65 Must-Have Road Trip Essentials: Your Complete Packing Checklist (2024)

There is an undeniable magic to a good road trip: the freedom of the open road, the opportunity to visit unparalleled sights, and the unique experiences that you stumble upon along the way. However, creating these unforgettable moments requires effective planning and smart packing of the right road trip essentials.

At Bearfoot Theory, we’ve gone on our fair share of road trips and experimented with a plethora of gear – some items have worked well and others not so much. We know that packing for a road trip can easily turn into a stressful part of your journey if organization isn’t your forte – there’s nothing quite as disheartening as realizing you’ve left something important behind.

In this post, we’re excited to share our top selection of road trip gear that will help you optimize your road adventure to its fullest. You won’t need a tricked-out van or struggle with a daily game of Tetris trying to fit everything into your trunk. Keep scrolling for our road trip packing list that covers the gear essentials for ensuring a safe and amazing time on the road.

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Road Trip Essentials at a Glance

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Navigation

Entertainment

  • Playlists
  • Podcasts
  • Audiobooks
  • iPad/Laptop
  • Books
  • Games/Cards
  • Notebook
  • Camera
  • Headphones
  • Hiking Gear

Kitchen Items

Vehicle Essentials

Packing

Clothing, Footwear, & Accessories

Personal Care

Miscellaneous

Download a printable version here

Road Trip Navigational Tools

While part of the fun of a good road trip might be getting lost and exploring remote back roads, it is crucial to have reliable navigational tools so you don’t end up utterly lost.

Here are our recommendations for road trip maps and apps:

Paper Map or Atlas

Although we all know Google Maps is essential for directions, I persoanlly like carrying a paper map too. Plus, hopefully some of your itinerary will take you off the grid and out of cell phone service.

For that reason, you’ll want to carry a paper map or road atlas. Paper maps are also better than phone apps for telling the difference between a well-graded gravel road and a gnarly 4×4 road.

My favorite paper maps are the Benchmark Road and Recreation Atlases which also detail public lands, camping areas, National Parks, and more.

Shop Benchmark Road and Recreation Atlases at:

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GPS

A GPS is handy for navigation when you don’t have cell service. If you don’t want to purchase a GPS, download Google Maps for offline use or use the app maps.me instead. This is a helpful free app that you can use to navigate and find sights and amenities even without cell service.

Just be sure to download the maps.me map for the region you’re going to be traveling in ahead of time so that it will work offline.

Still in the planning phase of your trip? Check out our road trip destination ideas here! And if you’re looking for a car camping checklist, head to our Car Camping Essentials blog post.

Road Trip Apps

Downloading a couple of apps before you head out will make road trip planning easier and will help you find things you’re looking for on the road like campsites, rest stops, amenities, and more.

The Roadtrippers App is a handy one too. It lets you save locations on the go, find destination points along your route, and locate lodging, gas, restaurants, and more.

The iExit App can help you determine the best areas to take a pit stop on major highways while you’re traveling.

Gas Buddy is a helpful road trip app that will help you find the cheapest gas prices so you aren’t wasting money when you fill up.

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Looking for more helpful apps? Check out our post on Must-Have Van Life Apps. Many of them are also great for road trips!

Road Trip Clothing, Footwear, & Accessories

Packing for a road trip means filling your bags with versatile, well-fitting, and durable clothes that allow youto do a little bit of everything.

You’ll want to have clothing, footwear, and accessories that:

  • Won’t wrinkle
  • Retain their shape (think a little bit of stretch)
  • Wick away moisture
  • Are comfortable to spend full days in

While crazy patterns can be fun, I prefer to pack solid prints that will go with everything. That way, you don’t have to really think about packing specific outfits.

Here are a few of my favorite road trip essentials picks for clothing, footwear, and accessories. For more recommendations, check out the links below.

Read More

Road Trip Packing Lists

  • What to Wear Hiking
  • Van Life Clothing Packing Checklist
  • Best Women’s Hiking Shorts
  • Best Women’s Hiking Underwear
  • Best Women’s Hiking Hats

Road Trip Entertainment Packing List

Road trips are all about having a good time, right? Right. Make the drive fun with the following entertainment essentials. I also recommend keeping your day hiking essentials in your trunk too so you’re always ready for a spur-of-the-moment hike, should you need them.

Music Playlists

What’s a road trip without music? A good playlist will keep your energy up and will help the miles fly by. Load up your phone with plenty of tunes ahead of time in case you’ll be driving through areas with limited service. I’m a HUGE fan of Spotify.

Podcasts & Audiobooks

If music isn’t your thing or you need a break from rockin’ out,download a couple of audiobooks or a bunch of episodes of your favorite podcasts.

For suggestions, check out our favorite outdoor podcasts. The Libby App and Audible are also great resources for downloading audiobooks.

Books

A book or two is always nice to have along on a road trip so you can read in your downtime.

We often like to bring books about the places we’re exploring so we can learn about the area while traveling.

Travel Games

If you’re traveling with kids, games are a great way to keep everyone happy and entertained.

But games aren’t just for kids! Bringing along a deck of cards or your favorite road trip games provides fun for everyone.

Headphones

A set of headphones or AirPods are nice to bring on a road trip in case you need a little alone time.

Camera

Bring a camera to capture the memories on your trip and check out our photography page for tips and tricks for taking great photos.

65 Must-Have Road Trip Essentials: Your Complete Packing Checklist (13)

Notebook

Not everyone enjoys journaling or sketching, but a notebook is nice to bring along on a road trip for those who want to record their trip.

If you like to journal or make notes about the places you travel to, pack a small weatherproof notebook.

Shop Rite in the Rain Notebook at:

iPad/Laptop

An iPad or laptop is nice to have along for evenings when you just want to Netflix and chill. Download a few movies ahead of time for easy viewing.

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Road Trip Snacks & Kitchen Packing List

One of the best parts about a road trip is tasty road trip snacks, wouldn’t you agree? Whether you’re a salty or sweet person, having quick and (mostly) healthy snack options can make or break a long drive.

It’s also a good idea to pack some kitchen and cooking gear even if you’re not camping so you can whip up that impromptu picnic.

Here are our road trip snack and kitchen essentials:

Healthy Snacks

Having healthy snacks easily accessible will stop the hanger from creeping in and help you avoid gas station temptations like chips and candy (no judgment though if you want to indulge!)

Some of our favorite road trip snacks are:

  • Veggies and dip, like carrots and sugar snap peas with hummus or Bitchin’ Sauce (if you’ve never tried it, you gotta find it, it’s sooo good)
  • Fresh, easy-to-eat fruit, like apples, bananas, and mandarins
  • Trail mix or roasted nuts
  • Better for you chip alternatives like baked chips, snap pea crisps, and popcorn

Planning on doing some hiking during your road trip? Don’t forget your favorite hiking snacks (which TBH, I also eat while driving!).

Cooler

A cooler will keep your fruit, veggies, dips, and other snacks cold so you can eat fresh on the road.

If you’re just packing a few cold drinks and snacks, a small, lightweight cooler like REI’s Cool Haul 24 Soft Cooler is a versatile option.

Shop REI Cool Haul 23 Soft Cooler at:

Reusable Water Bottle

A reusable water bottle is key for staying hydrated and eliminating single-use plastics.

An insulated Hydro Flask will keep your water nice and cold on hot days. I also like their straw lid version which allows you to easily drink one-handed while you drive.

Shop Hydro Flask Insulated Water Bottles at:

Read next: How to Reduce Waste on Road Trips

Water Jug

In addition to saving money and avoiding plastic bottles, having a water jug with you makes for a quick and easy fill-up of your water bottle while on the road and before heading out on a hike. It’s also a smart thing to have in case you break down or run out of gas.

The GSI Outdoors Folding Water Cube holds 15 liters of water and has a convenient tap handle that prevents spilling.

Shop the GSI Water Cube at:

Coffee Mug

Consider bringing an insulated coffee mug for keeping coffee and tea hot on sunrise drives or making sure your beverage stays cold on hot days.

The Hydro Flask 20 oz Tumbler has a splashproof lid and its tapered design allows it to fit into most cup holders.

Shop the Hydro Flask 20 oz Tumbler at:

Muli Tool/ Swiss Army Knife

A multi-tool or versatile knife like this Swiss Army Camper Knife is always good to have along, whether for slicing apples, cutting rope, or opening that nice bottle of wine.

Shop the Swiss Army Camper Knife at:

Utensil Set

Saying no to single-use plastics is easy when you have a reusable utensil set with you.

This To-Go Ware Bamboo Utensil Set comes in a handy holder and is perfect for on-the-go meals whether you’re road-tripping or not. It comes with a fork, knife, spoon, chopsticks, and a bamboo straw.

Shop the To-Go Ware Bamboo Utensil Set at:

Quick-Dry Towels

A set of small quick-dry towels is a great zero-waste alternative for wiping your hands and cleaning up messes and spills. A roll of paper towels works too.

Shop the REI Quick-Dry Towel Set at:

Reusable Bag

A reusable bag like the REI Stuff Travel Tote will come in handy for those grocery store stops along the way and once you arrive at your destination.

Shop the REI Stuff Travel Tote at:

Read next: Camping instead? Check out our Car Camping Essentials Packing Checklist.

65 Must-Have Road Trip Essentials: Your Complete Packing Checklist (15)

Packing & Organizing Road Trip Essentials

Keep your stuff organized and easy to find with these road trip packing essentials.

Suitcase, Backpack, or Duffel Bag

You likely already have a suitcase, backpack, or duffel bag at home that you can use to pack for your road trip, it doesn’t need to be anything fancy, just something to comfortably hold your clothes and other belongings.

If you don’t own one already, we love the REI Co-op Roadtripper Duffel.

Shop the REI Roadtripper Duffel at:

Daypack

A day pack for hikes and other outings is always good to bring on a road trip. It doesn’t have to be big, just big enough to hold water, your phone, camera, keys, snacks, and other hiking essentials.

This Osprey Tempest pack has been my go-to for day hikes and adventures for a long time. The Osprey Talon is the men’s version.

Shop the Osprey Tempest Pack at:

Packing Cubes

If you’re like me, your suitcase (or duffel) can be a disaster. I tackle this problem by using packing cubes to keep all of my clothing organized while I’m road-tripping. Underwear in one. Socks in another. Pants. Shirts. Each category of clothing gets its own cube.

Shop REI Packing Cubes at:

Toiletry Bag

Having all your toiletries and smaller essentials in one bag makes it easy to find them when you need them.

This REI Co-op Shower Roll Bag is a favorite that makes it super easy to access all your toiletries in one place.

Shop the REI Shower Roll Bag at:

Road Trip Packing List for Personal Care

Getting out of your normal routine can make it a bit more of a challenge to keep up with personal care, but with these essentials, you’ll find your new road trip routine in no time.

Sunscreen

UV rays can come through your windows so bring a tube or two of good mineral-based sunscreen, especially if you’re road-tripping in the summer.

It’s also handy in case you find an exposed viewpoint you want to picnic at or a sunny hike along the way.

Shop Sun Bum Sunscreen at:

Lip Balm

Lip balm is always nice to have along in case your lips get extra dry. We prefer lip balm with SPF for sun protection, like this one.

Shop Sun Bum Lip Balm at:

Toothpaste & Toothbrush

Any old toothpaste you have at home will do, but if you want an eco-friendly, travel-size option, Hello toothpaste bites are a great pick.

Shop Hello Toothpaste Bites at:

Toiletries

Bring the toiletries you need from home, like soap or face wash, lotion, shampoo, conditioner, and deodorant.

If you want to save space, try these refillable 2.5 ozhumangear GoToob+ Medium Squeeze Bottles.

Simply fill them up with your favorite products and pack them in your toiletry bag.

Shop Humangear GoToob+ Bottles at:

Tissues or Toilet Paper

Tissues or a roll of toilet paper are always handy to have in the car on a road trip in case rest stops are under-equipped or you have to pee in the wild.

Just remember to pack out and dispose of your toilet paper in the trash.

Read next: How to Poop in the Woods and Leave No Trace.

Hair Brush

You’ll want a way to tame that windswept hair after a long drive, so throw your hairbrush in with your other personal items.

A small, travel-size version like this one is always nice to have for trips.

Shop travel-sized hairbrush at:

Bandana

Bandanas can be used in many ways and is sure to come in handy, whether as a napkin or as a headband t keep your hair from blowing in the wind when you’ve got the windows down.

The Nomadix Bandana Towel adds even more versatility with its absorbent microsuede material, SPF 50 protection, and anti-odor properties.

Shop the Nomadix Bandana Towel at:

Body Wipes

Sometimes it’s nice to freshen up after a long drive, or maybe you’re hiking and camping on your road trip as well. A pack of wipes is always on our road trip packing list so we have the option to clean up a bit in a pinch.

TheSea to Summit Wilderness Wipesare our favorite because they’regentle on the skin and they are compostable(although you still need to dispose of them properly in the trash).

Shop Sea to Summit Wilderness Wipes at:

Vitamin C/Immune Boosting Tablets

We like to pack hydration tablets on any adventure, and if they’re immunity-boosting that’s even better.

These NUUN Immunity Hydration tablets are easy to throw into your bag and pop into your water bottle when you need an extra boost.

Shop Nuun Immunity Hydration Tablets at:

Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizer is always good to have readily available, especially these days. We love this all-natural one from Dr. Bronners.

Shop Dr. Bronner’s Hand Sanitizer at:

Advil/Ibuprofen

While you won’t always need something like Advil or Ibuprofin, we like to include it on every road trip packing list since it can be a lifesaver when you get a killer headache and need it.

Read next:

65 Must-Have Road Trip Essentials: Your Complete Packing Checklist (16)

Miscellaneous Road Trip Essentials

These items are necessarily ‘essentials’ but they can make your road trip more comfortable and trouble-free.

Pillow

I don’t know about you, but I consider a pillow a road trip essential (especially if you’re the passenger)!

Bring a comfy pillow from home or an inflatable pillow if you’re short on space. This NEMO Fillo Pillow is compressible, lightweight, and awesome for camping, backpacking, and napping in the passenger seat.

Shop the NEMO Fillo Pillow at:

Headlamp

Whether you’re reading in bed, going to the bathroom in the middle of the night, or rummaging around your car, you’ll want a headlamp nearby.

The BioLite Headlamp 325 is a go-to piece of nighttime gear that’s ultralight and rechargeable with a USB cable.

Shop the BioLite 325 Headlamp at:

Read next: Looking for more options? Head over to our post on the

Blanket

A small blanket is a nice item to have along in case you find the perfect picnic spot or if you just need a little extra warmth at any point on your road trip.

We love Rumpl’s cozy, packable blankets – they won’t take up much space in your car and they come in all kinds of fun colors and patterns.

Shop Rumpl Blankets at:

Quick-dry towel

Be ready for those impromptu swimming hole dips with a lightweight, quick-dry towel like the Nomadix Original Towel. It’s also sand resistant, so if you’re heading to the beach, you don’t have to worry about tracking loads of sand back to your car.

Shop Nomadix Towels at:

First-Aid Kit

Stay safe and be prepared in case of an emergency by having a car first aid kit that has been personalized to your own medical needs.

ThisMy Medic MyFAK First Aid Kitis equipped with all kinds of expert-picked first aid and trauma supplies. You can strap it to the back of a headrest for easy storage or just toss it in the back so it’s there when you need it.

We love that it comes with a small tearaway pouch that you can fill up with essentials and take on day hikes, backpacking trips, and other short adventures as well.

It’s more expensive than some other first aid kits, but it also has more supplies and lifesaving equipment than most.

Shop the My Medic MyFAK at:

Phone Charger & USB Cord

You’ll be surprised how quickly your phone battery will drain when using navigation mode and a variety of apps on your phone so it’s good to be able to charge from your vehicle.

If your headlamp and camera come with car-compatible chargers, bring those along too.

GPS Communication Device

I’d argue that the Garmin InReach is a road trip essential if you plan on exploring remote backroads where there is no cell phone service.

If you break down somewhere, the Garmin InReach allows you to send custom text messages no matter where you are or to call for medical help if you are in an emergency situation.

It also has a GPS and some helpful navigation tools for when the navigation apps on your phone won’t load.

My boyfriend Ryan is a Type 1 Diabetic, so when we are in the van or hiking, the Garmin InReach gives me added peace of mind.

Shop the Garmin inReach Mini at:

Cash

It’s always handy to have a little bit of cash on hand in case you come across a farmers market or a roadside stall or if you plan on camping at more remote campgrounds, which are typically cash-only.

Vehicle Road Trip Essentials

I won’t go into too much detail in this section because you should really have these basic necessities in your vehicle at all times, whether you’re road-tripping or not.

These include:

  • Driver’s License and Registration
  • Proof of Insurance and Contact Info
  • Your Car Operation Manual
  • Spare Tire and Jack
  • Roadside Emergency Kit
  • Jumper Cables (or a self-starting jumper)
65 Must-Have Road Trip Essentials: Your Complete Packing Checklist (17)

READ NEXT

Planning a road trip? Check out our other road trip tips, guides, and essentials:

  • Car Camping Packing Checklist
  • How to Road Trip with Your Dog
  • How to Find Free Campsites
  • Campervan Companies for Your US Road Trip
  • How to Reduce Waste on Car Camping Trips
  • Cheap Road Trip Tips: How to Save Money on the Road

We hope this road trip essentials checklist helps simplify packing for your next epic adventure. Now tell us: where are you headed and what’s on your road trip packing list?

Related

65 Must-Have Road Trip Essentials: Your Complete Packing Checklist (2024)

FAQs

65 Must-Have Road Trip Essentials: Your Complete Packing Checklist? ›

“This will ensure that you have enough money to cover all your expenses and have some leftover in the budget for souvenirs.” If you're not planning on taking a long road trip, a good rule of thumb is to budget about $150 per day.

What to pack for a 5 day trip checklist? ›

What to pack for a 5-day trip checklist? (Things to put )
  • Clothes that you can use for Five Days. ...
  • Comfortable shoes that you can wear the Whole Day. ...
  • Disposal shower cap to keep your Bag Clean. ...
  • Comfy nightwear for your Trip. ...
  • Slippers for your Extra Comfort that you want to Have.

What do I need to prepare for a road trip? ›

Create a family road trip packing list
  1. Antibacterial wipes.
  2. A small first aid kit.
  3. Umbrellas.
  4. Cozy blankets for trips in cold weather.
  5. Charging cables and USB plugs.
  6. Favorite movies, apps, and books.
  7. Crafts, journals, washable crayons, and card games.
  8. Car seat.

How do I prepare for a 7 hour road trip? ›

These road trip tips will help you enjoy a safe and successful journey:
  1. Prepare for your trip.
  2. Bring healthy snacks.
  3. Stay hydrated.
  4. Plan your route.
  5. Plan your rest stops.
  6. Keep yourself alert.
  7. Keep passengers entertained.
  8. Stick to your budget.
Feb 1, 2024

How much money should I bring on a road trip? ›

“This will ensure that you have enough money to cover all your expenses and have some leftover in the budget for souvenirs.” If you're not planning on taking a long road trip, a good rule of thumb is to budget about $150 per day.

What do you need for a 7 day trip? ›

Essential items include:
  1. A lightweight backpack or crossbody bag for security.
  2. Portable phone charger to keep your device powered.
  3. Digital or print map of the city.
  4. Water bottle and snacks.
  5. Comfortable shoes for walking.
  6. Lightweight jacket or sweater for cooler indoor temperatures.
  7. Travel umbrella for unexpected showers.
May 8, 2019

What is the 54321 packing method? ›

TOP TIPS FOR MINIMALIST PACKING

1 | Consider following the 54321 Packing Rule: you can make 5 good outfits from 4 tops, 3 pairs of pants, 2 pairs of shoes and 1 dress (if you are a female). I sort of followed this rule but added just a few extra pieces since I was planning to be in Guatemala for 2.5 weeks.

What to check car before road trip? ›

Prepare Your Car For Summer Travel
  1. Check tires and tire pressure. Inspect all four tires and, if you have one, the spare tire as well. ...
  2. Secure and test the battery. ...
  3. Top off engine oil and other fluids. ...
  4. Replace wiper blades and replenish windshield cleaner. ...
  5. Check belts and hoses.

What to do on a long car ride? ›

Things to do on road trips
  1. Listen to podcasts.
  2. Play the “20 questions” game.
  3. Meditate.
  4. Play a travel game.
  5. Listen to an audiobook.
  6. Play the state license plate game.
  7. Learn a language.
  8. Learn about different cultures.

How do I prepare my body for a long road trip? ›

The best things you can do is to take an aspirin before your trip, make a stop to stretch or walk outside of your car every 1 to 2 hours to get your heart rate and blood pressure up, and do frequent exercises in the car to get your venous blood going.”

How do I pack and organize my road trip? ›

Compartmentalize belongings by using small totes, zipped bags, or boxes to store like items together. Keep in-demand items in easy-to-reach places, such as by your feet, in the center console, or tucked inside seat back pockets. Pack any items you won't need until you arrive in the trunk.

Does AARP have a trip planner? ›

The guides can be accessed on the AARP Travel site. Get suggestions on where to go, the best things to do and how much it'll cost you. Plan a girlfriends' getaway to Las Vegas, a family vacation in Orlando or a food excursion to San Francisco, just to name a few. Start here when you are ready for that next escape.

How do I prepare for a 20 hour road trip? ›

Long Road Trip Checklist: You can tackle each of these quickly before you hit the road
  1. Change oil and filter.
  2. Begin your trip with a clean car, both inside and out. ...
  3. Try not to put luggage over the car. ...
  4. Keep a small garbage bag inside the car.
  5. Change air filter.

When should you start packing for a road trip? ›

Two week before, I layout what I want to bring and then edit. I cannot be a quick pack gal. Toiletries and makeup are always on the ready but clothes are activity and up to date weather forecast dependent.

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