44 Absolute Road Trip Essentials: What to Pack for a Road Trip

Here’s your absolute road trip essentials list – the things you absolutely can’t forget when you’re leaving for the open road. Make a note of this road trip packing list to make sure you don’t forget a thing!

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Road trips have long been an American pastime since the first official road trip in 1903 when two men and their dog Bud drove from New York to San Francisco. The first four women to cross the United States took their journey just a few years later, in 1909. The idea of packing up the car and driving anywhere in the US continued throughout the decades. It increased in popularity in the 1950s with the rapid growth of ownership of automobiles across the states.  

Now, road trips are one of the most popular forms of travel for people in the United States, and the rest of the world. But, whether you are going on holiday with friends, travelling to see family, or doing a bucket list vacation, a successful road trip requires thoughtful planning and implementation. What to pack for a road trip is a very important question.

This packing list for road trips will help you prepare your road trip necessities to make your trip as successful as it can be!

Road trip: what to bring

Here’s everything you need to fit in for the ultimate road trip packing list.

I’ve done road trips in Croatia, driven through Devon and Cornwall in the UK, experienced many of the best road trips in the USA, and driven to and through the Outer Hebrides in Scotland too. I’ve also done a few of these European road trips as well.

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Road trip car checklist

Before you hit the road, make sure you do some necessary checks on your car before you leave. This will make sure your trip runs smoothly, and you won’t have to stop for service on the way. Be safe and prepared, and check the following before you start to drive.

  • Windshield washer and fluid
  • Tire pressure and tread
  • Full gas tank
  • Oil levels

It also might be worth taking it to a mechanic to ensure your airbags and battery are working correctly. But, of course, it’s always better to err on the side of caution. There are also some car-specific road trip necessities to add to your road trip packing list – make sure you pack these first and don’t forget them!

  • License, registration, and insurance cards
  • Spare tyre and tools
  • Jumper cables
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Tire patch kit
  • Flashlight or headlamp

READ MORE: The Best Road Trip Quotes to Tell Your Friends

Road trip packing list

When thinking of what to pack for your upcoming adventure, there are so many things to bring on a road trip that can be overwhelming. To help simplify the road trip essentials packing process, I’ve narrowed down some road trip necessities.

Let’s focus on the most essential items, including navigation, entertainment, electronics, and packing up the car. 

You can book good value, reliable car hire with Rental Cars – use this link for the best deals.

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Items to keep close when packing for a road trip

These items are best served to keep up close, either in the glove box, centre console, or front passenger. Most of these items will suit your immediate needs, and it’s best to have easy access to them when the time comes.

  • First aid kit: This is a MUST. Every road trip packing list should have a first aid kit if any issues arise.
  • Paper products: Napkins, extra toilet paper, or paper towels will always come in handy on a road trip. Extra toilet paper will come in handy if a random gas station is out and you really have to go.
  • Hand sanitiser: Always handy to have, as you never know when a place will be out of soap. Make sure to carry enough containers for everyone on the journey.
  • Change: You will most likely encounter toll roads and parking meters that require change. Make sure you keep this close to the driver so you can easily pass through the tolls when necessary. Change will also come in handy for vending machines or if you want to do a load of laundry at the laundromat if you’re doing a US road trip.
  • Rubbish / garbage bag: This will help keep the car clean throughout the journey. Make sure you pack more than one!

Navigation, electronics, and entertainment

Navigation is a must on your road trip checklist, and while we recommend keeping a paper map handy, most navigation takes place on cell phones and apps, which is why we have combined all of these road trip essentials into one category. These are among the most important things to bring on a road trip, no matter where you’re going.

  • Paper map:  Many areas of the U.S. have spotty cell phone reception, so it is best to keep a paper atlas or map handy in case you can’t access cell phone service. Another option is to download offline maps on your phone.
  • Car charger + backup batteries: This is a road trip necessity! You definitely do not want your phone to die on your trip. Add these to your road trip packing list now!
  • Extra USB cables: Just in case you lose your charger, it never hurts to have an extra one laying around. Top of the list of things to bring on a road trip.
  • Mobile phone mount: This simple item is essential to bring on your road trip as it makes navigation safer while driving. Many states have hands-free driving laws as well. 
  • Navigation apps: These apps will help plan your adventure, whether it is to find an overnight car camping spot, a day hike, or a cheaper gas station – it a road trip essential to have as many resources as possible to make your trip a success
    • The Dyrt – This is the most extensive review of campgrounds in the U.S. and helps to create the perfect adventure for travelers
    • Google Maps– This is the best free app for navigation and allows you to save offline maps. Just make sure to download the offline map BEFORE you lose cell service.
    • Gas Buddy – This app helps find the cheapest gas prices along your route to help save money and offers a trip cost calculator to budget your trip beforehand.
  • iPads, Kindles: If you have kids or additional passengers, don’t forget to pack electronics for the journey to entertain everyone on the trip.

Entertainment is probably one of the most significant road trip necessities for long road trips to keep everybody happy. Whether you’re travelling with a group of friends or small children, there are abundant activities to keep everybody entertained throughout the journey. Here’s a list of different ideas to keep everyone engaged and happy. 

  • Playlists and audiobooks
    • Spotify – This app by far has the most significant amount of pre-made playlists to enjoy on the road, and if you pay for premium, you can download as many playlists as you like to play offline, just in case you lose service! Spotify also has a bunch of podcasts to listen to if you’re looking for something different to listen to.
    • Scribd – If listening to audiobooks are of interest to you, Scribd is the perfect app to use while you are on the road.
  • Activities for kids
    • Books – If motion sickness isn’t a concern, don’t forget to pack some books to keep kids and teenagers entertained on the drive. Picture books are definitely fun for the little ones to look at, while teenagers will probably bring along their own favourites. 

Colouring and Activity Books – Colouring books are always a must for a road trip and will give the younger passengers something to do while listening to music or audiobooks. Activity books like Sudoku, crossword puzzles, and tic tac toe are also great ways to keep everyone entertained.

For an extra dose of fun and engagement, adults can check their answers. By searching for answers online for crossword puzzles and Sudoku, you can find the correct solutions to enhance the activity book experience.

These are great road trip essentials – check out these driving affirmations too.

Packing up the car

The next priority on your road trip checklist should be making sure your car is organised for your journey. You might not need everything on this road trip packing list, but they’re all valuable items to have to make your articles easy to find when you need them.

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  • Storage bins: If you plan to camp or have additional gear or clothing, storage bins are a great alternative to luggage for storing goods. This is also the perfect place to stash extra snacks for the journey that you could keep in the back seat for easy access throughout the journey.
  • Laundry bag: A laundry bag is a perfect addition to your road trip packing list so you can separate your clean clothes from your dirty clothes. This will make it easy if you want to stop and do some laundry while you are on the road.
  • Roof cargo: If your car can handle it, a roof cargo box is an extra that you can add, so you can benefit from extra storage if your car is of a smaller size!
  • Seatback organiser: Seatback organisers are the perfect storage addition to your road trip packing list, especially if you have kids sitting in the back seat of the car. They can fill their pockets with all sorts of activities and toys to fill their time! It’s also the perfect place to store snacks and beverages for easy access.
  • Day pack: Make sure to have your everyday essentials in an easy-to-access day pack. This way, you won’t have to dig through your duffel bag or luggage to grab the things you need to go on a hike or a quick day trip, wherever that may be.
  • Luggage: Suitcases, hiking bags, and other large storage items that don’t need to be readily accessed can go in the car’s trunk for the journey. 

More essentials for road trips

These must haves for road trips need to be added too!

Winter road trip essentials

road trip essentials

Tyre chains

You won’t normally need tyre chains in England, but if you’re in the hills and mountains of Scotland, Wales or the rest of the world, they will help. Some countries require them by law.

Snow shovel

Keep a small snow shovel in case you need to dig yourself out, especially in super cold countries!

Ice scraper

You need a durable ice scraper to ensure you can drive safely if you’re road tripping in winter.

Essentials for road trips

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Once you have your packing list for road trips finalised and the car packed, you’ll be ready to hit the road on your journey. I hope these tips for things to bring on a road trip to help you feel prepared for your road trip ahead. And check out these tips if you’re planning on doing your road trip solo!

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