Ready to hit the road? Make sure you’ve got these road trip essentials!
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When you’re putting together your road trip packing list there are a few items that are absolute essentials. If you leave any of these behind you’re setting yourself up for potential issues, and I want you to be set up for success!
If you have these items and nothing else you can have a happy road trip. Many of these can be stored in your trunk organizer or in your center console so next time you want to take off and go, you can.
Before you go, download roadtrippers. It’s a cool app that’ll help you plan your trip.
Road Trip Essentials
Basic Road Trip Essentials
These basics are things you should have in your vehicle at all times.
GPS is wonderful, and most of the time you can count on it to get you where you want to go. However, when you’re road tripping you’re probably going to be driving in less populated areas and that signal can disappear.
This is especially true if you’re using the GPS on your phone. Plus GPS eats up your phone battery like Chicagoans eat Italian beef.
That’s why it’s always good to have paper maps. If you plan on traveling a lot by car, invest in an atlas. Rand McNally is pretty much the standard.
If you get a AAA membership, they’ll give you paper maps, too!
TLTip: When you enter a new state stop at the visitor’s center. They’ll have free road maps that will have more detail than an atlas. While you’re there you can pick up brochures for local attractions and, if it’s staffed, get some advice on fun places to go.
I like to have at least one flashlight per person and to keep one in the glove box or center console. If you have to get into the trunk to get the flashlight when it’s already dark then you’re, well, in the dark.
Pack a set of back-up batteries for that flashlight.
You’re going to need a place to put all this stuff. Getting a trunk organizer will keep it all together and prevent it from rolling around like a toddler.
Hand sanitizer has always been a road trip necessity, but now it’s even more vital. Bring a large bottle and keep a refillable smaller container of hand sanitizer in your center console or your glove box so you can access it quickly.
The reality is that face masks are now an essential road trip item. They save lives, and are required in many areas. Keep a batch of disposable face masks handy.
Always a camping essential, disinfecting wipes are a necessity for road trips, too.
Car Essentials for a Road Trip
Make sure you can take care of you, or your vehicle, if you run into any hiccups.
Drivers License and Proof of Insurance
You should have these anyway, but when you’re planning a road trip there’s a lot to keep in mind. Consider this a gentle reminder.
Although it’s usually in your glove box, go ahead and confirm the manual for your vehicle is there before you leave. It’ll come in handy if you need to replace a turn signal light or a flat tire.
Spare Tire + Car Jack
Speaking flat tire, make sure you’ve got a spare tire and you know how to change it. Depending on where you’re going, you might not be able to get someone to help. If we’d gotten a flat on Burr Trail Road, we definitely would have had to change it ourselves!
Emergency Roadside Kit
If you have a car, this is a must whether you’re going on a road trip or not! (Say yes, mom.) There are various roadside emergency kits available, but at the bare minimum you’ll want to have jumper cables, a flashlight, flares or triangle reflectors, extra washer fluid, and some basic tools.
Next time you get a plastic bag from the grocery store put it back in the car after it’s been emptied. Better yet, get a trash can that’s specifically designed for a vehicle.
You’re going to accumulate wrappers and papers and JUNK, and now you’ve got a place to put all of it.
Tech Essentials for a Road Trip
You never know when you’re going to find an outlet, so your best bet is to get a car charger. I recommend getting an inverter with two USB outlets. Not only can both the driver and passenger charge at the same time, you can plug in other electronics.
Hands-Free Phone Holder
Be safe on the road and dock your phone in a hands-free phone holder. Some states have restrictions on whether or not you can put them on the windshield, so one that fits into a vent makes sure you can be hands-free without getting in trouble. Nobody wants to get in trouble on a road trip.
Before you go, sign up for GasBuddy and download it to your phone. This free app shows you prices for gas across the country. Check out our complete guide to GasBuddy to see why this is one of our favorite road trip essentials.
Like to hike? Bike? Go for a walk? AllTrails is a great app to help you discover hiking and biking trails based on where you’re located. You can read reviews, store trails you’d like to explore, and record the hikes you do take. You can choose to make your hikes public, or keep them private.
The basic app is free. Download the pro version for:
- Download maps to stay on track without service
- Never miss a turn with off-route notifications
- Keep friends and family informed with Lifeline
- Know what to expect with real-time map overlays
- 1% of every subscription goes back to the plane
Road Trip Food and Drink
Everyone knows snacks have no calories when you’re on a road trip! While it’s tempting to live on chips and candy, don’t throw all of your dietary cautions out the window.
On our epic month-long trips I’ve made a big bucket of trail mix and include some single-portion containers. (Otherwise we’d eat the whole bucket in one sitting.
Other great road trip food ideas include:
- Fruit – think apples, pears, and grapes instead of messy fruits like peaches and oranges
- Sliced vegetables and hummus
- Protein bars
- Cheese, lunchmeat, and bread
- Tortillas or wraps and nut butters. I love Betsy’s Best.
Water and Water Bottle
Have you seen how expensive water is at gas stations? Yowza. Skip that mess. Fill a large container or two and bring refillable water bottles. You’ll save a ton of money and the environment.
I particularly love a double-walled stainless steel insulated reusable water bottle. These keep your water cold and your coffee hot.
A Really Good Cooler
Speaking of saving money on a road trip, a good cooler is one of the best investments you can make.
Cut up some veggies and throw in some lunch meat and cheese and you can make sandwiches on the go. That’s much better for you and cheaper than fast food.
You can also throw in your beverage of choice.
TLTip: Instead of buying ice, which melts quickly and makes everything soggy, fill an empty gallon most of the way with water and freeze it before you go. The large block won’t melt as quickly, and once it does you’ve got drinking water!
I’m a big, huge fan of Coleman Xtreme coolers. After three days in 90 degree weather, the chicken broth I’d brought on our honeymoon camping trip was still frozen.
It’s also a good idea to get a smaller cooler that’s just for beverages. You’ll be getting in and out of it a lot and that makes it less efficient.
Related: how to save money on a road trip
Collapsible food containers are road trip essentials because you can efficiently stow them when you’re done eating. They’re also good for any leftovers you might have when you do eat out.
Personal Care Road Trip Essentials
Keep some wet wipes in your car and you can clean up anywhere, any time. They’re gentle enough for a baby’s bottom, so they’re going to be gentle enough for your hands and your face.
First Aid Kit
You don’t need a big first aid kit, and you can even make one yourself. I picked up a pencil case and added bandages, cotton swabs, gauze, an Ace bandage, tweezers, small scissors, a cold/hot compress and triple antibiotic cream.
We also bring along a small bottle of ibuprofen and migraine-strength medicine for Mr. TLT. If you prefer to buy one, Amazon’s got a wide selection of First Aid Kits.
No matter where or when you’re traveling, or what your skin tone is, always have suncreen handy. I’m a fan of sunscreen spray, but you definitely want to apply this when you’re not inside the car (unless you want everyone to be inhaling it for the next however many miles). I usually apply more whenever we stop for a restroom or meal break.
If you plan on being active, bring drink tabs, especially if you’re going to be doing some vigorous hiking, biking, or climbing. Drop them in your water bottle and up your hydration level.
A Flexible Attitude
This – THIS – is by far THE MOST IMPORTANT ESSENTIAL FOR ANY ROAD TRIP.
Yes, I’m screaming at you. I feel that strongly about this: If you can’t be flexible then a road trip probably isn’t for you.
But if you can be flexible, if you can take any hiccups and turn them into bonuses, then you’re up for an amazing experience.
Just like at a wedding, when you’re on a road trip something always happens. Things don’t always go according to plan, no matter how much you’ve planned things out. Roll with it, and by the time you get home you’ll have some unforgettable memories and a much richer life.
If you’re planning your adventure, pin this road trip essentials guide for later!