Road Trip Season is officially here and after months of being stuck at home we are all ready to get out and explore. Whether you are in the beginning stages of planning or about to hit the road, you need to make sure your vehicle and you are prepared. Whether you are doing a cross country USA road trip, exploring your home state or touring through South America, New Zealand or Africa–no matter where your road trip is taking you, we’ve put together the ultimate road trip packing list to help you navigate the road trip essentials you will need to keep you and your vehicle on the road.
1. Hand Sanitzer & PPE (personal protection equipment)

Every time you make a pit stop or get out to stretch your legs, I bet you put your hands on something and not everything you touch will be clean. In the midst of COVID-19 it is even more important than ever before to keep hand sanitizermasks, gloves and disinfecting wipes in your vehicle and keep germs out of the car.

There are currently several states that require you to wear a mask when in public. As of July, 3, 2020 the following states require face coverings in public: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas & Washington. Be sure to look up local guidelines for your destination and any stops you make along the way. 

We also keep a roll of paper towels and a box of tissue in the car for all of the just in case moments, sneezes, spills, etc. 

2. Cooler

This is a must for our road trips. It is the easiest way to save money and bring healthy food to prevent you from the temptation of junk food at the gas station. It’s perfect for fruits, vegetables, hummus, cured meats, cheese and your favorite sparkling water. It’s also a great place to store your dark chocolate. 

There are countless options when it comes to picking out the right cooler for your needs. A soft cooler is lightweight, easier to squeeze into a packed backseat and collapsable when you aren’t using it.  A traditional Coleman cooler is easy to slide in the backseat or trunk with ThermOZONE Insulation that holds the cold without an expensive price tag. If you need a cooler that keeps your food/drink cold for days, try this RTIC cooler. It is Yeti quality for a fraction of the cost. It’s 3″ of insulated walls will keep your ice cold for days and guarantees a no sweat exterior.

3. Water Bottle/Water Jug

Hydration is key when traveling–whether you are the driver or a passenger don’t forget to bring your favorite water bottle. Bring along a reusable water bottle for a more environmentally friendly option to disposable water bottles. The Hydroflask wide mouth bottle is made with food grade stainless steel and has a slip-free powder coating that doesn’t sweat. For all you straw lovers our there, this glass water bottle has a silicone sleeve that provides a no slip grip and prevents sweating. It also comes in over 10 colors.

If you plan on taking a long road trip, you should consider bringing along this 5.3 gallon BPA free collapsible water jug to refill your water bottle throughout your trip.  This will also help you stay hydrated if you get stranded or in case of an emergency. 

4. Snacks

Snacks are a road trip MUST and an easy way to save money while on the road. No one likes a hangry driver or passenger so be sure to pack snacks that you like and will hold up during your drive. Here are some ideas for healthy options that travel well and satisfy your hunger:  trail mix (these individual packets are great to throw in a purse or backpack during hikes, tours, etc when you get to your destination as well), grass fed beef sticksRXbars/energy bars, nut butters (we love this variety pack by RXbar–the flavors are soooo good), crackers (this is our favorite Gluten Free brand) and you can’t forget dark CHOCOLATE. We also like to pack vegetables (carrots, celery, broccoli, etc) fruits (apples, blueberries, oranges, etc), hummus, cured meats, and cheese in the cooler. 

5. Reusable Utensils/Silverware

Road trips are good for the soul, yet not always great for the environment. However, it is easier now than ever to choose to travel in a more responsible way. Reusable utensils don’t sound particularly exciting, but several brands have begun to offer chic and packable sets that are surprisingly useful away from home. 

Whether you prefer a bamboo option or food grade stainless steel option all of the sets below come with a case that can easily be thrown in the side compartment of a car door, backpack or purse for all you meal time needs.

6. Car Trash Can

A car trash can is an easy way to keep your vehicle clean especially after breaking out the snacks. There are so many different options to choose from, but most will get the job done effectively. The ones listed below are all leak proof and make it easy to attach anywhere in the car. This one has a slim profile that  has a strap to fit around posts and handles anywhere in the vehicle and this one functions has a 2 gallon trash can or cooler bag.

7. Car Charger

A portable charger is essential for keeping all your devices charged on the go. This car adapter has both USB plugs and AC outlets to charge any device from computers to camera batteries to headphones and of course your iPhone. If you’d rather have something more low key for just your cell phone, this cable is is made of durable nylon fiber cloth for protection, strength, and flexibility in extreme temperatures. No bluetooth built into your vehicle? This bluetooth car kit that works as an FM transmitter to play music, answer calls hands free and features two USB ports.

8. Phone Holder

Keep your phone secure and viewable for directions/ease of access throughout your drive. This one works perfect on the dashboard and is universal for most phones. Limited dash board space? Try this one that mounts easy to your car vent. If you like a quick and easy phone mounting option, this one has a magnetic mount that allows you to safely and quickly secure a mobile device.

9. Sunglasses

At some point in your drive you will likely have the sun shining right into you eyes. Save your eyes with these road trip must haves:

You can never go wrong with a good pair of classic Ray Ban aviatorsDon’t want to break the bank? I love these Ray Ban dupes from Amazon that are  only $12! They are polarized, come in a variety of lens color options and are a fraction of the cost. Here is another great polarized option with a retro design that will have you cruising in style.

10. Blanket and/or Cozy Sweater

Does your travel companion love the air conditioning more than you? If so be sure to add a blanket or cozy sweater to your packing list. A blanket also can come in handy when you want to take a nap, have a roadside picnic or for extra warmth in case you get stranded somewhere. 

A packable travel blanket is easy to store in the car or in a bag and is perfect for all your travel needs. We love this Eddie Bauer down alternative blanket that comes with its own stuff sack making it easy to store anywhere in the car when you’re not using it. If you are looking for something a little more stylish, this authentic hand woven blanket comes in a variety of color options that will keep you warm and look great in photos.

I always like to keep a cozy sweater/shawl nearby for when I don’t want the full coverage of a blanket. A shawl is easy to throw over your shoulders and this one comes in a variety of color options to fit your style preference. This oversized wrap cardigan is so comfy and elevates the look of any outfit without compromising comfort. I also love this longer knit cardigan that comes in various colors and has pockets!

11. Pillow

Naps help pass the time quickly when on a long road trip and help give you extra energy for when you arrive at your destination. There is no need to sacrifice the quality of your sleep just because you are riding in the car. Pack a pillow to help keep you comfortable during that much needed shut eye.

No matter what your pillow preference is there is a design for you. We both love the Cabeau neck pillow. It accompanies us on all of our trips–land or air. The Cabeau neck pillow was a game changer once I started using it  for quick naps while traveling. It also comes with a travel case to minimize space when you are not using it. If you prefer a more standard style of pillow, try this one that rolls up to fit into its own stuff sack. Want something more unique that allows for  a variety of sleeping positions? Try this foldable, bendable roll pillow designed for any sleeping position you can dream up. It also can function as a lumbar support roll if your back starts to bother you after hours of driving.

12. Eye Mask

An eye mask is the perfect pair to your travel pillow. It makes it a lot easier to sleep while it’s still light out and even helps to block out any unwanted lights from the dash board or another passenger’s phone at night. My go to eye mask that I wear every single night, even when I’m at home is natural silk and only $10! You can’t beat that! It’s very soft and comfortable on the back of your head. This one is the same mask, but with double strap if you like more support. If you prefer not to have anything touching your eyes while you sleep this memory foam sleep mask has 3D molded cups that contour around your eyes to block out the light, but also allow you to blink with no restrictions.

13. Slip on Shoes

If you are anything like me then you prefer not to wear shoes in the car. Having a comfortable slip on shoe is convenient for rest stops or anything you need to get out of the car. Birkenstocks are a great sandal option that also allows you to slip them on with socks if you’re a sock person. Otherwise, I love these Dr. Scholl’s slip ons with memory foam insoles. They come in so many colors and go with any outfit. If you’d rather have a more supportive shoe, try these New Balance Sneakers. The sleek design also uses a memory foam insole for optimal comfort with a supportive fit.

14. Audiobooks, Music and Podcasts

Entertainment is one of the most important road trip necessities! Wether you love audiobooks, playlists or podcasts–be sure to have an assortment downloaded and ready to go pre-trip. Audible has so many great audiobooks and you can get your first month free when you sign up! If you’d rather read your books try Kindle Unlimited (first 2 months FREE!) on your tablet or Kindle.

When it comes to music, Spotify is our go to. You can create your own playlists or pick from thousands of curated ones to listen to. Spotify allows you to download playlist to play offline which is perfect if you are in an area with spotty cell service. Here’s a classic road trip playlist on Spotify that is full of the best hits from the ’60’s, ’70’s and ’80’s.

Want to learn new things? Try a podcast! Some of our favorites include The Tim Ferris Show, The School of Greatness, TED Talks Daily, Stuff You Should Know, Stuff You Missed In History Class, Jacko Podcast, and there are so many others.

15. Trunk/ Back Seat Organizer

These are perfect for keeping your trunk or backseat organized with all the essentials. It makes it easy to move everything in and out of the car all at once.

16. First Aid Kit & Emergency Car Kit

This is a MUST. Keep your First-Aid Kit in the at all times, not just for your next road trip. You never know when you might need it and it’s always a good idea to be prepared. This First-Aid Kit is all organized in an easy to see case with bonus practical survival tools. 

It is also important to have an Emergency Kit for your car. Anything can happen when driving on the open road and it is important to be prepared. This Roadside Emergency Kit is a 90 piece kit packed into a nice carrying case that will fit nicely in your trunk. It is equipped with everything you need in the unfortunate event that you get stuck on the side of the road with car issues.

17. Flashlight

Here’s something for another just in case moment. If there is a roadside emergency at night or if you are just trying to read a book in the back seat after the sun goes down having a flashlight is key! This flashlight and lantern are solar powered so you won’t have to worry about packing extra batteries.

18. Umbrella

No one likes getting caught in a downpour. Pick up one of these umbrellas that are packable and will easily slide into the side compartment of each door or seat back.

19. Packable Towel

This is one of the BEST travel items I’ve ever purchased–the microfiber towel! They come in handy in so many occasions. If you get stuck in an unexpected downpour (because you forgot to the umbrella from above 😉 ), splashed by the roadside waterfall, or decided to take a dip at the beautiful beach you were driving by these towels will dry you off quickly. They are quick drying and most have antimicrobial properties to prevent them from stinking up the car.

20. Reusable Shopping bag and/or Day Pack

Reusable Shopping Bags and Day Packs are excellent additions to any road trip. Bring an empty tote for roadside fruit/vegetable stand, farmer’s markets, or grocery stops. Use one to throw your microfiber towel and sunglasses in when you stop at the beautiful roadside beach. A day pack is great when you decide to do a hike or explore the city all day. This one packs into itself for compact portability and space saving storage when you aren’t using it.

21. Cash & Change

Cash is still king in some places–especially in smaller towns. Change is also important to have for parking meters and road tolls. Instead of being stuck in a pinch digging for coins at the bottom of your overflowing bag, store them in this coin holder for quick and easy access.

22. Road Map

Google Maps is great for directions when your phone has service, but it’s not uncommon to lose service while driving through certain parts of the country. Pack a paper map or atlas for those times when service is limited. Another option is to download offline maps on Google maps or use is a free app that allows you to download detailed maps to be used offline and without cell service while acting as GPS.

23. Camera

Another road trip MUST! You want to make sure you have a camera to capture all the memories you are making and beautiful scenery you are seeing. My camera is one of the first things in my bag when packing for any trip. 

Not sure which camera to use? Here are a few I recommend at various price points and ease of use. The FujiFilm Instax camera is gives you an instant, vintage style polaroid to display around your home when you return from your trip. It’s easy to use and great for all ages. The Sony W800 is a compact point and shoot with 20.1 megapixels and 5x optical zoom. Easy to slide into your pocket or you day pack. When you want more than a pocket sized point and shoot, but aren’t quite ready for a DSLR–try the Panasonic Lumix FZ80. It features 18.1 megapixels, 60x zoom, 4K video and its under $300! 

If your camera skills are more advanced and an entry level DSLR is what you are looking for, try the Nikon D5600. This is the camera I started with and took on so many trips around the globe. I use a 35mm lens and 18-55mm lens most often when taking photos while traveling. I can’t wait to upgrade to the Sony A7RIV. Sony’s mirrorless DSLR cameras are amazing and have so many great features to help you get the BEST travel photos. 

If you are going to a tropical location, beach, waterfalls, lake, sand dunes or anywhere really–grab the GoPro Hero 8 to capture hyper smooth video of all your adventures. It’s sleek design makes it easy to slide into your pocket or attach to various grips and mounts for whatever activity you are doing.

24. Other Essentials for a Safe Road Trip

A few other items that are necessary for a safe road trip that may not initially cross your mind, but are very important include the following: 

  • License and registration–DO NOT leave home without them! They are essential and should ALWAYS be in your vehicle.
  • A copy of your car insurance policy and relevant contact numbers–hopefully you won’t need it, but it’s best to keep in your vehicle at all times.
  • A driver’s license–this one may seem like a no-brainer as far as road trip essentials go, but it can be easy to forget when you have a list of other items you are trying to remember to bring along.
  • Your car’s manual–in case of an emergency or if some random dashboard light turns on you will have your manual to reference for appropriate protocol to follow.
  • Spare tire–check to make sure it is in good condition and inflated before you leave.

There you have it! A complete list of our recommended road trip essentials to keep you happy, comfortable and safe on the road. Comment below on your favorite road trip essential and be sure to let us know if there are any items we’ve forgotten or that you recommend. HAPPY ROAD TRIPPING!

*Thanks for reading our Road Trip Essentials List – Packed to the brim with all your road trip needs. I wanted to let you know that this post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something after clicking on a link, I may get a small commission – which is at absolutely no cost to you. If you enjoyed this article and are going to be searching for some of the things I mention anyway, I would love it if you could click through from the links above as this will help me continue to provide you with free quality content. Thank you in advance and thank you for reading this travel post!

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