I own three fleece jackets and four rain jackets. It’s not because I need a different jacket for every day of the week – the rain jackets are identical. Rather, it’s because on every road trip I manage to leave something behind that I am forced to buy again along the way. I decided it was time for a checklist.
But when I started writing a list of items I take on road trips, I realized they can vary greatly depending on the person taking the trip, where you were going, and the type of activities you’d be doing along the way. So how could I make a checklist of road trip items to pack when everyone is different?
That’s when I realized what I needed to write was a list of essential items that belong on every road trip packing list. Regardless of who is traveling, where you’re going, and what you’re doing, these are the items that should always be with you on a road trip.
Let the packing begin!
- For the Car
- Personal Comfort
- Travel Tech
- Food Storage and Drinkware
For the Car
These essential items for the car will make the miles driven seem easier, safer, and more enjoyable. After all, you’re gonna spend a lot of time in your car on a road trip!
A sun shade is one of the most-overlooked essential items for a vehicle – whether you’re on a road trip or just driving to work each day. Sun shades can prevent car interiors from reaching 100+ degrees in the summer months and also protect the vinyl dashboard. The biggest problem has always been the hassle of installing the so-called universal sun shades that never really seemed to perfectly fit any vehicle.
This sun shade from A1 Windshield Shades is the best I have ever used. The shades are built around two circular frames with extra material around the edge. Unfold, set into place, and the shade covers the windshield from edge to edge. Available in 7 sizes – they have a complete listing of vehicle make, model, and years to determine the correct size – the sun shade will be a perfect fit.
Navigation, travel apps, Spotify – there are lots of reasons to need to see your cellphone during a road trip. Just leave the texting until you finish driving. For those times you need to safely use your mobile device, you need a good way of mounting it in the car.
The iOttie One Touch Wireless Car Mount was the best mount I ever had in the car for my phone. The base has the option of mounting to an air vent, the windshield, or using a special pad for sitting on the dash. Fully adjustable in several ways, it was possible to place the phone exactly where you wanted to see it. The included charging cable plugs into a USB port and provides wireless power to your phone!
One of the least popular essential items for a road trip is also one of the most valuable: a trashcan. Sure, a plastic bag draped from a headrest will work in a pinch. But who says you can’t have an awesome trash can in your car?
The EPAuto Car Trask Can is about as big as you’ll find – it can hold around three days’ worth of average car garbage – and the attached lid will keep it all from sight. With a long strap, the trash can be hung from the headrest or strapped around a console. It’s super easy to change the bag – it comes with a few liners – or to remove for dumping at a gas station.
First Aid Kit
Accidents are bound to happen during a road trip – and hopefully the worse it gets is a minor cut or scrape. For those situations, you want to have a great first aid kit stocked with all the essentials.
The Surviveware Large First Aid Kit is one of the best prepackaged kits I’ve come across. 200 basic items are stuffed inside a rugged 600D polyester bag. The compartments inside are individually labeled, making it easy to find what you need in a hurry. Surviveware also offers a Small First Aid Kit perfect for stuffing in a backpack and Waterproof First Aid Kit for water activities.
The HART Outdoor Extended First Aid Kit is a more affordable option. Clearly labeled items are stuffed inside a polyester pouch with a full list on the back of the bag. The kit includes everything you need for minor accidents while road tripping.
Roadside Emergency Kit
I always recommend an active subscription with AAA or your car insurance for roadside emergency care, but even with the service you may still want your own emergency kit.
The Roadside Emergency Assistance Kit is one of the best. 110 items are secured inside a rugged poly-canvas bag. The kit includes standard jumper cables, a small first aid pouch, bungie cords, and a multitool.
Road Trip Rule #2 – Never travel more than 100 miles per day. Of course, that is just one of my rules for road trips. Regardless of how much you travel each day, you will be spending a lot of miles sitting in the car. These essential items will make the journey more comfortable for you.
Long road trips, hours spent on the road, the sun hitting the horizon – inevitably, you’ll be falling asleep soon if you’re not doing the driving. Might as well get comfy.
The Sea to Summit Aeros Travel Pillow is the most comfortable neck pillow I’ve ever used. The inflatable pillow comes in a stuff sack the size of your hand – after a few good puffs it’s the size of your face. The thermoplastic polyurethane material is comfortable and durable.
Someone is always chilly on a road trip. Extra layers would work, but a really comfortable blanket is the preferred way of keeping warm and cozy on a lengthy road trip.
If you really want to treat yourself, you won’t find a better travel blanket in the world than the Rumpl Down Puffy Blanket. It comes with a hefty price tag, but the 20 denier ripstop nylon material and 600 fill-power down is the most comfortable blanket ever. The lightweight blanket comes in a compact travel bag and expands to 72”x52”.
A much more affordable option is the REI Co-op Camp Blanket. The lightweight nylon blanket is water repellent, stuffed with polyester fiber insulation, and perfect for one or two people – they have two sizes. The one-person blanket comes in a 7”x9” stuff sack and expands to 70”x54”.
Toilet Paper Travel Case
I looked for this particular item for years – and nearly made my own – before finally finding it online. How many times have you used a public restroom at an interstate rest area or gas station and found thin, abrasive toilet paper? I have always recommended carrying your own toilet paper into the restroom and now it’s easier than ever.
The Hanging Toilet Paper Holder is mostly meant for use while camping but can be used in a variety of situations. The waterproof polyester material can hold a single roll of toilet paper with a dispenser on one side. A long strap allows you to hang it from hooks or rails in public restrooms.
Technology has become inseparable from the road trip – even when you travel someplace without cellular signal. These essential items will help you stay entertained and informed during a road trip.
USB Car Charger
Even if you have a wireless Qi charger for your cellphone, chances are good you’ll need additional charging capacity for other passengers or devices. The Anker 42W USB Car Charger is the best I’ve seen for flexibility.
Plug into the 12V outlet – all cars still have at least one – and you’re provided with a 30W USB-C and 12W USB-A port. This allows for simultaneous charging of two devices including most tablets.
A dashcam is more than just recording video of insane drivers to post on YouTube – it can determine who is at fault in a traffic collision. If you are using your own personal vehicle it could save you some money from your insurance company. But if you’re driving a rental car it could save you a lot of money from their insurance company.
There are lots of options including GPS devices with built-in cameras and GoPro camera suction cupped to the windshield. But for years, my preferred dashcam as been the Rexing V1P. The popular dashcam model features 1080p recording from a front-facing camera and optional rear-facing camera. Footage is recorded to a micro-USB card on a loop – when the memory card is full, the oldest footage is replaced with new.
Of course, it’s easy to keep all your tech charged while the car is running. But what if you’re camping for the night or relaxing for the day by the lake? There might be times you need to give your device a charge without having to run the car.
The Anker 20,000mAh PowerCore Essential is one of the best power banks I have ever used. With an USB-C Power Delivery output, it can charge the newer model iPad Pro tablets. The USB-A port can charge just about everything else. With an 18W output, you won’t be starving for power.
If you need more power for a longer period of time, the Anker Powerhouse Power Station will keep you going. The lithium-ion battery has a capacity of 108,000mAh – making it worth more than five of the previously mentioned power banks. The power station has a single AC outlet with built-in inverter, 60W USB-C port, 3 USB-A ports, and a single 12V car port.
Noise Cancelling Headphones or Earbuds
If you’re road tripping with a friend, you’re probably going to want to escape from time to time. Noise cancelling headphones or earbuds are not only great for yourself – they also prevent a lot of noise bleed to the other people in the car.
The TaoTronics BH-085 Noise Cancelling Headphones have a permanently place in my mobile tech bag. The over-the-ear headphones are super comfortable to wear for extendable periods of time, last about 15 hours on a single charge, and the noise cancelling technology really cuts down on the background noise.
I never leave home without the TaoTronics SoundLiberty 94 Earbuds. They have a noise cancelling option – perfect for when you’re exploring the city – and the sound quality is amazing. The small earbuds fit into a travel case that acts as a power bank, charging the earbuds about three times before needing charging itself.
Food Storage and Drinkware
Just because you’re road tripping, spending nights in cheap hotels, or even sleeping in the car doesn’t mean you can’t also cook your own meals. Saving money on eating out means longer road trips. These essential items will help you prepare, cook, and enjoy meals on the road.
Drinks for the road are always an essential item – and for me it’s the new A&W Zero Sugar Root Beer. Although ice is usually readily available – I still have not come across the mythical block ice – you’re gonna want a great cooler to make it last as long as possible.
The Coleman Extreme Cooler is a good start. The 70-liter cooler will keep ice chilled for about three days in a hardshell case that works in most vehicles. The YETI Roadie is another hardshell option. The 24-liter cooler is specifically designed to hold most wine bottles upright and fits in the floor space in front of seats.
The YETI Hopper Flip is a softsided cooler with only an 18-liter capacity – it can hold about half a dozen cans or four bottles of water. The specially designed zipper won’t leak if the cooler is tilted, which will probably happen at some point on a road trip.
Is it even a road trip if you don’t make your coffee while sitting at a scenic overlook just after sunrise? If you’re anything like me, you need that morning brew more than ever when you’re spending hours driving every day.
To start off, you’ll need a good coffee grinder for those fresh beans you picked up at a local coffee shop the day before. The JavaPresse Manual Coffee Grinder is about as simple as it can get with 18 different settings on the crank-style grinder. The KRUPS Vortex Electric Grinder includes a 15-inch cord – regrettably not retractable – to make it easier to grind the beans.
If you prefer pour over coffee, you’ll need to warm the water. The Bodum Bistro Electric Water Kettle is one of the most convenient for road trippers. The kettle comes in three sizes: 17-ounce, 34-ounce, and 37-ounce. The detachable base plugs into an outlet, allowing you to easily remove the kettle to pour over the coffee.
I still prefer a simple machine to make my coffee in the mornings – it’s definitely the easiest – so I travel with the Keurig K-Mini Plus. After grinding fresh beans, I use the Reusable K-cup to brew a single coffee to go. With a retractable cord, it’s self-contained and perfect for travel. The Wacaco Minipresso GR is the perfect way to make espresso on the road. Pour freshly ground coffee into the basket, add hot water, and use the manual pump to create your morning brew.
Whether you want coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, you’re gonna need a great travel mug on your road trip. The Thermos Stainless Steel Vacuum Mug is the best travel coffee mug I’ve ever used – and unfortunately it has become a bit difficult to find. Target is the only retail shop where I can find the mug now, prompting me to think ahead and buy a dozen to last me for years.
Just in case that mug doesn’t work out, the Thermos Stainless Steel King is more readily available. Ironically, it’s smaller than the previously mentioned travel mug, but the Thermos brand still does its thing with keeping the liquids hot or cold for hours at a time.
Ditch the plastic Solo cups and get something reusable – and better – for your next road trip. The Yeti Rambler 20oz Tumbler has been my favorite for years and now comes with an even better lid for road trips! The new MagSlider lid – you can buy them separately if you already have the tumbler – has a magnetic sliding lid to keep your drinks from spilling. Along with the vacuum sealed insulation, the Yeti Tumbler will keep your drink chilled or hot for hours.
Reusable Water Bottle
Another thing to ditch is the one time use flimsy plastic water bottle. Did anybody ever actually enjoy those flimsy water bottles? The CamelBak Chute Mag Water Bottle has had a place on my road trip essentials checklist for years. The reusable water bottle – available in over a dozen colors – features a lid that unscrews and magnetically catches to stay open while you guzzle from the wide mouth of the bottle.
It never fails that after exiting the drive thru window of a fast-food joint, you realize you didn’t get any utensils. That’s exactly why I decided to start traveling with a reusable set of utensils and it was one of the best decisions ever.
The Devico Portable Utensil set comes in a nifty canvas zipper bag – perfect for stuffing into your travel bag. It features 8 utensils: fork, knife, spoon, chop sticks, straight and bent straw, and a straw cleaner. The stainless steel design is durable and will last many road trips.