Ah, the Great American Road Trip, how we love you so. According to our Spring 2022 Travel Study, 9 out of 10 OnlyInYourState readers prefer to travel by car, and we certainly don’t blame them. The beauty of the road trip is it is as much about the journey as it is about the destination – it forces you to slow down and enjoy the scenery. Another benefit of the humble road trip is your ability to pack anything and everything you might need while away – without being constricted by carry-on bag allowances or baggage policies.
There is little better than hitting the open road, and a little pre-planning goes a long way when it comes to safely enjoying a road trip. Our editorial staff has driven hundreds of thousands of miles collectively across the USA, and we know just what to bring on a road trip for maximum adventure. Whether you are an avid road tripper or are embarking on a family road trip with your children or dog for the first time in a rental car, we’ve got you covered with a list of road trip essentials.
What To Bring On A Road Trip: Must-Haves
There are some things you simply shouldn’t overlook when packing for a road trip of any length – from important documentation and car essentials to a robust first-aid kit and any necessary weather supplies. No matter where you’re going or how long, these products are non-negotiable.
Documentation: Road Trip Checklist
There are many necessities for a road trip, but first and foremost, every car trip should begin with checking for the essential documentation, perhaps compiled in
a nifty holder from Amazon
in your glove box. You might also consider adding travel insurance information to this list if you have it.
Driver’s License Car Registration Insurance Information Car Manual
We also suggest a physical paper map – or a secondary GPS option. Smartphone apps like Apple or Google Maps are fantastic, but if you lose cell service or wifi in a remote area and your maps aren’t downloaded, you’ll go offline and lose the ability to get step-by-step directions. A paper map with roads, landmarks, and information for an entire region is a road trip essential.
small notebook and a pen or pencil
will also be helpful if you want to jot something down to remember later or leave a note on the car you bumped into in the parking lot. Plus, keeping a travel journal can be a fun way to collect memories!
Social Media Manager Kristen Taylor always travels with this
National Geographic Atlas
, as it comes in handy when you lose service in remote areas.
Car Emergency Kit Staff Pick:
People Team Operations Manager Catherine Armstrong thinks everyone should have a
like this one from Amazon as well, "They give you a first-hand record of any traffic accidents, parking lot damages, and vandalism, and if you're driving somewhere beautiful you can actually use them for cool footage."
If you’re traveling through remote areas with little cell service and few gas stations, like many national parks out west, you might also want to have:
Quart of Oil Coolant Wiper Fluid Portable Gas Container Technology Items Needed For A Road Trip
Technology has made road-tripping easier in many ways, but only if you are prepared with these essential gadgets:
Car Charger: You’ll need a USB cord either way, but if your car doesn’t have USB ports, a car lighter phone charger is the way to go. Power Inverter: with USB ports and AC outlets. Hands-Free Phone Mount: If your car doesn’t have a plug-in display, a phone mount is a hands-free way to easily see your map. Portable Charger: for when you’re exploring outside of the car or there are more devices than USB ports. Personal Safety Alarm: because you never know when you need it, especially if you’re traveling alone, plus travel pepper spray. Staff Pick:
Newsletter Editor Meg Archer recommends
these portable solar battery chargers
which are "super useful in a pinch when you've used up other portable power sources."
Winter Road Trip Packing List
If you’re traveling during the colder months, particularly through a place that gets snow, your winter road trip packing list should include a solid
also help warm up after a long hike or during an emergency.
well-stocked first-aid kit
is essential during any road trip. Sr. Editor Megan Shute stocks hers with bandaids, alcohol wipes, Neosporin, Tylenol,
, Pedialyte, and motion sickness medication as well as sunscreen and bug spray.
Hand sanitizer, wet wipes, and tissues all get packed in the center console for easy access. An extra roll of toilet paper is also important – not all rest stops are created equal.
What To Pack For A Road Trip: Things You May Not Think Of
When packing for a road trip, some things are obvious – like your car insurance and jumper cables – but there are other supplies for a road trip you might not think of immediately. For example, did you remember to bring your electronic toll pass, a credit card, and paper money and coins for parking meters or cash-only establishments? Road Trip Food Packing List
In addition to your favorite healthy road trip snacks, like granola bars, nuts and trail mixes, pre-cut veggies and fruits, hard-boiled eggs, pretzels, and other easy-to-eat foods, you’ll want to pack the following road trip essentials:
Water Bottle: Staying hydrated is key on a long drive, which is why having a reusable water bottle you’ll actually use is key. Whether you enjoy sipping from glass, metal, or plastic, the perfect reusable water bottle is easy to find. Just make sure it fits in your cup holder first! Sr. Editor Megan Shute loves these leakproof Simple Modern bottles for everyone in the family. Coffee Thermos: Whether you’re trying to stay awake or stay warm, coffee – or tea – is a must. And a good travel mug is even more important. Opt for something like this Hydroflask that stays hot for hours. Cooler. If you want to keep things cold for a lot of time, you’ll want to bring a cooler. This Yeti cooler is fantastic, but a soft-sided cooler like this Hydroflask one can squeeze into smaller spaces. Reusable Straws & Utensils: for all of your eating needs. Staff Pick:
Operations Manager Andrea Limke loves her
Stanley Stainless Steel Tumbler
. This leakproof, BPA-free cup has a straw and keeps liquids chilled for 12 hours or iced for up to two days.
Comfort is key when taking a long drive, and these things will help keep you cozy!
Travel Pillow & Blanket: opt for an easily rolled blanket that can be used for an impromptu picnic and a travel neck pillow. This sherpa fleece blanket is perfect for traveling in colder weather. A sleeping bag is also an important road trip necessity – if you’re camping or just in case of emergency. Chapstick & Hand Lotion: We love Poppy & Pout for 100% natural and untinted lip balm that comes in an eco-friendly cardboard tube! Microfiber Towels: Whether you make a spontaneous jump in the lake or experience a sudden downpour, a lightweight, absorbent towel is a must. These towels come with both a bath and hand towel and a carrying case. Air Freshener: These Yankee Candle Sidekicks clip to your air vent or visor and fill your car with fragrance for up to 30 days. The refills come in a variety of enticing scents, too, like Sparkling Cinnamon, Leather, and Coconut Beach. Eye Mask & UV Window Shades Road Trip Accessories & Clothing
Packing for a road trip is unlike packing for any other type of travel. In addition to the clothes you want to wear at your destination, you’ll want to pack clothes that are comfortable for a long car ride. We love leggings or joggers with flip flops, with a pair of hiking boots stashed in the back, of course. Here are a few road trip essentials:
Sunglasses: 40,000 people love these affordable unisex Amazon shades. An Extra Layer: Any sweatshirt will do just fine most of the year, but during the winter, we love a lightweight, packable puffer jacket for added warmth while hiking or when unexpected temperature changes occur. A Small Daypack: Easy to grab and run into a gas station or on a short hike, we love a fanny pack (though the cool term these days is belt bag), but any small, zippered bag will suffice. Organizational Items Car Organizer: Whether you opt for a trunk organizer or a seatback organizer that easily manages all of your kids’ things, organizational products are key to knowing where everything is when you need it – we hate having to search for a bandaid or snack when we need it urgently! Trash Can: A garbage bag will also do just fine, but a mini can will protect against leaks! Reusable Shopping Bag: A tote is a necessity for taking an assortment of random extras into your hotel room or a trip to the grocery store.
Packing in a suitcase is preferable for plane travel, but
can hold just as much as a traditional suitcase but squeeze into a car more easily. If you are stopping at several different hotels or campgrounds to sleep, it is wise to use packing cubes to pack just what you need for each night of your trip – this way, you won’t have to lug everything into the hotel each night. Don’t forget to bring a
bag for dirty laundry
! And if you’re questioning how to pack for a road trip, remember to keep mid-drive essentials within arms reach (chapstick, wet wipes), with lesser-used items in the trunk (your hotel bag or tent, for example).
: OnlyInYourState Social Media Coordinator Madison Silveira swears by
these packing cubes
, "As a chronic over packer who prepares for all situations, these packing cubes are a lifesaver and a great way to save space and plan ahead!"
If you have a little extra space in your car, you should always consider adding a few entertainment items to your packing list – especially if you are traveling with kids of any age. Reading material, music, games, and a travel hammock round out our list of road trip essentials.
A Killer Road Trip Playlist:
Music is essential to a good road trip. Whether you prefer to listen to your favorite Spotify or
playlist, podcasts about a subject your interested in (maybe
America’s most charming small town getaways
?), or an Audiobook, listening material is key.
Because not everyone wants to listen to the same thing at the same time, headphones are fantastic. In particular, we recommend headphones for your child so they can listen to Frozen for the tenth time in a row without the tune getting stuck in your head.
are a favorite for a reason.
Whether you are one of the lucky few who can read in the car or simply plan to unwind after a long travel day with a good book in your hotel room, an iPad, Tablet, or
is a must.
If you’re a fan of spending time in the great outdoors and need a break from driving or hiking, you’ll love
this portable travel hammock
that comes with its own carrying bag.
We hope this list helps you pack for your next road trip. After all, being prepared is truly the key to a successful and fun road trip. We know everyone has individual needs, though, so please, tell us in the comments: w
hat else do you add to your road trip packing list?
Where are you planning to go on your next United States Road Trip? If you’d like some inspiration, consider one of
these iconic American road trips – from California’s Pacific Coast Highway to The Great River Road that runs from Minnesota to Louisiana, adventure awaits. Follow our packing list, hop in the car, and enjoy the journey.
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