I’m sure you already have on hand. Don’t forget to bring your hand sanitizer with you on your road trip, and if you need to refuel your stock, you can find some here.
Picking up a bottle of bug spray is probably a good idea if you’re heading into the woods.
Whether it’s a headache or a sprained ankle, Tylenol can help ease the pain. I recommend adding this essential road trip item to your first-air kit.
Don’t underestimate the sunshine coming through your car windows! Here’s an environmentally friendly sunscreen option to try out.
Road Trip Entertainment: Podcasts, Playlists & Games
Depending on how long of a drive your undertaking, there’s a good chance you (and the rest of your friends or family) will get bored. Audible is a great way to listen to audible books, or you can bring an e-reader along if it’s just for you.
Here are some other fun ways to keep yourself (and others) entertained while road tripping:
Road Trip Podcasts
- Travel Tales from AFAR: Travel stories from people who took a trip and returned home transformed.
- TED Radio Hour: All about the TED speaker’s biggest ideas.
- Serial: From the creators of This American Life, Serial unfolds a true story with many twists and turns throughout an entire season.
- 1619: The New York Times created this 5-part series featuring first-person stories about slavery in America.
- Fine more here.
Road Trip Spotify Playlists
Tip: Download a playlist to your phone so that you can continue listening if you lose cell service.
Road Trip Car Games
- 21 Questions: Someone thinks of something, then the car begins asking questions to try and figure out what it is. Whoever guesses correctly gets to start the next round.
- Alphabet: Players run through the alphabet and need to find the letters on a billboard, sign or something in the car. No license plates allowed.
- Rule: Everyone gets to make one funny rule, such as “every time we pass by a red car everyone needs to eat a piece of candy.” Whoever doesn’t follow the rule loses a point.
- Find tons of other car games here.
Road Trip Snacks
No road trip is complete without SNACKS. My years of road tripping have taught me that a well-balanced road trip snack diet includes chips, candy, fruit and protein bars.
Here are my personal favorite road trip snacks:
- Sour patch kids
- Salt & vinegar chips
- Beef jerkey
- String cheese
- Chocolate & peanut butter protein bars
- Justin’s peanut butter cups
Before you hit the road: Check out these other posts for more helpful road trip tips and road trip essentials!