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20 Essential Items That Belong on Every Road Trip Packing List

Packing for a road trip? Consider adding some - or all - of these essential items to your road trip packing list.

By Jason Barnette | Travel writer and photographer with 15+ years of road tripping experience

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my Affiliate Disclosure here.

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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!

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For the Car

These essential items for the car will help make the miles easier, a little bit safer, and more enjoyable. A happy car makes a happy driver!

Garmin DriveSmart 66

Navigation apps on smartphones are great, but they drain the phone’s battery and are prone to weak cellular signal. However, automotive GPS devices have pre-loaded maps and rely on GPS positioning, meaning you’ll always have directions wherever you travel.

The Garmin DriveSmart 66 is an excellent navigation device for road trips. The large 6″ touchscreen features a high-resolution display and plenty of daytime brightness. Use voice commands to enter a destination address, search for points of interest along your route, or get weather updates. The devices come preloaded with maps of every highway in North America and include free lifetime updates.

READ MORE: Choosing the Best Garmin Automotive GPS for Your Next Road Trip


EcoNour Sun Shade

A sunshade 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. Did you know parked car interiors can reach almost 200-degrees in the summer? The biggest problem has always been the hassle of installing the so-called universal sunshades that never really seemed to perfectly fit any vehicle.

The EcoNour Sun Shade is the best I have ever used. The shade is built between two circular, collapsible frames with extra material around the edges. Unfold, set into place, and the shade covers the windshield from edge to edge. When you’re ready to leave, a simple twisting motion collapses the shade into a size slightly larger than a plate.

iOttie One Touch Car Mount

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 Charging 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!


EPAuto Car Trash Can

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 Trash 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.

Surviveware 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 the bag are individually labeled to help you quickly 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.


Thrive Roadside Emergency Kit

Roadside emergency kits are often gimmicky and stuffed with cheap plastic tools and unnecessary items. In fact, I recommend building your own kit from scratch or at the very least replacing most of the items in a prepackaged kit. Either way, a roadside emergency kit is an essential item you may only need once in your life, but you’ll be grateful you had it that one time.

If you want to buy one ready to use, the Thrive Roadside Emergency Kit is a good place to start. The kit features a 42-piece car kit and 62-piece first aid kit. The car kit includes jumper cables, work gloves, and a few handy tools. The best part about this kit is the durable 600D polyester storage bag.

AstroAI Portable Tire Inflator

There is nothing more frustrating on a road trip than pulling into a gas station to find the air compressor inoperable. Drive across four lanes of traffic to the gas station across the street, and they don’t even have an air compressor. Sometimes, getting a few pounds of air pumped into your tires is difficult.

With the AstroAI Portable Tire Inflator you can inflate your tires anywhere, anytime. The battery-powered inflator features a built-in tire pressure gauge, option to set the desired PSI, and built-in flashlight for working at night.

Personal Comfort

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.

Sea to Summit Travel Pillow

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.

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Rumpl Down Blanket

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”.

Hanging Toilet Paper Holder

Toilet paper in public restrooms is rarely reliable. First, the dispenser is frequently empty. Second, the toilet paper is so cheap and thin it’s simply too flimsy to effectively use. As silly as it sounds, that’s why I started taking my own toilet paper.

The Hanging Toilet Paper Holder was designed for hanging a roll while camping or backpacking. But it also works great for heading into a gas station or rest area on a road trip. The zippered case can hold one roll of your favorite toilet paper and a strap means you can hang it from the door in the restroom stall.

Travel Tech

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.

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

Anker 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.

Rexing V1P 4K Dash Cam

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 4K Dash Cam. 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.


Anker Soundcore Noise Cancelling Headphones

While road tripping with a friend you may want some time to yourself. Noise cancelling headphones are a great way to listen to music or watch a streaming service while cruising down the road.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 is the premium noise cancelling headphones. The headphones are supremely comfortable to wear for long periods, feature ambient noise control, and feature deep base and rich tones. But my preference is for the Anker Soundcore Q30. The budget-friendly headphones feature modes for indoor, outdoor, and close quarters use, incredible sound quality for the price, and feature a compact packing size.

Food 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.

YETI Roadie 24 Cooler

There is nothing better than coming back to the car after a long hike and pulling an ice-cold drink out of the cooler. But not all coolers are built the same, especially for road trips. The quality of the insulation and ease of use are paramount when choosing a cooler for a road trip.

The YETI Roadie 24 is the best cooler for road trips. The pressure-injected polyurethane insulation keeps ice frozen for 3-5 days. And the narrow width, tall design of the cooler means you can stuff it behind the passenger seat and easily reach for a drink – but not while driving down the road.

READ MORE: 10 Best Coolers for Road Trips in 2022


Front Runner Wolf Pack

Grocery bags make for poor packing in the car. Boxes are cumbersome. And plastic totes are just frustrating to use. Whenever you travel with food for a more affordable and enjoyable road trip, you need something great for packing everything.

The Front Runner Wolf Pack has become a favorite for overlanders. The durable containers are built from impact-resistant plastic, feature a locking, removable lid, and can stack if you buy more than one. The straight sides give you more room to pack food and drinks. And you’ll never squish the bread again.

Portable Coffee Maker

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.


THERMOS King Travel Mug

Whether you want coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, you need a great travel mug on your road trip. The THERMOS King Travel Mug is the best travel coffee mug I’ve ever used. The 16-ounce stainless steel mug features a leak-proof lid with a hook for hanging a tea bag. The vacuum insulation does a great job of keeping contents warm for hours at a time.

YETI Rambler 30 oz. Tumbler

Ditch the plastic Solo cups and get something reusable – and better – for your next road trip. The Yeti Rambler 30 oz. Tumbler has been my favorite for years. The MagSlider Lid prevents spills while road tripping on bumpy highways, but I recommend the additional upgrade to the Rambler Lid with Straw to make it easier to sip while driving.

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

CamelBak Chute Mag 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.

DEVICO Travel Utensils

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.

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Do you have a question about travel or road trips? Are you a CVB or DMO interested in working with me? I typically respond to emails within 24 hours. Quicker if you include a good riddle.
Do you have a question about travel or road trips? Are you a CVB or DMO interested in working with me? I typically respond to emails within 24 hours. Quicker if you include a good riddle.

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