The weather is getting warmer, the sun is shining, and people are itching to get out of the house and hit the open road. When you hear the highway calling, the last thing you want is for packing to become a roadblock. Add these 33 road trip essentials to your packing list to ensure a smooth ride.
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Table of Contents
Road Trip Planning Apps
Gone are the days of scribbling your route on paper maps! There are dozens of helpful road trip planning sites and apps that will help you map out your perfect route and find interesting places to stop along the way. Roadtrippers lets you plan your route, add stops, and get fuel estimates and pre-made trip guides for your journey. Google Maps Trip Planner is a twist on their classic functionality, allowing you to add multiple destinations and plot the best route between them all.
IDs, Credit Cards, and Documents
Like any trip, it’s important to bring along the right documentation. Your license and credit cards are obvious road trip necessities. Make sure you also pack your car’s owner’s manual, a copy of your up-to-date registration, and any roadside assistance documentation you need. If your trip is taking you to Canada or Mexico, don’t forget your passport as well.
I know cash is dead, but hear me out. This is not for the toll roads that mostly take credit cards now, but it is for the coin-operated laundry you will need to use at some point on the trip. It is for tips to valets who park your car in places like New Orleans where there is no self-park option. It is also for those little businesses that only take cash or local checks.
Tire Repair Kit
A flat tire can put you seriously behind schedule. Having a tire repair kit on hand can be the difference between getting back on track and sitting roadside for hours. The three things you need in this situation are a jack, a lug wrench and a spare tire. Oh, and someone who knows how to change a tire when you are away from home and nothing is open.
Car Emergency Kit
If the dreaded dashboard lights come on halfway through the trip, you may need to wait a while before AAA can come to the rescue. Equipped with items such as reflectors, hand warmers, jumper cables, and snow shovels, these kits have everything you need to fix the issue or wait it out safely until help arrives.
Full Tank of Gas
Starting off your trip with a full tank of gas can delay the oftentimes frustrating experience of finding a place to pull off the highway for a little longer.
A long car ride may be an improvement to a cramped flight in the comfort department, but only slightly. Take advantage of the technology created to combat stiff necks on the plane and break out the airplane pillow in the backseat. As an added bonus, many models can deflate and be stored away easier than a standard pillow.
Everything is better with snacks. This is especially true for a multi-hour car ride. Opt for snacks that cause minimal mess and can be eaten without utensils, like granola bars, fruit, or peanut butter sandwiches.
Water Bottle and Refills
Hydration is key when cooped up in any vehicle. Bring along a large pack of water bottles for the group or, for an eco-friendly option, pack reusable water bottles and one large water jug for refills.
Consistent access to showers can be unreliable on a long road trip. Freshen up on-the-go by keeping deodorant on hand. For particularly sweaty days, deodorant wipes like these ones from Lume offer a strong, all-over clean.
As the Blues Brothers made clear, sunglasses are a must-pack for any road trip. Use them to keep the sun out of your eyes when it’s your turn to drive or to block out the light when you’re trying to catch some Z’s in the passenger seat.
Mints and Gum
Throwing a few packages of mints and gum in the center console is a great way to refresh during a long ride. It’s also a courtesy to any fellow passengers within coffee breath distance after the last Starbucks stop.
A trash can is a small investment you won’t regret after the snack wrappers start piling up. You can purchase trash cans specifically designed to fit in a car and take up minimal space.
A small cooler can be used to keep water bottles chilled or to pack a light lunch for the road. An easily portable one like this from Coleman can do double duty as a temperature controlled picnic basket for excursions along the way.
Motion Sickness Medication
While some of us are motion sickness veterans and some don’t know what’s coming until they’re relegated to the backseat for a few hours, it never hurts to have motion sickness medication on hand. If you find full strength Dramamine too powerful, try a children’s dosage. Options like ginger ale, ginger chews, and peppermints are effective natural alternatives for those who only get lightly nauseous.
Pain Relief Medication
Staying awake and alert while driving for long periods of time would make anyone tense. Having medication like ibuprofen and tylenol on hand can be a life saver.
First Aid Kit
As much as we all hope otherwise, accidents happen. Don’t get stuck with a mid-trip nose bleed or pinched finger without the proper gear. Certain first aid kits are developed specifically for travel and camping and can take care of bigger accidents, but make sure to have a few everyday bandaids on hand as well.
Hand Sanitizer and Sanitizing Wipes
Keep it clean with these sanitizing products that can be used to wipe down hands before mealtime or questionable gas station surfaces during a bathroom break.
You can use a portable charger in the car or while exploring at stops along the way. Many models offer multi-device charging and aren’t reliant on the car’s USB port location, making it easier to share with friends in the backseat. Make sure your charger is powerful enough to handle the devices you plan on using.
The unfortunate reality is that not everything can be recharged. Have a few batteries on hand for these devices, especially ones included in your car emergency kit.
Finding some peace and quiet in a car full of people is no easy feat. Simulate that precious alone time with noise canceling headphones. They can quiet down the buzz of conversation in the small space and diffuse the always heated battle for the AUX cord.
Passengers will appreciate access to the internet and drivers will appreciate the navigation app not cutting out when they hit a data dead zone.
Music and Podcasts (Downloaded)
Speaking as someone who forgot to hit download on their Spotify playlist before boarding a four hour flight—you’re going to want to make sure you have some offline entertainment. Make a special road trip mix and download a few episodes of your favorite podcast before you leave. Use a mobile hotspot or connect to hotel WiFi in the evenings to change up the tracks or download new episodes throughout the trip.
When you’re not in the driver’s seat, use the time to catch up on your reading list. If reading in the car is a no-go, download audio books on your device to listen to as a group or alone with some wireless earbuds.
I Spy, punch buggy, the alphabet plate game—there are endless ways to entertain your littlest passengers on a long drive. Brands like Melissa and Doug offer a variety of road trip games in physical form, from printable bingo cards to a flippable version of the license plate game. For an adults-only road trip, try out adult Madlibs or a round of TableTopics.
Pit Stop Essentials
While many destinations are loosening their mask requirements, it’s always good to have a few on hand. You don’t want to get stuck outside an attraction or event because regulations, or personal comfort levels, keep you from entering.
The Right Footwear
If you think footwear is the least of your worries during a trip spent mostly in the car, think again! Pack a comfortable pair of shoes for ride that can double as a light walking shoe for short excursions, like the Mega Z Cloud from Chacos. Pack a sturdier secondary pair, like a sneaker or hiking shoe, for more physically intense activities or stops where open toed shoes are not permitted.
If you’re planning on taking a few day trips along your route, you’ll need a daypack to carry all of your essentials. Throw your toiletries and a change of clothes into your pack when stopping at a hotel for the evening and avoid having to to haul your suitcase out of the trunk at every overnight stop. The Flash 22 backpack from REI is the perfect option, with plenty of space and a comfortable and breathable design.
Packing for a road trip involves more than just what you’ll need on the road. Think about what activities you’ll be doing along the way and at your final destination. Are you camping or hiking? Will you be visiting national parks? Are you traveling with children? Make a list of the specialized gear you’ll need for these activities, and remember to pack it!
Everyone loves an action shot. Get great footage and high resolution photos of your adventures by bringing along a GoPro camera. It’s small and lightweight so it won’t take up a lot of valuable space in the car and it will be easy to bring along with you during your stops as opposed to a larger camera.
There’s something special about being able to hold a photo in your hand the moment you snap it. A fun addition rather than a necessity, bringing along a cheap polaroid camera lets you gather memories while keeping the phone in your pocket. Polaroids also make a cute personalized stand-in for postcards to send to friends and family back home.
Speaking of postcards, keeping a book of stamps in the glove compartment for such occasions will save you unnecessary trips to the local post office.
Book Your Stay With SmarterTravel Hotels
When you need to escape the car for the evening, find great deals on your hotel stay with SmarterTravel Hotels.
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Carrie Honaker contributed to this story.
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