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Packing List: 20 Road Trip Essentials

Natasha Weiss

Ready to hit the road with friends, family, or even just your dog? It’s important to take the right road trip essentials along for your journey. Obviously, you’ll need to back your clothing and hygiene items. But long road trip essentials may command a bit more before you take off. 

Plus, you’ll need to finalize your travel itinerary so you have the best possible experience. Use this road trip essentials checklist to help make sure you don’t leave anything behind.t.

1. Snacks

When it comes to road trip essentials for adults and kids alike, everyone needs snacks. In fact, that may be one of the most fun parts of preparing for your road trip – selecting all the fun things to munch along the way. While chips and other shelf-stable items are a good idea, try to balance that out with some healthier options like nuts, fruits, and veggies. With a mix of sweet and salty options, you’ll have all cravings covered until you hit your first stop. 

2. Apps for navigating

Some of you may not remember the old days when paper maps were largely the only way to find your way. Now some apps can help you plan your road trip with ease. Apps are most definitely part of the cross-country road trip essentials so make sure they are updated on your phone and ready to help you navigate. 

However, for solo road trip essentials or really for anyone, it’s important to have a backup. After all, those long drives that cut through the middle of nowhere may leave you without a connection. Make sure you have those paper maps too just in case and make sure you know how to read them before you even get in your car.

3. Sanitizer

One of the most important family road trip essentials is a sanitizer. You won’t always find soap and running water, even in a gas station. Those places may be more frightful to use than heading behind the bushes and trees. If you take sanitizer with you on your road trip travels, you’ll never have to worry about grimy, gross hands.

4. Paper towels or disinfecting wipes (or both!)

Road trips can get messy, and road trip essentials for kids dictate that you should never leave home without paper towels or disinfecting wipes, or even both items at the ready. Kids spill and you’ll be much more relaxed if you have a way to clean things up rather than ruin your upholstery. 

Spills happen with those 18+ too, so it’s never a bad idea to have these cleanup items stowed in the car. Ideally, put them within easy reach. 

5. Games

Road trip essentials with kids must include games. They can be physical games that are portable and easy to carry like cards or mini versions of board games. Essentials for a road trip with toddlers should probably include a favorite stuffed animal or two to keep them company in the back.

For teens or a trip among adults, games on devices can be entertaining for all passengers. But the best thing to do on a road trip is to play games involving the ever-changing scenery around you. The classic “I Spy” is always fun, plus you can take note of license plates from across the country, count how many trucks you pass, and more.

6. Sunglasses

One of the essentials for a road trip is a good pair of sunglasses. With the sun rising and setting in your line of vision, it can hinder your view. The glare may make it impossible to see the road ahead. While they’ll surely look cool, their function is critical, so choose a pair of sunglasses that are polarized and glare-reducing to make the road ahead clear.

7. Chargers for your devices

Car road trip essentials should most certainly include chargers for all your devices. A charging bank can also be helpful if you have lots to power up. You don’t want the kids fighting over the charger or USB ports, do you? Even adults will squabble if they can’t keep their phones charged up. 

8. Pillows

When packing essentials for your road trip, pillows are a must for all passengers. Even on a long cross-country haul, you’ll likely rotate driving duties. Travel pillows are perfect because you can inflate them when needed and then deflate them to minimize space. They can also help for those camping trips, doubling as a source of comfort when you arrive at your campsite. 

9. Headphones

As the driver, you shouldn’t be using headphones while you’re driving. But when it comes to road trip essentials for kids, you’ll be glad they have them. After all, you don’t want to hear a chorus of game sounds clashing together in the back or have your teens bickering about the music. With headphones, everyone can listen to what they want and keep the peace.

10. Music and entertainment

With regards to road trip essentials for couples, music can help you create the soundtrack to your drive. You can sing along and play your favorite songs for each other. If you’re traveling with kids, music is fun for everyone, though little ones will likely be happier with their own devices in the back. Along with those headphones, it will spare you from having to hear “Baby Shark” on repeat.

11. Blankets

For winter road trip essentials, blankets should never be forgotten. If you get stuck in the snow, you’ll be able to keep warm. Even if it’s summer, blankets offer a way for passengers to get cozy, especially if someone is feeling the chill from the air conditioning.

12. Water bottles and thermoses

Single-use plastics are wasteful, but taking along refillable water bottles is ideal. You can fill them up in most places when you run out of water jugs. Don’t forget a thermos for that coffee to help boost your drive. For dog road trip essentials, make sure you’ve got a water dish you can fill up for them. Every passenger should stay hydrated on the road.

13. Empty reusable bags

One of those road trip travel essentials people always forget about is reusable bags. They fold up with ease and can be used for so many things. Fill them with foods for your picnics, use them for carrying groceries you buy along the way, stash wet clothing in them, and more.

14. Flashlights

Car camping road trip essentials should never be without at least one flashlight. But even if you aren’t camping, flashlights are great for little readers in the back and emergencies.

15. First aid kit

For road trip safety essentials, you need a first aid kit. You’ll be glad you have one even if the drive isn’t all that long. Additionally, make sure you stash it with any important medications, particularly prescriptions that any of your passengers need as well as over-the-counter items for headaches, stomachaches, and other common ailments.

16. Batteries

Before you even start packing, add batteries to your car road trip essentials. You should make a list of everything you’re taking that requires non-rechargeable batteries as well as what kind of batteries. Then stock them so you have replacements. You do not want to get to your campsite only to have your flashlights die and no way to power them on again. 

17. Sunscreen

Your road trip essentials list can’t be complete without sunscreen. All those hours driving under the sun can expose you to harmful UVA and UVB rays. Make sure you protect any exposed skin on your face, hands, arms, and legs. This is especially important for kids as well because you surely don’t want them sunburnt during your road trip.  

18. Umbrella

Summer road trip essentials should include an umbrella too. Ideally, one per passenger would be best so that if it comes down, everyone can stay dry. Choose the ones that fold up small so they don’t take up too much space.

19. Cooler

The ultimate road trip essential is a cooler. If you’re going solo, a small one should be fine. But families will want something larger. Freezing water bottles is a smart move since you can drink them once they melt into water, leaving no waste behind.

20. Documents and car gear

Finally, important road trip essentials you can’t forget are your documents and car gear. You should have your license, proof of insurance, and registration with you. You should also have those car essentials like jumper cables, car fluids, tire pressure gauge, and any emergency gear. Hopefully, you won’t have to use these things, but you’ll be glad you have them if something goes wrong.

These road trip essentials will make your travels easier, safer, and more enjoyable overall, no matter who is joining you on the road. By planning and packing accordingly, you’ll be covered for this journey and every other one too.

Natasha Weiss

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