Road tripping is synonymous with quintessential family vacations and fun times with friends. While flying is a faster way to reach a given destination, road trips allow you to see things you’d miss out on if you traveled by air. Before you pull out to hit the open highway, it’s important to consult our list of road trip essentials.
Adventures From Scratch: An Essential Road Trip Companion
While road-tripping with your favorite people, don’t forget to pack Adventures From Scratch! The date edition is full of intimate conversation prompts and creative activities that can be done wherever you and your partner roam. The family edition will help you and your brood make any day and any location an experience to remember. With over 50 challenges, each book will keep you busy for the next year (or more). Get your copy today!
Why You Need a Road Trip Packing List for an Upcoming Getaway
By using our list of road trip essentials, you can reduce or eliminate the possibility that you’ll forget something at home. Both new and serial road trippers can benefit from a road trip checklist. That’s particularly so if you’re packing for other people in addition to yourself. While you may be intimately familiar with the things you need to pack for yourself, the things you need to bring for your traveling companions may change as they age and develop new needs.
For example, if you’re hitting the road with your growing children, you may need to bring some games when they’re school-aged that you wouldn’t have had to bring when they were infants. Similarly, if you’re breaking up your Golden Years with intermittent road trips, you may have to pack medicine for your partner that you’ve never had to bring along before.
To keep your personal checklist up to date, it’s advisable to make notes as your circumstances change. If, for instance, you have recently started to need glasses when you read, add “reading glasses” to your list as a reminder to grab your glasses before you walk out the door.
Specific Things to Bring on Your Next Road Trip
Some of the things you might need for your next road trip may vary depending on the season, your planned route, and your final destination. Although that’s true, there are some items that you should pack regardless of those factors. This list accounts for those must-haves, which is why we’re focusing on essentials for every road trip, not just seasonal getaways.
Roadside Emergency Kit
Whether you’re planning a long road trip or just a quick car ride to a friend’s place, you should never leave home without a roadside emergency kit. Of course, your kit will only help you avoid getting stranded on the side of the road if you fill it with the things you’ll need in case you run into a problem.
Here are some of the items you should put in your kit:
- Collapsible shovel
- Road flares and reflective triangles
- Spare tire, a jack, and an appropriately sized lug wrench.
- Blankets and seasonal spare clothes
- Bottled water and nonperishable snacks like granola bars
- Flashlight and extra batteries (or a wind-up light)
- Fully charged power bank
- Jumper cables
- Work clothes
- Duct tape
- Protective Outerwear like a rain jacket
- Wiper Fluid
- Multitool or small tool kit
- Spare Cash
- Tire Pressure Gauge
- Portable compressor
- Ice scraper
First Aid Kit
Whenever you’re planning a road trip, you should make sure you have a fully stocked first aid kit in your vehicle. Band-aids, tweezers, two packages of 81 mg aspirin, two pairs of non-latex gloves, one instant cold compress, and five one-gram packets of antibiotic ointment are just some of the items the American Red Cross recommends people put in a portable first aid kit.
If you don’t want to take the chance that you may forget to put a critical item in your kit, you can buy a complete kit from Amazon. First aid kits on Amazon run from under $25 to over $200, and you have hundreds to choose from, so you’re sure to find one that suits your needs by visiting that website. If you don’t have time to wait for a kit to be delivered, you can probably find a pre-packed kit at your local drug store.
Even if you get a pre-stocked kit, you should still add a few things to your kit if you or your traveling buddies have special medical needs. If, for example, someone in your group has severe allergies, make sure you stow an extra epi-pen in your kit. Similarly, you should pack extras of any prescriptions you’re currently taking in case your trip ends up being longer than originally planned.
As much as we all rely on travel apps and digital tools like Google Maps, and features like built-in navigation to find our way around, you shouldn’t rely on them exclusively if you’re headed into unfamiliar territory. Even if your car has an onboard Wi-Fi connection, it’s still possible for you to wind up in an area where you’ll be cut off from the outside world in the context of your electronics.
To avoid getting lost when your in-car technology and cell phone fail in a remote location, you should stow some paper maps in luggage you can access easily. Your collection of maps should include regional and local ones for the areas where you plan to stay en route to your destination. If you simply can’t bear the thought of using paper maps to navigate your course, you can download offline maps using maps.com before you leave home.
Phone and Car Chargers for Your Smartphone
Your smartphone is like a lifeline that you might need at any moment during a long drive on the open road. If your car breaks down, for instance, and you don’t have the appropriate tools or skills to fix the issue, you’ll need to use your phone to call for help. What will you do if a member of your group is injured and needs medical attention? You’d use your phone to call for help, naturally.
With your smartphone being a must-have in emergency situations rather than a daily luxury, it’s crucial for you to keep your phone charged and ready for immediate use. To make sure you can keep your phone charged, you need to remember to pack a car charger for your phone. You should also pack a phone charger you can use at the hotels, Airbnb’s, or rest stops where you plan to spend the night.
A power bank is like a portable charger you can use to keep your cell phone and mobile devices all charged up. Depending on the particular bank you use, you may be able to charge several devices at once. Some power banks can accommodate different types of wires while others are only able to handle USB cords exclusively. How long a power bank lasts between charges depends on various factors, such as how often and long you use it and how many gadgets are plugged into it.
Power banks are reusable tools you can use to keep peace among your fellow travelers. If your vehicle only has charging ports upfront, you can share your power bank with passengers in the back to avoid infighting over who gets to use the built-in charging ports.
Did you forget to pack an outlet adapter and realize that your charging cords aren’t compatible with the outlets in a given accommodation during a road trip abroad? Don’t panic! You can use your power bank to keep your devices charged. Just remember to pick up an outlet adapter when you head out so you can recharge your power bank during your next layover.
Packing cubes are collapsible pieces of luggage you can use to pack your gear. Even if you don’t pack your things in cubes before you leave home, you should still bring one along for the ride. That’s because you can use the packing cube to stow your dirty clothes and keep them separate from your clean things. You can find affordable cubes on many websites, including Amazon.com.
The last thing you want to do during a family road trip or an outing with friends is fumble around for your cell phone while you’re behind the wheel. Placing a phone mount on your dashboard will ensure you’ll know exactly where your phone is at all times. The mount can keep your phone within easy view, which is important for motorists who rely on their smartphones for navigation purposes.
If you want to ensure you’ll have access to the internet during an upcoming road trip, it’s wise to invest in a portable Wi-Fi hotspot if your vehicle doesn’t have similar technology. Hotspots like Skyroam typically allow subscribers to connect multiple gadgets to the internet at once, but they usually have a maximum limit for simultaneous users.
Depending on your cell phone carrier, you might be able to use your smartphone as a hotspot. Companies like Verizon charge an additional fee for this service, but they generally tack on additional amenities in exchange, such as complimentary access to Disney+ or Netflix for a limited time at least.
While hitting the open road with friends or family members is meant to be fun, things can get stressful from time to time. If the kids are fighting, you’re stuck in traffic, or you’re covering a tricky stretch of road, you may find your blood pressure rising quickly. You may also discover that you’re simply mentally weary after spending hours and hours on the road day after day.
No matter what’s stressing you out, having a list of 20 short and effective mediations you can do at work or anywhere, including a rest stop, can help restore your usual peace of mind. Engaging in a quick mediation can also re-energize you so that you’re physically and emotionally ready for the next leg of your trip.
Although it’s wise to leave plenty of unplanned time built into your schedule, you should still create a loose itinerary for your upcoming adventure and bring it with you. Your itinerary should include the locations where you plan to pull off the road for the night and a flexible arrival time for each stop. Your travel plan should also include things you want to see and do and the approximate dates and times you plan to cross them off your to-do list.
In general, it’s wise to include some activities you can do at any time in your plan, such as an app-led scavenger hunt. Let’s Roam has scavenger hunts planned in more than 400 cities around the world, including:
- Asheville, NC
- Boston, MA
- Chicago, IL
- Denver, CO
- Melbourne, Australia
- New York City, NY
- San Francisco, CA
- And more!
When you sign up for an app-led scavenger hunt by Let’s Roam, you’re scheduling a future event without having to commit to a firm start date or time. That means you and your travel mates can participate in the fun-filled hunt whenever you reach the relevant destination location.
Like you can complete a digital scavenger hunt at any time, you can do some Adventures from Scratch whenever you want. The “Adventures from Scratch: Family Adventure Book” includes more than 55 scratch-off adventures you and your family can do on the fly throughout your road trip. Simply find an adventure that intrigues everyone, scratch off the challenge, and start making lasting memories with your loved ones.
If you and your significant other are the only participants in your getaway, consider spicing things up with our “Adventures from Scratch: Couples Adventure Book.” Like our other tome, this book has many scratch-off adventures that you can enjoy with your partner. Some of them are romantic in nature while others are ready-made dates, but all of them are fun, enjoyable, and interactive. If you know where you’re going to stay, consider mailing individual adventures to each location before you leave home.
Unless you’re going to do all the driving, a travel pillow is one of the road trip essentials you should pack for your journey. When you’re a passenger instead of your group’s chauffeur, you may want to knock off for a while. Your upright sitting position isn’t a natural position that’s conducive with sleep, however. Because of that, your head may list to the side or fall forward, which may jolt you awake or result in a sore neck and less efficient breathing.
Travel pillows provide support for your head and neck while you sleep as they combat the challenges of upright sleep. A typical pillow is lightweight, portable, reusable, and ergonomically designed. These specialized pillows are widely available in a range of sizes and styles, with some having neat amenities like temperature control. Here are some models you may want to consider if you don’t already have one:
- Design Go Ultimate Memory Pillow
- Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow
- Away The Travel Neck Pillow
- Sunany Inflatable Neck Pillow
One of the best travel tips you’ll ever get is to bring noise-canceling headphones on every long road trip you take. No matter how much you love your travel companions and enjoy their company, it’s likely you’ll want some quiet time every so often, including when you try to take a nap. Noise-canceling headphones will allow you to tune out the noise in your immediate surroundings without you having to ask everyone to shush or keep things down.
Even if you don’t use them in the car, you may find that noise-canceling headphones are useful when you stop for the night. If you’re going to take an RV on your next journey, you may find that your fellow road warriors pull into and out of a given RV campground at all hours of the day and night. By using your headphones, you won’t have to worry about the related noise interrupting your sleep or your thoughts.
Whether you’re traveling with kids, adults, or a mix of both, you should prepare road trip games everyone will enjoy playing. “Travel Bingo,” “Restaurant Race,” “First One to See It,” and “Did You Hear That,” are some entertaining car games that are engaging for kids of all ages and that don’t require anything other than some imagination.
If you’re traveling with children, you may want to download some gaming apps before you leave home. Here are some of the apps you may want to consider depending on your kids’ ages:
- Toca Nature
- Sago Mini Road Trip
- Drawing Pad
- This Is My Car – Mechanics for Kids
- Barefoot World Atlas
- Pokemon Go
- Rory’s Story Cubes
Of course, the games you choose to download for your children depend on more than just your kids’ ages. They also depend on the devices your kids will use to play them as some games are made specifically for certain types of devices while others aren’t. Whether your children will use an iPhone, an Android phone, a Kindle, a laptop, or something else, make sure their devices are compatible with the virtual games that they want to play.
Like road trips are usually more about the journey than the final destination, they’re also all about the music for many travelers. To prevent potential Wi-Fi connectivity problems from interrupting your musical experience, make some playlists before you hit the road.
If you’re struggling to find motivation to create a Spotify playlist, consider making a few thematic ones. You can base one on a particular artist or group, another around a certain genre of music, and still another on the preferred musical stylings on your ultimate destination. Just do your best to choose songs that will appeal to everyone in your group.
Few things can put a damper on a road trip faster than forgetting vital credentials at home. Before you take off, make sure you have the following things together and packed away in a readily accessible place like your center console, glovebox, or wallet:
- Driver’s license
- Vehicle registration
- Car owner’s manual
- Proof of car insurance
- Travel insurance paperwork
- AAA or other roadside assistance card
Even if you’re not going to camp your way through a road trip, it’s a good idea to pack some toiletries. Just because you may have booked a stay at a five-star hotel, it doesn’t mean the property will have the kind of toilet paper you prefer or the toothpaste you’re used to, after all.
A few of the toiletries you may want to pack just to be on the safe side include:
- Toilet paper
- Ear swabs like Q-tips
- Lip balm
- Wet wipes
If you’re going to car camp at a campground that has community showers, you’ll also want to bring some flip-flops to guard against foot fungus. In addition to being a protective layer in the shower, flip-flops or comfy slip-on shoes make it a breeze for you to run to the gas station or local grocery store with minimal preparation.
With the COVID pandemic continuing, you should also throw the following in your toiletry bag:
- Extra face masks
- Latex gloves
- Antibacterial wipes
- Ample hand sanitizer, making sure some containers are small enough to fit in your pocket in case you eat out
Since you can’t stream a show while you drive, a podcast is a great alternative. If you’re going on a road trip alone, download a few episodes before you leave home so you can still enjoy the broadcast if your Wi-Fi connection is interrupted. Are you going to travel with your partner? Find a podcast you’ll both like and download the series so you can enjoy the broadcast together as you travel throughout the USA or a foreign location.
Pre-packing some snacks and light meals is an effective way to save money during a road trip. It’s also a smart thing to do to prevent “hanger” from bringing everyone down during your travels. In general, it’s advisable to pack complete meals like sandwiches that don’t need any further preparation and that will be consumed early on in your trip.
Snacks are a different story because you can choose some that don’t need to be kept cold to remain edible. From veggie chips to fruits, nuts, protein and granola bars, chips, pretzels, and more, the list of possible snacks that are perfect for a road trip is nearly endless.
Drinks and Beverage Containers
If having the best road trip ever is your goal, you’ll need to stay hydrated during your journey. Although that’s true, you don’t need to cram your cooler with water bottles. Instead, you can pack other sorts of drinks in there and bring some reusable travel mugs and water bottles like Nalgenes with you.
If you’re going to consume water sourced on location, you should bring a SteriPen or portable, handheld water filter with you. That’s particularly wise if you’re going to drink untreated water from a lake, river, or stream.
A daypack is an absolute must if your road trip is going to include outdoor activities in a national park or a stroll through a bustling city like Atlanta, GA. A typical daypack is larger than a purse, smaller than a suitcase, and on par with a backpack. When choosing a pack, the key is to select one you’ll be comfy wearing for long stretches of time depending on what you have planned. If you can’t find a comfortable pack, you may want to consider using a tote instead.
Totes and packs aren’t just great for hikes and in-town tours. They’re also wonderful for shopping sprees. If you love to shop for souvenirs and keepsakes, using an appropriately sized bag is a good idea if your goal is to save money. You can set a rule that you’ll stop buying things once your bag is full.
Sunscreen and Bug Spray
Whether an upcoming family road trip will involve a lot of time outside or the bare minimum, you should still pack bug spray and sunscreen. While you may not need the spray if you’re going to take a road trip during the winter, you should still bring some sunscreen along as the sun can burn and damage your skin year-round.
Frequently Asked Questions
When packing a first aid kit for a road trip, be sure to include bandages, tweezers, 81 mg aspirin, non-latex gloves, an instant cold compress, and at least five one-gram packets of antibiotic ointment.